Arizona January 04, 2018
The Deadly History Of This Arizona Town Is Terrifying But True
A few minutes into any Western flick and it’s not difficult to see that history was a bloody one in the Old West. Those days with vigilante runs, stagecoach robberies, and shootouts on the street seem so far away but those events were really just a century or so ago.
With that in mind, did you know some of the bloodiest towns of the Old West were right here in Arizona? That’s right, towns like Tombstone, Holbrook, and Jerome earned reputations for being “wicked” locations full of saloons, brothels, criminals, or (in Holbrook’s case) not a church in sight. However, there’s one fading town that can certainly be considered one of the
deadliest in the West.
Canyon Diablo was a railroad boomtown located about 38 miles east of Flagstaff and easily considered one of the deadliest towns in the state and perhaps even the West.
In 1880, the town was established by chance when railroad workers encountered construction delays in building a bridge across Canyon Diablo. What should have been a quick construction project wound up approximately two years and, in that time,
a town was born.
Other sources mention this construction took up to ten years but that sounds a bit far fetched for such a short bridge.
Canyon Diablo reached a peak population of 2,000 and acquired plenty houses of vice for a town of this size. The main street—appropriately
called Hell Street—was lined with many houses of vice, including brothels, saloons, gambling houses, and the more mild dance halls, all of which operated 24 hours. Fun, huh?
In reality, probably not so much. Evidently, the town was a little more than just rough and tumble. It went through six town marshals, all killed in the line of duty and one dying just hours after being sworn in. Stagecoaches that ran through the area were usually subject to robberies and the area attracted less than stellar people. 35 known violent deaths were known to have occurred in town, all of whom were buried in the town’s boothill cemetery. That's a big number for just a couple years of the town's existence!
Eventually, construction on the railroad finished, the town subsequently died afterwards, and faded with time. Since this was considered a shack town, you won’t find many buildings still standing in the area. In fact, just the foundations of an old trading post, a couple other buildings, and at least one grave are all that you’ll find still standing here.
There are two interesting things to note about this town. First, that in 1900 the railroad bridge was replaced and again in 1947. Second, the details noted above could have been embellished by one of the only printed sources on Canyon Diablo’s history.
Gladwell Richardson, a novelist and trading post manager, was known to have embellished a number of his stories and it’s likely this includes
the one about Canyon Diablo
. As a result, we may never really know the true history of this town but, as with most stories, an element of truth exists.
However, you might want to
read the story for yourself
Want to read about another incredible ghost town you can actually visit? Check out our article,
Get A Glimpse Of The Old Arizona At This Abandoned Mine And Ghost Town, to get a peek at Vulture City.