Prescott’s Most Famous Saloon Story: Legend vs. Truth – Part 2

By Brad Courtney

Last week’s “Days Past” told the legend of Chance Cobweb Hall, which spoke of a Prescott baby abandoned atop a Whiskey Row saloon counter, then gambled for and won by a local judge named Charles Hall.  It’s arguably Arizona’s best and most famous saloon story.  However, recent research has uncovered significant differences between that oft told romantic tale (which was based on true events) and what actually happened.

This story should rightly be called the saga of Violet “Baby Bell” Hicks.  It was January 17, 1898, and indeed a cold, snowy evening when the baby in question was left, not in Cob Web Hall, but in the Cabinet Saloon.  The “Cabinet” had been a center of activity along Whiskey Row for a quarter of a century.  Activities were in full swing when a “rather comely young woman” walked through the bat-winged doors holding a swaddled baby.  An attached note made it clear that this baby was being abandoned and was now homeless.  It also identified the father: William Bell.

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This photo shows the interior of the Cabinet Saloon, where the baby Violet Bell was abandoned on January 17, 1898 (Photo Courtesy Sharlot Hall Museum Call Number: BU-I-0245p).

Saloon stories are often the result of drunken men pulling pistols and shooting at each other.  Not this one.  The Courier recounted that “a surging mass of brawny men crowded up to get a sight of the little one. . . .”  No less than forty of them were so taken with the infant—and undoubtedly inflicted with a benevolence supercharged by whiskey—they volunteered to give it a home.  A few married but childless men were ready to fisticuff for the tiny trophy.

Did someone step in and propose that the right to adopt the abandoned child should be won in a gambling game?  Although impossible to prove, the likelihood that a gambling game transpired for the cherub is high.  Eventually, Charles Hicks, probate judge of Yavapai County, entered the scene.  Hicks was not present when the baby was initially left on the Cabinet’s bar, but rather was “sent for.”  Why?  During this time in territorial history, probate judges handled all adoptions.  Was Hicks called because men in the saloon were gambling for the right to adopt “Baby Bell”?

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Charles Hicks is the probate judge who rescued Baby Bell and later approved her adoption to his wife, Allie (Photo Courtesy Sharlot Hall Museum Call Number PO-2002p).

Prescott newspapers did not mention gambling, but when the story was reported outside of town, it became prominent.  Regardless, the judge didn’t win the baby by rolling four sixes in a dice game; the probate judge arrived and simply “decided the question by announcing that he would take it himself.”  Yet, these outside reports noted that he left the Cabinet Saloon with $300 “for the child’s benefit,” and took it from “the unsuccessful men.”  Chances are that at least 30 men were in the process of gambling for the child when the judge walked in and snatched up the baby, and that an act of charity was perpetrated when these men offered the antes and gave it to Hicks to jumpstart the baby’s care.

Eventually, Hicks’ wife, Allie, petitioned her own husband to adopt Violet Bell.  She did so on January 26.  The process was thus expedited, and on January 28, Baby Bell became Violet Hicks.  Prescottonians were happy with this outcome.  The Courier noted, “Thus has the little waif of the Cabinet saloon fallen into a home good enough for any child, one in which she will receive that care, training and education which any parents would be proud to have a child receive.”

The story then disappeared from print until Edmund Wells produced his Chance Cobweb story in 1927 with its fairy tale ending.  Although her adult life had some enchanting moments, it proved more tragic than magic. After moving to California, Violet married Arthur Binner and had four children.  Arthur, however, became an alcoholic, and divorce followed.  Violet became a gambling addict and neglectful of her children.  At one point, she trekked all the way to Alaska to find her father only to be told he wanted nothing to do with her.

In 1972, there were rumors that C. C. Hall, under an assumed name, was living near Whiskey Row.  Violet Binner, however, aka Chance Cobweb Hall and Prescott’s celebrated baby on a Whiskey Row bar, had already died of a heart attack on October 12, 1970, in Redwood City, California.  She was 72 years old.

Brad Courtney is currently researching for and writing a book on the history of Whiskey Row.

Days Past is a collaborative project of the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of Westerners, International (www.prescottcorral.org). This and other Days Past articles are also available at www.sharlot.org/library-archives/days-past. The public is encouraged to submit articles for consideration.  Please contact SHM Library & Archives reference desk at 928-445-3122 Ext. 14, or via email at dayspastprescott@gmail.com for information.

 

Prescott’s Most Famous Saloon Story: Legend versus Truth – Part 1

By Brad Courtney

Tombstone boasts Arizona’s most famous gunfight, but Prescott can claim its most famous saloon story.  If there is one better, it has not yet surfaced.  It speaks of a baby won in a gambling game after being abandoned atop a counter of a prominent Whiskey Row saloon.  Unlike the OK Corral legend, however, Prescott’s renowned saloon story has undergone minimal scrutiny over the years.

