Two Guns, Arizona
By Gladwell Richardson

Early History

Two Guns, on the east side of Canyon Diablo in north central Arizona, occupies one of the most important historical sites in the State. This does not except the vanished glory of Navajo Springs where the first territorial government officials took their oaths of office on December 29, 1863.

Following the ceremonies, the party continued on west, crossing Canyon Diablo near Two Guns. The new officials proceeded to Prescott and Fort Whipple to establish the seat of government for the new territory in the Apache Indian-ridden vastness of desert and mountain wilderness.

The most unusual town of Two Guns is very near the half-way mark between Flagstaff and Winslow on Interstate Highway 40, and twelve miles south of the Little Colorado River.

The surrounding area of Coconino Plateau's rolling ranges, ringed by distant mountains, has played an important role in western history since the coming of the Dawn Men, the first aboriginal inhabitants. Following them were the Basket Makers, and then Pueblo I and Pueblo II periods, as shown by their typical cliff dwelling ruins in Canyon Diablo and its tributaries.

Potsherds recovered at Two Guns have been dated by the carbon method, placing the greatest density of inhabitants there as between 1050 and 1600 A. D. The centuries 1050 to 1300 saw the greatest Indian population that the region has ever had. This was due to fertile farming land on the plateau created by disintegration of the volcanic fields of lava and ashes that once spewed out of the San Francisco Mountains skylined west.

Even before the beginning of man's history in the area, about 22,000 years ago, a giant, fiery meteor flashed out of the skies, plunging into the earth east of Two Guns. Most scientists believe that the mass, weighing several million tons, was part of a planet once existing in orbit between Mars and Jupiter. It was destroyed by a great cosmic explosion. On striking the ground the meteor created a vast hole in the earth's crust known today as Meteor or Barringer Crater.

The more recent history of local Indian tribes reveals that they used the canyon both as a refuge from enemies and as a vantage point from which to launch attacks.

The Apache and Navajo tribes often employed the area as a battleground, even after the arrival of white men in the southwest. From the earliest years of settling in what is now Arizona, the Navajos used a well-traveled trail from the north passing along the east side of Canyon Diablo past Two Guns. It went through Chavez Pass, and over the stark Mogollon Rim into central Arizona.

The first known white men to see Canyon Diablo, and probably not much more than its mouth, was a party of Spaniards under Captain Don Garcia de Cardenas. This group was a section of Coronado's expedition into New Mexico in 1540-1542.

Hearing from Hopi Indians of a great canyon and river far to the west, Coronado dispatched Cardenas to discover it. Led by Hopi guides, the small party came down from the mesa villages to the Little Colorado River. Undoubtedly they crossed at ancient Hopi Ford, somewhere between Winslow and Leupp.

The party turned northwest in order to pass above the San Francisco Peaks on the blue skyline. Following downstream, they crossed Canyon Diablo near where it enters the river on the flatland.

With the party was Captain Juan Melgosa. On arrival at the brink of Grand Canyon he failed in an attempt to descend into the mighty gorge to the Colorado River. The upper end of the Painted Desert, from Leupp to north of Cameron, was named for this Spanish explorer, the Melgosa Desert.

Spanish explorers of 1542 may have provided the name for the fantastic defile at Two Guns, calling it Canon Diablo - the Devil's Canyon. If so, they certainly came part way upstream along the sharp rim to where sheer walls made a crossing impossible.

It is historically uncertain whether this party of Spaniards, or that of Antonio de Espejo, aptly named the canyon in 1582. That autumn Espejo set out from Zuni accompanied by nine men on a silver prospecting expedition.

Proceeding west to the Hopi villages they visited Walpi, Shungopovi, Mishongovi, Oraibi and Awatobi. From the latter pueblo not on a mesa, Espejo took four of his men and Hopi guides southward, exploring new country.

After crossing the Little Colorado River they came in against Canyon Diablo off the Navajo Trail somewhere near Two Guns. The vertical walls preventing a crossing, they continued on up the east side. Passing somewhere south of Kinnikinick Lake they reached Stoneman Lake, proceeding from there into the Verde Valley of central Arizona.

The pueblos of New Mexico, including the Hopi of Arizona, rebelled and drove out their Spanish conquerors in 1680. Twelve years later Don Diego de Vargas organized a great expedition and came north from Mexico. In New Mexico he re-conquered the rebellious Indians permanently.

