The small Old West town of Canyon Diablo has a dark history and a mysterious name. There are reasons you wouldn’t have wanted to live in Canyon Diablo. Here’s Why…
It seems that the town may have been doomed from the start since its name literally translates to “Devil’s Canyon.” Regardless of its implications, the name came as a nod to the actual Canyon Diablo just nearby. At this point in history, the United States was ever-growing, and more and more people were trekking west. Transportation between the coasts was needed, and the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad was making that happen! That is until they reached Canyon Diablo.
Railroad workers arrived, ready to bridge the canyon and continue laying down railroad tracks all the way to California, but things didn’t quite go as planned. The bridge that was to span the canyon had been designed and built offsite, and when it arrived at the edge of the gorge, workers quickly noticed that the bridge was much too short to stretch across the canyon. Since they were forced to wait at least six months for the new bridge to be delivered, the town of Canyon Diablo was formed.
Its first residents were the hardworking railroad men who moved along with the railroad company as it inched its way from coast to coast. The town quickly grew to about 2,000 residents. This isn’t much of a population in today’s terms, but in the 1800s, it was quite the town. For whatever reason, Canyon Diablo quickly began to develop a reputation for itself. All types of crime rose to astonishing rates. Daily robberies were commonplace, and murders were no less uncommon. With the founding of the town, a stagecoach began to run from Flagstaff to Canyon Diablo, and it was practically expected to be held up at gunpoint with each trip.
A walk down the street was likely to turn up a body, or have you yourself become a body lying in the street. In under ten years, thirty-five people came to rest in this cemetery. What makes this number even more unsettling, though, is that all thirty-five individuals buried there were victims of some violent crime. And this death toll doesn’t account for the many men who were murdered in the street and buried where they died. Long after Canyon Diablo’s heyday, Herman Wolfe became the only man buried in the cemetery that had died peacefully
With only one road, you might expect that the residents of Canyon Diablo would have gone the traditional route and named it Main Street. As if they sensed the fate of their settlement, they decided to name their one and only street Hell Street. Two lines of hastily assembled tin and canvas buildings faced each other across the ill-fated Hell Street, stretching for about a mile. It wasn’t long before the street began to live up to its name.
The street was home to no less than fourteen saloons and at least four brothels. Several other dance halls were likely brothels in disguise. The street had a few places to eat, a place to get dry goods, and that was about it. As a rule, these places were open around the clock. The town was mostly home to railroad workers, but it attracted a number of other unsavory types, like prostitutes, gamblers, and outlaws.
From the beginning, this town didn’t have a lawman, and by the time anyone became interested in stepping into this position, criminals were king. In under two years, seven men attempted to clean up Canyon Diablo with no success.
The story of one marshal claims that he was sworn in at three p.m. and buried by eight p.m. None of the lawmen would ever last more than a month, each meeting his fate in the line of duty. Thankfully, Canyon Diablo was not made to last. When the new bridge finally came, it was swiftly installed and the train crossed the canyon.
With it’s passing, Canyon Diablo fizzled out as well. All but a handful of its residents moved on to the next hot spot along the railroad. A few building foundations and a grave marker or two are all that remains of the town today, but, if only for a moment, Canyon Diablo had its place on the list with other notorious crime-filled places like Tombstone, Abilene, and Dodge City.