Lucky Claire Gormly is on tour again! After enjoying Viva las Vegas she has headed off down the longest road in America, Route 66, and will be posting snippets of her trip for us. This week she visits the ruins of a town with an incredibly violent past. Welcome to Two Guns, we hope you have some weapons with you!
Something about driving down Interstate 40 always makes me ready for adventure. Maybe it's the massive plains on either side of the road or the abandoned towns and buildings you keep coming across. Whatever it is, after the glamour of Viva las Vegas, I was ready for a spooky story and the ruins of Two Guns and Canyon Diablo totally delivered.
Leaving the Interstate on the town's own exit ramp I came across what is left of Two Guns, originally a railroad town known as Canyon Diablo. Birthed in 1882, the town came into being to support work on the railroad that was prevented from crossing the canyon because the wrong dimensions had been used to create the first bridge. While waiting for the correct span to bridge the gorge, the wild town of Canyon Diablo sprang into life.
Two lines of buildings faced each other across the rocky road that became known as Hell Street. There were fourteen saloons, ten gambling dens, four brothels and two dance pavilions, the main one known as the Cootchy-Klatch. There were also some eating counters, a grocery and dry goods store. None of these buildings was substantial, just wooden frames covered with tin, tar paper, and canvas. Most of the early townsfolk were as wobbly as the buildings and there were drifters and killers among the many who flocked to the growing town.
Within a short time the town had 2,000 residents and murder on the street was common. Crazily, it was sometime before a lawman was employed but eventually the first marshall was sworn in. He took office at 3:00pm and was buried at 8:00pm that same night. Five more town marshals would follow, the longest lasting one month. All were killed in the line of duty. A cemetery sprouted up at the end of town, which in less than a decade had 35 graves, all of which had been filled by victims of violent deaths.
It was a wild place.
Long before the railroad arrived, however, the area had developed its gruesome reputation. Canyon Diablo was originally on the border of Apache and Navajo territory. The two tribes were notorious for their raids upon each other, but one of the final and most deadly was the one on which this town would rest its reputation on forever.
In 1878 the Apaches attacked the Navajo. All the men, women and children, except three young girls taken prisoner, were slain. Taking the girls prisoner they disappeared into the Canyon. Two Navajo scouts stumbled upon their hiding place in a cave in the canyon and after they discovered the girls had been tortured to death they lit fires at the entrance trapping them.
Altogether forty-two Apaches lost their lives in the cave. The bodies were stripped of valuables, and the remains of the men left. Navajo fighting men retreated from the cave quietly, awed by the terrible destruction they had wrought. The girl victims cruelly put to death had been avenged.
In 1925 a certain Harry Edgar 'Indian' Miller, who claimed to be a full-blooded Apache Indian, moved into town. Also known as "Two Guns" he is perhaps most famously remembered for giving his nickname to the town and he decided to profit from the death cave legend – turning it into a lurid tourist attraction, running tours through it, even creating a zoo on the rim of the canyon. He found Apache skulls in the cave and sold them to tourists and bones to a bone dealer.
The curse kicked in.
Miller was mauled many times by his wild animals, was robbed losing almost all his money and finally shot a rival, killing him. Miller left after only 5 years in 1930.
A murky story of two Mexicans going missing and their bodies being found nearby with a bullet hole in the skull also did the rounds.
In 1938 another zoo was built along with a trading post and the cave tours continued until 1950.
In its last incarnation a number of buildings were built, a camp, with a swimming pool, a gas station and shops, it all seemed to be going so well, even having its own off ramp from the motorway – until being destroyed by a huge inferno in 1971.
The remaining ruins are still standing, in their spooky glory – the newest buildings and the old stone houses, all with no fences and fully accessible. Allegedly the caves are still there too, but that was too much like tempting fate for my liking.