Route 66 - Two Guns

Welcome to Two Guns
After leaving Meteor Crater and rejoining I-40 (along here, I-40 is either actually on top of Route 66 for a few miles or the old route is on private property) at exit 233, we zoomed a whole 3 miles to exit 230. After turning left and crossing over I-40, we made our way to the ghost of Two Guns. 

The area around Two Guns, known as the Coconino Plateau, consists of rolling ranges surrounded by distant mountains. According to pieces of pottery and other items which have been carbon dated, the area has seen human habitation since around 1050. The Indians originally farmed and hunted in this area in the warm months and later on used it mostly for grazing their sheep and horses. By the 1700's though, the Apache and Navajos who were sworn enemies, began also to use the canyons for staging surprise attacks on each other and for staging raids on each other's camps.

Large water tanks painted with murals as you
enter Two Guns.
In 1878, a large Apache raiding party led by Nachise, the son of Chief Cochise, attacked a Navajo camp, killing over 30 men, women, and children and stealing all of the camp goods. For years the Apache would escape the vengeful Navajo chasing them by making their way into the canyon which ran through the area. There were many branches extending from the main canyon which gave the Apache numerous places to hide out. However, the Navajo had eventually figured out a particular trail in a particular spot where the Apache had to go through every time. As soon as they learned of another raid, the Navajo would send one party chasing after the Apache while another force made straight for the narrow path where they could block escape. They did the same thing after this particular raid, but the Apache vanished without ever going through their usual path. While they were trying to figure out where the Apache had gone, the Navajo force received word that the same raiding party had attacked another nearby Navajo camp, killing more than 20, taking 3 young girls as captives, and once again making off with all of the camp's food, pots, robes and blankets.

The Navajo were extremely confused as not only had the Apache raiders vanished without a trace, they had also not taken the ponies from either of the camps they had attacked. Their leader sent out a number of scouts on fast horses in a desperate attempt to locate the enemy before they made their escape. Two men, B'ugoettin Begay and Bahe, were sent along the canyon rim toward a cave in the canyon walls directly across from what would years later become the town of Two Guns. Arriving at the place, they crawled on their bellies through the sagebrush and weeds intending to get a look over the rim into the canyon below. As they were slowly making their way forward, Bahe was surprised by a blast of air striking him in the face. After getting over his initial astonishment, he cautiously leaned forward again and heard Apache voices coming up from below. The enemy had been found hiding in the cave!

The two men hurriedly made their way back to their main group with the information. Riders were sent to the scouts who were still out and the excited Navajo quickly made their way to the hideout cave. Stopping a short distance away, they waited until full dark before closing in. Creeping forward, they managed to silently kill the two Apache guards posted outside. Making their way a few feet into the cave entrance, they found it was just wide and tall enough to allow access for a horse. The resourceful Apache had brought their horses into the cave with them and had not taken horses in their raids because they would have had to leave a herd on the canyon rim giving away their location. Backing out of the cave, the Navajo made their plan for vengeance.

Leaving a few men to guard the cave entrance, the rest of the group climbed to the plains above and gathered dry sagebrush and driftwood. Stacking the debris into the cave entrance, the Apache heard the noise and tried to make an escape, but the first few were easily cut down by the Navajo guards in the narrow passageway forcing the rest to retreat. Once the entrance was full of the wooden materials, it was set on fire. As the heavy smoke and flames were sucked deeper into the cave, it became impossible for anyone inside to escape a terrible death.

The Apache began singing their death songs, but the Navajo were not moved to give quarter. As the brush burned down, they threw more into the entrance. Eventually, the Apache death wails subsided and the brush was allowed to burn out. The Navajo were able to see that in their desperation, the Apache had used what little water they had along with the blood from cutting their ponies necks trying to put out the raging fire.  They had even cut up their horses and threw large pieces into the fire trying to stem it. 

At this point, a noise was heard and the Navajo were astonished to see a burned, but still alive Apache pushing aside several pieces of horse flesh. He stumbled through and speaking in halting, broken Navajo, he made it understood that he was begging for terms for his life as well as several others who were not yet dead. The Navajo leader told him to send out the 3 young captive girls and they would then talk terms. The Apache though, hesitated and began making excuses. It was clear the captives had already been raped and tortured to death for their captive's pleasure.

