If you’ve driven more than 30 miles down the I-40 east of Flagstaff, you’ve no doubt noticed the remains of this ghost town and wondered what you were looking at. Wonder no more!
The history of the land on which this town sits has an incredible history—too much to cover in one post. We will focus on what is now known as Two Guns.
In the 1920s, homesteaders Earl and Louise Cundiff purchased 320 acres of land. They built a stone building which would then be used as a trading post serving cowboys, sheepherders, natives, and prospectors. The dilapidated remains of this building can still be seen today along the South end of Canyon Diablo, alongside the old bridge.
In 1925, a local man known as, Henry Miller (photo below), would enter a tenuous partnership with Earl Cundiff, who agreed to lease him a portion of land. Miller falsely claimed to be a full-blooded Apache, and dubbed himself “Chief Crazy Thunder.”
Under Miller’s leadership this small trading post would grow into a full-blown tourist trap. With help from members of the local Hopi Tribe, he began construction on what he called Fort Two Guns, which would include a roadside zoo, store, and living quarters.
Although the town would go on to be known as Two Guns, that name was originally rejected for “Canyon Lodge” after Cundiff petitioned for a local post office.
Miller would also rename the site of a nearby massacre, “Mystery Cave.” He built fake ruins inside the cave, and around the entrance, and embellished the story of the massacre.
Learn about the Apache Death Cave.
Two Guns was doing well and growing rapidly, but its fortunes would not last. It was around a year in when Miller shot and killed Cundiff over a leasing dispute (March 1926). The building in which he was shot is the southernmost building, along the edges of the canyon (photo 14). For unknown reasons, Miller was acquitted.
Miller would eventually leave the area, although not before trying to steal it from the widowed Cundiff. Even with him gone, the suffering of the town and its residents would continue. This would prove especially true after Route 66 was rerouted to the opposite side of the canyon, diverting many would-be tourist. To keep afloat, Cundiff and her new husband had to rebuild everything on the opposite side of the canyon (this is why if you visit today, you’ll see evidence of the zoo on both sides).
Two Guns was sold in the 1950s. Throughout the decade it would be leased and abandoned multiple times, until a man named Dreher revitalized the area. Things were looking good for the town. The I-40 was finally coming through the area and even had a dedicated exit. However, a fire destroyed the town in 1971, sealing its fate. It was never rebuilt.
Rumor has it the town is owned by Actor Russell Crowe, allegedly purchasing it for the 2011 West Word remake. However, I could only confirm Historic Two-Guns Properties LLC as the owner.
Due to the many misfortunes of the area, many consider Two Guns to be cursed.
Be sure to check back in for the history of the cave.
If you’d like to supplement your reading with greater detail, you can read this excellent document published by Dries Bessels here.