What can you tell me about Canyon Diablo, Arizona?

Cindy Smith

Cartersville, Georgia

When the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad was building a transcontinental line along the 35th Parallel during the early 1880s, the railroad had to construct a bridge across Canyon Diablo, east of Flagstaff. (Running into financial difficulties, the A&P would be taken over by the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe, which completed the bridge in 1882.)

During the time of bridge construction an end-of-track town Cañon Diablo was established. The population was 2,000, and the town’s main drag—Hell Street—featured 14 saloons, 10 casinos, four bordellos and two dance halls. During the one year of its existence, 35 people allegedly died violently—all men except for the town’s most popular working girl, Clabberfoot Mary, who had her throat cut.

Boomtowns like this were awfully hard to police, mostly because they were located out in the middle of nowhere. The nearest city to Cañon Diablo, Prescott, was a three-day ride away. These towns also attracted the dregs of society who followed the rough and tumble construction crews, eager to separate them from their money on payday.

Gladwell Richardson wrote a book (now out of print) about the town titled, Two Guns, Arizona. He was known to embellish his stories considerably, so we don’t have an accurate recorded history.

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