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.
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. The Tombstone Mill and Mining Company owned one of these mills and the Corbin Mill and Mining Company owned the other. The mills processed silver ore from the mines around Tombstone, and from 1881 to 1882 processed almost $1.4 million in silver.
When the mines dried up, the people moved on. During WW2, the 93rd Infantry Division, which was stationed at Fort Huachuca, used the ruins of Charleston as a training ground nick-named “Little Tunisia.” They used live ammunition during many of the exercises, which heavily damaged the adobe buildings. Erosion from the San Pedro River causes more damage, until very little remained of the once thriving community.
Today, most of Charleston is gone and only a few stone walls remain of Millville. The site is part of the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area and accessible down a long and winding trail. In addition to a few scattered remains, visitors can expect to find beautiful scenery, including ancient petroglyphs and lush trees along the river.
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.