Two Guns, Arizona: Cursed ghost town full of history and mystery

Bojan Ivanov
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The historic ghost town of Two Guns is situated on the eastern rim of Canyon Diablo about 30 miles east of Flagstaff, Arizona, United States of America. The town, originally known as Canyon Lodge, flourished as one of the significant tourist spots along the famous route 66.

The town had a gas station, a cafe, overnight accommodation, a store selling local souvenirs and even a zoo with animals characteristic for the area. But when Route 66 was redirected to the opposite canyon, the town of Two Guns, as many towns along the old unused section of Route 66, started slowly to decline. After several attempts for it to be resurrected, the town of Two Guns became a completely abandoned ghost town at the beginning of the 1970s. The several remaining buildings are now in ruins but the site remains a picturesque place full of history and mystery.

Abandoned gas station in Two Guns/ Author: Mingo Hagen – CC BY 2.0

The area that would later become Two Guns was inhabited much earlier. Native artifacts discovered there indicate that this place was populated from 1050 AD. The first European settlers started to populate the area in the mid-19th century when the construction of the Santa Fe Railway was proceeding in northern Arizona. In 1880 there was built a railroad town called Canyon Diablo, which became a ghost town years before the idea of building the town of Two Guns was even born. The town of Canyon Diablo quickly became a favorite place for outlaws, gamblers, and criminals. Billy the Kid and his gang hid in a ruined house built from the stone on the west edge of Canyon Diablo in winter 1879-1890.

Two Guns from across Canyon Diablo/ Author: Marcin Wichary – CC BY 2.0

Two Guns also has a reputation as a haunted area. The place is known as the site of a battle between the Navajo and the Apache tribes. In 1878 a group of Apaches were hiding in a cave nearby to where the town of Two Guns was later built. They were discovered by their enemies, who put fires at the exit of the cave and killed any Apache that tried to escape. 42 Apaches were brutally killed and the site of the mass murder is known as “death cave”. It is believed that from this day, a curse was placed on this part of the land by Canyon Diablo.

Two Guns in 2013/ Author: Z22 – CC BY-SA 3.0

The place, where later Two Guns would be born, was seen as a perfect spot to cross Canyon Diablo, first by wagon, later by motor vehicles. Actually, the town of Two Guns was born when the National Old Trails Highway (or the “Santa Fe Highway”) was constructed in 1907. In 1915, Canyon Diablo Bridge was built at the Two Guns location, where the highway crossed the dry river bed of Canyon Diablo. In 1938 a new bridge was opened and the old lost its primary function.

Gas pumps/ Author: Thure Johnson – CC BY 2.0

The first settler that came at the place was Ed Randolph. He opened a store next to the cave. Very quickly a few more settlers were attracted and it became an important trading post, especially when the town became a part of the National Trail Highway. In 1922, Earle and Louse Cundiff bought 320 acres of land from Randolph and built a store, restaurant and gasoline pumps. At the end of the 1920s, the National Trail Highway was developed into the famous Route 66, and the place evolved into a busy stop for passing drivers that needed food, gas or oil.

Canyon Diablo Bridge at Two Guns is listed on the National Register of Historic Places/ Author: Marcin Wichary – CC BY 2.0

The town was seen as a perfect place for making money by the eccentric Harry E. Miller. He bought a property from the Cundiffs and started to build. He wanted to attract more tourists in the area, who would not only enjoy taking in the beauty of the Canyon Diablo but also would buy something from him. Miller, who considered himself as a member of the Apache tribe and claimed to be an Apache chief known by the name of Chief Crazy Thunder, built a zoo along the rim and north wall of the canyon. The cages were huge structures made of brick and chicken wire. The improvised zoo had mountain lions, cougars, snakes, birds and lynx. He opened a restaurant and an Indian souvenir store too, selling the Apache skulls and bones that he found inside the “death cave”. Also, there was a tour to the cave, where Miller installed electric lights. As part of the tourist attraction, he built a fake ruin where he sold drinks and traditional Hopi bread. The tour began at a Hopi house, which was also fake and built by Miller. The place started to look like a theme park from the Wild West. He renamed the settlement into “Fort Two Guns” (for unknown reasons Miller also called himself Two Guns) and road signs along the road were placed with that name. Miller even applied to the authorities for an official changing of the name of the town, but he was refused and the town was still officially known as Canyon Lodge.

Abandoned zoo cages/ Author: Marcin Wichary – CC BY 2.0

Perhaps disturbing the Apache remains in the allegedly cursed cave was a bad move for Miller, as things soon began to go badly for him. In 1926, after an argument about the lease, Miller murdered Earle Cundiff. After he was released from prison, Miller returned to live at Two Guns as a hermit. He became hostile to the tourists and the animals of his zoo became hostile to him. Several times he was attacked by his mountain lion, lynx, and snake, and because of that, he developed a very bad infection which made his arm completely swelled up. His store burned to the ground in 1929. After further troubles with the law in 1930, he escaped from Two Guns in an unknown direction.

The burned gas pumps/ Author: Mingo Hagen – CC BY 2.0

Louise Cundiff and her new husband built a new store. In 1938 a new bridge across the canyon was constructed and Route 66 was redirected. That was the start of the slow decline of Two Guns. They sold the place in 1950. In the 1960s a new modern gas station, a motel, western saloon and a new zoo were opened in an attempt to restore the place. Later, a service station and a campground were built, but that didn’t stop the final ending of the town. The service station burnt in 1971 and since then Two Guns is completely abandoned.

Abandoned gas pumps/ Author: Mingo Hagen – CC BY 2.0

 

One of the remained structures that quietly tell the story of Two Guns/ Author: Mingo Hagen – CC BY 2.0

Today remains of the old bridge can be found at the site, and the ruins of several buildings including old cottages, the trading post, zoo, and campground. The deserted town has been vandalized several times and the walls of the buildings are painted with graffiti. Several potential buyers wanted to buy and revitalize the place, there were even rumors that one of them was the famous actor Russell Crowe who wanted to use the location as a film set. But maybe all of them were afraid of the curse of the town of Two Guns because Two Guns is still abandoned and left in ruins and there are no known projects for rebuilding it in near future.