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Published: April 28th 2017
CANYON DIABLO BRIDGECANYON DIABLO
The first bridge did not even span the gorge and was not built. The second bridge was built in 1883, but replaced in 1886 to accommodate heavier locomotives. The fourth bridge was built in 1947 for a second line of tracks. That project employed thousands of soldiers out of work after the war.
In one of its many organizational iterations over its whole existence the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad began building westward from Isleta, New Mexico along the 35th
Meridian of latitude. Construction on the Western Division began sometime around 1880 and proceeded in a more or less orderly manner until the track layers reached a little place in 1882 that came to be known as Canyon Diablo. It is about 20 miles northwest of Winslow, AZ. An important trestle needed to be placed across a deep gorge there. Italian stone masons were on hand to begin setting the foundations for the trestle. Prefabricated bridgeworks were also on hand, but the project engineer scratched his head and noted that the bridgeworks were too short to span the gorge. Work on the railroad ground to a halt for six months while new bridge materials could be obtained from back east. In the meantime a wicked little end- of-track community sprang up on the east side of the gorge. The general term for such communities was Hell on Wheels because they were hellish places that followed the construction crews as the rails advanced. The community had one thoroughfare that was simply called Hell Street. On it were 14 saloons, 10 gambling halls, 4 brothels, and 2 dance halls. None of them ever closed and business was brisk. The casualty rate, however, was high. The community had neither a cemetery district nor a police force when it blossomed into full swing. The unfortunate deceased, murdered by their friends, were buried near where the bodies were found. Eventually a burial ground was sited and a town marshal hired. The first town marshal was sworn in at 3pm and by 8pm he was on the cooling slab awaiting burial. Half a dozen brave lawmen followed in his footsteps trying to bring peace and quiet, but none of them lasted much longer. The cemetery holds 36 graves and 35 of its occupants died in acts of bloody conflict.
Soon as the bridge was finally completed in 1883 the town was mostly abandoned. A few hardy souls remained to conduct commerce as best they could. A population of 2000 dwindled down to about 20 and they slowly drifted off to greener pastures too. A trader named Herman Wolf died of natural causes in 1899 and is the only occupant of the cemetery to have a headstone. It was placed by family members from Germany shortly after WWII. The existing bridge was installed in 1947 to enable two lines of rail traffic. The second line would have employed thousands of out of work soldiers after the war.
On March 20, 1889 a group of sassy bandits robbed the train as it was stopped at Canyon Diablo to unload supplies for the Navajo Reservation. They made off with booty from the express car amounting to about fifteen hundred dollars. Yavapai County Sheriff Buckey O’Neill took three deputies and charged off in pursuit from Prescott. They followed the trail north into Utah and after a five day running gunfight near Bryce Canyon cornered the bandits against a cliff and took them into custody on April 16. The valiant horses were played out so the posse sold the horses and took the stagecoach to the railroad. They returned to Arizona by train through Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico. In Raton Pass one of the bandits, a rascal named Smith, hopped out of a window fully shackled and made his escape. In due course he was caught in Vernon, TX and returned to Arizona. His pals all drew a stretch of 25 years in Yuma, but Smith got 30 years because of his escape attempt. He pardoned out after just 4 years because the others all testified that Smith was not part of the robbery. He joined them on the Little Colorado River as a guide through the hard country ahead. Yavapai County did not ever reimburse Buckey O Neill for the train ride.
A trader named Fred Vols arrived on the scene in 1886 at about the time the original bridge was replaced with one that could support heavier locomotives. Vols grimly held on until about 1910. From him originates the bizarre account of the final occupant of the cemetery. About midnight on April 7, 1905 a couple of fellows named John Shaw and William Smythe entered the Wigwam Saloon in Winslow and ordered a couple of shots of whiskey. They noticed a lively card game going on and decided to knock it over. They scooped up about five hundred dollars in coinage and backed out of the saloon with guns drawn without having enjoyed their whiskey. When local lawmen located them the next day about sundown in Canyon Diablo a brisk gunfight ensued lasting all of three seconds. Twenty-one shots were fired and when the smoke cleared Shaw was dead as a hammer and Smythe was wounded. Fred Vols donated a creaky coffin and Shaw was buried. That very night some Hash Knife cowboys were whooping it up in the Wigwam when they decided that Shaw was entitled to the whiskey he did not drink. They all piled on to a train and rode out to Canyon Diablo where they woke up Vols who allowed them use of shovels and a camera. They dug up the corpse, propped it up against a fence, poured a liberal dose of whiskey into its mouth, took some pictures and then reburied it with a half full bottle of whiskey The second time Shaw was buried he was drunk and smiling.
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