Route 66 wasn’t all family road trips and kitschy neon… surprisingly, the famed Mother Road has a darker side as well. No better place embodies the seedy side of Route 66 quite like the former tourist town of Two Guns, Arizona. Pretty appropriate name, huh? It has a pretty gruesome past, and gained famed as a stop on the Route thanks to its dark history.
It all started during the 19th century. The town was (is?) located on the rim of the also appropriately named Diablo Canyon, and was along a popular route for Native Americans and settlers to travel. In 1878, the first of many horrific events occurred near the town: a massacre of Apaches by their Navajo enemies. The Apaches were hiding out in a cave but were discovered by the Navajos, who lit sage bushes on fire to smoke out any Apaches hiding inside; when they ran out of the cave, they were mercilessly shot and robbed of their valuables. 42 Apaches were killed, either shot or asphyxiated by the smoke. From then on, the cave became known as “the Death Cave”. In 1879-1880, Billy the Kid and his gang hid out on the other side of Diablo Canyon, bringing further notoriety to the area.
Diablo Canyon’s reputation as a dangerous place was further aided when the Santa Fe Railroad came to build a trestle across the canyon just North of what would later become Two Guns. The railroad workers set up a camp they called Diablo Canyon (very creative, guys) and it soon became known as a a wild and lawless place. Outlaws, gamblers, and drifters came through. The train was also a target for crime. In 1889, it was held up by four men who made off with $100,000 in currency, 2,500 new silver dollars, $40,000 in gold coins, silver watches, jewelry, and diamonds. They were captured shortly after, with only $100 dollars on them. After the men were released from prison years later, one claimed that the treasured had been buried in Diablo Canyon… and treasure hunters are still drawn to hunt for the goods here to this day.
A man named Ed Randolph was the first to settle what we now know as Two Guns, by building a store near the Death Cave. He sold it in the 1920s to a couple, Earle and Louise Cundiff, who added in gas pumps and a restaurant. They then leased the land to Henry E. “Chief Crazy Thunder” Miller, who saw the value of the canyon’s beauty and the flow of tourists passing by on their way to Flagstaff.
The first thing ol’ Chief Crazy Thunder did was build a zoo, with, among other things, mountain lions, cougars, gila monsters, coral snakes, and a lynx. Then he added an Indian gift shop and cleaned out the Death Cave, selling off the Apache skulls as souvenirs. Then he made a fake Hopi house and fake cliff dwellings and offered a complete tour of his phony Native American complex. Just as Route 66 became an officially designated highway that ran right past the attraction, Miller started calling it “Two Guns”, which he said was an homage to silent movie actor William “Two Guns” Hart, who he claimed to have worked with.
“One Gun” would have been a more fitting name, though, because in 1926, Miller shot an unarmed Cundiff to death over a dispute they were having about their lease agreement. He was acquitted. Miller’s store burned down in 1929, Louise Cundiff built her own store, and Miller left the state shortly thereafter. Two Guns prospered with Route 66, and a KOA even operated here for a bit (which explains the pool and the “KAMP” billboard)… but the town declined with the Route, too. In 1971, the service station burned down, more or less signifying the end of Two Guns. Some of the old buildings still remain… and apparently the treasure is still there too, for anyone in the mood to brave the many ghosts that probably haunt Two Guns.