Two Guns Arizona | The Wildest Of The Wild West
It almost entirely sounds made up.
A cursed Apache death cave. A zoo in the middle of the desert. And a wild man named Chief Crazy Thunder who shot a man dead.
It’s all true, and it’s only part of wild history that makes up Two Guns Arizona.
Two Guns Arizona arguably has one of the most wild stories of any town from that era, and that’s why I’m excited to share it’s story with you.
History Of Two Guns Arizona
The ghost town of Two Guns in Arizona is quietly tucked away off the infamous route 66. Outside of a few highway signs, Two Guns can easily be missed. But this unassuming stretch of land holds more than 900 years worth of history.
Before Two Guns was, well Two Guns the area was originally settled by native Americans. Archaeologists have found relics and artifacts on the land dating back to 1050. Geographically, this makes a lot of sense.
The plot of land sits right on the edge of what is now known as Anderson Canyon, which would have been flush with fresh water hundreds of years ago. With clean water a rare commodity in the Arizona desert, this would have made a perfect place to settle.
Outside of natives living in Two Guns, not much is known about its early history. There is however one story that has stuck throughout the years, and that’s the tale of the Apache Death Caves.
Apache Death Cave
In 1878 a raiding party of Apache natives were riding along the Colorado River, looking for an encampment to plunder. After only a short time they found a small village of Navajo people living near the riverside. In their eyes, this was the perfect target.
Without warning, the Apache raiders began to slaughter the men, women, and children of the camp, leaving only three girls alive which they took prisoner.
In total, 25 people were slain in the massacre, and the Apaches retreated into the darkness with the looted resources and kidnapped girls. Word of this attack traveled quickly to Navajo tribe leaders, and soon a group of trackers were dispatched to find who committed such a heinous act.
The assailants’ trail grew cold as their tracks disappeared into what’s now known as Canyon Diablo. Determined to bring the raiders to justice, the Navajo scouts pushed further south to try and find any hint of where they could have gone.
After hours of searching along the canyon, one scout noticed a thin veil of smoke coming up from the ground near the base of the ravine. The Navajo quietly inspected the area, and were sure this was the Apache hideout. They heard voices and saw fire below. They were hiding out in a nearby cave.
Just like the attack against their people, the Navajo struck the Apaches with no warning. They set fire to the entrance of the cave that was hidden behind thick brush and foliage. With the fire raging there was only one other way out, and that was being guarded by the Navajo scouts, who had their bows at the ready.
Screams echoed out into the valley as the smoke quickly filled the caves. Desperate for air, some of the Apache tried escaping, climbing their way to the top. But they were shot down one by one by the waiting Navajo tribe.
After a while, the screaming stopped. When the smoke cleared and the flames died down a total of 42 Apaches were dead. They were stripped of their gear, and their bodies were left in the cave serving as a mass grave. The 3 kidnapped girls were killed just hours earlier.
From that point on, no other tribes would claim that cave, and it was deemed cursed. Folklore started to circulate about the spirits of angry Apache raiders haunting the cave. Their souls trapped beneath the rocks, doomed to relive their fiery death time after time.
White settlers would write this off as native American superstition, but conveniently still avoid the area. That is until a group of convicts would stash over $100,000 in treasure near the cave.
Treasure In Two Guns Arizona
Many years before Two Guns would actually become a settlement, the Santa Fe railroad was burrowing it’s way north across the Arizona desert.
Like most railroad work, it ended up getting delayed and eventually the loose town of Canyon Diablo was built to support the railroad workers as the delays continued.
The settlement quickly became known for its drunken violence, shootouts, and rampant street gambling.
As the railway was finished, the town of Canyon Diablo was just getting started, and so were it’s rowdy residents. In 1889 a train loaded with valuables was just too much of a temptation to pass up for four bandits.
The four robbed the train as it stopped in Canyon Diablo, and fled on horseback with over $100,000 in cash and countless amounts of silver dollars and jewelry.
The law was quick on their tail, but not quick enough. The bandits were apprehended a few days later but almost none of the loot was ever recovered.
