Two Guns, Arizona
By Gladwell Richardson


The Atlantic and Pacific Railroad (Later the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe) approaching from New Mexico began changing the region radically. Contractors' construction crews advanced rapidly ahead of trackmen laying steel rails. Reaching the flat rim of Canyon Diablo at its 255 foot depth, two and a half miles down stream from Two Guns, all work halted abruptly.

The railroad company encountered financial difficulties and could not immediately bridge the gorge. During the period of reorganization, from the summer of 1881 until late in 1882 before work resumed, the booming town of Canyon Diablo roared day and night.

For the brief span of its vicious life, more famous places like Abilene, Virginia City and Tombstone could not hold a candle to the evil of this end-of-the-railroad's depravity. Murder on the street was common. Holdups were almost hourly occurrences, newcomers being slugged on mere suspicion that they carried valuables.

It was a shack town, Two lines of buildings faced each other across the rocky road on the north line of the right-of-way. They extended east one mile from the yellow-painted depot.

It was the railhead for Flagstaff, Prescott and other towns west and south. Long wagon freight trains of goods passed north along the east canyon rim to the old crossing. Swinging west, freighters and stagecoaches made stops at Walnut Tanks and Turkey Tanks on the slow forty mile haul into the cedar and pine forests surrounding Flagstaff on the mountain. Other routes fanned out from the small town. A regular stage line also operated between Flagstaff and Canyon Diablo.

Not only the stagecoaches hauling money but the freight trains were subject to robbery by unorganized gangs. They were footloose drifters in hard luck who came west looking for a place to settle. Killers and badly wanted criminals composed the bulk of their hardened numbers.

Short passenger train runs were made daily from the division yards at Winslow. Rail-road freight trains unloaded at Canyon Diablo. Wagons with trailers waited to haul merchandise, saloon potables, sawmill and mining machinery on to destinations. Near the depot on railroad land were located the section crew's house, stock pens, a water tank (pumped out of the canyon's depth at that time), freight docks and warehouses.

Along Hell Street stood fourteen saloons, ten gambling dens (or poker flats) four houses of ill-repute and two dance pavilions which were hardly more than houses of ill-repute themselves. None of the shacks were substantial buildings, being green lumber frames covered with tin, tar paper, and canvas. Wedged between these places were eating counters, and a grocery and dry goods store. Few had a name lettered on their drab, unpainted false fronts.

Among this motley collection of clip-joints were the Colorado and Texas saloons, the Last Drink, Road To Ruin, Bughouse Joe's and Name Your Pizen. The main dance pavilion was the Cootchy-Klatch, where alleged young female singers sang nostalgic melodies. In between appearances, the painted hags doubled in the bordellos.

The houses of prostitution were untitled. The favorites were owned by Clabberfoot Annie and B. S. Mary (the initials stand for what you think they do). Both gained fame, of a sort. Clabberfoot Annie was not so deformed but a handsome woman with an hourglass figure when corseted and wearing silks. B. S. Mary was buxom, rawboned, stood about six feet tall and was strictly a skidroad bawd. (please note, not skidrow).

Their competitive places faced each other across the dusty, stony road. Liking their red eye, both were usually plastered. Their joints were noted for a steady stream of pretty girls passing through them. Old timers told many a misty-eyed tale of some of the fanciest to sojourn there. A few local stockmen married some of them.

The fame, or infamy, of Clabberfoot Annie and B. S. Mary resulted from constant bickering and hair pulling fights. When one or the other considered herself particularly abused she stood on the narrow wooden porch before her joint yelling insults across the road. On prompt appearance of the other they stood calling each other all the vile names not in the book.

When one had been insulted beyond endurance she rushed into the street. Both always collided there. A fast-gathering populace was regularly entertained by their screeching battles, in which arguments invariably ended after the exchange of picturesque descriptions of each other's antecedents.

Men in the close-packed crowd ringing the combatants yelled oath-filled encouragement to whichever one he favored at the moment. Bloody noses, black eyes and torn-out hair resulted. Sometimes one managed to tear off every shred of clothing the other wore, much to the spectators' delight.

One time Clabberfoot Annie instead of meeting B. S. Mary in clawing combat, rushed back inside her diggings. Reappearing with a double-barreled shotgun, she let both tubes thunder birdshot into B. S. Mary's broad bottom while running away.

