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Untold Arizona: Two Guns Ghost Town Marks End Of An Era

A dilapidated cave, some chicken wire and a hand painted sign announcing "Mountain Lions" are a few of the relics that remain of Two Guns today. Route 66 aficionado Sean Evans and I decide to explore the sight on a recent chilly morning.

A lot of legend surrounds Two Guns so it's difficult to know fact from fiction. As one story goes in 1878 a group of Apache warriors attacked a Navajo encampment and murdered almost everyone there. The Apache then hid in a cave with their horses. A couple Navajo scouts found them but knew they were outnumbered. So they built a fire at the mouth of the cave suffocating the Apaches inside. Today it's known as the Apache Death Cave.

Evans read from  a brochure printed in the 1960s.

"'Relive the revenge the crafty Navajo found upon his hated enemy,'" Evans said. "That just seems like we're reading a lot into this."

During Route 66's heyday, families drove cross country on the "Mother Road" and took in a variety of roadside attractions from the world's largest covered wagon in Illinois to a rattlesnake den in Oklahoma. In Arizona many stopped halfway between Flagstaff and Winslow at a spooky ghost town called Two Guns.

It was a time when staying the night at the Wigwam Motel or taking a picture with a concrete dinosaur was all part of the fun. You could drive from Chicago to Los Angeles on one road and the price of gas was less than the speed limit.

In the 1920s Earl and Louise Cundiff saw opportunity on the Mother Road and opened up a trading post in Two Guns.

They were soon followed by Harry Miller, who called himself "Indian Miller." He convinced the Cundiffs to let him build a zoo on the property.

"And so we have pictures of Indian Miller in front of the zoo, who is (was not) Native," Evans said.

In the black and white picture Miller wears long braids beneath a floppy cowboy hat and he's clutching a porcupine to his chest.

"He kept in these two front cages coyotes on chains," Evans said. "And so when people were buying gas if they didn't look like they would hang around, he would shake the chains and the coyotes would howl, so that would draw people over."

If you squint you can imagine caged Gila monsters, and mountain lions where crumbling stacks of rock wall remain. Miller also fixed up the Apache Death Cave -- built a bridge, added some skulls and strung up lights.

"Given the story of the caves and given the condition — you go first but leave me your keys," Evans said.

The cave isn't the only thing that makes Two Guns spooky. In 1926 Earl Cundiff had had it with Harry Miller.

"Cundiff had a temper," Evans said. "That day Harry Miller had to go pick up someone at Canyon Diablo Station. He went in to get dressed. And when he got in there, there was Cundiff with a gun."

Miller didn't hesitate. He snatched his own gun from the dresser and shot and killed Cundiff first.

Miller was acquitted at trial but suffered in other ways. He was attacked by a mountain lion on two separate occasions. And Two Guns also suffered. Route 66 was rerouted to the opposite side of the canyon.

Then in the early seventies the wider faster interstate replaced the "Mother Road," as Route 66 business owner Mirna Delgadillo recounts.

"Once the bypass came through, it was just very, very hard to make a living," Delgadillo said. "And there were many people who had to close down their businesses because they could no longer make a living."

Families have replaced road trips west with flights to Disneyland and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. In Two Guns today, we find fresh footprints in the snow, graffiti, a boarded up window and a door, where someone has spray painted the words "smoke meth."

Evans says this is probably his last trip.

"It doesn't feel like this will be here very much longer," Evans said.

Gone are the days of kitschy rubber tomahawks and worry stones, the simpler times when a folktale about a mysterious cave could make a family trip memorable.

Laurel Morales was a Fronteras Desk reporter in Flagstaff from 2011 to 2020.