Friday, August 26, 2016

Dan Thorne’s Cabinet Saloon — The Ugly, the Bad, and the Good


Remember the Clint Eastwood classic, “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” much of which took place in a Western saloon?  Daniel Conner Thorne’s Cabinet Saloon on Prescott, Arizona’s “Whiskey Row” had its own story, one best told with the movie title in reverse.  But first, a word about Dan Thorne, the genial bald-headed gent shown here. 

Born in New York about 1829, Thorne came West about 1850 with thousands of men joining the California Gold Rush.  After the gold petered out, he tried placer mining along the Snake River in Idaho Territory.  He apparently had married in New York at 18, but the name of his bride is lost to history.  Legend has it that she died on the way West in a covered wagon.  By the time he arrived in Prescott, Thorne was 40 years old,  a widower, and thoroughly familiar with the mining industry.

He did not stay long in town, telling friends that he was returning East to “commit matrimony.”  He found a bride in 19-year-old Mary Ann Wilson, a native of New Jersey.  After they were married in February 1870, Dan returned to Prescott to build a house for Mary Ann, who soon followed.  She would bear him three sons, Stephen Wilson, 1872;  Daniel Conner Jr., 1874, and Harry Ashley, 1877, and a daughter, Mary Anna, 1880.  Mary Ann died in bearing this last child, leaving Thorne a widower two times over, now with four small children to raise.  In 1881, a year after his wife’s death, Dan married again.  She was Ellen Josephine Bouyea, called Josephine, who ran a boarding house in Prescott.  Their marriage lasted 31 years.
The Ugly - The Fire.  Although Thorne was prospering through his mining enterprises throughout this period, he also saw the possibilities for riches in operating a saloon in Prescott on its notorious “Whiskey Row.”   As early as 1869 he was associated with the Palace Bar and the Cabinet Saloon, two of Prescott’s most famous watering holes.  With a partner he built a large frame building on Lot 19, Montazuma Street, and opened the Cabinet, described as a “new resort.”  The owners displayed minerals and published ads inviting prospectors to bring in specimens for cash.

On the morning of July 5 a fire broke out in the kitchen of the Cabinet.  According to the July 7 Arizona Gazette: “Volumes of smoke poured from the doors and windows and soon the flames were seen issuing not only from the roof of Thorne’s, but from the eaves of the neighboring buildings so rapid was their progress.”   A saloon across Montezuma Street had to be dynamited to prevent the flames from jumping across the street.  The explosion was a success and that block was saved.  But the fire had roared down the other side of Whiskey Row destroying not only the Cabinet Saloon but the Palace Bar and other establishments. 

Patrons of the Palace were undeterred.  They carried the saloon’s ornate Brunswick bar across the street, saving it for posterity, shown here as it looks today.  Much of the liquor also was saved and drinks were being served even as the blaze was being extinguished.  Some 80 businesses and properties on Whiskey Row were destroyed,  including an estimated 25 saloons and every bordello in town.  A photograph taken after the conflagration shows the ruins.  You can just make out the “Palace.”  Saloonkeepers resumed business temporarily under tented sheds.
Almost immediately Thorne with others agreed to collaborate on rebuilding both the Cabinet and Palace Saloons.  Damage to the Cabinet was estimated at $7,000 (equiv. $175,000 today) and a similar amount for the Palace.  Instead of constructing again with combustible wood, the rebuilt saloons were made of brick, granite and iron.  The new Palace was estimated to cost an unheard-of $50,000 and restoring the Cabinet likely involved a similar figure.  Here is a photo of the exterior of the rebuilt Cabinet. Unfortunately a political sign obscures the front.  
Included here are two photos of the interior of Thorne’s restored saloon. The top shot apparently is the earlier with none of the floral wallpaper and inlaid floor that show up on the photo below.  On the second the tiles on the floor spell out “Cabinet.”  This was entirely within Thorne’s practice of from time to time giving his establishments, as the press put it “a thorough overhauling” and “an improved style.”
The Bad - The Bandit:  “Brazen Bill” Brazelton was well known as a Western outlaw.   During a stage coach robbery Brazelton typically wore a mask over his face and carried a pistol and rifle in one hand while ordering the driver and passengers to hand over their valuables. Before being hunted down, he is alleged to have committed nine such robberies in Arizona and New Mexico.  Brazen Bill, shown below, and Dan Thorne met up on September 27, 1877, when the latter was riding shotgun on a stage coach to California.  The bandit forced the stage to stop and ordered Thorne to toss out the Well Fargo express box and break it open.  