Years later after being released from prison, one of the thieves admitted that their guns and much of the stolen cash and silver was buried in the canyon rim just outside of Two Guns. He took the exact location to his grave.
To this day, the treasure has never been recovered and the area remains popular with treasure hunters some 200 years later.
Chief Crazy Thunder & His Zoo
It wasn’t until 1922 that Two Guns Arizona became a real ‘town’. Earle and Louise Cundiff purchased the land now known as Two Guns for a modest $1000. They built a gas station, a small store, and a restaurant for travelers heading west. Remnants of the gas pumps and the storefront are still visible to this day.
Things took a strange and morbid turn when a man by the name of Harry Miller leased some property from the Cundiffs in 1925.
Miller soon announced that his new name was “Chief Crazy Thunder” and then wildly began construction on his newly acquired land. Maybe the desert heat got to him, or maybe he had always been a little off his rocker.
In a short span Miller had erected several storefronts, and oddly enough, an entire zoo. Crude cages and pens were constructed from chicken wire and homemade bricks. The zoo was home to everything from mountain lions, to snakes, along with birds and cougars. But it gets even stranger.
Miller had cleaned out the Apache Death Cave and gathered up all the remains he could find. In a small store at the base of the cave, he sold the slain Apache skulls as souvenirs. He would also open the cave up for tours, for a fee of course.
Lighting was installed in the cave, and guests were led through the chambers where 42 Apaches were killed. At the end of this delightful tour, Miller had conveniently placed soft drinks and food at the end of the cave. What an entrepreneur!
Business was steady until 1926 when the road Two Guns was located on was renamed to the one and only Route 66. That same year, Miller and Cundiff got into a fight about their lease agreement.
In a rage, Chief Crazy Thunder- I mean Miller, shot Cundiff dead in cold blood.
Surprisingly, Miller was acquitted of all charges.
Miller’s storefront mysteriously caught fire shortly after, and only a few weeks later Mrs. Cundiff built a large trading post and shop on the property. Was this coincidence, or an attempt to drive Miller out?
Either way, Miller was not happy she was diverting his traffic and drug Mrs Cundiff through an expensive and lengthy court battle. During the case, he claimed he was the original founder of Two Guns and that the land was rightfully his.
During this time his store fronts and zoo were continuously vandalized. His flamboyant signs and advertising along route 66 were ripped down or stolen.
Miller also had other mounting legal issues which he went to great lengths to cover up, or so rumor has it. All this pressure eventually led to Miller fleeing the state in 1930, leaving his zoo, and roadside attractions abandoned.
Two Gun’s Last Stand
Miller’s business passed through many hands before eventually going bust. The zoo held on all the way up until 1950, until the animals were transferred to other enclosures elsewhere in the area.
In the 1960s a few more modern service stations were built, along with a hotel. Since the zoo did so well in the past, another budding businessman tried to give a new zoo another shot, but it ultimately failed.
Two Guns was just barely hanging on by a thread, that is until the main service station burned down in 1971. That seemed to be the catalyst, everything else rapidly began declining around it. Soon everyone had left, and everything was left behind.
No one has tried to build in Two Guns ever since.
Two Guns Arizona is truly a ghost town like no other. I can’t think of any other place where you can explore such a vast amount of history in one spot.
Was it the decline of tourism that led to the failure of Two Guns, or a 200 year old Apache curse? You’ll just have to go there and find out.
Tornado Hits Two Guns
On October 21st, 2018 a sidewinder tornado made its way through Two Guns Arizona. Not much damage was reported as there really wasn’t anything to break out in the middle of the desert.
‘Disaster News’ YouTube channel did get an awesome video of the twister.
Where Is Two Guns Arizona?
Two Guns Arizona, is located directly off of Route 66. If you’re traveling west it’s the next exit right after Meteor Crater National Landmark. You’re free to drive right up to the ruins and drive through the area.
Two Guns is best viewed during the day, however photographing it at night was an awesome experience. The ruins provide an excellent foreground for anyone interested in taking pictures of the night sky.
If you love old ghost towns, be sure to check out a completely abandoned renaissance faire in Virginia.