By Brad Courtney©

Daniel Connor “D. C.” Thorne may have been early Whiskey Row’s most influential figure, and its most colorful. He was a story himself, and stories swirled around him. Thorne founded the Cabinet Saloon in 1874, which became the heartbeat of pre-1900 Whiskey Row.

On a Thursday morning at 6:00 AM, September 27, 1877, a California-bound stagecoach left Prescott. D. C. Thorne was aboard. According to Thorne family history, he requested and was permitted to ride shotgun alongside the stagecoach driver. After all, there was no better seat for viewing the Central Arizona countryside.

An event involving Thorne—and later the Cabinet—and an infamous highwayman known as “Brazen Bill” Brazelton would occur that day. Brazen Bill is considered by some to be the most successful stage robber of his time.

Inside the coach was Ed Peck, founder of the renowned Peck Mine. Peck was accompanied by his wife, children, and aged mother and father. Riding with the Pecks was Gus Ellis.

The coach was transporting several mailbags, a Wells Fargo express box within which was a package of gold dust and bars valued at $1300, another containing small gold bars worth $470, and two large gold ingots worth $4000. Most of the gold belonged to Peck, who also had a large sum of money on his person.

The road to California passed through Wickenburg. In between Prescott and Wickenburg was the Antelope Station, which was also a mini-boomtown due to nearby gold discoveries. Eight miles south was where passenger Thorne would find himself in a life-or-death situation. When the stagecoach dropped down from a mesa into a wash, there waiting with a shotgun was Brazelton.

Brazen Bill often masked his face with white or black kerchiefs. He ordered the driver to get down and hold the horses by the bits, and then for Thorne to throw down the express box. Training his shotgun on Thorne, his next command was for the saloon man to step slowly off the coach. Brazelton threw Thorne an ax to smash open the box. After Thorne handed its contents to the highwayman, Brazen Bill then ordered Ellis, still inside the stagecoach with the Pecks, to throw out the mailbags. They too were cut open by Thorne and their insides given to Brazelton.

Winds were gusting this day. One kicked up at just the right, or wrong, time. According to Thorne this blast dislodged Brazen Bill’s mask, just enough for Thorne to get a look at the thief before he quickly slipped the kerchief back in place. Thorne had seen the criminal’s face, which suddenly made him disposable, and Bill said as much.

Before carrying out this threat, Bill asked the driver if the horses would “stand fire” at the crack of his gun. The driver said he thought they would, but mentioned that women and children were inside the coach. This apparently was the reason Bill spared Thorne’s life. The highwayman then jumped atop his horse and fled with the loot. Inexplicably, he left Ed Peck’s gold ingots behind, and Peck was never searched for the money he was holding.

Thorne, although questioned, never provided a description of the robber to authorities, even after encountering Brazen Bill again shortly after the robbery. The following episode is one of several attributed to occurring in early Whiskey Row’s Palace when in fact it happened in the Cabinet, which indeed would become the Palace after the Great Fire of 1900. So, to a great degree, that attribution is true.

One day in 1877, Thorne was standing at the end of his bar and facing the Cabinet’s swinging doors when in walked none other than Brazen Bill. The two had a quick stare-down. Both recognized each other. Bill immediately about-faced, and they never saw each other again.

Thorne was disappointed that the highwayman did not stay longer. The story he shared with his family was that he was so grateful to Brazen Bill for sparing his life and, in his words, “didn’t even rob me; I would have showed him the time of his life and the drinks would have been on the house.” Such was the fleeting and only known connection Brazen Bill would have with Whiskey Row.

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.