As Thorne did, a gust of wind blew the bandana from Brazelton’s face, as Dan was looking straight at him.  The outlaw hastily pulled the cloth back on his face and told the saloonkeeper he would have to kill him, since Dan could recognize him.  Then Bazelton changed his mind and rode away with the box.  Not long after his return home, Thorne was standing at the end of the bar, facing the swinging doors when Brazen Bill entered his saloon.  Dan recognized him at once as the holdup man;  Bill recognized him as well and left in a hurry.

Telling the story later, Thorne said to listeners:  “He did’t need to do that.  He spared my life and didn’t even rob me; I would have showed him the time of his life.”  That life had only a short time left.  In August of 1878 the Sheriff of Pima County with a posse of five caught up with Brazen Bill two miles south of Tucson, Arizona, and gunned him down.  

The Good - The Adoption.  Perhaps the best story from Thorne’s Cabinet Saloon occurred on a snowy night in January of 1898 when a veiled woman dropped a baby girl on the bar and then disappeared out the swinging doors into the dark.  The local Courier newspaper told it this way:  "All other business was brought to a standstill while the crowd gathered around the bar where the little one had been deposited. As it was impossible for all to get near, one of the employees got up and explained the situation and read the note left with the baby." 

The unsigned note said the father, a miner named William Bell, had abandoned the baby, and the child was now being returned to him by way of the Cabinet, a place he frequented.  Bell wasn't present that night, but the miners, ranchers and railroad hands present, their emotions apparently loosened by whiskey, were so taken with the chubby, cooing infant that they cooed right back at her and some wanted to adopt her.  “Not less than 40 men said they wanted to take the little one home,” reported the Courier. "Several babeless married men almost came to blows over the possession of the little one."  

Although the newspaper indicated that the matter was settled by throwing dice, possession of the tot might have been determined by other means.  The winner was not any of the boozy bar denizens, but a local probate judge named Charles Hicks.  Hicks, shown here, is said to have cradled the infant in his arms and taken her home to his wife. They decided to called her Violet.  This orphan girl became Violet Hicks, who learned to ride horses before she could walk, had a loving home staffed by two servants, and was the legally adopted daughter of Charles and Laura Hicks.

The Rest of the Story:  By this time Dan Thorne, now in his 70s, had sold the Cabinet Saloon to other owners, perhaps because of the stress of managing too many properties and was devoting his time to his numerous mining claims, including the Tip Top Mine shown here.  He had moved with Josephine out to Maricopa County to be closer to his investments.  He may have kept a residence in Prescott, shown residing there in the 1900 census and recorded as a mining operator. 

By 1902 the Thornes had moved back to New York City.  There they took up residency in an apartment building at 248 Sherman Street in Manhattan.   Thorne died there on March 21, 1913, and was buried in St. Patrick’s Cemetery, Broome County, New York.  Although his gravesite is shown here, his stone appears to be missing.

Called “one of early Prescott’s most colorful and innovative entrepreneurs” by the author of a book on “Whiskey Row,”  Dan Thorne surely knew the truth of the “good, bad and ugly” of the Old West.  He also knew the pride of having established and maintained for years a saloon of which it has been said:  “The Cabinet would yield a history and legacy that is arguably unmatched in the American Southwest’s frontier saloon history.”
The Cabinet Saloon
Note:  The story of Dan Conner Thorne and the Cabinet Saloon, only partially told here, comes from two principal sources:  First, Bradley G. Courtney’s “Prescott’s Original Whiskey Row,” from which the quotes in the final paragraph are taken, and, second, “Dan Thorne:  Whiskey Row Success Story” an article by  Thomas P. Collins, first published in the Prescott Courier on Sept. 12, 1999.  Many of the illustrations are courtesy of Prescott’s Sharlot Hall Museum.  See also my post on F. G. McCoy, another Prescott saloonkeeper, April 4, 2016.













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