After accomplishing this task he set forth hunting valuable metals, mercury, gold and silver the Indians told him about. Several of his small parties explored west and south from the Hopi villages. They did make a few but not important discoveries.

It was during this period that the extensive legend of the 'Lost Mines of the Padres" originated. Men still seek these legendary and fabulous mines. From the translated ancient Spanish documents they could be anywhere from Two Guns west to the Colorado River or north to Utah's Blue Mountains.

Their several reports of the mines resulted in many unauthorized expeditions of wealth seekers venturing west from New Mexico. Although not authenticated satisfactorily by record and identity, most of them crossed Canyon Diablo. Here they were forced downstream a few miles to where precipitous walls fell away. Those without strict official permission to search for gold and silver were not likely to have left journals behind detailing their travels or what they found.

The chronicle of a Spanish party in 1769 is more definite. Recently this date was found by Melvin McCormick, cut with an inscription and a Christian cross into a huge rock on the Little Colorado River.

This party, composed of several padres and Spanish soldiers was an ill-fated one. The Franciscans, having mined and collected a huge store of silver bars somewhere in central Arizona, set out to transport the treasure by mule train to their church headquarters in Santa Fe. In 1767 the Spanish crown had laid claim to all gold and silver found in the New World. The Franciscans had also been ordered from their New Mexico missions.

Coming up over the Mogollon Rim on the Navajo Trail, the train was attacked by an unknown tribe. Constant hit and run assaults forced the party west and north. They came in against Canyon Diablo somewhere around Two Guns. Standing off the Indians, the Spaniards followed downstream to where a crossing could be made.

According to a document and a map which came to light in 1902, the Spaniards were continually compelled to dispose of some of the weight overburdening the pack animals. Mules packing the silver were killed or gave out completely. The train gained part way along the side of Padre Canyon, which was so named for the fathers. Finally, against the Little Colorado, fatalities from Indian attack cut them down. As a final resort the many mule loads of silver bars were cached on the site of an abandoned Indian village.

The survivors split apart, five attempting to escape west into California, and another five east towards New Mexico. Apparently only the latter group made it through to their destination. For it was in the musty archives of the Old San Miguel mission in Santa Fe that the above-mentioned document was found.

The map locating the buried silver, and the account, brought many treasure hunters into the area. On one side of Padre Canyon, 18th century armor was recovered in 1919. One silver bar, approximately four inches square, about twenty-three long and weighing 64 pounds, was found by a sheepherder. The discovery was made west of Two Guns in Bonito Park, and is believed to have been lost from a pack mule before the cache was made.

It is certain the Spaniards from New Mexico were continually passing through the Two Guns vicinity after 1750. However, no known Americans showed up until 1825-1830. These hardy men were beaver trappers. The Little Colorado until the late 1880's contained a heavy growth of willows and cottonwood timber along its sides which overflowed on to the mud flats. Trappers took beaver plews along the stream, and in side canyons southward. After them followed the gold seekers who covered this area of northern Arizona very thoroughly.

After American occupation of the southwest, 1846, the regular route from the east pointed directly to the blue and purple peaks of the San Francisco Mountains, visible for upwards of a hundred miles. Traveling a natural direct course, they collided abruptly with the level rim of Canyon Diablo.

Indians passed on to Europeans information that water could be found in the canyon at present Two Guns, and about two miles downstream. Water being vital, especially during dry seasons when the Little Colorado did not flow, travelers always came to this point whether en route east or west. Although difficult, the vertical walls could be descended afoot.

As a matter of fact, although unknown to early day travelers, the canyon could be crossed not too far upstream from Two Guns.

Long before 1850 a route to the canyon which led downstream a few miles and a barranca crossing were being used regularly. In this barranca hundreds of names were cut in the low stone walls. Of the earliest still existing one can be read in part:

S.................. Bac.................
............... de Julio 1830

Of another, only the date, 1849, is legible. Inscriptions dating from 1860 to the middle 1880's are in profusion.

Of the beaver trappers who left evidence behind them, and who came to the canyon at this point, the best known were William (Billy) Mitchell, Fred Smith, W. C. Siewert and Herman Wolf. Their starting point for each trapping expedition was either Santa Fe or Taos, during the middle 1830's. All of them were experienced mountain men.