This affair has come down through time in two versions.  The actual dates surrounding its primary events are January 17 through January 28, 1898, and can rightfully be called the true story of Violet “Baby Bell” Hicks.  Thenceforth, it immediately disappeared from print and passed into the realm of oral history.

That is, until 29 years later when an original Prescottonian, Edmund Wells, published his memoirs: Argonaut Tales.  Within this classic combination of frontier history and folklore, Wells, one of the most respected and accomplished personages in Arizona history, recalled within a 3-chaptered, 43-page section entitled “Chance Cobweb Hall,” the story of a baby whose mother had left her with the Chinese laundry proprietor, George Ah Fat.

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In 1927, Edmund Wells, shown here, wrote the story of a baby left on a Whiskey Row saloon counter, a story that was accepted as historical truth for over 7 decades (Photo Courtesy Sharlot Hall Museum Call Number: PO-1233.1p).

After several days had passed, Ah Fat realized the mother was not going to return.  Something had to be done.  So, he waited until a cold snowy evening when a larger than usual crowd had been driven into a Whiskey Row saloon often patronized by the more educated portion of male Prescott society: Cob Web Hall.  That night, Ah Fat surreptitiously placed the baby on the “Cobweb’s” counter, and blended into the crowd.

After the baby was discovered, it was concluded that she’d been abandoned.  Arguments commenced regarding the baby’s immediate and future welfare.  Dissension radiated throughout the saloon.  Before the situation got out of control, someone interjected with a proposal: all desirous of adopting the child should partake in a game of dice—ten dollars for one throw of four dice for the pretty stranger.  None dissented.  Player after player rolled until Robert Groom (Prescott’s original surveyor) appeared to win the baby after a roll of four fives.

That is until Judge Charles Hall, taking the last roll, beat him by miraculously rolling four sixes.  Groom suspected cheating but could not prove it.  Hall had won the baby.  Groom though demanded the honor of naming the abandoned but now coveted waif.  A lengthy, poetic christening followed; the child would be forever known as Chance Cobweb Hall.  The judge and his wife soon adopted the baby girl.  Wells noted that it was then “forgotten as one of the romances of the town.”  However, his story had a postscript.

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According to Wells, Prescott’s most famous saloon story occurred in Cob Web Hall, shown here in this 1890’s photo of Whiskey Row (Photo Courtesy Sharlot Hall Museum Call Number: BU-B-8035p).

Twenty-five years later Wells found himself in San Francisco attending a benefit dinner for “dependent girls,” and sitting across from a young couple, the female member of which was especially attractive and strangely familiar.  He couldn’t help but overhear their conversation and heard enough to conclude they were in love and happy, well-educated and well-to-do.  Then Wells heard mention of a town called Prescott.  After questioning the pretty lady, she divulged she’d indeed been born and raised in Prescott, Arizona.  Her name?  C. C. Hall; short for Chance Cobweb Hall.  How she received her unusual name, she did not know: “I suppose that some kind of western romance was connected to it . . . Perhaps I will know sometime.”

Such was the only full-length version of these events for more than seven decades.  For that reason, among others, it was accepted as historical verity.  However, recent research has revealed several mistruths, perhaps intentionally supplied by Wells.  At least two of the characters in Wells’s narrative were dead; the judge who wound up with the baby was not Charles Hall, but Charles Hicks; the cherub did not need to be named because she already had a name: Violet Bell.

This story is ripe is ripe for retelling.  It has lately been a subject of attention, even by the Daily Courier itself.  Part two will appear next Sunday in this column, wherein the true story of Violet “Baby Bell” Hicks will be concluded.  Or simply join Brad Courtney at Sharlot Hall Museum’s Theater (Lawler’s Exhibit Center) at 2 PM on Saturday, May 10, whereby he will reveal the fuller story of Prescott’s, if not Arizona’s most famous saloon story.

(Brad Courtney is a retired educator, having taught in inner city Phoenix for 19 years, and on the Navajo Indian reservation for 12.  For 6 years he was a guide on the Colorado River as it coursed through northern Arizona’s famously mighty canyons).

(Days Past is a collaborative project of the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of Westerners International (www.prescottcorral.org). This and other Days Past articles are also available at www.sharlot.org/library-archives/days-past. The public is encouraged to submit articles for consideration.  Please contact SHM Library & Archives reference desk at 928-445-3122 Ext. 14, or via email at dayspastprescott@gmail.com for information).

 

The Opium Dens of Territorial Prescott

By Dr. Rhonda T. Davis

Users described opium as the perfect drug.  Westerners often called it the celestial drug and hailed it as a cure-all.  In small doses added to a cup of tea, opium combatted the many pains that plagued people who lived with irregular medical treatment on the frontier.  In medium doses, it was effective in easing insomnia.  Opium was used by frontier households as a tranquilizer, analgesic, to treat fatigue, depression, the ague, and malaria.  A wide range of patent medications including laudanum contained opium.

