When Route 66 paved the way for motorists to make their way to California, all sorts of roadside attractions sprung up along the side of the road. But perhaps none as disturbing as Twin Guns, with its Apache Death Cave, located along the edge of Canyon Diablo.
I’ll start out by saying Two Guns is a casual historian’s nightmare. There are very few of what I consider reliable sources, but there are some solid facts to this bizarre and in many ways, haunting place.
Long before Route 66 ever made its way into Arizona, the area was home to several Native American tribes, including the Apache and Navajo. In 1878 a fight between the two tribes laid the foundation for what this area would become. Trying to escape from the attacking Navajo, a group of Apache hid in a cave, but when the Navajo discovered them, they decided to set fire to sagebrush at the cave’s opening, suffocating the people within. Supposedly 42 members of the Apache tribe died within the cave, and after that the cave was known as the “Apache Death Cave.” The following decades were filled with more bloodshed and a string of failed enterprises.
In 1922 or 1924 (sources vary) Earle and Louise Cundiff, an Arkansas couple, arrived and began homesteading. They also built a store and offered other services to travelers. In 1925 the colorful character Harry E. “Indian” Miller arrived looking to cash in on the Route 66 tourist trade, and leased part of the Cundiff’s land. Miller claimed to be Apache and Mohawk, and dubbed himself “Chief Crazy Thunder.”
Miller explored the Apache Death Cave, clearing it, creating faux ruins within and boasting it as a tourist destination. He even claimed to have found Apache skulls within and sold them as souvenirs. He also built more faux ruins along the edge of Canyon Diablo. If the Apache Death Cave wasn’t enough of a lure for passing motorists, Miller also opened up a zoo, featuring all sorts of wild desert animals. However some of those animals were known to turn on him. He was attacked by a mountain lion at least once, and supposedly by a lynx and even a gila monster that bit him causing a massive infection.
The relationship between Cundiff and Miller ended abruptly when Miller shot and killed Cundiff during an argument over the property. Despite Cundiff being unarmed, Miller was acquitted, and that it was an act of self-defense. However, Miller was still haunted by what happened when Cundiff’s headstone read “Killed by Indian Miller.” Angered, Miller destroyed the headstone, and was charged with defacing a grave. Perhaps due to this, he left in 1930 for New Mexico, where he constructed a similar tourist attraction with a zoo and fake ruins.
The land changed hands several times, with various people trying to revive the tourist trade, but on August 1, 1971 a fire (supposedly arson) leveled much of the area. There has been a rumor for nearly a decade that Russell Crowe purchased the property to do a remake of Westworld, but there is no solid evidence of that, and well, HBO already jumped on that idea.
Today the ruins, both real and fake, of Miller’s enterprise still stand on the edge of the Devil’s Canyon, and are inhabited by nothing more than the wind. And boy was it having fun when we were there. The Apache Death Cave is still accessible by a rickety wooden ramp and if you venture in, you’ll need a flashlight and good shoes.
Venture into the Apache Death Cave and explore the ruins of Two Guns, located just off Interstate 40 at exit 230.
Bruher, Betsey. “Colorful and cursed Two Guns.” Arizona Daily Sun, 8 November 2005. Accessed 23 September, 2019.
Hinckley, Jim. Ghost Towns of Rout 66. Minneapolis: Voyager Press, 2011. Print.
Richardson, Gladwell. Two Guns, Arizona. 1968. hkhinc.