By Brad Courtney©

If any early Prescott saloon was cursed, it was Cortez Street’s Keystone Saloon. It was possibly sited where Lyzzard’s Lounge is today.

Its first proprietor, Gotlieb Urfer, came to America from Switzerland sometime before the Civil War. He arrived in Prescott in 1874, opened a lodging house on Cortez in 1877, and eventually added a saloon, naming it the Keystone Saloon and Lodging House. He married Ellen Dunn of Ireland in 1878.

On Wednesday, December 16, 1885—one day before his fiftieth birthday—Urfer was found lying senseless on the floor behind the Keystone bar, bleeding profusely from a bullet wound to his head. A lodger had sprinted into the saloon after hearing a gunshot and saw Urfer with “a great ghastly hole in the right side of his head, from which his brains and blood were oozing.” Several others who’d been nearby also ran in. They saw the bleeding Urfer and “near his right hand, lay a pistol of the bull-dog pattern.” All concluded this was suicide.

Urfer’s death was a mysterious, scratch-your-head-and-wonder incident. Why would he kill himself? Urfer had been enthusiastically preparing for a grand celebration to be held in the Keystone. A few days before his death a newspaper announcement appeared: “Gotlieb Urfer, the genial host of a saloon, will celebrate his fiftieth birthday on Thursday, December 17th, and feels so jolly that he wants all his friends to call and partake of a lunch which he will spread.”

On December 16, moments before the fatal shot was heard, he’d been preparing for the next day’s feast. Mrs. Urfer had stepped out a short time ago. With him was George Hook, who Urfer asked to run out to buy some eggs. Less than five minutes later, Urfer was lying on the floor of the Keystone in a pool of his own blood.

Not long after Urfer’s suicide, an unidentified lodger made the same choice but used a different method: suicide by swallowing poison.

John McCarron handled Urfer’s estate and took over the Keystone. That’s not all he took. Less than a year later, on November 14, 1886, McCarron married Urfer’s widow.

Eight months later, another ineffable episode occurred with way too much déjà vu. On Saturday July 9, 1887, around 2 p.m., the crack of a gun was again heard from the Keystone. Seconds later another shot. Passersby on Cortez ran in to see Ellen Dunn’s second husband on the floor “with a ghastly hole in his right temple, from which his brains and life’s blood lay fast oozing,” less than ten feet from where Urfer had shot himself a year-and-a-half before.

Oscar Vanderbilt was the first on the scene. He rushed to get medical help. Five minutes after he’d sent a bullet into his brain, McCarron took his last breath.

The note McCarron left behind was shocking, and telling, and undoubtedly explained why Urfer had killed himself. It read, “I, John McCarron, am going to commit suicide; kill my wife and then kill myself. All caused by woman’s abuse.” Apparently, McCarron intended to fulfill both promises.

A friend named McIntyre had lately been visiting McCarron, and reported that he’d recently been drinking heavily. During one conversation, a drunken McCarron spoke of his wife affectionately but followed it by pulling a pistol from his pocket and saying “it will be my doom.”

On Saturday July 9, McIntyre overheard McCarron asking the former Mrs. Urfer if she’d like to accompany him on a buggy ride. She declined. But it was now or never for McCarron.

Shortly after McIntyre left, McCarron walked into his saloon with his revolver. The path of his first shot missed widely, passing high up on a saloon wall and then through the ceiling. The second shot blasted through McCarron’s skull.

McCarron’s death, like Urfer’s, was ruled a suicide. The oddities continued when McCarron’s body was buried next to Urfer’s in Prescott’s Citizen Cemetery. The Miner, with no attempt to camouflage sarcasm, stated that the twice widowed by suicide, the now infamous Ellen Dunn, presently had “two little mounds to keep green and to strew flowers over.”

The Keystone’s curse would resurface, horrifically, eight years later, and will be detailed here next week.

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.