Where the Apache Death Cave, supposedly now collapsed,
is located. We did not go into the canyon looking for it.
Furious, the Navajo shot at the Apache emissary, forcing him to retreat back into the depths of the cave. They then stacked even more wooden debris into the cave and lit it. This time, they didn't let the fire go down. It must have been like the very pits of hell inside the cave. Soon, death songs could be heard from a couple of Apache warriors, but they quickly faded away. The fires were kept going all night long until the morning sun was above the canyon rim.

That afternoon, when the cave had finally cooled enough for the Navajo to enter, they found 44 Apache warriors in their final grotesque, twisted positions where death had found them desperately trying to get just one more breath of air. The loot taken during the raids was recovered and the Apache bodies were stripped of anything of value. It would be the last raid by Apaches against the Navajo in this area. The cave is still known as Apache Death Cave and is considered cursed by all of the Indians living in the area as well as most anybody else who visits this site. It is said the few people who years later lived in Two Guns  would often hear the tortured whinny of horses along with human screams and cries of unbearable pain coming from warrior spirits who roam the canyon on particularly dark, still nights.

The abandoned campground building.
In the early 1920's, a bridge was built across the canyon just a short way up from the Apache Death Cave. A couple of years later, a married couple by the name of Earle and Louise Cunduff built and operated a trading post, campground, and rental cottages near the bridge. Shortly, a strange man by the name of Henry Miller came along and joined Earle and Louise in their enterprise. Miller claimed to be an Apache chief named Crazy Thunder so everyone called him "Indian Miller." Miller and his wife built a stone building across the canyon from the Apache Death Cave. They called their building Fort Two Guns supposedly because Miller always wore two guns on his hips.

Abandoned now like everything else, this was the last
trading post building.
Miller turned his building into something resembling a zoo which housed lions, bobcats, snakes, porcupines and other animals. He built fake cliff dwellings along the canyon walls which he advertised to tourists as authentic and charged an admission to walk around in. He even raided the Apache Death Cave, removing bones and selling them to the tourists. Indian Miller obviously had no fear of the curse.

The Cundiff's began arguing with Miller over his shady practices and in 1925, leased their store to a couple of drifters who came through. Just a few weeks later, Earle stopped by the store and found the couple had left in the middle of the night and taken almost all of the store's merchandise with them. It took almost everything he had to restock.

In early 1926, Earle and Indian Miller had another argument and Miller shot and killed Earle. He claimed self-defense and the jury acquitted him. A few weeks later, Earle's widow erected a headstone on his grave with the epitaph of "Killed by Indian Miller." Miller took offense at this, got drunk one night and destroyed the headstone. Not able to claim self-defense against a headstone, he was convicted of defacing a grave and had to spend several months in jail.

The "zoo" is now in severe disrepair. It won't be long before
it crumbles back into the ground.
The curse finally caught up to him. Upon his return from jail, he was severely mauled by his lion, just barely surviving and taking weeks to recover. Soon after his recovery, a lynx escaped and mauled him, once again causing weeks of painful recovery. His daughter was coming to see him during this time and was killed in a car wreck. It proved to be too much for even a colorful character such as Indian Miller and he moved away, never to be heard from again.

Former cages in the zoo.
Louise Cundiff had remarried by this time and she and her new husband re-built Two Guns and once again opened Miller's old zoo. They hung on for years, barely making a living until 1950 when they sold out. Over the years, several more people tried to make a go of things, but they all went bust. The town and surrounding area was purchased by a wealthy man in the 1960's and he hired a caretaker to live there full-time in a trailer and guard the buildings. The poor man committed suicide one night. Then, in 1971, mysteriously, most of the buildings burned down. And it has stayed that way since then, a quiet, eerie, cursed place with few visitors and nobody wanting it.

Ruins along the Canyon Diablo rim not far from the
Apache Death Cave.
As we pulled into Two Guns, it was indeed a bit strange. Most of the time when you enter an abandoned place, all you feel is a sense of history. Occasionally though, you get a sense of evil or that something bad has happened there. In some cases, it's just a vague feeling of unease, like I had in Glenrio, not that big of a deal, but there was a definite bad feeling about this place down by the ruins along the canyon. Perhaps it was because we had arrived shortly before sundown and it was almost night when we left. Whatever it was, I would not go out there after dark.

Why the last caretaker of this place committed suicide is no mystery to me. He was out there all alone. He must have dreaded the setting sun. There are places in the world, perhaps like this place, where it's best to not intrude on the spirits and things that go bump in the dark of night.

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