Assessing the Armstrong Account.
Let's take a look, shall we?
The essay, written in 1962, garnered Miss Armstrong the Pennebohm Award and a citation from Governor Nelson of Wisconsin. Mary heard the stories from Gene Swinbank. Gene was recalling the words of his uncle Joe Blonger, some thirty-five years earlier, when Joe had come to Wisconsin to visit with family, six years before his death. And so, we have a source filtered through the aging memories of two old men, finally set to paper by a young girl. What's to trust?
Let's look at the claims:
Out of thirteen children, four of the Belonger boys served in uniform when Abe Lincoln called for volunteers. They were Sam, Mike, Louis, and Joe.
Mike served in the Wisconsin 3rd, in the Shenendoah Valley and the infamous cornfield at Antietam. Joe was in the 25th Michigan, and was shot in the chest at the siege of Atlanta. Lou was a musician in the 142nd Illinois, and injured his leg in Tennessee six days into his tour.
It seems doubtful Sam served, though his extended later maintained that he did. There is no evidence to indicate such, including his obituaries. But what did he do during the War? He traveled to California by wagon train around 1858, was in Central City, Colorado in 1861, and Sacramento in 1865. It has been suggested he hauled frieght between Sacramento and Austin, Nevada. Austin's boom started in 1862.
During Civil War days, little Mary Dominica Belonger (later well known in Lafayette County as Mrs. William Swinbank) lived with her father, Simon, and an older sister in a cabin located on what was then called The Branch, at the foot of the hill east of where Charlie Harty's big house stands today, on the southeast edge of Shullsburg, Wisconsin.
The hill above the Belonger cabin was used for a training ground, and Little Mary was the pet of all the soldiers.
Scott and I checked it out. We may have found the place. It would be interesting to run a metal detector over the field in question.
After the war, the famous Ole Bull, then the world's champion violin soloist said: "Mike Belonger has the world beat when it comes to playing reels, jigs, and clogs, on a fiddle."
Ole Bull, a European violinist who toured the American heartland in the mid-nineteenth century, might be called the Liberace of his day. Embraced as a classical musician by Americans in the hinterlands, back home he was considered to be less than brilliant. It is plausible that he had the opportunity to play with Mike.
Also, before the Civil War, in Galena, Illinois, Ulysses Simpson Grant, then engaged in farming, wood hauling and the leather business was heard to say that Mike Belonger was the best dance-fiddler on earth. H.B. Chamberlin, of Shullsburg, Wisconsin an ex-soldier musician, heard Ulysses Grant say those words many times.
Grant was indeed working in Galena before the War, and Belonger father Simon Peter often worked there. It is entirely possible that he and
Mike were acquainted. We have photos of Mike's fiddle. We are told that the
Belongers were a musical family, but Mike was the standout.
Sam Belonger, when a boy of 18, walked barefoot with a wagon train across the ground where Denver, Colorado now stands. There were only two cabins then.
Sam indeed took the California Trail in either 1858 or 1859, having signed a petition indicating he had traveled the so-called Lander cutoff during that time period. But Denver would have been a detour. Denver City appeared in late 1858, shortly after the establishment of it's sister city across the South Platte, Auraria, (named for a town in Georgia, this would later be the name of Sam and Lou's mining company). Miners quickly came, the gold played out, and then many left. In 1859, a bigger strike was made, and the town grew quickly. So the timing is roughly correct. He would have been in the right place and time to consider checking out the scene in the South Platte boomtowns for a time.
At one time, about six miles east of where Denver's capitol-building now stands, Sam Belonger and Buffalo Bill Cody, while on a scouting trip, were chased and surrounded by a war party of eight Indians. Their only chance to survive the fight was to shoot their horses and use the bodies for breastworks. Both Uncle Sam and Buffalo Bill, being dead shots with rifles, killed all eight Indians and escaped.