During the 1850's, Apaches often raided north into the Melgosa Desert. Navajo families fled to the safety of deep Canyon Diablo. In particular they favored Long Canyon which enters it from the east near Two Guns.

It was in Canyon Diablo that the pack train traders, the forerunners of permanently established trading posts, found them.

First among these traders in the area were Smith, Mitchell, "Whitehead" Fitzpatrick, "Gabe" Hall and "Old Man Yellow Face" Buck. They traveled together for mutual protection. Smith wrote home to his sister in Tennessee in 1850 from Taos that he had been engaged in this precarious trade for several years after beaver trapping went under.

On the sides of Canyon Diablo they held trading rendezvous not unlike those of the old fur brigades in the Rocky Mountains but, of course, on a far smaller scale.

Their trade goods consisted of galena, bullet molds, powder, dye stuff (Indigo and Cochineal), buffalo robes, cotton blankets, flints, Green River knives, cloth, cheap glass beads and imitation silver jewelry. In trade they received horses and mules, if not too far distant to drive back into New Mexico, and a plain striped handcrafted woolen blanket approximately 36 by 80 inches in size. This item sold readily as a "wagon blanket".

Other pack train traders followed them. One of the most unusual was called "Billikona Sani" (Old American) by the Navajos, and of all things, he arrived during the summer of 1852 off the California-Santa Fe Trail with a two-wheeled cart driven by a Mexican.

Until their deaths, old Navajos like Hosteen Redshirt, B'ugoettin, Soney and Etcitty, remembered him fondly. He spoke Navajo, which indicates that he had previously lived among the tribesmen, probably as a trapper.

These old men, when about fifteen years old, with their elders watched Billakona Sani contrive what they considered the most wonderful magic. Like most traders he carried raw alcohol undiluted in wooden kegs. Mixing it in his trading camp one gallon to three of water, Cayenne pepper was added for bite and chewing tobacco for color. This was the Arizona frontier Indian whiskey. Small wonder that it drove redskins crazy.

It was many years later before they knew that Billakona Sani had diluted the alcohol in order to reap a larger profit.

The first official U. S. exploration of this area began in 1851. Captain Lorenzo Sitgreaves, Topographical Engineers, on government orders, led an exploration party west from Santa Fe via Zuni. Their objective was to determine if the Little Colorado was navigable to the western sea.

Both sides of Canyon Diablo were explored seeking a shorter and more direct crossing for a route passing south of the San Francisco Mountains. Apparently Sitgreaves did not venture much farther upstream than present Two Guns. In his official report he recommended use of the old north crossing.

In 1853 Lieutenant A. W. Whipple came through with an expedition making a preliminary survey for a possible railroad route to California. He followed the 35th parallel which crosses upstream from Two Guns.

The following year Francois (Felix) X. Aubrey, a Santa Fe trader, was the first to actually lay out a wagon route across northern Arizona. Aubrey Cliffs on the Grand Canyon south rim were named for him. Leaving San Jose, California, with sixty men he drove a wagon all the way to Santa Fe. Not only was his the first important expedition to cross Arizona but he set a time record for distance traveled.

East of the San Francisco Mountains he came in on Canyon Diablo somewhere between Two Guns and the present Santa Fe Railroad bridge. Trying to locate a means of crossing, he was baffled until Indians told him that he could detour and move over lower down. Shifting his course, he went north close to the river and negotiated passage over the regular trail. This route was thereafter known as the California-Santa Fe Trail.

While on Canyon Diablo, Aubrey wrote in his journal that he encountered a large number of Indians. He traded them some old clothing and blankets for $1,500 in gold nuggets. However, he could not wrest knowledge of the gold's source from them for any price.

After reaching Santa Fe off the long trail he was killed August 18, 1854, by a Major Weightman in a personal encounter.

The most unusual expedition to touch near Two Guns was led by Lieutenant Edward F. Beale, U. S. Topographical Engineers. He had orders to open a wagon road from Fort Defiance, Arizona to California's eastern frontier. On September 8, 1857, he reached Canyon Diablo.

The singular feature of his exploring party was that most of his supplies and equipment were packed on camels. The animals, imported through Texas seaports, were in the charge of camel drivers from Greece and Arabia. Unable to pronounce their native names, Americans called two of them "Greek George" and "Hi Jolly". Both settled in Arizona, gaining considerable fame as pioneers on the rough frontier.

