Route 66 - Canyon Diablo (Part 1)

Not far down from Two Guns lie the ruins of one of the most vicious, lawless towns the West has ever seen, Canyon Diablo. Not many people are familiar with it today, but none of the more famous rough and tumble cow towns like Abilene or Tombstone even came close to this town of evil.

Newer bridge over Canyon Diablo constructed
in the 1930's.
The railroad came through this area in 1881 and laid lines as far as the rim of Canyon Diablo when it encountered financial problems. While the work crews waited for the railroad to get their financial house in order and for construction of the bridge across the canyon to begin, they camped along the canyon. Before long, a loose sort of settlement had begun. Since it was on the trail taken by freight and passenger wagon trains between Flagstaff, Prescott, and other towns in the area, business began to boom. Before long, saloons and bawdy houses began to spring up which attracted even more of the criminal element and men with little moral guidance. Eventually, there were over 2,000 residents (mostly killers and wanted men) in a 1-mile long, 1 road "town" with no lawmen to keep the peace. The lone road ran down the middle of town and was named Hell Street. Along this street were 14 saloons (with names like The Last Drink, Road to Ruin, and Name Your Pizen), 10 gambling houses, 4 houses of ill repute and 2 dance halls which were really just 2 more whore houses, but with better looking, higher-class ladies who sang songs between taking care of customers.

Two of the houses of prostitution were owned by women, rough and tough former fallen doves themselves, who didn't take nonsense from anyone. Situated directly across Hell Street from one another, Clabberfoot Annie and B.S. Mary (the B.S. did not stand for Betty Sue) would often stand in their respective doorways hollering insults at each other. After a few days, when one or the other could take no more, she would rush across the street only to invariably be met in the middle of the road by the other to begin fighting, throwing punches like men, pulling hair and ripping each other's cloths off much to the delight of the men standing around. One time, both ladies were wearing each other out and finally, when both were completely naked, Clabberfoot Annie, who actually was rather pretty and about 6 inches shorter than the 6 foot tall, big-boned B.S. Mary, ran back into her establishment and came back out with a shotgun. As B.S. turned and began to run away, Annie let her have it, filling Mary's broad, naked behind with bird-shot.

With no sheriff around, robberies, gunfights and murder was an everyday occurrence. A number of times, ownership of a saloon changed hands when the man who wanted it simply killed the current owner and proclaimed the property to then be his. Most wagon trains were robbed before reaching the settlement so goods were often in short supply. It wasn't uncommon for saloon owners to hire their own robbers to rob the first robbers so they could get their supply of whiskey.

Eventually, the wagon trains and law-abiding goods traders organized themselves and funded a good salary for a sheriff to put an end to all the lawlessness. Finding one good enough proved to be more difficult than expected. The first one put on the badge in a ceremony at 3:00 PM and was taken to Boot Hill for burial at 8:00 PM that same night. The second man to wear the badge lasted almost two weeks before he too was carried to Boot Hill. The third carried a double-barrel shot-gun filled with double-0 pellets. Along with killing a number of criminals, he was known to have injured numerous innocent bystanders when he began blasting away toward the general vicinity of the bad guy he was after. He lasted 3 weeks until someone tired of his method of removing bad guys and shot him in the back. The shooting kept on for several minutes with the killer stopping to reload his six-shooter a number of times. By the time he was finished, the sheriff lay completely riddled with 45 slugs in his back. The 4th lasted 6 days before he was felled by a shot to the face.

There were no more sheriffs for a number of weeks after that. Eventually, a skinny ex-preacher man from Texas rode into town. Within 24 hours, he was offered the sheriff position simply because he wore 2 pistols on his hips. The man had no money so he took the position in order to have a roof over his head and food to eat. When asked his name for the paperwork, he hesitated a long time and finally said, "Uh, just call me Bill Duckin."

One of the first things Bill did was order some decent clothes, including 2 long, black, bob-tail coats. From one of them, he cut out the pockets so he could reach in with both hands, grab his long-barreled revolvers and fire them from their swiveling holsters without having to draw them out. The other coat he left the pockets intact so he could wear it to church - just as soon as any church was built in Canyon Diablo. Bill lasted a full 30 days on the job, killing exactly 20 desperado's and wounding  so many that everyone lost count. On the morning of day 30, the day Bill was to collect his first full pay-check, he put on his good coat and was walking to an eating establishment for breakfast when right in front of him a bandit came backing out of The Colorado Saloon with a bag of stolen money in his left hand and a gun brandished in his right. Bill ordered him to halt and drop his gun as he put his hands in the pockets of his coat. Evidently, Bill had forgotten he was wearing his "church" coat with the pockets still intact and by the time he pulled his hands back out and was reaching for his guns, the robber fired, killing him with one shot to the head. Nobody ever figured out why Bill had worn his Sunday-go-to-meeting coat that day, but he was buried in it that afternoon.

The sun setting on ruins around Canyon Diablo
and Two Guns.
The next man to take on the role was "Fightin Joe" Fowler, the same gunfighter who had killed 20 men while bringing law and order to the formerly rough town of Gallup, New Mexico. Just 10 days after putting on the star and having already survived 6 gunfights and 3 bushwhack attempts against him by bandits, Fightin Joe high-tailed it back to New Mexico, leaving  in the middle of the night.

No man was brave enough or dumb enough to take on the role of sheriff in Canyon Diablo after that, but a few weeks later, the railroad received new financing, work on the bridge was completed, and the tracks and men moved on. Seemly overnight, the town of Canyon Diablo became a near ghost with little more than the train station still in business and a sheriff was needed no more.

Go to the first Route 66 entry here.
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