Truth, Fiction and Canyon Diablo

Have you seen this video yet? If you haven’t, then remember to check it out. Also, it really is a beautiful part of the high Arizona desert. The site is located about 30 miles east of Flagstaff on I40. Yes, there are actual exits off the highway for Two Guns.

Now, for what used to be there:

The Town

Canyon Diablo started as nothing more than a shack town occupied by 2,000 individuals. One end of town supported the building of the railroad and bridge.

The rest of the town included “fourteen saloons, ten gambling houses, four houses of prostitution and two dance pavilions, a grocery and dry goods store and several eating counters” according to Ann Strickland’s “Devilish History.” Fourteen saloons. That’s quite a lot of bars for 2,000 people. And I cannot imagine how those bars managed to stay in business, considering people were being killed or robbed practically on an hourly basis.

The People

The town was so dangerous that marshals attempting to bring order to the chaos were gunned down rather quickly – the first lasting only five hours and the record for survival of these lawmen was thirty days.

While the town did have a cemetery with 35 bodies, most of the dead were buried where they fell. Yes, in the streets. Where they fell.

Canyon Diablo was also visited by several… interesting… characters. These include, “Billy the Kid, Keno Harry, Clabberfoot Annie and B.S. Mary,” who’s exploits were “every bit as wild as” the stories “told about Tombstone or Virginia City” (Strickland).

The Famous Train Robbery

In 1889, four men robbed a train near Canyon Diablo, and got away with well over $100,000 in cash, precious metals, jewelry and watches.

Sheriff Bucky O’Neill finally captured the four men after chasing them into Utah, and then back to Arizona, but only about $100 was ever recovered.

The rest of the loot is thought to be somewhere just below the rim of the canyon itself, but still has not been recovered. And people are still out looking for it.

The Problem

Sadly, none of the above can be verified. There are no surviving maps, no death records, and no news archives that even come close to validating all of those stories.

So where did all of that information come from?

It is now generally accepted that the entire history of Canyon Diablo, Arizona, sprouted from the imagination of one man: Gladwell Richardson.

So, who is Gladwell Richardson?

Glad you asked.

Richardson basically grew up in and around Two Guns, Arizona. He and his wife lived and worked in the Two Guns trading post after his father bought the town in 1950.

And then in in 1968, he published a now out of print book telling the story of Canyon Diablo and Two Guns.

And that was exactly what it was. A story.

There is nothing uninteresting about the story he created for the area. In fact, it is absolutely fascinating.

For a work of fiction.

I am sure you are wondering why someone would create such an elaborate history for what amounts to a black dot on a map.

Simple. Tourism.

Richardson wanted to bring visitors to his trading post. And what better way to do so than to provide an interesting history for the location? And being in the Southwest, of course you need an outlaw history. A place where the law could not touch. Even if they wanted to. A place where well-known fugitives hid out.

And it worked! It worked so well that a cursory internet search will bring up site after site retelling the fictional history that Richardson created as if it is fact.

And finding the true history is a bit more difficult. Because you need to filter through all of the sensational history to find the boring stuff.

So, What is the Boring Stuff?

First of all, as stated on Never Quite Lost, apparently, Billy the Kid was actually in Fort Sumner, New Mexico at the time he was supposedly hiding out at the canyon.

Then of course you have the history of the Apache Death Cave that we looked at previously.

The final nail in the coffin for Richardson’s story being true is the very simple fact that there are no historical documents backing up his version of history. Even the name of the main street in Canyon Diablo – Hell Street – lends itself more to fiction than reality.

And if as many deaths had occurred in town as reported by Richardson, there would quickly have been no one left to run the town, never mind build the railroad.

Bottom line:

The ruins of Canyon Diablo are a really cool place to visit. You can wander through what is left of a few buildings, including the old zoo, and the views of the canyon, while not nearly as breathtaking as Arizona’s most famous hole in the ground, are quite pretty to look at.

Just remember as you read the various published histories, not everything is as it seems – or is reported to be.

The actual history of Canyon Diablo is… rather boring. We know this because there is very little written from that time. The really interesting stories only date back to Gladwell Richardson’s stories.

Thank you for reading, and please feel free to leave a comment either here, on Mr. Nobody’s video, or both! Your thoughts are definitely appreciated.

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