The name Two Guns is as wild west a name as you will find out here. Believe it or not, it actually comes from the original inhabitant of the area, a wild, violent individual called "Two Gun" Miller. It is said that this eccentric hermit lived in a cave in nearby Canyon Diablo and was hostile to visitors. Apparently his spirit lives on in Two Guns by the way things were just a couple of years ago.
Just west of the closed gas station and campground you cand still see stone ruins left over from the heyday of Route 66. Tourist stops lured the Route 66 traveler to stay awhile in Two Guns at onc time. There was even a small zoo located here for the pleasure of the tourists who came through. All that is left of them are the stone ruins along the rim of Canyon Diablo. There are also numerous ruins associated with the zoo, as well as the remnants of buildings associated with various eras of Two Guns's past.
It was at this point that Route 66 crossed Canyon Diablo. The old bridge across Canyon Diablo which was a part of the National Trail and Route 66 is still standing, I think the highlight was when I drove across the old RT.66 Canyon Diablo Bridge in my 99 Honda V-Tec. It was a reflective moment for me. Once a nation on the move crossed this very bridge!
You can see old Route 66 Bridge that crosses Canyon Diablo that gave early explorers such a problem. The canyon was named by Lieutenant Whipple during the 1853 35th parallel survey. The canyon presented such an obstacle to the expedition that they had to go 25 miles out of their way to cross it! Lieutenant Beale with his Camel Corps in 1857 had the same problem in crossing the canyon. Today, I bet most people don't even realize they are crossing a notorious canyon as they speed down the I-40.
The Story of Two Guns, AZ.
Murder at Two Guns
Two Guns' legendary niche on Route 66 history really began in March of 1925 when Harry "Indian" Miller set foot there. Miller, who claimed to be a full blooded Apache - except for a smidgen of Mohawk - was well educated and a veteran of the Spanish American War in the Philippine theater. As time went on he proved to have a flair for gaudy publicity and fashioned a quintessential Route 66 tourist trap, maybe the first of its kind on the highway.
Here you find the old ruins of a famous and classic old roadside attraction where a pseudo zoo was put together for the delight of the younger "66" back-seat travelers in decades gone by. Neat old structures out in the middle of nowhere! Not to be out done, take a look at one of the best remaining artifact "66" highway bridges in the entire country while on your walk to the Mountain Lion building ruins.
Two Guns was, in the past, the site of a major confrontation between the Navajos and the Apaches in the 19th century. Its modern history begins when the site is recognized as an easy place to cross Canyon Diablo--first, by wagon, and then later by motor cars. It was originally called "Canyon Lodge" when the National Trail Highway moved westward; when the Trail was re-named Route 66, the site's name was changed to Two Guns, because the proprietor of the facilities located there was one Henry E. Miller, who called himself "Two Gun Miller" (for reasons unknown). During the heyday of Route 66, Two Guns became one of the numerous tourist traps along the way, with a gas station, overnighting accommodations, a food emporium, etc., as well as the zoo (signs of which are still visible from the Interstate). Two Guns went into decline with the building of Interstate 40; although numerous resuscitations have been attempted (including by the owner of The Main Event, in Quartzsite)
Over a decade ago we met Robert and Gypsy the caretaker of this awesome site. he told us stories of the history surrounding Two Guns and for a hour-and-a-half, we listened to tales of vengeance, murder, corpse abuse and much more -- all part of the legend of Two Guns, Arizona.
They area's checkered history began in 1878, when Apache Indians used nearby Diablo Canyon as an escape route after raiding Navajo encampments.
"The Apaches would raid the camps, steal horses and some of the women, and escape through the canyon," Robert said. "The Navajos would ride out after them, hoping to cut them off when the came out of the canyon. Only the Apaches would - poof -- disappear."
As we talked, we were led us toward the rock strewn gully that was the Apache escape route. Eventually, he said, Navajo scouts discovered a large cave in the canyon, and they heard voices inside -- Apache voices.
In spite of the fact that a number of their women were held captive inside, the Navajos took drastic action. They gathered a huge pile of sagebrush and wood, built a fire, and then pushed the burning mass into the cave.
According to the legend, the Apaches threw what little water they had on the fire. Eventually, they even killed their horses and tried to quell the flames with their blood. But it wasn't enough. When the fire burned out the next day, the Navajos discovered 42 badly charred bodies inside.
Pointing in the direction of the cavern, located just a stone's throw from the Two Guns gas station, Robert told us the site has been known as the Apache Death Cave ever since. Anyone who disturbs it, he said, runs the risk of being cursed by evil spirits.
The area's violent history didn't end there. In 1905, two outlaws, Bill Evans and John Shaw, had their luck run out in Two Guns.
In September of that year, Evans and Shaw bellied up to the bar at the Wigwam Saloon in nearby Winslow, Arizona, for a drink. But as the bartender poured whiskey into their glasses, the two noticed a nearby dice table sagging under the weight of some 600 silver dollars that were being wagered. Shaw and Evans stared at the money, then reached for their guns instead of the whiskey. They relieved the dice players of their stakes, then made tracks for points west.
The two got as far as Two Guns before a posse ran them down. In the ensuing gunfight Shaw was shot dead and Evans was wounded. Evans recovered, but Shaw was buried where he fell.
When word of the gunfight reached the boys who had remained behind, drinking whiskey at the Wigwam Saloon, a short, drunken moment of silence fell over the place. Then somebody piped up that although it wasn't very neighborly of the two to rob the place, it seemed a shame that poor old John Shaw never got that last shot of whiskey he'd left on the bar.