In this wild, untamed town the death rate was high. A boothill was established south of the tracks from the very beginning. At one time 35 graves could be counted in it. Some had wooden head-boards that have rotted away. A few were enclosed by wooden picket fences, which have been torn down and carried off by souvenir hunters. A pile of stones was heaped protectively over several.

Today only those graves protected by rocks, and one with a curb and iron pipe frame railing enclosing a blue granite headstone, can be located. The upright stone marks the grave of the only man buried there who died peacefully with his boots off. He was Herman Wolf, the trader off the river who passed on in September 1899, long after Canyon Diablo town had vanished.

Only one woman was buried there. She worked in Clabberfoot Annie's house. One morning she was found with her throat thoroughly sliced, the deed accomplished by an inmate of B. S. Mary's place who mistook her bunk for that of Clabberfoot Annie.

Boothill did not by far contain all the bodies put away at Canyon Diablo. More graves of the nameless are scattered north and south of the tracks, and east of the canyon rim. The incumbents of this real estate were planted where their bodies were found.

Flagstaff merchants and especially the saloon owners, could never depend on a freight train load of goods reaching them intact. Even the several sawmill operators lost or had machinery and replacement parts damaged beyond use while en route. The freighters themselves were also robbed. Several times, enraged because they found nothing spendable, the outlaws burned the freighter's wagons.

E. E. Ayer, who owned the largest lumber mill in the southwest at Flagstaff, arrived at the end of the railroad for the purpose of establishing a mill. The lawless conditions stunned him. But he had enough political power to demand and receive an escort of soldiers from Fort Defiance. With them he got his machinery through. But the presence of troops hardly caused the criminal element to pause in their depredations.

The sawmill men and Flagstaff merchants organized, and provided a good salary for a marshal at Canyon Diablo to keep outlaws under control. The businessmen at end-of-the-tracks had only to hire the marshal. This proved more difficult than providing the officer's salary.

The town had a rapid succession of peace officers. The first one pinned on the badge at three o'clock in the afternoon; at eight that night he was laid our for burial.

The second one lasted two whole weeks. The third was a sneaky, chinchy character who carried a sawed-off shotgun. When he got a bad actor he also liberally sprinkled innocent bystanders with double-0 pellets. At the end of three weeks, forty-five lead slugs fired by a disgruntled man, peppered between the shoulder blades, ended this peace officer's usefulness.

The fourth was a gnarled little man owning piggish black eyes who made a deal with the outlaw element. He actually served six days before a bandit's abused victim turned a blazing gun muzzle on him point blank in the dark.

Weeks passed without a town marshal. Finally, in rode a sallow-cheeked, gaunt, consumptive who was an ex-preacher from Texas. Spotted entering town by the hiring committee standing before Keno Harry's Poker Flat, they discovered that he wore two low slung guns. Forthwith they propositioned him. Being broke and hungry, he accepted the chance to start eating regularly again.

When asked his name for the record he hesitated overly long. Glancing down at the striped ducking pants he wore, he replied smugly that he reckoned he was "Bill Duckin."

Although he lasted a full thirty days, he died before collecting his first month's salary. During that period he killed a man a day and wounded so many that the railroad hospital at Winslow refused to accept any more gunshot victims.

Duckin passed from this world on a Sunday morning because prosperity ruined him. Flush with money after putting the squeeze on all the joints, he decked himself out in fancy clothes. Imitating famous marshals of the day, he also provided himself with two black two-button bob-tailed coats. The everyday coat had the side pockets cut out. Thus, while wearing it he could shove both hands down, grasp gun butts, and thrust the long barrels through between the coat edges since the holsters hung on swivels with the bottoms lopped off. In this tricky way he literally scared badmen to death. The second coat was kept unaltered for Sunday wear.

On the fatal morning he strolled along the street in the good coat; not that he was going to church. There wasn't one to care for the unspiritual needs of the two thousand denizens then inhabiting the town. Duckin was headed for Ching Wong's beef stew counter for breakfast.

Out of the Colorado Saloon backed a man wearing a black derby hat. Holding a sack of loot in his left hand, he carried a smoking gun in his right. Halting, Duckin, resting hands in side coat pockets, ordered him to surrender. Instead, the bandit opened fire. Too late Duckin realized that he was wearing his Sunday coat. Exit town marshal Duckin; and no slow walking and lonesome singing.

His successor was Joseph (Fighting Joe) Fowler, who had tamed the booming roar of bad actors in Gallup, New Mexico, when the railroad reached there. A real toughie without a doubt, he had killed twenty men during his gunfighting career.

