Crumbling adobe walls sit on a hill overlooking the dry, meandering bed of a San Pedro River tributary. Ants and snakes burrow into the rocky soil, past the bleached bones of unfortunate prospectors and outlaws resting in shallow graves. At night, a cold chill descends on the desert floor of the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area. Those who dare approach these ruins after sundown often report unsettling encounters with the unseen.
Located south of Charleston Road between Tombstone and Sierra Vista, Arizona, the remnant of this small adobe cabin is known as Brunckow Cabin and has been described as “the bloodiest cabin in Arizona history.” After reading the tragic history of the cabin (and the tortured souls rumored to haunt it), I had to see it for myself. Over the years erosion, vandalism, and neglect have taken their toll, and the historic site may not remain for much longer. Finding it is not easy, and visitors are wise to use Google Earth and GPS coordinates (N31 38.31 W110 09.45 to be exact). What I found was a few decaying walls, but the remoteness of the place was not lost on me. It was easy to feel a chill up my spine as I went over in my mind the events alleged to have taken place there.
The cabin’s very beginning was bathed in blood and tragedy. In 1858-59, T.F. White and Fredrick Brunckow sought their fortunes in the hills near the San Pedro River. They struck a claim roughly eight miles southwest of Tombstone. Brunckow brought several men with him, including John Moss (Morse), David Brontrager, and James and William Williams. He built a small adobe cabin and supply shelter and hired Mexican laborers to dig the mine. In July 1860, William Williams went to Fort Buchanan to purchase supplies. When he returned, he discovered most of his companions, including Brunckow, were brutally murdered. The Mexican laborers fled with whatever supplies and equipment they could get their hands on. They took Brontrager hostage, but later released him.
According to Joshua Hawley, author of Tombstone’s Most Haunted, as many as 22 deaths have been reported in or near the cabin. In one of the more dramatic incidents, five thieves holed up in the cabin were found dead by their pursuers. The thieves apparently fought over how to split up their loot and gunned each other down in those cramped confines. Like many of the other unfortunate souls who met their end at Brunckow Cabin, they were buried in shallow graves nearby. Only a handful of these graves have ever been identified.
Rumors of ghostly activity at the cabin soon followed. In 1881, the Arizona Democrat reported, “The graves lie thick around the old adobe house…. Prospectors and miners avoid the spot as they would the plague, and many of them will tell you that the unquiet spirits of the departed are wont to revisit…. and wander about the scene.”
For years, campers have attempted to brave the site, only to have their nerves rattled. Several related a strange tale to author Joshua Hawley, claiming that “something” scratched at the roof of their car. The figure of a man bathed in blue light appeared in one of their photographs of the cabin, and they turned tail and ran. Hawley himself claimed to record a willowy voice say, “My good friend” or “My girlfriend” near the cabin. With so many violent deaths, it comes as no surprise that this location attracts its share of the unusual.
The next time you are visiting Tombstone or Bisbee, make an effort to find the ruins of Brunckow Cabin. The unforgiving desert may soon reclaim the broken pieces of its crumbling walls, erasing forever this monument to the men who lost their lives in its shadow.