Days Past: The Curse of Prescott’s Keystone Saloon, part two

Sheriff George Ruffner and his posse hunted and caught Keystone murderer Charles Hobart in the Bradshaw Mountains.

Sheriff George Ruffner and his posse hunted and caught Keystone murderer Charles Hobart in the Bradshaw Mountains.

One would think that the Keystone Saloon on Cortez Street had accommodated enough death. Although three suicides had taken place there between 1885-87, it hadn’t yet hosted a homicide. That would change eight years later over a dispute of 75 cents.

photo

Courtesy/Brad Courtney

The murdered John Miller of the Keystone Saloon is buried in Citizens’ Cemetery.

Charles Hobart had previously lived and worked at Prescott’s Scopel Hotel. He’d been arrested for robbery in February 1895 but was given leniency; all Hobart was required to do was leave town. This he did, but he returned to Prescott on Oct. 23. He found a vacant room in the lodging quarters of the Keystone and paid in advance to John Miller, its new proprietor, a total of $1, reserving four nights at 25 cents each.

During the night, the behavior of the unaccompanied Hobart turned too repugnant to describe in this column. Of course, this displeased Miller, especially after Hobart reneged the next morning on his four-night reservation and demanded a reimbursement for his unused nights. The disgusted Miller refused.

Hobart then pulled out his abbreviated Winchester rifle, pointed it at Miller, and demanded a refund. Somehow Miller escaped. He went straight to Chief of Police Steve Prince.

Prince found Hobart and immediately arrested him. That same afternoon he stood trial. Hobart was convicted for drunk-and-disorderly conduct and fined $5. He wasn’t so short of money, however, as to be in need of an extra 75 cents. He paid his fine and was released. Peculiarly, his gun was returned to him.

Hobart immediately took to the streets. Toting his Winchester, he attracted ample attention. His first stop was the Palace Saloon, where he started drinking. At some point he glanced at a clock and announced to Palace patrons it was time for the “shooting match” to take place. When asked what he meant, he bluntly stated he was going to kill John Miller before eight o’clock. Those at the Palace didn’t take him seriously.

Hobart, however, wasn’t done drinking. He headed to the Sazerac Saloon on Gurley Street. There he continued the same threats. The Sazerac’s chef, John Ross, believed they weren’t products of hot air. Ross hastened a messenger to Prince.

Hobart, however, beat the Chief of Police there. Miller walked into the Keystone with his Winchester. Miller was standing in the middle of the room between the bar and stove.

Hobart shouted, “Now Miller, you s—of—a—b I want your money or I’ll kill you,” but gave him no chance to respond. Hobart fired. The bullet struck Miller directly in the lower throat. The saloon owner collapsed to the floor, took a few desperate gasps and expired.

The gunman backed his way out and, in spite of his pronounced intoxication, skillfully mounted his horse and galloped northward on Cortez. He swung left onto Willis Street before heading south along Granite Creek and out of town.

Within 10 minutes, Sheriff George Ruffner and his posse began pursuit. They combed the countryside until midnight.

At daylight, the posse soon determined that Hobart was now on foot and heading south toward Phoenix. By Saturday, he’d turned back toward the Bradshaw Mountains, thinking he was still on the road to Phoenix.

On Sunday the trail led to a deserted house where Hobart had holed up. Ruffner asked a man he’d encountered if he’d try to goad Hobart from the house and into the open. He instantly acceded.

The man approached the house but stopped at the well in front of it. That’s all it took to get the disoriented Hobart outside.

With the Winchester he’d used to kill Miller in hand, Hobart appeared and questioned the man about where the nearby roads led. The conversation ended and the man sauntered off. Ruffner emerged from hiding and ordered Hobart to surrender. Instead, the murderer raised his rifle. Seeing this, Under Sheriff Joseph Dillon shouted from the other direction. Hobart wheeled, but Dillon beat him to the trigger. Dillon’s buckshot knocked the rifle from Hobart’s grasp and injured his right arm. The Keystone Saloon murderer surrendered. He wept when given the sentence of life in prison.

The Keystone Saloon survived another two years before closing after an attempt to transform it into, of all things, a shooting gallery.

Brad Courtney is the author of “Prescott’s Original 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 proposed articles to dayspastshmcourier@gmail.com. Please contact SHM Library & Archives reference desk at 928-445-3122, ext. 14, or via email at dayspastshmcourier@gmail.com for information.