“Miss Ola Young stands out as a remarkable example of the energy, resourcefulness and ability of our pioneer women.”
— Roscoe G. Willson in Pioneer Cattlemen of Arizona
A petite, spirited woman of wit and modesty, Anna Viola Young saw Arizona’s Pleasant Valley transformed from the bloody stage of the Graham-Tewksbury feud into a quiet, prosperous cattle region. Miss Ola, as she was known to everyone, dedicated a large part of her life to public service as the area’s pioneering postmistress and first schoolteacher. She also became a successful rancher.
Ola Young was born in 1869 in Watertown, Missouri, where her father, Silas W. Young, was postmaster. Ola had a brother, William and two younger sisters, Katherine and Betty. The Young family moved to Mason, Texas, where Ola finished her education after two years of college. In 1887, they made a three-month trek with two four-horse prairie schooners to the vicinity of Payson, Arizona. They homesteaded on Weber Creek until one of the recurring Apache scares drove them back to Payson and the protection of the town.
Leaving his family there, Silas found work as foreman on a cattle ranch in Pleasant Valley. The valley reverberated with the friction of the Graham-Tewksbury feud, which was a range war between the Grahams, who raised cattle and the Tewksburys who herded sheep. Silas had walked right into the middle of it by working for the leader of the Graham clan, Tom Graham. In 1887 the fighting reached its peak when sheriffs’ posses came to the region, but Silas avoided trouble by convincing everyone that he was neutral in the dispute. When Tom Graham, the sole survivor on his side, moved to Tempe to be with his wife, Silas leased the ranch from him and settled his family there. In 1889, he bought the spread and its cattle on a share basis.
Geographically, the Young ranch was the focal point of the surrounding area. Ola took advantage of its central location by volunteering to organize distribution of the valley’s mail. Ranchers in the area had taken turns retrieving the mail from the nearest post office in Holbrook. To avoid a casual transfer of the mail from hand to hand, Ola asked that it all be deposited at the Young ranch for orderly distribution.
Knowing that the community needed an official post office, she initiated a petition for this service. On June 25, 1890, the U.S. Postal Service opened an office in the Young’s house. Ola became the postmistress, taking her oath of office on August 17, and her sister Betty assisted in the work. Unable to name their post office Pleasant Valley, as that name was already taken by a place near Flagstaff, Ola’s customers agreed on Young as a fitting designation.
Ola Young took her duties seriously. Operating out of a small lean-to built against the Young’s house, she studied the postal regulations thoroughly and lived by the dictum, “the mail must go through.” She opened the post office any time of day or night to accommodate the arrivals of outlying ranchers.
Ola served as postmistress for almost fifty years. She witnessed the growth of the region despite its isolation. When a highway was built through the valley, she realized that it was time to move the post office from her house. Frank W. Bragg built a new store on the highway, and Ola located the post office there.
On January 31, 1940, Ola Young retired as postmistress. To mark the occasion, the community held a banquet in her honor and presented her with a silver medal commemorating her outstanding service. By this time, the pioneer postmistress had attracted national attention. Postmaster General James A. Farley sent her a congratulatory letter and an autographed photograph. She also received tributes from U.S. Senator Carl Hayden of Arizona and U.S. Representative John R. Murdock.
Ola Young knew the cattle business as well as the intricacies of the U.S. mail. Silas Young had established a brand for each of his children. During the drought of 1903-04, Ola and Betty began their own herd from orphaned calves brought to them by neighboring ranchers. In 1905 when their mother died and Silas moved to Globe, the two women took over operations of the family ranch, calling the spread Young Sisters. They added to the original homestead until they owned almost 1,000 acres of prime pasture land. The sisters also donated land for a building to the Baptist Church, and they deeded land to the community for the Young Cemetery. Miss Ola belonged to the Arizona Cattle Growers Association and was a fifty-year member of the White Mountain Chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star at Globe.
Having lived through the end of the Pleasant Valley War and known several of the participants, Ola Young naturally assumed the role of local historian. She photographed important sites around the valley and took a portrait of “every boy [in the war] and every boy’s family.” Despite encouragement by the author Don Dedera and others to give the material to a library or photocopy it, Ola refused, feeling, sure she could keep it safe. Unfortunately, the Young cabin burned, and the valuable collection was lost.
The adventurous postmistress had been one of the first in the valley to buy an automobile. However, in the 1930S during a trip to Globe, her car went off the side of a mountain road, killing Ola’s driver and permanently disabling her. Betty died in 1956. That year Ola turned the operation of the ranch over to a niece and her husband, and moved to Scottsdale to live with them. As a tribute to her service to the state, Ola Young was nominated First Lady of Arizona’s Territorial
Centennial in 1963. She remained in Scottsdale until her death on October 10, 1966, at the age of ninety-seven.
Anna Viola Young contributed richly to Pleasant Valley. In this isolated region, she successfully ran a large cattle ranch, faithfully served her neighbors as schoolteacher and postmistress, and witnessed the arrival of peace and prosperity in an area torn apart by the Graham-Tewksbury feud. The name of Young, Arizona, continues to honor her memory.