Route 66 - Canyon Diablo (Part 2)

Ruins in the Canyon Diablo area.
With the demise of the town of Canyon Diablo, robberies and murder were not nearly so prevalent, but lawlessness in the area didn't disappear.  The roads and trails were still dangerous and travelers had to be especially vigilant.

In 1888, a lone traveler on horseback came upon a horse-drawn wagon along the route a short distance after crossing Canyon Diablo over the bridge. The wagon's contents were broken open and scattered all around. The horses were gone along with the harness. The tongue of the wagon was propped straight up in the air by the neck yoke and hanging from the top of the wagon tongue was a middle-aged man. He was never identified and it was never known why somebody would go to all the trouble to hang him like that. He was buried in an unmarked grave a few feet off the trail.

Several times, trains at the Canyon Diablo station were robbed. On March 21, 1889, four local cowboys pulled off one of the greatest train holdups the west ever saw. By the time they made their getaway, most sources agree they rode away with $100,000 in currency, $40,000 in gold coins, 2,500 silver dollar coins, and considerable jewelry. They headed south along the canyon rim for several miles before circling their horses around trying to throw off the posse they knew would be coming after them. They then split up with two going south and the other two going west.

A posse did indeed come after them the next day. Unfortunately for the robbers, it was led by William O. "Bucky" O'Neil, an expert tracker and lawman who would later be killed on San Juan Hill in Cuba with Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders. It took a while, but Bucky and his posse followed two of the robbers into Utah and then back into Arizona until finally capturing them and bringing them in. The other two bandits were also eventually captured, one as far away as Texas, and brought back to the jail in Prescott. All were sentenced to 25 years in prison. The interesting thing was that only $100 of the stolen loot was found on the robbers. Questioned separately, they each confessed to hiding all the coins and jewelry and most of the currency not far from where they robbed the train. There was so much stolen booty that the weight of it all slowed down their horses and would have prevented their getaway.

Could there be 4 fabulously rich treasures still
buried near here?
According to their stories, the stolen goods were quickly divided into 4 roughly equal piles and each man buried his pile among a grove of trees on the rim of Canyon Diablo not far from the old town. Unfortunately, by the time the prisoners told their stories and lawmen went to retrieve the stolen property, every tree within several miles of the designated spot had been cut down by lumbermen. It was impossible to determine exactly where to dig and after a few weeks of looking, the search was discontinued. Over the years, many treasure hunters have searched for the 4 buried treasures, but to this day, nobody has reported finding anything so all of that money and jewelry must be assumed to be there still.

In 1905, two cowboys, John Shaw and William Evans, entered the WigWam Saloon in Winslow. They each ordered a shot of whiskey and placed payment on the bar, but before they downed the liquor, their attention was drawn to a gambling table which held a stack of almost 500 silver dollars. After a short, whispered conversation, they approached the table and pulled their guns. They filled their pockets with the coins and when they couldn't fit any more into pockets, they pulled off their hats and filled them with the rest before running out of the saloon.

Cowboys holding up the corpse
of Shaw
The county sheriff and his deputy went after them and were soon tipped off that the robbers had jumped on a train headed west. They boarded the next train themselves and upon arriving at the station in Canyon Diablo, learned the men they were chasing had gotten off their train and had been seen still in the area. While walking around the remnants of the town, in a stroke of good fortune, the criminals John Shaw and William Evans came walking around the side of an old warehouse building and came face to face with the lawmen. A gunfight immediately erupted with 21 shots fired. One of the robbers, Evans, was wounded and captured, the sheriff's shirt had two  bullet holes in it, and the second robber, Shaw, was shot in the head and killed. The lawmen had Shaw quickly buried and brought their wounded prisoner back to the Winslow hospital.

Getting ready to give  the body
of John Shaw his last drink
Two evenings later, a bunch of drunk cowboys in the WigWam Saloon heard about the shootout and were discussing it when one of them said, "You know, those two boys bought themselves a drink and didn't get to drink 'em. That ain't right. You think they gave old Shaw a shot of whiskey before they buried him? He's owed one." Before long, in their drunken condition, about 20 men decided they would ride to Canyon Diablo and give John Shaw the drink that was owed him. Carrying plenty of bottles of whiskey with them to keep the party going while they rode a freight train to Canyon Diablo, they arrived at the cemetery just before the sun rose and dug up Shaw's body, rigid in rigor mortis. Holding it upright beside the grave, they put a hat on his head, held a bottle of rotgut whiskey to his cold lips and poured down a good-sized gulp. He was then reburied with the half-empty bottle of whiskey. It happened that a photographer with his equipment had come along just for fun and with the sun now up over the horizon, there was enough light so before the cowboys reburied Shaw, he took 6 photos to commemorate the occasion. After printing, the 6 photos were displayed in the WigWam saloon until the 1940's when the building was torn down.