In his report, Lieutenant Beale admitted that his guide through the country warned that he could not cross Canyon Diablo gorge so far south of the Little Colorado River. Having to be convinced by trying, Beale was forced downstream to the barranca. This old trail was officially designated the Beale Road across Arizona. However, frontiersmen long using it continued to refer to the route as the California-Santa Fe Trail.

In the spring of 1858 when the grass greened up, Lieutenant J. C. Ives set out with a survey party from Needles, California, over the Beale Road to Fort Defiance. He attempted to cross the canyon higher upstream because it would be a short cut saving many miles of travel. In this venture he also failed.

During the winter of 1858-1859 Beale returned to work on the road he had laid out. For a while he camped his party on Government Prairie north of Flagstaff, before removing his command to the west side of Canyon Diablo. One of the several tumble-down stone buildings still dotting the landscape and visible from Two Guns, may have been his camp.

When the Navajo tribal roundup of 1864 began, many families fled into the main canyon and all along the side defiles ahead of U. S. troops. The cavalry brought with them hundreds of Indian enemies of the Navajo who were authorized by the military commanders in the field to take all the Navajo livestock they could find, or turn them in to the army for monetary reward at so much per head.

Eight thousand Navajos were eventually imprisoned at Fort Sumner, New Mexico, for four years. Navajos who fled the Melgosa Desert into Canyon Diablo remained in hiding until their enemies left the country.

The outbreak of the Civil War put an end to further official exploration of this area, halting settlement for some years. Soon after the war ended Herman Wolf returned to the canyon and the Little Colorado to trap beaver. His first cabin camp was called Beaver House (Chi bogan) by the Navajos. They so gave it this name because his beaver plews were leaned against the walls of his abode to dry. Later on the name was applied to the trading post.

Wolf may have built his large stockade picket post prior to 1868. But he was definitely in the trading business on the river downstream from the mouth of Canyon Diablo that year.

For several years his outpost was the sole center of attraction in the little known frontier of northern Arizona. But there soon followed others who entered the wonderful country to stay. Meanwhile he and the U. S. Army were both engaged in fighting renegade Indians.

One of the first cavalry battles with Indians on Canyon Diablo occurred April 18, 1867, according to records in the National Archives. Companies B and 1, 8th U.S. Cavalry, under command of Captain J. M. Williams, pursued a band of Indians from the Verde Valley over the Mogollon Rim and down the canyon's east side. In an engagement somewhere near present Two Guns, thirty of the Indians were killed. Whether they were marauding Apaches or raiding Navajos was not stated in Captain Williams' report.

Apaches when pursued north of the Mogollon Rim always fled to the safety of deep canyons. They had a mania for following the well-marked ancient Navajo Trail, seeking refuge in Canyon Diablo into which they could descend afoot if attacked. Most of the many engagements between the cavalry and Apaches were minor clashes with a few exceptions.

The greater portion of the Navajo tribe was released from the prison reservation at Fort Sumner and returned to their old homes in 1868. Many families came down the Little Colorado basin into the Melgosa Desert. They seemed to think that the mere presence of a white man at Wolf Post afforded them protection. Soon they moved south of the river onto old hunting grounds along both sides of Canyon Diablo.

The Apaches, discovering the permanent trading post established by Wolf, threw raiding parties against it in 1868 and 1869. Wolf, and the Santa Fe New Mexicans working for him at the time, repelled them all but not without some casualties.

On September 26, 1869, the Apaches and the cavalry fought another battle near Two Guns. Troops from Camp Verde, not identified in the records, took out after Apaches raiding north into Navajo country. Well ahead of the troopers, the Indians were returning south along Canyon Diablo loaded with loot when they encountered the cavalry. Following a short fight, the Apaches attempted to make their escape west into the San Francisco Mountains, the highest peaks in Arizona. Overtaken before they could reach the old crossing, thirty-six were killed and twelve captured. One soldier was reported as being wounded.

All through the 1870's more Apache raiders struck Wolf Post. By then the Navajos were increasing in numbers and rallied to help drive the enemy away.

The dreaded Apaches, first linguistic cousins to the Navajo, changed their strategy somewhat. Avoiding Wolf Post in its lonely setting on a bluff overlooking the river, they crossed the stream eastward. In the Melgosa Desert they struck like lightning and fled south with their booty of goods, livestock and a few prisoners.

