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The Strange Tale of Arizona’s Haunted Brunckow’s Cabin

Lying out in the moonscape of the dusty wilds southwest of Tombstone in Cochise County, Arizona, is a forgotten husk of a cabin. Little more than some foundations and semi-erect, weed choked walls, these haggard ruins at first glance don’t seem to be much more than some feral remnants of the forgotten past buried out in the desert, something one could walk right by without barely even noticing. Yet this cabin has a historic place in Arizona history, a dark past, and is a haunted, cursed place often referred to as “the bloodiest cabin in Arizona history.”

The story here begins with German immigrant Frederick Brunckow, who came out to the United Stated in 1850 to join the Sonora Exploring and Mining Company. He would head out west and eventually in 1858 move out on his own to start the San Pedro Silver Mine, bankrolled by the St. Louis Mining Co, and which was located about eight miles southwest of what would become Tombstone, Arizona, near the San Pedro River. He set up a small camp and settlement, along with some hired Mexican laborers, a chemist named John Moss, his cousins James and William Williams, and a German cook by the name of David Bontrager, and he was certain that they were about to hit the mother lode of silver. There they stayed in a modest cabin made of adobe, with a simple tin roof, a fireplace, and a store for supplies. At first things seemed to be looking up for them, but they would then take a sharp turn into darkness.

On July 23, 1860, William Williams went out to get some flour and other supplies from town, coming back on the 26th to find the camp in quite the state. When Williams returned, he did so to the macabre sight of James dead upon the floor of the cabin and the whole place ransacked and in disarray. He immediately notified a garrison of soldiers stationed nearby, and when they arrived, they would find Morse lying dead in the wilderness outside of camp, and the body of Brunckow stuffed down into a mining shaft, apparently having been murdered with a rock drill to the head and midsection. Of the Mexican workers there was no sign, and the livestock and about $3,000 worth of goods had been taken. No one had any idea of what was going on, but the chef, Bontrager, would later come wandering in from the wilderness and claim that the Mexican workers had killed Brunckow and then fled the scene, taking him hostage at first but them letting him go at the border because they believed him to be a good Christian. The dead man would be buried there near the cabin and the killers never found. As tragic and violent as this was, it was far from the last taste of blood this place would get.

Brunckow’s Cabin today

After Brunckow’s death, the cabin would be abandoned for some time before it was acquired by a man named Milton B. Duffield, who is best known for being the first United States Marshal appointed to Arizona Territory. In 1873, Duffield moved into the cabin to set up his own small silver mining operation, but unfortunately for him, another man by the name of James T. Holmes was squatting on the property claiming that it was his. On June 5, 1874, Duffield arrived at Brunckow’s Cabin to kick Holmes out, who was usually armed to the teeth wearing “11 firearms and a knife,” and shouting like a madman. Holmes did not hesitate to open fire with his shotgun, laying out Duffield dead. When the body was checked, the marshal was found to be oddly unarmed, and Holmes was arrested for coldblooded murder, although he would escape several years later and go off into the unknown. Duffield was buried at the cabin, and that was that, another body to add to the cabin’s mounting history of bloodshed.

Next was a Sidney DeLong, who claimed the property in 1875 along with partners Tom Jeffords and Nick Rogers, but they were apparently soon run off by violent Apache, with Rogers even killed by them. There was then Ed Schieffelin, a prospector known to history as the “father of Tombstone,” who moved into the property in 1877 along with his brother, Al, and a fellow prospector named Richard Gird. They too left soon after they realized that the Apache did not want them there. After this there was an outlaw Cowboy named Frank Stillwell, who would move into the cabin and later be found lying on a flatcar in the Tucson train station, apparently killed by the great lawman Wyatt Earp.

Ed Schieffelin

There would be numerous other disputes and shootouts in the vicinity of the mine, including a mass shootout that happened at the site when a group of gold thieves in 1897 took to arguing amongst themselves to devolve into a spate of shooting and violence leaving many of them dead. The cabin would end up being the final resting place for an estimated 22 souls in total, with some scattered graves found but many of them lying there in the parched earth forgotten. The site gathered a reputation among miners of being a haunted, cursed place, with one article in Prescott’s Arizona Democrat saying of it:

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.

Indeed, this cabin would come to be known as an intensely haunted place, full of restless spirits. There were many reports of shadow figures, apparitions, and the sound of the “pounding on drills, pickaxes pulling away rocks, and the sawing of lumber for trusses.” There were many rumors that the deteriorating, abandoned cabin was cursed and haunted, stories going around that it could drive people insane, and it would come to be known as one of the most haunted places in Arizona. In present times, there is little left except for some foundations and crumbling walls, yet it still retains its haunted reputation, Those curiosity seekers who come here are often met with strange phenomena, and one article on the site Bloody Disgusting says:

Personal Experience: I’ve been to the Brunckow Cabin recently and I can say honestly, things get a little uncomfortable the moment you turn your car’s engine off. It could be the darkness of night or being in the middle of nowhere but you can almost immediately feel an uneasiness creep up on you. Once you step out of the car, you want to get back in pretty quickly. The noises in the desert are an easy suspect to blame for the noise reports that come along with tales of the cabin, but once you hear the faint noises of machinery running you tend to believe all the stories. My belief? This area is officially haunted; don’t go here unless you’re really looking to.

The site is now part of the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area and is protected by the Bureau of Land Management, but it still retains its air of dark mystery. It is certainly a strange place with a violent history steeped in anger and bloodshed, so it doesn’t seem to be all that unusual that it should be said to be haunted. Why are there so many deaths associated with this place and what forces keep these spirits tethered here? Whether it is or not remains unknown, but Brunckow’s Cabin has gone on to become a curious local legend, and one of Arizona’s most supposedly haunted places.