Sometime around the 1880's, an individual prospector who went by the name of Cannon was seen roaming the area. The Indians knew of him, but never bothered him as they considered him "touched" or crazy in the head. He lived by himself in the caves found along Canyon Diablo. By the early 1900's, he was often seen trudging through the area leading a donkey which carried a few camp supplies and a large, leather saddlebag. He made 3 trips each year into Winslow for supplies and each time he paid for the supplies from a large wad of cash. Cowboys looking for lost cattle in the wide-open plains would sometimes see and follow him trying to find out what he was doing and where he might stash his money. It was determined he was looking for meteorites that came from the giant crater just east of the area. Many of these meteorites contained very small diamonds. To get the diamonds required breaking the stones into small pieces, down even into dust, so it was not commercially profitable, but it could be to a lone prospector with nothing else to do and plenty of time and patience.

Eventually it was discovered that several times each year, he carried a leather bag full of tiny diamonds to a number of small railroad towns many miles away where he would sell just enough of them to get the amount of cash he needed. The rest he would put back into the bag and carry it back with him. On a number of occasions, bandits tried to follow to relieve him of his diamonds and cash, but he always managed to elude them and disappear.

Back in the Canyon Diablo area, on at least two occasions, men found and jumped him only to find he carried no cash and no diamonds while he wandered around the canyon and plains looking for meteorites. He had to have several caches of money and diamonds secreted in the caves where he lived. This went on for over 30 years so people figured his hidden treasure had to be worth a great amount.

The last time he came to Winslow was in 1917 and that was the last time anyone saw him alive. In 1928, the skeleton of a man who would have been about 80 years old was found in a pit just east of Winslow. With 2 bullet holes in the skull, it was obvious the man had not died of natural causes. No money or diamonds were found with the skeleton, but a wallet was found in the rotting trousers containing a picture of the old prospector when he was younger. A scrap of paper with the name Cannon was also in the wallet. Matching clothes he was last seen wearing in Winslow and a knife known to belong to Cannon in the shirt pocket convinced the authorities of his identification. The coroner said he had been dead at least 10 years.

A few weeks after discovery of the skeleton, a man seriously wounded by a shotgun crawled into a line camp of the Pitchfork Ranch west of Winslow. The man had with him a leather pouch filled with diamonds. Before he died, he told the two cowboys who found him that he and his partner had found a cache of Cannon's diamonds in one of the caves he was thought to have lived in. While dividing them up, he and his partner had gotten into an argument and managed to shoot each other. He said his partner was dead and he had only managed to crawl out of the cave with his half of the diamonds.

The cowboys patched him up as good as they could and began the journey to the Winslow hospital. On the way, the man tried to describe the cave's location, but he passed out before pinpointing it. He died without regaining consciousness so he never was able to give an exact location. He also never told them his name and with no identification on him, was buried the next day as a John Doe. The cowboys took the diamonds to a jeweler who pronounced them of very good industrial grade quality and paid cash for them on the spot. The cowboys took the time to tell the local sheriff the story, conveniently leaving out their "recovery" and sale of the diamonds, then took the next train to California and were never seen in Arizona again.

Caches of diamonds could very well still be
out there, somewhere.
The sheriff and his deputies made several searches over the next 3 months trying to find the reported body and the other half of the diamonds, but with just a general idea of the location, they never found either. Word of the lost diamonds got out and numerous people spent a lot of time searching Canyon Diablo above, around, and below the eventual site of Two Guns, but no body and no diamonds were ever found. As far as is known, none of Cannon's other suspected caches of diamonds and money were ever found either.

While we were at Two Guns on our Route 66 adventure in the early summer of 2012, we walked around on the rim of Canyon Diablo and I kept a sharp eye out for the tell-tale glint of silver or a sparkle in the setting sun from a diamond or piece of jewelry. I didn't venture down into the canyon itself and I never saw a sparkle or glint of anything. We drove across the bridge and down the rough road a ways, stopping to take a few pictures, but by then the sun was fast becoming just a memory and I didn't really feel comfortable being out there like that, just the two of us in the dark. I'm sure it was just my over-active imagination, but a small little voice inside my head was reminding me there are plenty of things in the world we don't understand and maybe, perhaps, the tortured, agonized souls of Apache warriors and the restless spirits of murdered men just might fall into that category. It was a very rational and well-thought-out decision to head on back to civilization before the night became so black it would be hard to see the dirt road and dangerous to drive back across that lonely bridge spanning that eerie canyon. It was a very rational decision that had nothing at all to do with being scared of things that come out after dark.

The sun going down behind ruins along the
Canyon Diablo rim.
I felt a lot easier after we were back on I-40 headed west to Flagstaff. It was time to seek shelter for the night; our kind of shelter- with an air conditioner, a flat screen TV, hot and cold running water, a nice bed, Internet access and a hot breakfast in the morning. Whatever was going to happen in Canyon Diablo that night would just have to happen without us. Still, it sure would have been nice to find a stash of valuable coins or an old leather bag of diamonds. Maybe next time.

Go to the first Route 66 entry here.
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