The opium smoked in Prescott’s opium dens, however, was used for recreational purposes.  At higher doses, opium produces euphoria and a sense of peace.  The Chinese in Territorial Prescott enjoyed the same amusements as other frontiersmen including drinking, gambling, prostitutes, and opium smoking.  The opium dens in Prescott were located at Chinese owned businesses.  The most basic equipment used by opium smokers was a Yen Tshung (pipe), Yen Dong (a spirit lamp), and Noen Kun Yen (a box of opium paste).  Other items commonly provided in the opium dens included sponges, bowls, and head rests.  There were a large number of opium artifacts found in the 2006 archeological excavation of Prescott’s Chinatown; in fact, so many that it appears Prescott had a higher than usual percentage of opium users.

While many non-Chinese Prescottonians joined their Chinese neighbors in a friendly smoke of opium, and as much as people enjoyed an alcoholic drink, others ascribed depravity, sloth, and immorality to opium use.  The fact that men and women smoked opium together was shocking to the more refined of the Prescott establishment, as well as the Temperance League, missionaries and moral reformers.  These good people had already succeeded in making it illegal for women to drink alcohol in public, but opium was harder to regulate.  It was legal even though many considered it immoral.

Most of Prescott’s opium dens were located along Granite Street.  One of the most popular opium dens was at the corner of Goodwin and Granite and was open around the clock.  Men and women from all walks of life frequented the opium dens.  The mixing of prostitutes and miners was less of a problem than was the mixing of otherwise respectable men and women in this regard.  Opium pipes were the most common way to smoke opium.  These pipes were elaborately fashioned from wood, ivory, jade, silver, cloisonné, and porcelain.

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Chinese man in Prescott with newspaper, tea, and opium pipe, December 1878 (Photo Courtesy Sharlot Hall Museum – Call Number: PO-2030p).

Many non-Chinese people assumed that most or all Chinese were opium addicts.  In fact, opium users were in the minority among the Chinese.  Because the Chinese used long pipes to smoke tobacco, regular smokers were often mistaken for opium users.  The characterization of Chinese as carousing, gambling, and smoking opium gained popularity as the Chinese population increased.  Moreover, the frontier really was a rough place in those decades.  An excavation of Prescott’s Chinatown reveals massive quantities of alcohol containers along with opium paraphernalia.

Opium was a serious business that became a serious problem.  In 1908, President Roosevelt bowed to pressure from Chinese officials to stop US importation of opium.  On February 9, 1909, Congress passed the Opium Exclusion Act that outlawed opium for smoking purposes and caused years of violent Tong battles, an unprecedented crime wave, and corruption as the drug went underground.  Opium dens vanished from Prescott as they did from other Chinatowns around the west.

Rhonda Davis, PhD.,  has researched the Chinese diaspora in Arizona extensively at the National Archives.  Her main field of expertise is the Qing Dynasty.  Dr. Davis will be presenting some of her archival research, including photographs of Prescott’s Chinese Pioneers, at the Sharlot Hall Museum Library & Archives at 2:00 pm on Saturday, April 19th 2014.  This presentation is free and open to the public.  Dr.  Davis is a National Merit Scholar; she holds degrees from San Diego State University, California State University, Los Angeles, USC, OSU, and Mecheng College in China.  She is certified in Ethics by the National Science Foundation and National Institute for Health.

Days Past is a collaborative project of the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of Westerners, International (www.prescottcorral.org). This and other Days Past articles are also available at www.sharlot.org/library-archives/days-past. The public is encouraged to submit articles for consideration.  Please contact SHM Library & Archives reference desk at 928-445-3122 Ext. 14, or via email at dayspastprescott@gmail.com for information.

The Legend of the Quartz Rock Saloon and the Origins of Whiskey Row

(This article is one of a series that will appear in this space during this year on historic events relating to the Arizona Territory’s Sesquicentennial.)

by Brad Courtney

There are many marvelous Prescott legends that are a delight to read or hear and, of course, retell.  Some, when researched thoroughly, reveal themselves as spectacular yarns.  Others are part truth, part fable, often based on a true story, but along the way the temptation to embellish and throw in extra characters and events proved too strong to their tellers.  Perhaps some are culminations of oral history gone wild.  One endearing and enduring piece of Prescott folklore, however, is a combination of certain true, distinct, and even related events.  Such is the legend of the Quartz Rock Saloon.

It begins during Prescott’s earliest days with an enterprising pioneer, Isaac Goldberg, who, improvised a makeshift cantina on the banks of Granite Creek—a shanty covering a crude, wooden-board counter, two bottles of whiskey, and a single tin cup.  It was called the “Quartz Rock Saloon,” and was an instant success.  However, as the story goes, Goldberg ran into problems when intoxicated patrons either stumbled face down into the stream, or became nauseated from gazing at the trickling water.  Consequently, the proprietor moved to the newly formed Montezuma Street.  This cantina, it is theorized, was the seed that eventually sprouted a crop of saloons which later would be dubbed “Whisky Row.”

