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Charles Owen Brown Biography of Tucson Arizona's Saloon Keeper of Congress Hall

I've lived in Arizona for 70 years (Tucson, Glendale, and Sedona). I love writing about Arizona history, antiques, books and travel.

Charles Owen Brown

Charles Owen Brown, Owner of the Congress Hall Saloon

Charles Owen Brown, Owner of the Congress Hall Saloon

Early Life of Charles O Brown

To study the lives of Tucson's early citizens, like Charles (sometimes referred to as C.O.) Brown is to learn about the general history and times in Territorial Arizona. What is learned about Charles Brown's earlier life was related by his daughter Josephine ( Mrs John MacTeague) many years after his death. Another source of information on Charles Brown and the Congress Hall Saloon was from fellow saloon keeper and friend, George Hand, who wrote about Brown's family and his saloon in Hand's diary that was published under the title, Whiskey, Six-Guns, & Red-Light Ladies.

Charles was born in West Port, New York in 1829. He ran away from home at age twelve to head West. During a passage from New Orleans to Tampico Charles survived a ship wreck by supposedly hanging onto a wooden box for three days and made his way to "gold diggins" near Merced California. He returned home to share some of his gold with his family and then was headed back to California when he stopped in Tucson and met his future wife, Clara Borvean, a Mexican woman, from a good family. Some accounts say they married in Mesilla, Mexico while others claim that they married in Tucson.

Charles and his partner J.A Rosselle established a saloon and gambling house on the corner of Meyer and Congress streets in Tucson in an existing adobe building around 1868. Since the Territorial Legislature had formerly met there, the saloon became known as the Congress Hall Saloon. By all accounts, the Congress Hall Saloon was Tucson's finest. Several accounts state that the wood for the floors had been hauled from Santa Fe and that the locks on the doors had cost $12 each. The bar was described as ornate, and behind the bar was a 5 by 10 ft. mirror. There were two pool tables and in Hand's diary, George stated that "the booze was better than average." Gambling was legal, and the saloon became known for its all night games of Faro and Monte. Since the saloons of the day acted as social gathering centers, there were also well furnished reading rooms. It was said that the famous of the day, spent time at Congress Hall and that almost nightly, there was a fight or a shooting. George Hand wrote in his diary that "Billy Wood got drunk, made a bluff at a big-headed Mexican thief and got a plug in the nose for it." The saloon was frequented by soldiers, politicians of the Arizona Territorial government, miners, and ranchers and women of ill repute.

A portion of the Congress Hall collapsed on February 20th, 1912 and the rest of the building was torn down. This is a curious date as Arizona became a state on February 14, 1912 and gambling would no longer be legal.

Charles Brown's Territorial Home

Charles Brown's Former Home, Tucson Arizona

Charles Brown's Former Home, Tucson Arizona

Brown's Family and Home

The same year, 1868, that Brown opened the Congress Hall Saloon, he moved his family into a new home. In accordance with Spainsh traditions, a priest blessed the home and a fiesta for family and friends followed. The home was said to have had adobe walls that were 24 inches thick. With an increase in his family, the home was extended to Camp Street, now Broadway. A finishing touch was a tin roof that was added later. The home was evaluated at $17,000 which was a very fine home in 1888. The property was planted with numerous fruit trees. The wealth of the Brown family could not prevent them from suffering. An infant son died in 1873 and an epidemic of small pox that swept Tucson in May of 1877 killed two of their daughters.

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Charles hoped to enter politics as a Democrat, but was soundly defeated by a Republican.

In his last years, Charles Brown was "chasing" an old legend of a gold mine with an iron door that was supposedly in the Catalina Mountains. (American author Harold Bell Wright who lived in Tucson for many years, would write about the legendary mine in his novel, The Mine With the Iron Door, published in 1921.) At age 79, Brown was still searching for the mine when he was reported as lost. Charles Brown died in 1908 leaving behind his wife Clara, four sons and a daughter. He left "no property, whatever." Charles O Brown had played an important role in the development of Tucson Arizona.

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