This sounds a lot like a story from Cody's autobiography, and Sam wasn't there. Thirteen-year-old Cody, already experienced as a horse messenger, was in Denver prospecting in 1859, but only for two months, and not as a scout, which he would take up near the end of the War. Afterward he spent his time on the Plains and back East. Sam seemed to gravitate between Colorado and California during this period, though, again, the War years are a mystery.
Later, Sam began mining with his brother, Louis, who went west at the close of the Civil War. They made good and became wealthy. At one time they both lived on what was called Millionaires' Row on Capitol Hill in Denver.
All too true.
Sam and Louis, well known all over the West in the seventies, eighties and nineties as the Belonger Brothers, started the Golden Eagle Saloon. In every corner of each square foot of the big floor-space was inlaid a twenty-dollar gold coin. Soon, however, they found that the gold pieces were too soft to stand the wear of many hobnailed shoes and boots. They removed the gold pieces and replaced them with silver dollars and renamed the saloon The Silver Dollar. Later Sam became a peace officer while Louis remained in business.
We are coming to the conclusion that Sam and Lou, the Blonger Brothers, were indeed fairly well-known out West, having been proprietors in many towns throughout the area, and they were known as prominent gamblers as well.
The Silver Dollar Saloon was on Lawrence Street near 17th. Its proprietor for many years was Billy Duncan, who came to Denver in the early 1870s. The saloon was indeed famous and did have silver dollars embedded in the floor. It survived until 1954, when the American National Bank expanded into the building.
Further research tells a more accurate story. One of Sam and Lou's many Denver saloons was at 1644 Larimer Street in the Croff and Collins Building, which was next to the Cheesman Block on 17th. This saloon would have been behind, and perhaps even directly in back of, the Silver Dollar Saloon.
Sam became an A-1 Western sheriff. He served a long time in the 1870's and 1880's. Later, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, he was hired as a peace officer at 750 dollars a month to clean up a bad gang of outlaws.
Sam, a huge man over 6'3" and a dead shot with both .45 and rifle cleaned up the outlaw gang without getting shot. But later, back in Denver, while arresting a bad-man-outlaw, there was gun-play and a .45 bullet, glancing from a stove, struck Sam in the left eye. As a result he lost the eye; then he quit sheriffing and went into mining again, where, in the early 1900's he and Louis operated the Forest Queen mine up in the mountains west of Denver.
Sam appears to have had a career as a lawman and/or detective (the line can be blurry), though his time as marshal of New Albuquerque is the only documented instance. The same is true for Lou.
Sam was City Marshal of New Albuquerque in 1882, an appointment made by the Sheriff, an elected county official. Lou was temporarily appointed his replacement in April of that year apparently during the time the Earps and Doc Holliday were laying low after Wyatt's Vendetta ride. It should be noted that newspaper articles indicate he did, in fact, do some bad guy-cleaning.
It is quite possible that Sam had previously worn a badge in various boomtowns, as is implied by the Albuquerque Morning Journal when it says, at the time of his hiring as marshal: "Mr. Blonger has had considerable experience in official work in the west." It is equally possible that Sam went on to do similar work after his stint in Albuquerque. We know he was interested in pursuing a job as U.S. Marshal, and was mentioned as being a member of the local office of the Rocky Mountain Detective Association.
Lou is said to have been a member of the RMDA as well. It is also implied that he was one of the detectives investigating the "Tarsney Incident" after a violent strike in the Cripple Creek mining district in 1893 but this reference is questionable and open to interpretation. On the other hand, it is evident from Lou's later scrapes with the law that, even by the early 1900s, Lou had friends in very high places, including the U.S. Marshal's office.
We have no evidence yet of Sam's eye injury, though Denver journalist Forbes Parkhill, and other sources, tell us that Sam wore dark glasses presumably to hide his disfigurement.
The Forest Queen, near Cripple Creek, was discovered in 1892, and made the boys relatively wealthy for many years.
