Canyon Diablo, Arizona - History

History

The town which is about 12 miles northwest of Meteor Crater was the closest community to the crater when portions of the meteorite were removed. Consequently, the meteorite that struck the crater is officially called the "Canyon Diablo Meteorite."

The town originated about 1882, due to construction delays attributed to the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad ordering the wrong span length railroad bridge across the canyon. The bridge story is that the original bridge when ordered was not of sufficient length to span Canyon Diablo, and this fact was only discovered once the bridge arrived on site from the manufacturer. Consequently for six months the transcontinental railroad ended at the lip of Canyon Diablo while another bridge was manufactured and shipped to the work site.

The original pillars the bridge was mounted on were excavated from the surrounding Kaibab limestone and shaped on site by Italian stonemasons. The ruins of the lodgings of the railroad workmen are on the west end of the bridge site. Despite the railroad ending at the edge of the canyon, work on the railroad route still progressed. Crews were sent ahead to survey the route, prepare the grade and bed, cut and prestage railroad ties and other supplies in advance of the iron rails that would accompany the trains once the canyon was spanned with the arrival of the new bridge. Work quickly progressed until the A&P crew linked up with the Southern Pacific Railroad crews at Needles, CA on August 9, 1883.

Originally a small mobile business community catering to the needs of railroad men, once the railroad stopped at the edge of the canyon this community quickly produced numerous saloons, brothels, dance halls, and gambling houses, all of which remained open 24 hours a day. No lawmen were employed by the community initially, so it quickly became a very dangerous place. Its population was mostly made up of railroad workers along with passing outlaws, gamblers, and prostitutes. The town was designed with two lines of buildings facing one another across the rock bed main street. The center street, however, was not named Main Street, but "Hell Street". It consisted of fourteen saloons, ten gambling houses, four brothels and two dance halls. Also located on this street were two eating counters, one grocery store, and one dry goods store. Scattered about in the vicinity of downtown were large numbers of tents, shotgun houses, and hastily thrown up shacks that served as local residences.

Within a short time the town boasted a population of 2,000 residents. A regular stagecoach route from Flagstaff to Canyon Diablo began running and was often the victim of robberies. Within its first year, the town received its first marshal. He was sworn in at 3:00pm, and was being buried at 8:00pm that same night. Five more town marshals would follow, the longest lasting one month, and all were killed in the line of duty. A "Boot Hill" cemetery sprouted up at the end of town, which in less than a decade had 35 graves, all of whom had been killed by way of violent death. The 36th grave was that of former trading post owner Herman Wolf, who died in 1899, the only one to have died a nonviolent death.

Herman Wolfe's trading post was located at "Wolfe's Crossing" on the Little Colorado River about 12 miles north of Leuppe, AZ and near a place called Tolchaco. Herman Wolfe died there and his body was transported to Canyon Diablo for burial. Currently Wolfe's grave is heavily monumented and the story is that after World War II a relative from Germany located his grave and installed the headstone and other improvements on the grave site.

Upon completion of the railroad bridge, the town quickly died. By 1903, the only thing remaining in the town was a Navajo trading post. Later on in the 20th century, when Route 66 passed within several miles of the town, a gas station and roadhouse called Two Guns sprang up, but it too was short-lived. What remains today at Canyon Diablo are a few building foundations, the grave marker and grave of Herman Wolf, and the ruins of the trading post.

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