The classic old Route 66 has it’s share of abandoned attractions, but the top on the list is the town of Two Guns, Arizona. The chilling history of the land that would someday become Two Guns began long before the “white man” arrived. This tale of murder, greed and wild west crime & punishment will send chills up your spine.

A Town Built on a Curse

When the pioneers came wanting to build on the land, the Native Americans warned them that the land was cursed. The Native Americans themselves had not used the land for anything since the deadly massacre that had taken place between Apache and Navajo men in 1878.

The story goes that a group of Apache raided a Navajo village killing almost every man, woman and child in the village except for three girls that they stole, along with the rest of their plunder. When the Navajo found out about the blood bath they sent a group of men after the raiders and the three girls. The Navajo searched everywhere and thought they had lost them when they suddenly felt a heat coming from the ground below.

They discovered that the 42 Apache men and their horses were hiding in the cave. The heat that they felt was coming from their fires burning below. After killing the two watchmen that were standing outside the hideout, the Navajo started to pile brush and wood and set a fire at the entrance to the cave. In a desperate attempt to save themselves from the burning flames, the men killed their horses and tried to use the blood to put out the fire and the corpses to try to block the entrance.

At one point, one of the men escaped and started to negotiate for their lives. The Navajo’s considered their offer, however upon learning that the three girls that had been taken were killed they quickly threw him back down into the burning cave and added more fuel to the fire. Knowing that it was over and there was no chance of escape, the Apache being singing their death chants. When the fire died down and the chanting stopped the Navajo found the 42 men and their horses laying dead on the floor of the cave.

Neither the Apache or the Navajo would use the land around the cave for any reason after the massacre. And there was never another raid between the Apache and the Navajo. They insisted that the land was now cursed and tried to warn the pioneers that tried to settle the land. While many settlers dismissed the curse as superstition, stories of moans and wails from the angry Apache Warriors were said to come from the cave.

When the songs faded and the smoke cleared, the Navajo broke through the charred horse-corpse barrier. They retrieved their goods, and stripped off the valuables of the 42 Apaches that suffocated inside of the cave. From that point on, no Apache has used that cave for any reason. Apaches would never again raid the Navajo people.

Atlas obscura

Capitalizing on a Massacre

Chief Crazy Thunder Miller

The caves proximity to the newly built Route 66 was a potential gold mine to a man named “Indian” Miller. The self-proclaimed full blooded Apache leased a portion of the property which included the death cave from a couple named the Cundiff’s. Miller grew his hair out long and began calling himself “Chief Crazy Thunder”. He cleaned out the first two caverns of the cave and sold the skulls he found as souvenirs. He constructed fake cliff dwelling buildings around the cave and began charging people to take tours of the cave. Along with the cave tours there was a desert zoo and trading post.

Building Ruins over the Apace Death Cave

Investigating the Apache Death Cave, Miller cleaned out the first two
caverns. Cliff dweller ruins were then constructed inside the entry way and
first cavern. What few Apache skulls he found were sold to tourists as
souvenirs. (Now and then one still comes to light). The horse and human
bones were disposed of to a Winslow bone dealer.

Story of Two Guns Arizona

Shortly after Two Guns started to gain popularity is when the curse of the Apache Death Cave began to rear it’s ugly head. A number of misfortunate events eventually led to the abandonment of this short lived tourist attraction and town.

The Curse of the Angry Apache Spirits

Desert Zoo

Miller’s trouble began in 1926 after a drifter stole a large amount of items from his Trading Post. Having been set back quite a bit by the robbery, Miller got into a heated argument with Cundiff about their lease agreement. Miller shot and killed Cundiff but somehow ended up not getting any jail time for his murder of the unarmed Cundiff.

Although he got away without any jail time for his murder, Miller received his punishment in the form of karma. He was clawed by his mountain lion and a year later was almost disemboweled by a Canadian Linx. Shortly after that he was then bit on his finger by the Gila Monster. The wound became infected and his entire arm swelled up to twice the size. It took 6 months for his arm to return back to normal. After some vandals removed his advertising along Route 66 he ended up giving up and leaving Two Guns for good.

Some Curses Can’t be Broken

Even after Miller had left, the town continued to suffer. Route 66 was rerouted and turned into Interstate 40, taking all the tourists and the livelihood of the town along with it. After a fire destroyed much of the property Mrs. Cundiff tried to rebuild but eventually sold the land in 1955. Others tried to revitalize the property but another massive fire destroyed the buildings in 1971. That was the last time that any one tried to inhabit Two Guns.

Visiting Two Guns 50 Years Later

Over 50 years since the town was abandoned, the town of Two Guns is an urban explorers dream. I loved the old ruins of the zoo, trading post and buildings. The property also includes a bridge that is listed on the Register of Historic Places. The bridge used to be a part of Route 66 to get to nearby Diablo Canyon.

The buildings themselves were so interesting to walk through and I enjoyed it quite a bit. I tried to get the courage to crawl down the rickety walk way to the entrance of the cave. I got about 5 feet down before I decided I could not go any further and scrambled my way back up. When standing along the edges of the Apache Death Cave I could feel an uneasy feeling in my chest, it was almost like I could feel the evil that once took place down there.

My daughter, who is much braver than me made her way to the bottom. She said it was really big inside. The legend said that the walls of the cave were stained black from the fire but she said she couldn’t see it. Maybe after over 100 years it wore off, who knows? We stayed the night in Two Guns. There were a few other travelers camping throughout the town and no one bothered us. I didn’t hear any ghosts during my stay. Maybe after all these years of abandonment the Apache Ghosts finally have some peace.

Destiny standing at the entrance to the cave
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Sources

Atlas Obscura. “Apache Death Cave – Winslow Arizona”. https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/apache-death-cave

Atlas Obscura. “Two Guns”. https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/two-guns

“Story of Two Guns and Canyon Diablo, Arizona by Gladwell Richardson”. http://api.ning.com/files/UlNjvG5vpZPii-NEdQeJuxhzxF-4T*T0TOq9wy0f3nt0-4YC3XXaDebVbVSQGwI9au1Db32Aj3Ke6LzjxMhXS3p2ZLEWctNs/StoryofTwoGunsandCanyonDiabloArizonabyGladwellRichardson.pdf