San Pedro Ghost Towns

The San Pedro River flows north from the Mexican border near Sierra Vista, Arizona, to the Gila River north of Tucson. As a source of water, it was invaluable to both native peoples and white settlers alike. Many settlements sprang up in the San Pedro Valley, especially after silver was discovered in the nearby foothills. Prospectors flocked to the area. Today, much of the area is protected in the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area, and ruins of once-prosperous settlements can be found in the surrounding desert.

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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.

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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. According to Joshua Hawley, author of Tombstone’s Most Haunted, as many as 22 deaths have been reported in or near the cabin.

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Located off State Route 82 along the San Pedro River in Cochise County, Arizona, Fairbank grew up around the nearest rail stop to Tombstone and was first settled in 1881.

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Deadwood’s Bullock Hotel

The ghost of famed Western lawman Seth Bullock is believed to wander the halls of this historic hotel.

  • The Bullock Hotel was originally built by Seth Bullock between 1894 and 1896.
  • A mysterious “tall man” matching Bullock’s description has been seen strolling down the hall on several occasions.
  • Seth’s Cellar Restaurant, located in the basement of the Bullock Hotel, is supposed to be one of the most haunted areas of the hotel.

The historic Bullock Hotel, located at 633 Main Street in Deadwood, South Dakota, is one of the most famous haunted hotels in the United States. In 1992, it was featured on the TV program Unsolved Mysteries. It is reportedly haunted by none other than the ghost of its namesake, Seth Bullock, the first sheriff of Deadwood, as well as a host of other spirits. A friend and I recently stayed at the Bullock Hotel on a trip through South Dakota, and although we didn’t experience anything unusual, we did learn a lot about this historic place.

When you enter Deadwood at night, down the brick street lined with softly glowing lamps, it is easy to feel transported back in time. The Bullock Hotel was originally built by Seth Bullock between 1894 and 1896 and contained 60 luxury rooms. In 1976, the Aryes family purchased the hotel and turned it into a hardware store. Unfortunately, they auctioned off all the antique furnishings. 15 years later, a company called Bullock Properties purchased the building, began reconverting it into a hotel, and tried to restore its former glory.

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Bloody Brunckow Cabin

A weathered ruin is all that remains of Arizona’s bloodiest location.

  • This adobe structure dates back to 1858.
  • As many as 22 deaths have been reported in or near the cabin.
  • Reports of “unquiet spirits” were reported as early as 1881.

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.

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The Ruins of Millville and Charleston, Arizona

Crumbling stone walls are all that remain of these twin boom towns on the San Pedro River.

  • Millville and Charleston were home to some of the Wild West’s most notorious figures.
  • From 1881 to 1882, mines near these towns processed almost $1.4 million in silver.
  • During WW2, the U.S. Army used the ruins of Charleston to train combat troops.

In their heyday, the dual towns of Millville and Charleston in southeastern Arizona had a lawless reputation. Located on opposite sides of the San Pedro River, about nine miles southwest of Tombstone, Millville and Charleston were home to some of the Wild West’s most notorious figures. Outlaw Frank Stilwell, for example, once owned a saloon in Charleston.

Stilwell was a deputy sheriff in Tombstone, Arizona for Cochise County Sheriff Johnny Behan and was suspected of killing Morgan Earp on March 18, 1882. Two days later, Wyatt Earp gunned down Stilwell in a Tucson train yard. The Clanton Gang, infamous for their participation in the gunfight at the OK Corral, lived on a ranch five miles south of Charleston.

At its peak, Charleston was home to nearly 400 people. It had a post office, four restaurants, a school, a church, a drugstore, two blacksmiths, two livery stables, two butcher shops, two bakeries, a hotel, five general stores, a jewelry shop, a brickyard, a brewery, and at least four saloons. It was mainly home to men who worked across the river at the silver mills in Millville.

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The Southwestern Ghost Town of Fairbank

A collection of sun-bleached houses, and a desecrated hilltop cemetery, are all that remains of this once prosperous silver town.

  • Fairbank was the last stop on the railroad before Tombstone.
  • It was once the scene of a train robbery.
  • Some visitors report seeing strange lights in the graveyard at night.

A forgotten cemetery on a sun-baked hill in the desert, rattlesnakes coiled on an old wooden porch, and tumbleweed drifting through dusty, abandoned streets all bring to mind the quintessential southwestern ghost town. Located off State Route 82 along the San Pedro River in Cochise County, Arizona, Fairbank is just such a ghost town.

An American Indian village known as Santa Cruz once occupied the site, but white settlers soon arrived to displace them. Fairbank grew up around the nearest rail stop to Tombstone and was first settled in 1881. It was originally known as Junction City and then Kendall, before residents finally decided on Fairbank in 1883. It was named after Nathaniel Kellogg Fairbank, founder of the Grand Central Mining Company.

On February 15, 1900, the Burt Alvord gang attempted to rob the express car on the Benson-Nogales train as it was stopped in Fairbank. Express Agent and former lawman Jeff Milton, who was the son of the Confederate Governor of Florida, John Milton, foiled the robbery when he threw the keys to the safe in a pile of packages.

During the shootout, he mortally wounded “Three Fingered Jack” Dunlop and wounded Bravo Juan Yoas. Milton himself was seriously wounded in the arm, but pretended to be dead when the outlaws finally boarded the train. The outlaws were unable to open the safe and fled with only a few dollars. “Three Fingered Jack” died in Tombstone.

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My Favorite Haunted Places in Arizona

In early 2015, I spent several months at Fort Huachuca in southern Arizona. While there, I visited several very interesting places, including the town of Tombstone. I love Tombstone for its history and authentic feel of being in the “Wild West.” Of course, such a storied history comes with its share of legends and lore. Ghost stories abound. Here are some of my other favorite haunted places in the Copper State.

Copper Queen Hotel

11 Howell Ave. Bisbee, Arizona 85603
www.copperqueen.com (520) 432-2216

Copper Queen Hotel in Bisbee, Arizona. Photo by Michael Kleen

Rising above the colorful tapestry of tightly clustered homes and businesses blanketing the Mule Mountains in southeastern Arizona, the Copper Queen Hotel stands as a gilded monument. For over 100 years, it has served as a social anchor for the former mining town of old Bisbee. I first stayed at the Copper Queen Hotel in 2009 while visiting friends from Phoenix. I had heard rumors that the hotel was haunted, but it wasn’t until I returned a few years later that I discover just how much. In the interim, the hotel had published its logbook of ghostly encounters from 2000 to 2008, and the book contains many interesting gems. [Read More…]

Brunckow Cabin

San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area
4070 South Avenida Saracino
Hereford, AZ 85615
(520) 439-6400

Brunckow Cabin in Arizona. Photo by Michael Kleen

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. [Read More…]

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