Unlike many legends replete with adornments and distortions, the Quartz Rock Saloon legend is merely an alteration of the truth.  There was an Isaac Goldberg who told his story in 1894 to the Society of Arizona Pioneers.  Arriving in the Prescott area during the mid-summer of 1864, he did indeed set up a saloon of sorts with a “rude counter which concealed sundry bottles of whiskey.”  This plank bar exposed only the reputed two bottles while each dram of whiskey was sold for fifty cents from one tin cup.  His assistant, who often appears in the folklore version of this operation, was an AWOL soldier with most of his nose missing.  Goldberg never mentions a creek, or a name for his business.  Nevertheless, his set-up may have actually been Prescott’s first wholesale/retail liquor undertaking, if not saloon.

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William Hardy opened “The Quartz Rock” with much fanfare on November 14, 1864. It may have been Prescott’s first saloon (Photo Courtesy of Sharlot Hall Museum Call Number: PO-2138p).

In the thirteenth Arizona Miner, September 7, 1864, Goldberg advertised his firm for the first time, and was the first Prescott liquor wholesaler/retailer to do so.  This advertisement mentions that Goldberg was now selling his wares out of the Juniper House.  For Whiskey Row historians, this is an intriguing juxtaposition.  The Juniper House, founded by the multifaceted George Barnard, bore a conspicuously similar history as that of Goldberg’s cantina.

The Juniper House is, irrefutably, Prescott’s first food and beverage go-to spot, but, like Goldberg’s liquor stand, it also began in primitive style.  One witness noted that the “progressively inclined” Barnard had “no house nor stove” when he first opened in 1864.  Rather, he cooked his cuisine over an open campfire by a sizable juniper tree.  Eventually nail and lumber sheltered a workable restaurant, where Goldberg’s spirits provided a welcome addition.  Several noteworthy sources point to it as being established on the Plaza side of Montezuma Street.  If so, the Juniper House with Goldberg’s cantina attached would make it the first of its kind amongst the area that would become known throughout the Southwest as Whiskey Row.

Goldberg’s libations set-up has four possible competitors vying for the distinction of being Prescott’s first bona fide saloon.  One was opened on November 14, 1864, by the controversial, but influential frontiersman William Hardy—who founded the Colorado River town, Hardyville, which later became Bullhead City—with an “inauguration” from a local club of townsmen called the “Barbarians.”  The Barbarians’ mission was to “properly [celebrate] important events” marking Prescott’s progress.  Opening a bar featuring the best billiard table in the territory with a saloon offering “a better class of liquors than we have been used to in Prescott” was certainly, in their minds, significant progress.  The saloon was christened “The Quartz Rock.”  It was located on Granite Street along the banks of Granite Creek.  There it stayed and operated successfully for almost 7 years.  The Juniper House floundered, and soon both Goldberg and Barnard moved on to other entrepreneurial experiments.

It is unusual when truth is more amusing than legend.  The Quartz Rock Saloon and Juniper House histories are, arguably, exemplars of such an occurrence.

Days Past is a collaborative project of the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of Westerners International (www.prescottcorral.org). This and other Days Past articles are also available at www.sharlot.org/library-archives/days-past. The public is encouraged to submit articles for consideration.  Please contact SHM Library & Archives reference desk at 928-445-3122 Ext. 14, or via email at dayspastprescott@gmail.com for information.

The Legend of Kissin’ Jenny

By Fred Veil

It is not unusual for bits and pieces of Western lore to find their way into the historical record of the Old West. The story of Kissin’ Jenny, a Prescott prostitute, and the role she purportedly played in influencing the decision of the Fifteenth Legislature of the Arizona Territory to relocate the territorial capital from Prescott to Phoenix in 1889 is a case in point.

When the Fifteenth Legislature convened in Prescott in January, 1889 the first order of business taken up by the Assembly was a bill to permanently relocate the territorial capital from Prescott, where it had again resided since 1877, to Phoenix, that burgeoning city to the south that had by then surpassed both Prescott and Tucson in population, commerce and, most importantly, political influence. The location of the capital had for some years been a matter of contention, but in this instance the delegates from Maricopa County had rounded up the necessary votes and the bill was passed in the two houses (the Council and the House of Representatives) that comprised the Legislative Assembly, and immediately signed into law by Governor C. Myer Zulick. Within days, the Legislature reconvened in Phoenix to finish the business of the legislative session.

The legendary Jenny may have worked out of one of the cribs shown to the left of the Union Saloon (Courtesy of the Sharlot Hall Museum Call Number BU-B-8069pa).

The roots of the story of Kissin’ Jenny are unknown, but over time at least two versions have become part of our Western lore. The most popular account is that in anticipation of a close vote on the bill, the delegates from Maricopa County engaged Jenny to help them ensure the absence a certain Yavapai County delegate when the call was made for the vote on the bill. This delegate, a regular customer of Jenny’s, had a glass eye of which he was very proud. As the story goes, the delegate spent the night before the vote was to be taken in Jenny’s boudoir and before retiring removed his glass eye and placed it in a water glass next to the bed. When he awoke the next morning the glass eye was missing, purportedly swallowed by Jenny who, becoming thirsty during the night, picked up the water glass and consumed its contents. Vanity would not permit the delegate to be seen in public without his glass eye and as a consequence he missed the important vote on the capital relocation bill. According to legend, the bill passed by a single vote.

