Brunckow’s Cabin | September 29, 2014

Today, I felt evil as I have never, ever felt it in my life. I am not talking “Oh, what a sad thing” or even “Oh, what a terrible chain of events”. What I felt today was something that was, quite honestly, one of the most frightening things I have ever felt. Honestly, I cannot say that the pump wasn’t a little bit primed because of what I had read, but what I experienced was, by definition, terror. This was not the scary movie terror but rather an extremely deep, primordial reaction to a sensation that was almost too much to handle.

This story did not begin today but rather in the summer of 1860 when a German immigrant named Frederick Brunckow established a silver claim not far from the San Pedro River. The claim was about 8 miles southwest of Tombstone, Arizona, and was promising. The company consisted of Brunckow,  James and William Williams, a man by the name of Morse, and the camp cook, David Bontrager.  There was also a crew of Mexican laborers. Drilling for silver was well underway by July of 1860 when William Williams went to Fort Buchanon to get supplies. He was unable to get a wagon to haul those supplies back to the cabin until several days later and when he arrived, he noticed that there was no activity around the little cabin. As he entered the cabin he was assailed by the odor of decay and stumbled across the body of his
cousin, James. The cabin had been ransacked and most of their provisions were gone. Convinced there was no one else left alive, William ran to the wagon and left as fast as the team could run. He went straight back to the fort and returned with a troop of soldiers. They discovered Morse in the mesquite brush where his body had been shredded by wild animals. Brunckow was found near a mine shaft, his body impaled by a rock drill.

Bontrager was found wandering in the desert four days later. He said the Mexican laborers had killed the men and stolen what money there was and left. They were never found. Years passed before anyone lived in the cabin until the Territory’s first US Marshall moved in. He and his family were murdered in a very short time and the killer was never caught. All the bodies had been buried around the cabin by the soldiers who responded to the events, likely due to the advanced decay under a truly brutal Arizona sun.

In 1881, the newspaper in Prescott described the cabin’s history of “uninterrupted violence and murder”, citing that an additional seventeen people had died at the cabin over the years. This has made it the
bloodiest piece of property that was not combat related in the whole state. No one has lived in the cabin since.

The site is not marked. It does not show up on Google maps and there is no indication of the unspeakable evil that has embedded itself in what’s left of the adobe walls. It is accessible only by foot and is about a two mile walk across the desert to get to it. The only way I knew about it was due to reading about it in Weird Arizona (Brunckow’s Cabin, page 194) and by following the directions it provided. I had actually given up my search and walked back to Opie, gotten in and was about to start the engine when I noticed the binoculars lying on the seat. I grabbed them and my hat and set off again to look for the cabin.

I went past the first set of ruins mentioned in the book and walked further down a wash towards the river bed. The binocs were the clincher, though, and allowed me to spot the ruins of the cabin on a bluff next to the river. As I approached the ruins I began to feel the hair rising on my neck. But again, I was already psyched out. It truly did not appear that anyone had been near the site in a long time. It wasn’t until I had
come within six feet of the walls that I noticed that the typical sounds of the desert were gone. Whereas just a few steps away I could hear insects chirping and the calls of the occasional bird. But when I neared
the walls I could feel a distinct pressure in my ears, not unlike when the air pressure changes. I was very watchful for coral snakes and rattlers, Gila monsters and scorpions, but there was nothing that moved
next to the walls. Nothing.

I wish I could describe what I was feeling but I just can’t really find the words. I was texting Karen as I looked around but found myself not answering her very quickly. I was beginning to feel intense dread
and was becoming nauseated. I had left my water in Opie, violating the first rule of the desert, and thought I was getting too much sun. I have had heat exhaustion before while deployed with DMAT and this was different. My imagination was beginning to kick into overdrive and I suddenly just wanted to get away from those crumbling walls. Normally, I would take a small rock as a souvenir but the absolute last thing I wanted was to bring a piece of this place home. I departed the area faster than I had come in and somehow the threat of the desert wildlife wasn’t my biggest concern. I did stop frequently and watch the trail behind me. Of course, there was nothing but I could not shake the feeling that there was something following me. I knew that this was completely unreasonable but there it was.

I had sent a text to Karen that I was feeling sick but was feeling better the further I got away from the cabin ruins. Once I reached Opie, I was feeling completely normal but was much relieved to leave that
place. I will never go back there and have no desire for anyone I care about to encounter such evil. The area, be it real or imagined, is dangerous. The desert here in southern Arizona is magical but sometimes
magic can be very dark. The events that occurred around and in that cabin were horrible by any description and the terror is embedded in the walls and soil. Fortunately, the San Pedro River will soon cut away the bluff under the cabin and its horrors will cease to exist. Maybe the land can return to normal once the ruins have gone. Regardless, I will not ever go back to see it.

Author: Bill Rice

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