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Valley of the Guns
October 2018
University of Oklahoma Press


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Valley of the Guns

The Pleasant Valley War and the Trauma of Violence

In the late 1880s, Pleasant Valley, Arizona, descended into a nightmare of violence, murder, and mayhem. By the time the Pleasant Valley War was over, 18 men were dead, four were wounded, and one was missing, never to be found. "Valley of the Guns" explores the reasons for the violence that engulfed the settlement, turning neighbors, families and friends against one another.

While popular historians and novelists have long been captivated by the story, the Pleasant Valley War has more recently attracted the attention of scholars interested in examining the underlying causes of Western violence. In this book, Pagán explores how geography and demographics aligned to create an unstable settlement subject to the constant threat of Apache raids. The fear of surprise attack by day and the theft of livestock by night prompted settlers to shape their lives around the expectation of sudden violence.

As the forces of progress strained natural resources, conflict grew between local ranchers and cowboys hired by ranching corporations. Mixed-race property owners found themselves fighting white cowboys to keep their land. In addition, territorial law enforcement officers were outsiders to the community and approached every suspect fully armed and ready to shoot. The combination of unrelenting danger, its accompanying stress and an abundance of firearms proved deadly.

Drawing from history, geography, cultural studies and trauma studies, Pagán uses the story of Pleasant Valley to demonstrate a new way of looking at the settlement of the West. He creatively explores the role of trauma in shaping the lives and decisions of the settlers in Pleasant Valley and offers new insight into the difficulties of survival in an isolated frontier community.


Eduardo Obregón Pagán is the Bob Stump Endowed Professor of History at Arizona State University and the author of "Murder at the Sleepy Lagoon: Zoot Suits, Race, and Riot in Wartime L.A." He has published in such journals as Pacific Historical Review and the Journal of Social Science History.