In 1878, a group of Apache raiders attacked a Navajo encampment near the Little Colorado river. Almost every Navajo man, woman, and child was killed in the raid. When the Apache finished looting the encampment, only three girls remained and they were swiftly taken prisoner by the Apache.
When the Navajo leaders got word of this attack, they sent out a team of 25 men to avenge the fallen encampment. They tracked the Apache across the land and blocked the borders to the region. However their efforts failed and the trails went cold, disappearing into the river and volcanic cinder.
News arrived that another nearby Navajo encampment had been raided, which meant that the Apache were still in the area. Scouts were deployed again, two of whom were sent to check the short arm of Canyon Diablo. The scouts had found nothing until they were startled by a blast of hot air from underground. Upon further investigation, the scouts discovered that the hot air was coming from an Apache campfire in an underground cavern beneath them, large enough to house both the Apache raiding party and their horses.
The scouts returned with news of their discovery, and the Navajo came back with a vengeance. After killing two watchmen, they gathered up the dry sagebrush and driftwood on the canyon floor and started a fire at the entrance of the cave. Now aware of the attack as smoke billowed into their hideaway, the Apache slit the throats of their horses and used what was left of their water to put out the flames, doing their best to seal off the entrance with corpses of their former mounts.
A lone Apache man escaped from the fiery barrier and begged for mercy. The Navajo proposed the customary payment of goods and stock in exchange for forgiveness, and the Apache man agreed. However, when the Navajo asked about the three girls who had been captured, the Apache spokesman hesitated, confirming the Navajos’ worst fears: The girls had already met their end.
Enraged, the Navajo shot into the cave and added more fuel to the fire. Smoke and the sound of the Apache singing death songs filled the air. When the songs faded and the smoke cleared, the Navajo broke through the charred barrier of horse corpses. They retrieved their goods, and stripped off the valuables of the 42 Apaches who had suffocated inside of the cave.
From that point on, it is said that no Apache has used that cave for any reason. Local tribes warned would-be pioneers about the cave, saying that the land around it was cursed, but settlers often passed off the stories as silly superstition. The pioneers who lived there would later report hearing disembodied groans and ghostly footsteps outside their cabins, the horrendous stories of the massacre at the cave finally burrowing their way into their imaginations.
Know Before You Go
It's on Old Route 66, at the Two Guns interchange, between Flagstaff and Winslow, Arizona. On the side of a canyon with an abandoned gas station.
Make sure to bring equipment to enter the cave. There is a ramp, but it's falling apart and probably should not be trusted. There is nothing and nobody nearby, so please be careful.
The abandoned gas station also used to operate a zoo full of desert animals. Many of the ruins around the gas station are parts of the zoo. It's also rumored they used to sell artifacts from the Apache Death Cave at the gift shop.