By Richard Gorby

On Prescott's Montezuma Street, in the years shortly before her 1900, fire, Chance Cob Web, located by today's The Bead Museum, was considered the best regulated, most orderly and genteel saloon on Whiskey Row. 

This was largely the result of its owner-proprietor, Captain Fisher, an old sea captain who spent his younger days before the mast, sailing one of the finest merchantmen in the Pacific.  He became knowledgeable about foreign ports and the people he met, and could talk about them with intelligence and style.  This drew to his business the best of Prescott's saloon going element. 

On a cold winter night, one member of that element was Colonel Robert Groom, best known for his surveying and laying out the plat of the City of Prescott, Groom Creek was named in his honor.  He was also known for his kindness, friendliness, and for his hearty consumption of any liquor on hand. 

Well past midnight, enjoying the remains of the evening with Captain Fisher and Robert Groom, were Judge Charles Hall, Colonel Bigelow, member of the Arizona Legislature, Captain Ed Thomas, Army Staff Officer at Fort Whipple, and Edmund Wells, who at Prescott's beginning, at the age of nineteen, was Assistant Clerk for the Territorial Legislature, who relates in his Argonaut Tales: 

The saloon's activity was almost over, and as the friends talked, Colonel Bigelow noticed a bundle lying at the end of the bar near the main entrance.  The Colonel called Captain Fisher's attention to it and the Captain rolled the bundle along the bar and opened it up.  Inside, cuddled in a fancy wicker basket, and covered in a soft downy robe, lay a chubby, black-eyed baby girl, wide awake and hungry, ravenously chewing her fists.  Beside her was a quart bottle filled with milk, quickly given to her by the Captain. 

Almost immediately, one could hope that the liquor absorbed had no influence, everyone wanted the baby, all promising to give her a good home.  To end the contention, Captain Fisher proposed that the matter be settled by everyone present taking a throw of the dice at ten dollars a chance, the pool to go with the baby.  It was unanimously agreed. 

As the game progressed, cheers went up when high numbers were made by the different throws.  Colonel Bob Groom, bachelor, threw four fives and was by acclamation declared the winner.  "Hold on", loudly called out Judge Charles Hall.  "I have the last throw", and squaring himself in front of the bar, the crowd gradually edging back to give him plenty of elbow room, shaking the box vigorously he twirled the dice upon the bar rolling up four sixes.  Shouts of joy went up from all but Colonel Groom, and congratulations flooded the Judge, although he was subject to the suspicion of having loaded-diced the game.  Robert Groom, however, yielded gracefully, but claimed the right to name the baby, to which the Judge consented. 

"Boys", commanded the Colonel, "gather around for the christening.  Fill the bumpers to the brim with champagne."  While Captain Fisher held the baby in full view above their heads, the Colonel spoke: 

"As the bead of this sparkling wind ascends to the surface, so may the destiny of this little waif rise from obscurity and sparkle amongst the stars of heaven on earth, uplifting humanity, making us better men.  And in the memory of this presence, I now christen thee, little miss, CHANCE COBWEB HALL.  Drink."  The group started to leave. 

"Hold on", called out Judge Hall. "Boys, before closin' let's take one on me. Fill her to the top."  The group formed a half circle in front of the Judge and the bar.  Steadying himself on his feet, and holding his filled glass aloft, the Judge saluted, "We close to meet again (hic), where meetings never close.  Drink." 

"Amen again", responded Colonel Bigelow, and they all filed out through the door into the cold night . It was near dawn when Judge Hall headed in the direction of his home, carrying awkwardly but gently his tender charge wrapped comfortably in Captain Fisher's greatcoat, borrowed for the occasion.  When his wife opened the door, he placed the bundle in her arms.  She anxiously opened up the bundle until she came to the baby.  She paused and laid it aside, a shadow spreading over her face.  She looked at her husband, then at the baby, then back at him. 

"Charles, I never thought this of you", she said, her lips quivering.  But when the Judge explained the night's happening, his wife, a childless woman, took the baby into her lap and looked at her large eyes.  They were black, while her husband's were light blue.  "Charles, I believe every word you say. It is fortunate the little motherless thing found its way to our door.  Let us give it the best care and protection our meager fortune will provide." 

Some twenty years later, young Edmund Wells was now Judge Wells, and the following is from his own account: 

"Twenty years, nearly a quarter of a century, had passed since the christening events at Cob Web Hall.  A business engagement called me to San Francisco.  The second evening after my arrival, I was visiting with a friend in the lobby of the Palace Hotel.  Half a dozen ladies with gentlemen escorts emerged from the elevator and passed through the lobby out into the street.  One of the ladies and her escort halted at the office desk, leaving a message with the clerk, and as they passed on they stopped for a moment's chat with an acquaintance of theirs standing near me.  I was attracted to the couple because of the woman's pretty face, quiet, pleasant smile, and engaging manner.  The marked general expression of her face I had before seen, but where and when?  She was of the brunette type, having dark hair, large black-blue eyes, dark arched eyebrows, and velvet cheeks.  She impressed me as being a very becoming gentlewoman.  Her escort showed her marked deference and tenderness, and in appearance was a fit companion for her. 

Among other matters and things, she spoke of Prescott several times, and at the first lull in their conversation, I interrupted by saying, "Pardon me, Madam, I casually heard you mention the name of Prescott.  May I ask of which Prescott did you speak? I am a little interested."  Looking directly at me, with an open countenance and friendly smile, she replied, "Prescott, Arizona.  Were you ever there?" 

"Yes", I answered, "in the early years of the town I spent much of my time there." 

"Prescott is my birth place", she said, "and I lived many happy years in the delightful mountain town until my parents sent me away to school, finishing at Mills College in Oakland.  This is my husband, Mr. Livingston, a geologist and engineer, a graduate of Columbia University.  We have interests in copper mines in the Jerome section and he has just returned from a trip of inspection, and a visit of several days in Prescott." 

"You say you were born in Prescott?  What is your family name?," I asked. 

"My father is Judge Charles Hall, and is quite well known in Arizona.  Did you know him?" 

"Yes, he had but one child, a daughter", I observed. 

"That daughter is me", she replied with a pleasant smile. 

"And your name?" I asked. 

"C. C. Hall.  Chance Cobweb Hall.  An odd name, is it not, for a girl?  I asked my father several times how he came to give me that name, but he always replied with a quiet smile.  I supposed that some kind of a western romance was connected with it, and let it rest at that.  Perhaps I will know sometime", she answered with a light merry laugh. 


(Since this article first appeared, new evidence has been found about this story.  Although a baby was brought to a bar, many of the other particulars presented here are not true.  For a true account of this story please see Leo Banks' October 29, 2000, "What Really Happened to Chance Cobweb Hall, aka Violet Bell")

Richard Gorby is a volunteer at the Archives at the Sharlot Hall Museum.

Sharlot Hall Museum Photograph Call Number: (AFi110p). Reuse only by permission.
This 1891 cropped view is one of only two known photographs that show Cob Web Hall (clear on the left side above the last fire fighter) on Whiskey Row.  This saloon is the set for one of Prescott's most touching stories.