This narration of the story of Kissin’ Jenny has been eloquently captured in verse by Cowboy Poet Dee Strickland (Buckshot Dot). Her poem, entitled, appropriately, Kissin’ Jenny, was republished in the May 2012 edition of the Prescott Corral’s Territorial Times.

A second version of the Kissin’ Jenny story is that the delegate with the glass eye was actually a supporter of the bill, and when his eye turned up missing it was the Maricopa County delegates who rounded up a substitute glass eye, which allowed for him to show up at the very last minute to cast the deciding vote in favor of its passage.

A recent article in this newspaper, after recounting the most popular version of the Kissin’ Jenny story, suggested that historians have long tried but have been unable to disprove its veracity. The fact is, the story, which relies on the representation that the vote was lost (or won, depending on the version recounted) by a single vote, is easily disproved. According to the historical record of the Fifteenth Legislative Assembly, the vote was not even close. The Council voted 9 to 2 in favor of the bill and the House approved it by a vote of 14 to 10. Further, all of the Yavapai County delegates were present at the session and voted against the bill. The only member whose vote was not recorded was a Councilman from Apache County who, according to contemporary reports had remained at home to care for a sick child. In any event, his vote would have made no difference since the Council vote was so overwhelmingly in favor of the bill.

Nevertheless, the legend of Kissin’ Jenny will undoubtedly live on in Western lore––as well it should, because, after all, it does make a great story!

(Days Past is a collaborative project of the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of Westerners, International. This and other Days Past articles are available at www.sharlot.org/library-archives/days-past. The public is encouraged to submit articles for Days Past consideration. Please contact Assistant Archivist, Scott Anderson, at SHM Archives 928-445-3122 or via email at archivesrequest@sharlot.org for information.)

 

Ghost celebrating 111 years at the Gurley Street Grill

by Marie Slayton & edited by Kathy Krause

(This article was originally published in the Prescott Courier on September 9, 2001.)

Folklore and stories that are passed down through generations can bear little if any resemblance to history.  Of course, there are some wonderful stories that have spilled out over the years.  A rather friendly and benign ghost named George is said to live upstairs at the Mulvenon Building, currently the Gurley Street Grill.  This easy-going poltergeist is known for flicking lights on and off, rearranging coffee cups and occasionally reconfiguring the computer system.  Whether he was a disgruntled tenant, someone who was simply lonely, or someone who was shot in a barroom brawl is a matter of contention.  It would be a great story if he had met with some unusual or tragic death, but that would be only speculation.

After some years of doing work as a lawman, miner and a stable-keeper, William J. Mulvenon settled here in Prescott in 1876.  He served as a sheriff’s deputy for four years after which he was elected sheriff in 1885.  During the bloody Pleasant Valley War, a feud between the Graham and Tewksbury families, Mulvenon made a name for himself by leading a posse into the Tonto Basin and killing members of each clan.  Later, he served as a territorial legislator and his 1897 biography credits him with no less than three captures of notorious outlaws in Arizona and beyond.  Mulvenon was said to have “paved the way for civilization’s progress in the Southwest.”

The Exchange Saloon was located at the northeast corner of Gurley and Granite streets. It was built before 1890 and typical of construction of the time, made of thin wood boards with a broad overhang to both the south and west. During the 1900 Fire, the Exchange Saloon burned right along with nearly all of Prescott’s downtown. In 1901, William Mulvenon rebuilt on the site, this time using brick construction (SHM Call Number: BU-B-8009).

In the midst of this rather hectic life, Mulvenon also had time to aid in establishing the Prescott Crystal Ice Works and was a primary stockholder in the Arizona Brewing Company.  He had the Mulvenon Building built on the northeast corner of Gurley and Granite streets and, when it was finished in August of 1901, it replaced the ill-fated Exchange Saloon.  The Exchange, built before 1890 and typical of construction of the time, was made of thin wood boards with a broad overhang to both the south and west.  In the fire of 1900, when nearly all of Prescott’s downtown area burned, the Exchange Saloon burned right along with it.  Coming to the conclusion that wood was perhaps not the most sound of construction materials, local merchants, William Mulvenon included, made the change to brick.

On the ground floor of his new building, Mulvenon was owner-operator of a saloon.  During the prohibition years, the saloon supposedly served “sodas.”  Various city directories from the first decade of the 20th century list A.V. Mulvenon as a resident and bartender at the same address.  It has long been rumored that a collection of women “notoriously abandoned to lewdness” worked in the furnished rooms that were offered upstairs.  While rumors of this sort are difficult to substantiate or completely refute, there is a bit of evidence.  Being on the corner of Gurley and Granite streets, the saloon fell just outside of confines of the area designated for houses of ill-fame and prostitution.  Since this ordinance was put into effect late in 1900, it would have been illegal to have any operation whatsoever in the Mulvenon’s saloon after it was constructed.  Of course, there exists the possibility that such women were “plying their vocation” outside of the Red Light District.  So, the rumor remains.

