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Navajo-Hopi Observer | Flagstaff, Arizona

home : features : out & about August 29, 2016

2/15/2011 2:03:00 PM
Out & About: Two Guns
Two Guns history reveals colorful past, treachery
Todd Roth/NHO
A picturesque view of the dwellings at Two Guns along Interstate 40.
Todd Roth/NHO
A picturesque view of the dwellings at Two Guns along Interstate 40.
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Todd Roth

TWO GUNS, Ariz. - Approximately 22 miles west of Winslow on the south side of Interstate 40, you will see remains of pueblo style structures. This is the Two Guns area and has a long a colorful past. Old Route 66 passed through here when there was a trading post, a wild animal zoo and the Apache Death Cave. On previous visits, there were signs that said "Keep Out" but the signs are no longer there. There are fences to keep cattle from wandering near the frontage road and buildings.

In 2010 there was a sign saying the area was up for auction but that, too, is now gone. There is ample evidence of people examining the area, but when you drive along I-40, there are usually no cars parked at the site. It's one of the most interesting sights on I-40, easily visible from the highway.

Two Guns has a long history of being a roadside respite beginning in 1907 when the dirt road crossed the canyon here. The crossing was a gentle slope down on the west side and a steeper east slope was blasted out of the canyon wall. Diablo Canyon here was not passable here in the times that the water was high, but most of the year it was used by vehicles. In 1914, this road was called the Old Trails Highway.

In 1922 Earl and Louise Cundiff homesteaded 320 acres here and built a large stone building just south of canyon crossing. The walls are still standing as is the cistern and water piping system necessary to improve a homestead. The large stone building was a trading post, restaurant and gas station. The building is two stories tall and looks as if it was destroyed by fire since all wood interior is gone. More development was started on the north side of the canyon.

Harry E. "Indian" Miller leased the zoo site from the Cundiffs beginning on March 5, 1925. Indian Miller and his wife began a significant building campaign on the north side of the canyon. Today, the front of the zoo entrance still says "Mountain Lions." Indian Miller built a long stone building going east-to-west using Indian labor. It was built on a rise so from the front you couldn't see the zoo animals that had cages below facing the canyon and south.

In the cages he had various wild animals captured from northern Arizona including mountain lions, panthers and bobcats. It appears there were about 12 cages, each approximately 12 feet in width. Most of the cages can still be seen, but are in a state of collapse. The zoo entrance contained a small store, entrance fee acceptance and living quarters. More small buildings were built here containing a restaurant and curio shop run by Chief Joe Secakuku. Earlier inhabitants of the area were farming here from 1050 to 1600 AD.

The most prosperous Native American farmers lived in the area between 1050-1300 AD because the plateau was covered by disintegrated volcanic ash fields which had blasted out of the San Francisco mountains to the west. Earlier inhabitants of the area were the Dawn Men, aboriginal residents, and then came Basket Makers, Pueblo I and Pueblo II periods who had cliff dwellings in this canyon and the surrounding ones. More recently, Navajo and Apache tribes used Diablo Canyon as a place to launch attacks from, and as a place to hide from enemies.

In 1871 an event occurred at Two Guns earning the name "Death Cave."

The remains of the Death Cave can be seen today as a large pit just to the north of a little stone house on a tributary east of the canyon. It appears as though the cave was destroyed as a safety precaution, since the area has no active caretakers. The Death Cave got its name when Apaches hiding in the cave were discovered by avenging Navajos and were subsequently killed. Apaches regularly rode north to raid Navajo settlements, killing, kidnapping women and stealing horses. Their return route was south to the White Mountains. The Navajos had chased them many times, even sending blocking parties to the Mogollon Rim to intercept them, but it seemed that the Apache raiders would disappear when going home.

On one particular chase south, two scouts - B'ugoettin Begay and Bahe - were sent to Two Guns in late afternoon. They were crawling through grass and sagebrush when Bahe was struck in the face with hot air and the sound of voices emanating from a crack in the ground. The underground space where the Apaches were hiding was at last discovered. The two scouts raced back to the main force and directed them to Two Guns and the hide-out cave. Two Navajo cave guards were killed and the Navajos gathered brush and wood in final preparation. The brush and wood was dropped down in front of the cave opening and set ablaze.

As the fuel was consumed more was added while the Apaches attempted to extinguish the fire with water and blood from their ponies. It was successful and the Apaches called for mercy. Tradition dictated that capital punishment could be avoided by payment of goods and stock, so the Navajos were amenable to negotiating for the Apaches' lives if they would return the three Navajo girls they had kidnapped during the raid. Unfortunately for the Apaches, they had tortured and killed the girls directly after their raid on the Navajo settlement, which left them with nothing to bargain with for their lives. The Navajos restarted the fire at the cave mouth with no thought to stopping before their enemies were vanquished. The fire burned all day and the rocks did not cool off enough to check until the following day. During the height of the conflagration, the Navajos could hear the Apaches' singing their final death song. A total of 42 Apaches raiders died from asphyxiation in the Death Cave.

During the time of Indian Miller (ca. 1925) the Death Cave was illuminated with electric lights and was one of the many and extensive tourist attractions here at Two Guns. Today there are no lights and no people at Two Guns, only the wind trying to tell the tales of the past.

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