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The Tragic And Cursed History Of Two Guns, Arizona

Two Guns, AZ, is one of the many cursed ghost towns scattered throughout the Southwest. It's a long-abandoned town, but tourists still stop to see its ruins along Old Route 66. Set on the rim of a canyon, the strange little town was the sight of a tragedy involving two Native American tribes. Beginning in the early 1920s, Earle and Louise Cundiff established a trading post, which grew over the years to include a restaurant and gas pumps.

A man named Harry E. Miller showed up in the late '20s, leased property from the Cundiffs, and constructed a full-blown tourist trap. He played up the area's turbulent history and claimed he was full-blooded Apache. It's unclear if this claim was true. However, it was clear Miller wasn't happy simply leasing land from the Cundiffs: he wanted to own Two Guns, and his actions led to many disputes and at least one slaying.

But some wonder: was the downfall of Two Guns Miller's fault alone, or did the land have a curse long before he blew into town?

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  • Tragedy In The 'Apache Death Cave' Led To A Curse On The Land

    Tragedy In The 'Apache Death Cave' Led To A Curse On The Land
    Photo: Marine 69-71 / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

    The town of Two Guns based much of its tourism around the "Apache Death Cave," a nearby cavern in Diablo Canyon. It was the site of a deadly conflict between members of the local Apache and Navajo tribes. In 1878, a group of Apaches raided a Navajo encampment, killing nearly everyone and looting their valuables.

    When the Navajo tribe realized what had happened, they sent a party to search for the Apaches. The Apaches raided another encampment nearby, but they seemingly disappeared shortly afterward.

    Navajo scouts soon discovered their hiding place. A burst of warm air from a campfire gave away the Apaches' location in an underground cavern. The entire Apache raiding party and their horses were inside, so the Navajo lit a fire in the cave's entrance. As smoke filled the cavern, the Apache killed their horses and used the carcasses to block the fire.

    Some accounts say they used the horses' blood to attempt to extinguish the flames. It was useless - 42 Apaches died of suffocation, as the Navajo listened to their death songs from outside. Some people believe this deadly incident cursed the land around Two Guns.

  • The Town Began As A Modest Trading Post

    The Town Began As A Modest Trading Post
    Photo: Marine 69-71 / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

    Though pioneers had lived and traveled in the area for centuries - and Native Americans for longer - the town of Canyon Lodge wasn't an officially established American town until the early 19th century. Mr. and Mrs. Oldfield, early Arizona homesteaders, founded the city. It slowly expanded over the decades as other pioneers joined. When Earle and Louise Cundiff moved to town, they bought more than 300 acres of land.

    As the small outpost expanded into a popular tourist stop, Canyon Lodge became Two Guns at around the same time when the National Trail Highway became Route 66 in the 1920s. By this time, it became a well-established small town. Residents built a gas station and restaurant to serve the travelers passing through.

  • Harry 'Two Guns' Miller Developed A Native American Persona To Impress Tourists

    Harry "Two Guns" Miller's ancestry remains unknown, but in the 1920s, he claimed he was Native American and created an Apache persona for his tourism business. He grew his hair out and wore it in braids, calling himself Chief Crazy Thunder.

    A veteran of the Spanish-American War, Miller established his business when the town was starting to become profitable as part of Route 66; historians believe the Native American backstory was nothing more than an act. He was not well-liked and most considered him disagreeable; it's unlikely an Apache would sell the skulls of fellow tribe members in a gift shop, as Miller did.

  • Miller's Dark Tourism Kicked Off The Curse Of Two Guns

    Miller's Dark Tourism Kicked Off The Curse Of Two Guns
    Photo: Marine 69-71 / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

    After 42 Apaches died in the so-called "Death Cave," residents believed the land surrounding Two Guns became cursed. But it wasn't until Miller's arrival when the town ran into trouble. Many think Miller exacerbated the curse by selling the skulls of the Apaches who had died in the cave as souvenirs.

    One of the first incidents of the curse allegedly occurred when a drifter couple stayed the night in Two Guns. They robbed Miller's store and took off with substantial merchandise. Over the next few decades, people attributed several fires and a slaying to the curse.

  • The Postal Service Refused To Acknowledge The Name 'Two Guns'

    The Postal Service Refused To Acknowledge The Name 'Two Guns'
    Photo: Mingo Hagen / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

    Homesteader and primary town landowner Earle Cundiff applied for a post office for Two Guns in 1924. Unfortunately, the US government refused to issue the town a post office under such a name. So, instead, they chose the old name of Canyon Lodge.

    After the government granted the post office, Cundiff became the official postmaster of Canyon Lodge/Two Guns.

  • Two Guns Drew Tourists In With A Southwestern Zoo

    Two Guns Drew Tourists In With A Southwestern Zoo
    Photo: Marine 69-71 / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

    When Miller re-imagined the town as a tourist destination, he added a zoo. The small roadside menagerie featured animals native to the Southwest, such as mountain lions, Gila monsters, bobcats, and snakes. Miller's captured mountain lions attacked him twice; his Gila monster - known for its poison that causes painful swelling - also bit him. The attacks happened after Miller avoided prison time for killing Earle Cundiff, the town's primary landowner.

    The zoo, along with the rest of the town's structures, relocated several times to match the flow of the highway. Visitors can still see the crumbling remains of the cages today.