A plan was quickly hatched. Somebody rounded up a bottle of whiskey (and several others to keep it company) and the saloon keeper provided a shovel. The gang of well-lubricated mourners hopped a freight train and jumped off at Two Guns. There, they exhumed Shaw's bullet-riddled corpse, stood him up and poured a shot of whiskey between his blue lips. One of the men even took pictures.
Robert's version of this particular tale closely agreed with other accounts I've read.
Chain-smoking and talking all the way, Robert led us over unstable piles of boulders ("earthquake did that"), crumbled buildings ("watch for nails, busted glass and snakes"), and rotting wooden bridges over deep chasms. He told us these ruins represented another phase in the history of Two Guns.
In the late '20s, he said, when Route 66 was in its infancy, an entrepreneur named Henry Miller (a.k.a. "Two Guns Miller" and "Chief Crazy Thunder") opened a gas station, wild animal zoo and Apache Death Cave exhibition. Miller had a partner, Earl Cundiff, when he started the project. But whether you chalk it up to the Indian curse or some other cause, their association didn't last long.
Robert pointed with his knife to a dilapidated building. "That there," he said, "is where Miller shot and killed Earl Cundiff in '26. Shot him over some woman . . . got off scot-free, too."
Finally, Robert led us down a treacherous pile of rubble left behind by an avalanche and stopped inside the mouth of the Apache Death Cave. Then he lit an old lantern, held it up to his face and croaked, "Follow me."
Up until then, I'd been thinking of Robert as a friendly eccentric, a self-proclaimed mountain man who lived in the middle of nowhere by choice and sometimes liked to "sit in the ruins late at night and watch for stuff."
But a few minutes later, when he walked us deep into the cave, then extinguished the lantern to show us how dark it was, I began to have other thoughts. My mind wandered to things like Robert's knife, my wallet, his gun and my life. When he re-lit the lantern, I noticed J. B. apparently shared my apprehensions. He had inched a good 20 feet back toward the mouth of the cave, banging his head on the low ceiling in the process.
Our experience in the Apache Death Cave was similar to the tours Two Guns Miller offered tourists back in the '30s and '40s, except that Miller, the man who blew out the lantern on them, really had killed a man there!
In spite of the scare he threw into us, Robert was careful to make sure we got back to our bikes safely. And along the way, he explained how Two Guns was going to be rebuilt just like it was by a rich investor "real soon."
As for the curse, Robert said it still exists. How else can you explain the fact that the motel and gas station at Two Guns survived for decades in this remote location, then burned to the ground on the very day Interstate 40 opened and Route 66 was bypassed? It had to be the curse -- or perhaps that mysterious form of spontaneous combustion that can occur when a deed rubs up against an insurance policy.
The letter below is from Ghosttowns.com
A Letter to Irene from Unke Perry who used to live at Two Guns describing the site:Dear Irene, I was happy to get a letter from you and that you and Mildred are ok and doing fine. Irene, I tried to draw you a diagram, maybe it will give you some sort of an idea of the lay of the land around Uncle Bill's old horse camp. As Cap showed me the place Cap worked for Uncle Bill for quite some time I think. He had a lot of funny tails to tell me about he and Uncle Bill. Now this old house is a rockhouse part of it has fell down there was the front room still standing when we were there. Cap pointed out to me where the trail leads out to for them to get a bucket of water. They had to go clear down to the bottom of Canyon Diablo to get a bucket of water you will see the little draw or canyon like leading down near the cabon to the north east. Now this was only the old horse ranch. The main ranch was somwhere over on the Little Colorado River. I wouldnt have any idea where it was only Cap said it was about 50 miles from the ranch to Holbrook. It would be west of Holbrook. Now all that country around the old horse ranch and around the old meter crater country and on south to the rim of the Mogolon Mountains was uncle Bill's cow range. And of course north to the Little Colorado River. He sure had a large range. Uncle Bill told me that the country around there used to be the best grass country in the world for cattle. Grammer and Buffalo grass. Cattle was always fat. Now the main ranch over on the Little Colorado River was where Grandpa Roden lived and raised up his children there and when Grandpa Roden died he left the ranch and horses to Uncle Bill and the cattle was to be devided up between the girls so Uncle Bill established the range around where his old horse camp was as his own range and he branded his cattle and horses pitchfork and the girls all had a brand of their own. My mother's cattle was branded APL I dont know what the other girls branded theirs. When my dad and mother were married they sold the APL cattle to my Uncle Charlie Chapman and my dad and mom went to Oklahoma for a while took up a claim and bought some more cattle that was branded (cross ell) We later drove them west as you all know . Drove them to Santa Rosa New Mex then later on to Arizona. Well thats about all there is to it Irene except when my mom saw that she had some cattle to look after she decited she needed a cowboy. So my dad was a young gay cowboy and he was the boss of the West End range for the Hash Knife Cattle Co. Headquarters Ranch at Holbrook. So one night at a dance in Holbrook my mom spied that gay young cavallero boss of the Hash Knife Cattle Co. range so she set her cap for him and he fell like a ton of brick. That was my lucky day or else I wouldnt be here now. Well Irene I will have to go now. I will say by by for now give my love to mildred and I cincerialy do wish for you and Mildred the very best of good health and many many good blessings With Love, Unke Perry.