Friday, December 15, 2023

Two Guns: An Arizona Ghost Town


Two Guns, Arizona is a ghost town located on the Canyon Diablo gorge near Flagstaff, Arizona.  The town was originally known as Canyon Lodge and started out as a modest trading post at the beginning of the 19th century.

The area has a colorful history. During the winter of 1879-1880, Billy the Kid and his gang hid out on the west rim of Canyon Diablo across from what is now Two Guns.  In 1880, long before Two Guns was established as a settlement, the Santa Fe Railway was being built across northern Arizona.  At the point where the railroad was set to cross Canyon Diablo, some three miles north of Two Guns, construction halted while a trestle was being built.  The railroad workers established a settlement called Canyon Diablo which quickly became a lawless den of drifters, grifters, gamblers and outlaws. In 1889 outlaws robbed the train at Canyon Diablo making off with $100,000 in currency, 2,500 silver dollars, and $40,000 in gold coins.  A posse caught up with the outlaws, but not before they buried their loot, which is thought to be buried in the canyon rim near Two Guns.

More pioneers staked claims to the area over the years, and by the early 1920s, a road through town, known as the National Trail Highway, became the preferred route across Diablo Canyon.

When Earle and Louise Cundiff arrived in the area they bought 320 acres of land, making the settlement known as Canyon Lodge a busy stop for travelers. By the mid-1920s, what was once the National Trail Highway was transforming into Route 66, and the once-isolated trading post was becoming a busy stopping place for drivers looking for food and gas.

The business potential was not lost on one Harry Miller a flamboyant veteran of the Spanish-American War.  The eccentric Miller was a master of publicity and self-promotion. In 1925, Harry “Two Guns” Miller made a deal with the Cundiffs to lease a site for his business.

Miller renamed the Canyon Lodge trading post, Two Guns, and set about putting the place on the map. Miller grew his hair long and braided it.  Claiming to be a full-blooded Apache, Miller assumed the name of Chief Crazy Thunder. Miller constructed a rag-tag zoo with chicken-wire cages for animals native to Arizona, including mountain lions.  He also started tours down into a canyon cave now called the Apache Death Cave.

In 1878, a group of Apache warriors raided a Navajo camp killing everyone with the exception of three girls they took hostage.  The enraged Navajos from surrounding villages set out after the marauders. The Navajo finally tracked down the wily Apache warriors who had been hiding their camp in an underground cavern.  The Navajo lit a fire at the mouth of the cave.  All forty-two Apache warriors died in the cave.

Although an interesting part of Arizona history, the showman Henry Miller thought the story needed even more sizzle.  Miller built fake ruins and started selling the bones and skulls of the long dead Apache warriors as souvenirs.  He put in electric lights and a soda stand and renamed the death cave the “Mystery Cave.”

It was around this time that the legends of “The Curse of Two Guns” began. The broad wording of Miller’s lease had always been a source of tension between him and Earl Cundiff, and that tension finally came to a head on March 3, 1926, when Miller shot and killed Cundiff (he was later acquitted of murder).  Shortly after his trial Miller was mauled by a mountain lion.  Soon after he was bitten by a Gila monster.

The town was sold in the 1950s and throughout the decade it would be leased and abandoned multiple times, until a man named Dreher revitalized the area. Things were looking good for the town. The I-40 was finally coming through the area and even had a dedicated exit. However, a fire destroyed the town in 1971, sealing its fate.  Today, Two Guns stands as a ghost town, with the remnants of its past still visible. Some structures have collapsed, while others are in a state of disrepair. Efforts have been made to preserve the site's history and prevent further deterioration, but Two Guns remains a poignant reminder of the changing fortunes of towns along historic Route 66. The site has become a destination for those interested in ghost towns and abandoned places.

Gold, Murder and Monsters in the Superstition Mountains

Arizona’s Superstition Mountains are mysterious, forbidding, and dangerous.  The Superstitions are said to have claimed over five hundred lives.  What were these people looking for?  Is it possible that these mountains hide a vast treasure?  Is it possible that UFOs land here?  Is it possible that in these mountains there is a door leading to the great underground city of the Lizard Men?  Join us as we recount a fictional story of the Superstitions and then look at the real history of the legends that haunt these mountains in our new book:  Gold, Murder and Monsters in the Superstition Mountains.