A band of them on June 8-9, 1871 did not fare so well. Involved against them were detachments from A, D and G Troops (Cavalry companies had changed from that designation to "troops"), 3rd Cavalry, under command of Lieutenant Charles Morton.

When the Apaches were reported to have crossed the East Verde River north, the troops belatedly followed their sign up the Navajo Trail onto the plateau. Below the headwaters of Canyon Diablo the troops collided head-on with them returning from raiding in Navajo country.

The fight occurred near what later became a stagecoach crossing upstream from Two Guns. Abruptly breaking off the skirmish, the Apaches fled and were pursued into the next day. Fifty-six were killed, eight wounded and ten captured.

Mormon explorers from Utah reconnoitered the Melgosa Desert through the valley of the little Colorado in 1874, seeking irrigable land for settlement.

This reconnaissance resulted in the first crossing of the Kaibab limestone gorge at Two Guns two years later. Bishop Lot Smith of the Mormon church headed five colonies which settled in the lower Little Colorado basin.

From three of them, Ballinger and Sunset near present Winslow, and Joseph City, he laid out a road southwest to Mormon Lake south of Flagstaff. There he established a co-operative dairy herd, a cheese making plant and a sawmill, 1876. This route, leaving the river at Winslow, passed in an almost direct line through Sunset Gap, south of Meteor Crater, across the canyon above Two Guns and past Kinnikinick Lake to Mormon Lake. Over this road moved wagons, buckboards, herds of cattle, pack outfits and the usual number of mounted travelers.

Before long Smith's road became a gateway for stockmen. They established the first ranches in northern Arizona and soon appeared in increasing numbers, occupying the range around Two Guns. The first such was 800 head trailed in by James M. Baker to Canyon Diablo headwaters. He stayed north of the military road that had been laid out along the Mogollon Rim from Fort Apache west to Forts Verde and Whipple.

For some reason Baker, for whom Baker Butte was named, remained only three years before moving on to the Salt River Valley in central Arizona.

The year of his arrival in Arizona, 1877, John Wood brought a small herd over from New Mexico. His cattle grazed south of Two Guns where herds of antelope run today, and west into the Coconino National Forest. Wood shifted his grazing cattle depending on whether or not raiding Indians were reported coming his way.

The third cattleman to arrive with a herd was August Helzer from Utah. These men were the pioneer cattle ranchers of the many who followed the railroad through Arizona in 1881 -- 1882, and overran the countryside along it.

Navajos had long used the Two Gun ranges for summer and fall grazing for sheep, cattle and horses. In those days the present naked, red clay flats were covered with a thick grass sod, the bunch types and the grammas.

The first white-owned sheep reaching Two Guns country were migratory flocks from New Mexico in the late 1860's to about 1874. Moving slowly down the Little Colorado, they turned out of the basin, grazed until fall along Canyon Diablo and then returned to New Mexico.

Extended droughts in California in the early 1870's brought a number of sheep owners into the area. Their advance caporals hunting grass and water, discovered that this region fulfilled their needs.

While a number of small flocks preceded him, John Clark drifted in with 3,000 head in 1875. The first big sheepman of importance, he settled in Clark Valley, now Lake Mary, for winter range and Two Guns for summer and fall grazing.

After Clark, came William Ashurst (father of the late Senator Henry F. Ashurst) in 1876. Locating south at Ashurst Run, he used Canyon Diablo ranges part of the time.

That same year the Daggs brothers, J. F. and W. A., trailed more than ten thousand sheep into northern Arizona from California. Their permanent ranches were located north of Chavez Pass, and southwest at Anderson Mesa. Their grazing camps were strung out from each headquarters past Two Guns north to the Little Colorado.

Late in 1874 a scouting troop of cavalry rode through Chavez Pass onto a horrible scene. Apaches had attacked and almost completely destroyed a wagon train of immigrants near the military road. Identity of no one in the train was ever known. Their presence in the country, apparently headed for Prescott, had gone unnoticed.

The stock had been run off, and the wagons with their contents burned. Only the metal used in their construction remained amid the debris of the fires. Bodies of murdered men, women and children had been thrown into the flames. All the fragments of charred bones raked out of the ashes were buried in a common grave. It was estimated that twenty-eight human beings were massacred.

continued ...