In 1901, William J. Mulvenon built the Gurley Street Bar (pictured here in 1903) and today the building houses the Gurley Street Grill. Stories of its past are wrapped in truth and fiction from prostitution to a ghost named George. The insert shows Prescott Sheriff Mulvenon in 1885. (SHM Call Number: PB-049f1i3 with insert PO-1664p).

In the 111 years since its construction, the Mulvenon building has gone through few structural changes.  Until 1990, there remained two businesses on the bottom floor, split by the staircase.  Various types of businesses have occupied those spaces over the years, ranging from an auto mechanic to a furniture store.  For many years, the upstairs was listed as a hotel having six nearly identical rooms.  Later, they were subdivided differently, stocked with a few amenities and turned into small apartments with kitchens and bathrooms.  In fact, if one looks with a careful eye at the brick wall of the back patio of the Gurley Street Grill, one can see the faded paint “ROOMS FOR RENT.”

In 1991, Paul Murphy undertook the restoration of the Mulvenon Building.  While the staircase and original doors were left in place, Murphy’s team undertook minimal rearrangements of the upstairs rooms to equip them for banquets.  Major additions to the restaurant include banquet and industrial kitchens, restrooms and a patio area to the north.  For twenty-one years, the Gurley Street Grill has flourished as an integral part of downtown life and retains the appeal of its territorial construction with the added pleasure of its modern conveniences.  How does George, the ghost, feel about the changes that have taken place?  Apparently, he knows how to use a computer!

Republished in Prescott Courier: October 21, 2012

Prescott’s Palace Saloon

by Richard Gorby

(The following article was originally published in the Courier’s Days Past section on September 12, 1999.)

The exact age of the Palace Saloon is somewhat of a puzzle.  In the September 21, l877 Arizona Weekly Miner: “Mess’rs Shaw and Standefer have fitted up the Palace Saloon in the most superb style, and fitted it with choice liquors of every conceivable kind.”  This suggests that it was already there, but no earlier mention can be found.  Few records were kept and most of those were destroyed by Prescott’s several fires

The December 20, 1977 Courier reported, “The Palace was the first bar in Prescott, opened by Isaac Goldberg on the dirt street that was to become the downtown section of the city.”  A careful study cannot prove this statement.  Goldberg, indeed, had a saloon on Montezuma Street in l864 just after the founding of Prescott, but it was more likely the Juniper House.

A document at Sharlot Hall Museum states, “D.C. Thorne, Son of the Man who Founded the Palace…” and, according to the younger D.C., his father (also D.C.) came to Prescott in l867.  “My father had the distinction of opening in l868 the famous Palace Bar, where the present Palace now stands on Whiskey Row (Montezuma Street).”  Again, this cannot be proven.

However, in any study of the Palace, D.C. Thorne is important because Lot 19, on Block 13 on the west side of Prescott’s Plaza, (Montezuma Street), was bought by Thorne in 1867.  Lot 19 is the center lot of the three that make up today’s Palace!  Records show that D.C. Thorne owned Lot 19 until 1883.  This can be proven!

In any event, the Palace Saloon was one of the finest on Whiskey Row.  In 1883 fire destroyed most of the street, including the Palace.  The owner, Robert Brow, built the new Palace determining to make it fireproof.  The new structure was built of brick with a stone foundation, iron roof and iron shutters in the rear.  The interior featured over a 20-foot bar, a beautiful back-bar, three gaming tables and two club rooms.  Three heavy chandeliers completed the décor.

Fourteen years later, in l897, from the Prescott Miner: “The Palace is to be what its name would imply.  It is receiving a spring clean up and costly fixtures are to be added in addition to other improvements in its make-up.  Bob Brow, its energetic host, says he will maintain a first-class house in eating, drinking and sporting.”

However, in spite of its “fireproof” construction, the Palace, along with most of Whiskey Row, was destroyed in the great fire of 1900.  Patrons carried the huge oak bar across the street to the Plaza.  Most of the liquor was also salvaged and drinks were being served at the makeshift bar before the fire was over!

Burned out Whiskey Row, July 1900, with “tent city” on the Plaza grounds where merchants set up temporary businesses until rebuilding. In the mid-ground center is what was left of the Palace Saloon. It was rebuilt on the same site and is located there today This image faces westward towards Thumb Butte, which stands in the far background. (SHM Call Number: F-2103pd).

 

Prior to the fire, Bob Brow’s Palace and Ben Belcher and Barney Smith’s Cabinet Saloon next door, were considered two of the finest in Arizona.  On the Plaza in their makeshift saloons soon after the fire, they formed a pool of their interests and decided to build a single building that would be second to none.  For about $50,000 (interest rate 1%) the new Palace was born.  And it was spectacular!

