October 7, 2017. Two Guns, Arizona.
Here’s how it played out. In the late 1800s, the Apache and Navajo tribes were at war, and for their battleground they chose the middle of the goddamn desert. Sun Tzu called this “death ground” and advised soldiers be stationed there before a particularly decisive battle, so they can feel their mortality hanging over them like a cloud. Their desperation will make them fight like they never have before. The Apache and Navajo apparently agreed, because they went absolutely buck wild in this little scuffle.
An Apache raiding party dropped into two Navajo settlements and leveled them, stealing all their goods, all their horses, torching their homes and killing every living soul with the exception of three young girls whom they took prisoner. When Navajo HQ got word of this, they sent 25 warriors out for vengeance. Think Inglorious Basterds, but Native American.
They tracked the Apache through Canyon Diablo for days before the trail went cold. It was pure luck that they caught an updraft of warm air and managed to trace it to a closed system of cave tunnels. They followed the murmur of voices to the entrance and called out the Apache to die fighting or die captives.
The Apache sent out a rep, and the bartering began. It was a pretty common practice to buy forgiveness for this kind of thing, and they apparently had the capital to burn, because the Navajo begrudgingly agreed, on the condition that the kidnapped girls be released unharmed.
The Apache rep beat feet back into the cave. Those girls were most definitely dead. The Navajo were 100% not having it. They built a massive fire at the mouth of the cave, then slaughtered the Apache horses and used them to build a burning corpse wall. Any Apache who tried to flee through the cave entrance were slain on the spot and added to the wall. All told, 46 Apache died in that cave, either burned or asphyxiated. When the smoke cleared the Navajo went in, looted the corpses, and recovered the bodies of the three kidnapped girls for burial.
Now the horror movie cliché is “Indian burial ground” and that’s just the mild desecration of building condos over the top. Suffocating a small army of Apache warriors then leaving them to rot in a cave is exponentially less respectful. Imagine how haunted that cave has to be. Legend has it you can hear the wails at all hours, and ghostly figures patrol the canyon at night, choking in the dark.
Attempts were made at settling the area, resulting in the present day ghost town of Two Guns. It was once a small mining camp with a single tavern, but that fell apart pretty quickly, allegedly from all the nocturnal moaning and sudden disease outbreaks. In more modern times a gas station cropped up, but it didn’t last very long either. The ruins did, though.
We pulled off of Highway 40 and picked through the remains of the Two Guns gas station and tavern. They were obviously party spots for teenagers who were forced to discard Natty Light cans, perhaps even having drunk them. It’s possible they were also used as squats, but it could’ve been those same kids taking fiberglass naps. The walls were covered with graffiti art or, for some reason, religious discourse. The ground was pretty much exclusively anticapitalist propaganda, which made sense inasmuch as Two Guns was now private property and poking around/getting drunk on it may be interpreted as trespassing.
The barbed wire didn’t look like it had been set up to keep anyone out. It was more like a li’l obstacle course. The other obstacles were loose rocks, scorpions, and Apache ghosts. We got through the first two and couldn’t find the third. Now, admittedly, it was broad daylight, which decreased our chances of finding ghosts of any tribal affiliation, but we simply didn’t have the hours, equipment, or vehicle to wander around a haunted desert canyon in the dark.
Plus, if you do find the ghosts, it’s not like they’re gonna be happy to see you. You’re not gonna get any wisdom from beyond the grave, here, no forgotten medicine. They’re gonna give you a ghost disease and then you die. I don’t think the odds of my getting a ghost disease were real high, but it’s a simple risk/reward calculation. I hopped around on some rocks, didn’t fall into the Death Cave, took some pictures that did not result in floating ghost orbs, then we went twenty minutes down the highway back to Flagstaff to drink pear beer and eat goat cheese.