|Two Mexican sheepherders working for the Daggs
brothers, picked up several pieces of an iron-like heavy substance during
the summer of 1886. Curiosity aroused, the fragments were taken to
Fred W. Volz, the Navajo Indian trader at
Canyon Diablo. He bought the post from C. H. Algert who had established it
soon after the boom town fell into decay and ruin.
Realizing that the material could be valuable, he sent it off to a metallurgist. It was identified as meteoric iron, for which there was demand on the market.
Volz hired Mexicans with wagons to pick it up all around Two Guns and towards Coon Mountain (Or Coon Hole) as Meteor Crater was then called. Sending out samples of the rusty red iron, Volz soon received an order. Two flatcar loads were shipped to a Los Angeles dealer who paid him 751 a pound.
While arranging to collect more and ship it, Volz learned some dismaying facts. It was reported like this in the Flagstaff Weekly Champion:
Meteor Crater may be the world's richest mine. Every fragment contains, among other metals, and without variation, two-percent platinum and six percent nickel.
Platinum is worth $120 an ounce. So a pound of meteorite is worth $36 in platinum alone.
Volz had practically given the meteoric iron away!
After his business in meteoric iron collapsed, others hauled out tons of it. The fragments were sold to jewelers for $25 a pound and cut, polished and made into jewelry.
By no means did the coming of the railroad through northern Arizona stop all freighting and vehicular traffic. In fact it increased as more settlers arrived to take up homesteads. The Beale Road, or the California-Santa Fe Trail, was far too long in distance between Flagstaff and Winslow. A much shorter route was made from Flagstaff to connect with the Smith Mormon Lake road. The crossing over upper Canyon Diablo was used.
It was a lonely, winding road over which some settlers came in wagons. The route also was a dangerous one, because holdups were occasionally perpetrated.
On one occasion two wagons, loaded with families and household goods, a small bunch of cattle being driven along, were stopped on the edge of the cedars off the mountain. Three hardcases went through the wagons after robbing the men, and found a thousand dollars in gold coin. Leaving the scene, they fled south and were never caught.
In 1888 a horseback traveler came onto a wagon stopped off the road short of the crossing. The wagon box contents were scattered around and the teams gone along with the harness. Hanging from the end of the wagon tongue braced upward in the air by the neck yoke was a middle-aged man. He was never identified but buried on the site, and to this day how and why he was hanged is still an unsolved mystery.
Robbing passenger trains became a popular pastime in the west. It appealed to young cowboys as a quick and sure means to grab a small fortune. Trains were held up at Canyon Diablo station several times. The most noted and biggest of the robberies, in loot, occurred on the blustery cold night of March 21, 1889.
Four Hashknife cowboys, just tired of it all, John H. (Jack) Smith, "Long" John Halford, Daniel M. Havrick and William D. Starin, planned and carried out the spectacular robbery.
On a snow-spitting night the eastbound Atlantic and Pacific fast express No. 7 stopped at Canyon Diablo for water. Two of them grabbed the engineer and fireman, taking them out of the cab. Then they blew the express safe, looted it and took several packages of money. They also took watches and jewelry which was not locked up.
To throw off trackers who would be after them the next day, the four headed south along the canyon rim. After halting awhile, they circled around trying to confuse their sign. This strategy did not fool expert trackers who soon took out after them.
Two rode off together for Black Falls downstream on the Little Colorado. The other pair, after starting north across the Navajo reservation, changed their minds and swung around to the west. All four crossed the big Colorado River at Lee Ferry in the dark of night and streaked on into Utah.
Sheriff William 0. (Bucky) O'Neill, fated to die on San Juan Hill in Cuba with the Rough Riders, pursued the cowboys with a couple of deputies, several express company and railroad officers. By the time they reached Utah following their tracks, the bandits had escaped a settlers' net, hoorawed the town of Cannonville, and turned back into Arizona. It was in the Arizona Strip that O'Neill ran them down, hungry and exhausted.
The prisoners were taken to the end of the railroad at Milford, Utah. They were started back to Arizona by train via Salt Lake City and Denver.
On the way through Raton Pass into northern New Mexico, Smith caught his guards asleep. Slipping steel handcuffs off his slender wrists he jumped through the car window.
The three remaining bandits were taken on to the Prescott jail. Managing to part his leg iron chains, Smith tied them to boot tops. That same night he stole a settler's staked-out horse and headed for Texas. Before reaching the border he rescued a school teacher lost in a blowing snow storm. Delivering her to the country home where she boarded, he rode on.
When she told how chains and irons had been tied to his legs, the settlers promptly mounted up and pursued. Well ahead of them, after Smith cleared the storm, he ran into Texas lawmen who had been alerted. A couple of weeks later he joined his bandit companions in jail.
Tried in district court, the four were convicted of robbery and sentenced to 25 years in the territorial prison at Yuma. None served his full term, being pardoned out as the years went by.
After release, one of the bandits said that they had buried the silver watches, their rifles and the jewelry near present Two Guns on the canyon rim. At that time a few cedar trees had been growing along it, which eventually were cut down for firewood.
Before the jewelry was buried, Smith removed some of the diamonds from their ring settings, putting them in a shirt pocket in which he carried smoking tobacco. Emptying the sack during flight, he soon began smoking the stones in the loose dregs remaining in his pocket.
On the canyon rim the loot had been divided into four piles. Havrick was blind-folded so that he could not see a hand held over a pile. He was asked who it belonged to and named the man. The last pile was his.
On the witness stand in Prescott a Wells Fargo special agent was asked how much the loss amounted to, replying that he did not know. This being absurd, he was asked if it amounted to more than $10,000, and reluctantly he agreed. The district attorney got him up past $70,000 whereupon he refused to continue playing the game of musical chairs.