From the Arizona State Inventory of Historic Places: “The Palace Hotel is a two story masonry structure 75 feet wide and 125 feet deep.  Construction materials include native grey granite, iron, and pressed ornamental bricks.  An interesting feature of the front facade is the central pediment.  It carries the great seal of the Territory of Arizona and on either side figures of a mountain lion and a bear.

The new Palace took over the front page of the June 29, l90l, Prescott Journal Miner, describing the entrance to the barroom as through massive double doors of solid oak with beautiful frosted plate glass having the words “Palace” lettered in them.  The quality of the material and workmanship employed was described as “Rich and Elegant.  The Miner continued, “The bar and fixtures are, however, the crowning features of the furnishings.  They are without doubt the most elegant in this part of the country.  The front bar is 24 feet long, made of solid oak with polished cherry top and has the finest French plate glass oval top mirrors, while the massive columns and carvings cause one to look at it with wonder and amazement.”  This, the same bar that was carried across the street to the Plaza during the fire and the same bar that is in the Palace Saloon today!

Gaming tables encouraged faro, poker, roulette, kino and craps.  A glass of beer was five cents payable even with unminted gold.  Although women didn’t frequent bars in those days, the Palace had its hostesses “who also entertained with songs,” and quite possibly in other ways.  With its fine food and congenial atmosphere, the Palace managed to weather the 1907 state law against gambling and later, prohibition during World War I which closed many other saloons.

Over the years, the Palace had its ups and downs but was able to stay afloat.  Nothing much was done to keep it clean and it deteriorated; nearly a hundred years of smoke and dirt covered ceilings, walls and floors.  All this changed in l996 when Californians Dave and Marilyn Michelson signed a lease for the premises and began restoration.  Michelson was determined to take it back to its appearance in 190l.  And he did, noting, “It’s a great building with a lot of history.”

Republished in Prescott Courier: September 30, 2012

Diana Saloon, dubbed best of its time, had problems too

by Richard Gorby

In 1864 Prescott, the capital of the new Territory of Arizona was surrounded by pine trees. The town’s first real building, however, (Michael Wormser’s store at the southwest corner of Goodwin and Montezuma) was made of adobe.

That paradox ended immediately with the arrival of Alfred Osgood Noyes and his saw mill, and Prescott became a town, not of adobe, but of wood.

Within two weeks after the sale of lots in the new town (June 4, 1864), Tisdale A. Hand, the 23-year-old publisher of Prescott’s first newspaper, the Arizona Miner, was putting out his weekly paper while boards were being hammered around him in the first building on Prescott’s Plaza (in the center of what is now Helig-Meyer’s Furniture), on Montezuma Street.

Noyes and his partner, George Whitfield Curtis, are the most celebrated sawmill operators and builders of early Prescott. One of their buildings is still standing: Noyes 1890 Lindenham Lodging House (now the Super Carrot Natural Foods on Montezuma).

Curtis Hall, on McCormick between Gurley and Goodwin, partly built by Curtis in 1878, was probably used for meetings by members of the Territorial Legislature, and, in any event, was of historical importance to Prescott. Although in good condition it was torn down a few years ago to add a few feet for additional parking when the new office complex was built at McCormick and Goodwin streets.

Illustrating image

The Diana Saloon was opened in September 1868 at the corner of Montezuma and Gurley Streets, where the Hotel St. Michael now stands. The Diana, at the left in the this 1870′s photo, was one of many buildings burned when fire raged down Montezuma Street on July 4, 1883 (SHM Call Number: BU-B-8166pd – Reuse only by permission).

In August of 1868, Noyes and Curtis began work on a new building at Montezuma and Gurley, at what is now the northeast corner of the St. Michael Hotel. It was to be the “largest and most magnificent edifice in Prescott, sixty by twenty-eight feet and two stories high, with a first class bar and billiard saloon”.

When it was almost completed an unexpected wind squall blew it to the ground, but it was rapidly rebuilt, bought by A.L.Moeller for $8500, and became Prescott’s famous Diana Saloon.

“Dr. Moeller’s new billiard and drinking saloon was opened to the public Saturday evening, last. (September 5, 1868). It is, we think, the largest, best finished and furnished saloon in the Territory. On the opening night the crowd assembled there was huge. Bucking at Faro, billiard playing and drinking were indulged in to a great extent. The two amiable bar tenders. Bill Linn and Jos. Crane had all they could do to keep the thirsty crowd moistened.”

For a town of about 600, even though the Territorial Capital, it was something to be proud of, and on November 26, 1868, the Thanksgiving Ball was staged at the Diana:

“—A Grand Ball and Supper in Moeller’s New Building–The best Musicians in the country have been engaged. Tickets, including Supper–Ten Dollars–”

The Diana was packed until dawn. What is amazing is the Ten Dollars! This, at a time when a good meal could be had for 25 cents, and a small home, with fireplace, built for under $500!

