Traveling through Winslow, Arizona, enjoying the weather and looking for caves, we stumbled upon the Apache Death Cave and the Curse of the town of Two Guns. We had read about it quite a bit when searching for caves in Arizona, but didn’t realize it’d be such an… experience.
The Apache Death Cave is located in Winslow, Arizona. Take exit 230 from I-40. You’ll see an abandoned gas station and a few dilapidated buildings covered in graffiti. Facing the gas station, look to the right. Once you see the building with the red door, you’ll know you’re in the right spot. The cave is right in front of that building.
Apache Death Cave
The Apache Death Cave is actually a series of natural caverns that extend for several miles under the sandstone. Native artifacts found at Two Guns have been dated to between 1050 and 1600 AD. Quite a bit of legend surrounds Two Guns so it’s difficult to know fact from fiction, but it’s a fun story nonetheless.
Visiting the Death Cave
The History of the Apache Death Cave
In 1878, a group of Apaches raided a Navajo camp, killing everyone with the exception of three girls who they imprisoned. Navajo leaders were determined to avenge the raid, sending 25 men to find the Apaches. The Apaches evaded the Navajo until they discovered a pocket of warm air coming from the ground.
The Apache had been hiding horses, and their camp in an underground cavern. The Navajo lit a fire at the mouth of the cave, prompting the Apache to slit the throats of their horses to try and douse the fire with their blood. They then used the horse’s corpses to barricade the entrance.
One Apache man slipped out of the cave, to make an agreement with the Navajos. Begging for his life, maybe he thought he was home-free, but… when the Navajo men asked about the three kidnapped girls, the Apache hesitated. The girls were dead. This infuriated the Navajo men, who then fired shots into the cave to stoke the fire.
42 Apache died in the cave that day.
Settlers in 1879
Apaches never entered the cave again, even warning white settlers about the haunted past. Of course the white folks ignored the warnings. *shrug*
During the winter of 1879-80, Billy the Kid and his outlaw gang hid in the ruins of a stone house and corral on the west rim of Canyon Diablo, across from Two Guns.
Early 19th Century: Canyon Lodge
The first settlers were the Oldfields who built their post 3 miles south of Two Guns along the Old Trails Highway. They were followed by Ed Randolph, who set up his store next to Apache Cave.
In 1915 the bridge was built across the Canyon, and in 1922, World War I veteran Earl Marion Cundiff purchased Randolph’s claim and built his store on a homestead of 320 acres.
Fast Forward: A Future Route 66 Stop
In the early 1920s, Earle and Louise Cundiff acquired 320 acres of the land for $1,000 and turned it into a Route 66 Stop. They constructed a large stone building on the west side of the canyon, which became a trading post. By 1922, they also had a restaurant and gas pumps.
In 1925, Harry “Two Guns” Miller, also known as Harry “Injun” Miller, leased some of the land for ten years. Miller claimed to be full-blooded Native American and called himself “Chief Crazy Thunder”. He served in the U.S. Army in the Philippines following the Spanish-American War.
Harry Miller and his wife built a zoo, with the help of Hopi Indians. In their zoo was every beast and bird native to Arizona, from tiny coral snakes to cougars.
They then built up stone ruins around the cave, using Indian labor. Miller started giving tours of the Death Cave using the Native American history as a way to lure in tourists. According to locals, he called it ‘The Mystery Cave”.
Miller sold Apache skulls he had found in the cave and sold the remaining horse and human bones to a Winslow bone dealer. And so the curse of the Death Cave began…
We aren’t really sure when the so-called curse began, but it seems pretty logical to me that after you sell skulls of murdered folks, you may be in a little bit of spiritual trouble. If you believe in that sort of thing, of course.
The Death of Earle Cundiff
Earle Cundiff was killed by Harry Miller, but knowing how exactly it happened is part of the mystery of Two Guns. There are two stories surrounding Cundiff’s death:
One story goes: “Cundiff had a temper,” Evans said. “That day Harry Miller had to go pick up someone at Canyon Diablo Station. He went in to get dressed. And when he got in there, there was Cundiff with a gun.”
Miller didn’t hesitate. He snatched his own gun from the dresser and shot and killed Cundiff first.
The second story is that a drifter stole a large amount of merchandise from the Two Guns Trading Post, causing Miller to have financial difficulties. When he approached Earl Cundiff about renewing his lease so he could continue his tours of the Mystery Cave, a heated argument took place, ending with Miller fatally shooting Cundiff.
Either way, he was acquitted of the murder, but his bad luck continued. Miller was mauled by several of his zoo animals in the following years, only to be followed up by a fire at the trading post.
In 1930, Miller left Arizona to avoid further prosecution and just beyond the Arizona state line in New Mexico he repeated his show: building a zoo on US 66 with fake ruins and a phony cave, the “Cave of the Sevin Devils”. He remained there until his death in 1952.
In 1934, Mrs. Cundiff opened a Texaco service station along a new alignment of Route 66.
Apache Death Cave in the 1960s
In the 1960s, the land was sold to Ben Dreher, an entrepreneur who was successful in revitalizing the town of Two Guns by building a motel, tavern, service station, restaurant, gift shop, and even a post office. He established a Chamber of Commerce and reopened the zoo with a reptile exhibit.
Things seemed to be going well for Mr. Dreher, until he started exploring the cave with hopes of opening a tourist attraction. In 1971, another fire happened. Dreher’s complex was caught in the blaze, destroying everything.
Since then, a few have tried to rebuild in Two Guns, but they failed.
2011: Russell Crowe Buys Two Guns?
It’s been reported that Russell Crowe purchased the Arizona ghost town for $3million dollars. Rumor has it, he plans to film a movie there. However, I have yet to confirm this rumor online or off and it’s nearly 2020.
The Curse of Two Guns
If you’re visiting the Apache Death Cave, you’ve probably already learned about the curse of Two Guns, but it’s worth mentioning. While the charred walls of the Apache Death Cave have faded over the years, its remaining bones and natural bridge collapsed by an earthquake.
Besides the multiple fires and the landowner being murdered, the section of Route 66 that passes nearby has been responsible for a disproportionate number of accidents.
How to Get to the Apache Death Cave
The Apache Death Cave is located on the east rim of Canyon Diablo; on Route 66 and Indian Route 6930 between Flagstaff and Winslow. Take exit 230 from I-40, it’s on the southwest side, between Meteor Crater and Twin Arrows.
The Apache Death Cave in Winslow, Arizona is loosely surrounded by broken barbed wire, but you don’t even need to climb over it to get to the cave. There are no tours with this cave, as most likely there will be nobody in sight when you arrive. With that being said, if you do decide to enter the cave, follow these cave safety tips:
Rattlesnakes are common in Arizona. Wear hiking boots and long pants if you plan on exploring the area, and don’t pick anything up!
More About the Apache Death Cave
I learned about the Apache Death Cave from locals in Arizona, as well as YouTube videos and other articles online. If you have information about the Death Cave that I didn’t include, please leave it in a comment so I can add it! Thank you! Read a more in-depth history of the Apache Death Cave.
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