Fighting Joe lasted ten days before outlaws put the Indian sign on him. After three narrow squeaks escaping alive in bushwhack deals, he returned to New Mexico without announcing his sudden departure.

Subsequently a sheriff named Harvey H. Whitehill battled him hand to hand in a stand-off fight before being able to haul him off to the Silver City juzgado. That night an ingrate mob took Fighting Joe from behind bars and decorated a tree with him. (Editor's note: "Fighting Joe" Fowler should not be confused with one Joel Fowler, who was also lynched, but in Socorro, New Mexico, January 23, 1884)

Changing ownership of a saloon or gambling-parlor business in Canyon Diablo was by the simple expedient of gunning down the then claimer in possession. That was how Keno Harry, never known by any other name, obtained his poker flat. That was also how he lost it. Planted in boothill, his wooden board grave marker had painted on it in black letters:

Keno Harry

Flagstaff was then in Yavapai County, the seat of government being at Prescott more than two hundred miles away. County officials refused to furnish officers to maintain law and order at Canyon Diablo. Why send one there merely to have him killed.

Desperate, Flagstaff business men appealed to Territorial Governor Frederick A. Tirtle for help. He requested the army to step in and restore order.

While the army moved with its habitual slowness, the presence of troops became unnecessary. Reorganized and with new funds pumped into the company, the gorge of Canyon Diablo was bridged, the railroad built on west to California. The rip-snorting town of malevolent evil died overnight.

When contractors, building the grading ahead of steel-laying crews first reached the canyon rim, Billy the Kid and several of his gang drove a band of stolen stock there from New Mexico, sometime during the winter of 1879-1880.

The year before, sheepman Bill Campbell had started constructing a stone building, laid in mud mortar, across the canyon from Two Guns. Taking over the unfinished walls, the Kid and his men completed it with a flat roof and piled up rock walls next to it for a night-holding corral. The gang then set about trying to dispose of the horses and mules.

The contractors using teams had no idea when or if they would return to work, and were not interested in spending any more money. When propositioned, local stockmen refused to buy because they had plenty of their own animals. In desperation the Navajos were dickered with. For the value of a five or ten dollar blanket they swapped a few. The gang was not there long before becoming disgusted so the Kid led them back towards New Mexico. Because they did not want to return the stock there, the rest of the remuda was shot dead in a red flat west of Winslow.

The ruins of the stone house and part of the adjacent corral where the gang holed up briefly is visible from Two Guns. It is southwest, across the canyon bridge and near the highway.

The last important Indian fight with U. S. troops occurred at Big Dry Wash on July 17,1882, just south of Two Guns.

The renegade Apache chief, Natiotish, was discovered hiding with between seventy-five and a hundred men southwest of Fort Apache. A company of Apache scouts was sent to arrest and bring him in with several others. Turning on the scouts, the renegades killed eight and chased the rest back to the Fort.

The Apaches then attacked the mining town of McMillenville, from which the first alarm of the raiders had spread. Several troops of cavalry were ordered into the field from Forts Apache, Thomas, McDowell and Whipple. The converging commands made forced night and day marches to catch up with the renegades who were spreading terror and death on their rampage.

From McMillenville, Natiotish crossed the Salt River and went up Cherry Creek into Tonto Basin. Livestock was wantonly slaughtered, horses stolen, and twenty-eight settlers murdered. Reaching the old Navajo Trail at Tunnel Springs on the Mogollon Rim, the Apaches fled on north apparently planning to hide out in the Melgosa Desert.

On discovering one troop of cavalry following them, Natiotish imagined that only it alone was after them. He decided to wipe out the troopers. His ambush trap was made where Navajo Trail crosses the upper fork of Clear Creek. This chasm is nearly a thousand feet deep and about 750 wide. The trail leads north from there through Chavez Pass and down Canyon Diablo past Two Guns.

By the time Natiotish discovered that more than one troop of cavalry was after him, he and his men were completely surrounded. The renegade chief was killed in the battle that ensued. Twenty-four Apache bodies were found in the rocks, and buried. But that was less than half of the total slain. A few troopers were wounded but only one killed.

As night settled over the battlefield, the surviving Apaches pulled their usual and expert vanishing act. Fleeing in many directions, a few came all the way to Two Guns. In due course they all sneaked back onto the reservation where they were caught and jailed.

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