The Diana was successful and popular, but it had its problems:

Sept. 25, 1869: “A Bloody Night in Prescott. Night of Monday, Sept. 20, 1869, was the bloodiest night in the annals of the town. Two soldiers, Sgt. Patrick McGovern and Private Thomas Donahue, were shot dead, and another, Private George Nunes, was severely stabbed. McGovern was, it is said, murdered in the Diana Saloon at about four o’clock in the morning, by one Jos. Johnson, a discharged soldier.”

And, July 2, 1870: “Cowardly attempt at murder! About ten o’clock Wednesday evening, last, at the Diana Saloon, in this place, Harry Lightner, a well-known desperado, tried his best to kill Bradley Sion by shooting him with a pistol. The parties had some words about a game of faro when Lightner drew his pistol and fired four shots at Sion, who being unarmed and under the influence of liquor was powerless to defend himself from his murderous assaultant. Three of the shots took effect, and Sion is now in a critical condition. The would-be murderer fled and is still at large.”

But these were minor problems. Prescott had always had a fire problem. In May of 1879 the Arizona Miner wrote:

“At least four deep wells should be made on our public plaza and four windmills erected with huge tanks to each, which might be the means of saving our town should a fire break out in the wooden buildings on Montezuma Street. We can’t afford a fire just yet.” But nothing was done, and on July 4, 1883, fire raged down Montezuma Street destroying much of the street, including the Diana.

Later, when the Burke Hotel was built on the same spot, many precautions were apparently taken, and the Burke advertised itself as “The only fire-proof hotel in Arizona”. In the big fire of 1900, it joined the Diana.. being destroyed by fire.

(Richard Gorby is a research specialist at the Sharlot Hall Museum.)

Little is known of early ‘those ladies of the night’

by Jody Drake

Back in the days when the railroad was connecting this great country, as a new section of rail was laid, a town would spring up nearby to service the needs of the rail workers. And, of course, the world’s oldest profession was generally among those services. When a railroad employee was visiting one of these ladies, he would hang his lantern outside. That way if he was needed, he could be found. Now everyone knows the color of a railroad lantern. And the connection just sort of stuck. So as the pages of history began to turn forward we had ‘The Red Light District’.

In the census of 1886 in the County of Yavapai, this researcher picked out one dozen women who were bold enough to list their occupation as prostitutes. But when I looked for further evidence of their lives, nothing could be found. Nothing. No birth records. No obituaries. No evidence that they had ever lived. One dead end after another. Just one line in the 1886 census of Yavapai County, Arizona Territory. Smith, Mary W F 22 Boarder Prostitute.

With further research a few isolated stories were uncovered. But the full stories of their lives were always incomplete. One such woman was Juanita Maria Dean, simply known as Sammy Dean. She was an attractive woman with a bright smile and big eyes with a certain sad look about them. Those who knew her said she was slender and pretty, known to men and women to be very kind and friendly to everyone. She was from Texas and gracious in the same manner Texas women of the day were known. On July 7, 1931, she was found strangled at her apartment in Jerome near the Victory Market below Hull Avenue, on the edge of the Mexican Quarter. That day in July at 8:30 in the morning, a white man in a Panama hat was seen entering Sammy’s house. The witness said Sammy had on a green dress. Early that evening Leo Portillo found his friend Sammy clad only in a slip with a blanket tossed over her body, dead. A lot of evidence pointed to one of the mayor’s sons, but he was never questioned. Maybe there was a coverup, or maybe the police just didn’t bother because Sammy was a prostitute and a ‘grass widow.’ A ‘grass widow’ was a woman whose husband had left her but did not support her. Sammy’s husband was a gambler and so far as her family knew she had left Texas with him for Colorado. His name was George Dean, but what happened to him is not known. Nor is it known how Sammy landed in Jerome instead of Colorado. Her murder and life were nothing more than unanswered questions.

Patrons of the Union Saloon, located at the corner of Goodwin and Granite Streets in the 1890s, surround a probable prostitute (SHM Call Number: bBU-B-8069pc – Reuse only by permission).

Prostitution in Prescott was centered mainly on Granite Street. A few ladies were said to be found on Whiskey Row. But in the handful of prostitutes this researcher did uncover, the one common bond was unanswered questions. Not one complete life could be pieced together: where they had come from, where they were going, how they ended in this life of desperation. Who, what, when, where, and why? Some part was always missing. At best, speculative answers could be formed.

Lack of education or job skills, desperation, who knows for sure? Some had better lives than others but all were buried deep within “THE RED LIGHT DISTRICT.”

The history under the star’s program at The Sharlot Hall Museum will be patching together the lives of some of these women. This exploration will take the form of a theater presentation called Soiled Doves. The shows will be presented on weekends in the month of June, 1997. For more information about this show or five others to be presented this summer call The Sharlot Hall Museum at 445-3122.

(Jody Drake is the director of the Blue Rose Players.)

Published in Prescott Courier: June 8, 1997