From unofficial sources it was generally known that the bandits obtained $100,000 in currency contained in a small metal box, $40,000 in gold coins and 2,500 new silver dollars besides considerable jewelry. Yet when captured, less than $100 was found on all four of them together.
What happened to the loot? It was buried somewhere on the canyon rim or down in the gorge near Two Guns where descent could be made afoot. Treasure hunters have been seeking it avidly all the years since. Today's searches are concentrated down the canyon from Two Guns. Each year at least five parties hunt for the planted loot between the town and the railroad bridge across the canyon.
Onyx became valuable during the 1890's for use in
architecture, for table tops and jewelry. It could be found in a number of
canyons south of the Little Colorado. Prospectors staked claims and mining
started to boom. But only briefly, for enough of the agatic onyx was
discovered in Grapevine and Deer Canyons above Two Guns to supply the
entire domestic demand for many years. It was shipped to Los Angeles and
Chicago, after being brought out of the canyons in two-wheeled, one-horse
After turn of the year, 1899, the Flagstaff Blues were called out to put down a Navajo uprising in the vicinity of Canyon Diablo station. Hardly was that done, without bloodshed, when a band of stock thieves holed up in the gorge a mile upstream from Two Guns.
When their hiding place was discovered the gang numbered about fifteen. In addition to Arizona, the outlaws were wanted in Utah and New Mexico. Riding at night in their dashing uniforms, the Flagstaff Blues surrounded their camp and captured the entire bunch without firing a shot.
From the first years of encroachment on their ancestral lands by white stockmen around Two Guns and to the Little Colorado, Navajos protested in vain. But when footloose cowboys began running off their horses they took punitive action.
At first, when caught, cowboy thieves were roughed up but not killed. One cowman who arrived near the canyon in 1884, soon earned their deepest hatred. He was accused not only of rustling their stock, especially their cattle, but when his roundup wagons moved camp, of leaving arsenic behind in baking powder tins mixed with a remnant. Women scavenged these camps, picking up cast-away articles that might be of use to them. They collected the poisoned baking powder into one can. Used to make bread, one entire family of seven was wiped out.
For awhile, unable to get an ambush shot at the cowman, they damaged him in another way. When any of his cattle were found bogged down in the river quicksand, enough green hide was cut off the live animal to sole a pair of moccasins.
After a few distant shots were taken at him the cowman feared for his life. Yet he remained contemptuous of what the Navajos could do. Then one day while riding the river with another man, a single bullet whined at him. Missing him by a mere whisper, it killed the rider at his side. Soon after that the cowman sold out and retired to the safety of Flagstaff.
In another skirmish a cowboy named William Montgomery was accosted by three Navajos near some of their ponies. They proceeded to administer a good beating. Going to Flagstaff he swore to warrants charging aggravated assault and battery.
Deputy Sheriff Dan Hogan was sent back with Montgomery to serve the warrants. Stopping at the Billy Roden cowcamp, Roden and Walter Durham were added to the party.
The four men rode to the rim of Elliott Canyon, near the junction of Padre and Diablo Canyons downstream from Two Guns. Locating a Navajo camp in the brush below in the late afternoon of November 8, 1899, they dismounted and walked down.
They slipped up on a brush shelter and halted. Leaning over to peer inside, Hogan saw an old man tanning a buckskin. Unseen in the brush nearby lurked armed Navajos.
The sight of horsethief Montgomery triggered them into action. Suddenly a blast of gunfire spewed into the white men.
Hogan was wounded by a long gash across the shoulders while bent over. Montgomery was killed instantly. Roden was shot through the groin. As the men began withdrawing, they poured lead into the shelter, killing the unarmed, harmless old man.
It was then near sundown. The three survivors dared not climb the exposed canyon wall to their saddled horses. Fleeing through the brush, they walked all night, lost and wandering around, to the railroad. Durham had to pack Roden most of the way.
At dawn they caught a freight train to Flagstaff where the shooting scrape was reported. Alarm spread through the area. But more scared were the Navajos. They felt sure that soldiers or the Flagstaff Blues would be sent to round them up by force.
Once more families sought refuge in Canyon Diablo. The countryside remained in turmoil for three weeks before government agents could take a hand adjudicating the controversy. The Navajos involved were told to report in Flagstaff for a hearing.
This they refused to do at first. Finally, one night, 300 heavily armed Navajos led by aging B'ugoettin, veteran of so many fights with the Apaches, stopped at Wolf Post on the river. At that time S. I. Richardson was the resident trader. With his uncle, George W. McAdams, he had purchased the post in 1899 after Wolf's death.
They informed him that white men were making war on them. Once before the soldiers had come to fight them, then had imprisoned them at Fort Sumner. This time they would wipe out Flagstaff! They could easily have done this for the small, unprotected town had less than a thousand inhabitants.
Then surprisingly, after war-like statements, B'ugoettin asked Richardson what he thought would happen if those concerned surrendered for the hearing.
"You will be turned loose by the judge," he replied. "The white men were in the wrong and you can prove it."
The war party rode on without revealing what they would really do. Passing up the near side of Canyon Diablo they cut west from Two Guns to concealment in thick standing pine timber, approaching the town from an unexpected direction.
Three days later they were back at Wolf Post, laughing and talking about what had happened. The large party hid in the timber within quick striking distance. Three men, one of them B'ugoettin, went in unarmed, taking the four horses and saddles seized by them after the shooting fray.
Their plan was that if the three were jailed, the war party would strike in the dead of night, burn down the town and kill all who opposed them. Fortunately the judge before whom the hearing was held found insufficient evidence to hold anyone.