The Apache Death Cave
𝗪𝗵𝗲𝗿𝗲 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝘀𝘁𝗼𝗿𝘆 𝗯𝗲𝗴𝗮𝗻:
In 1878, still decades before Two Guns would become a town, Apache raiders attacked an encampment of Navajo. They killed every man, woman, and child, with the exception of 3 girls, which they took prisoner. This all took place close to the Little Colorado River.
When Navajo leadership learned of the attack, they dispatched a team of 25 men to pursue the responsible Apaches. They cut off any known escape route from the area as they hunted them down, but their trail went cold.
But these Apache made a critical mistake—they attacked another Navajo encampment in the area, signalling their presence in the area. Scouts were sent to look for them, and this time 2 were sent to Canyon Diablo, nearby.
These scouts would have found nothing, were it not for the hot air coming up from the ground, alerting them to the Apache Camp Fire beneath them, hiding in a cavern large enough to hide the raiders and their horses.
From here, the story gets brutal.
After reporting their findings to Navajo leadership, retaliation would be swift and unforgiving. They returned to the cave’s entrance, killing the 2 men who guarded it. They collected whatever plants and wood they could find and blocked the mouth of the cave with a large fire.
As the smoke poured into their hideout the Apache became desperate. When they could not water down the flames, they cut the throats of their horses and stacked the bodies at the entrance, hoping to seal themselves from impending destruction. This would not save them.
However, one man managed to escape. He begged for his life and was almost granted it, at the cost of tribute—that was until they asked him what had become of the 3 kidnapped girls… When he hesitatedly confirmed what they did not want to hear—that they had already been killed—this enraged the Navajo. They added to the flames and completed their vergence.
When the dying screams of the Apache were finally drowned out and the smoke cleared, they broke through the barrier of horse corpses. They retrieved their valuables, and looted the remains of the Apache. The number of Apaches who suffocated in the cave was 42.
𝗡𝗼𝘄, 𝗳𝗮𝘀𝘁 𝗳𝗼𝗿𝘄𝗮𝗿𝗱 𝘁𝗼 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝟭𝟵𝟮𝟬𝘀:
Earl and Louise Cundiff have purchased the land and shortly later, Henry Miller, who I mentioned in my last post, have entered the story. If you haven’t had the chance to read that post, you can find it below:
Miller, himself falsely claiming to be Apache, capitalized on the horrors of the cave. He gave it the name “Mystery Cave.” With the help of local Hopi men he built fake ruins inside the cave, and around the entrance, as well as a ramp to safely bring guests in and out. He then sold the skeletal remains of each Apache to interested tourists. (Why you would want that is beyond me)
Miller would continue to capitalize on the tragedy until he was eventually forced off the land following legal battles with the now widowed Louise Cundiff.
Even today, many believe the cave and the land surrounding it is cursed.
I’ve visited this cave multiple times in the last couple years. Regrettably on my last visit a couple weeks ago, I found that much of the cave had been vandalized, and the structures built into the cave were damaged, and even unstable in some places.
As someone who loves history, this was very sad to see. Even when I visited 11 months ago, conditions were significantly better. Please, when you visit places like these, have respect for their historical significance.
Preserve history, both for the sake of learning from it, and so that future generations can see it for themselves, rather than simply reading about it. #athew
Want to see the cave? Check out my visit from last year in the video below:
The Apache Death Cave