Now we come to Joe's days among the Indians. It should be noted that Joe's tale, and even Gene's retelling, suggest a surprisingly progressive sensibility on Joe's part. In 1962, much less 1927, the "savage Indian" was still a part of popular culture. It makes Joe seem ahead of his time, but more to the point, it lends credence to his words in a general way precisely because he wasn't telling the standard tale.
Mary's essay spends a great deal of time on Joe's relationship with the Apache and Sioux, presumably because this constituted the lion's share of Gene's story as well, and perhaps the lion's share of Joe's original tale.
The most adventurous of all the Belonger men was Joe. Joe, a quiet, soft-spoken man who bothered no one, was a dangerous man to rile up. Joe shot and killed two men who tried to kill him. One was a hard-boiled desperado and the other a close relative of Chief Cochise, the famous Apache leader. The young warrior, in war paint and feathers, was about to shoot an arrow into Joe, when Joe, snapping a shot from the hip, killed the Indian, then dragged the body and the riding gear to a nearby quicksand, dumped it all in and turned the horse loose. If they had known who killed the young Indian, Joe Belonger wouldn't have lived very long.
We do know that Joe killed a man named Alexander Allan in 1897. Joe was working Allan's claim, the Bottom Dollar mine, where Joe had found the old Spanish tools in 1883. Unwilling to let Joe and Cyrus Smith go to Santa Fe for a little R&R, Allan pulled a gun. A fight ensued, and after throwing down the gun, Allan picked up a rock to smash in the head of Joe's fellow employee. Taking up the gun, Joe shot Allan twice, one to the jaw, and one to the shoulder, which severed his "juggler" vein. Joe, a respected long-time member of the Santa Fe area, was easily acquitted. Allan would hardly, however, qualify as a desperado, though he may have been hard-boiled.
As for Cochise, we'll never know, will we?
Joe served many years as a part-time scout during our Indian wars under Chief Scout Buffalo Bill Cody. He also played in many a card game as Wild Bill Hickok's partner.
The Indian Wars lasted from 1864 to 1890.
Joe was mustered out in North Carolina in June, 1865. In 1868, he filed for a military pension, residing in Illinois. He was in Stockton, Illinois in 1870.
The period between 1870 and 1880 is tougher, and most crucial. The Albuquerque Morning Journal tells us that, when Sam was finally reunited with Joe in 1882, Joe was "a brother whom he had not seen for nine years and had long since given up as dead... He left the family circle in Salt Lake City nine years ago and has led an adventurous life since." Nine years is spot on if they had last been together in Salt Lake City. So when did Joe rejoin Sam, Lou and the Livingston family? Did he do his own thing between 1870 and 1873?
From 1868 to 1872, Cody was employed as a scout and guide by the Cavalry, most notably as chief of scouts for the Fifth Cavalry. Joe could have been involved here, but he was not in the military at this time.
We do consider it probable that talk of Black Hills gold in 1874 may have enticed Joe. He was probably in the region, heard the early stories, was willing and able to go, and obviously more disposed to mining than the saloonkeepers's life. Placing him in the Deadwood area would certainly raise the odds that Joe was an acquaintance of Hickok.
This also leaves open the possibilty that Joe worked with Cody in the late 70s, but at this time Cody was more of a showman than scout and had Joe been in the Wild West Show, he probably would have mentioned it.
By 1879 Joe was mining in New Mexico, and stayed in the Cerrillos area for over ten years. He also shows up in Denver in 1883. Pension filings place him consistently in New Mexico in 1885, 1887, 1889 and 1903. In 1891 he became a guard at nearby Allenville penitentiary after a jailbreak lead to the firing of several guards.
By 1908 he was in an old soldiers home in L.A.
So we haven't ruled out that he hung out with Wild Bill in Deadwood, and we haven't ruled out that he rode with Cody sometime around 1870. Pretty weak.
During the Civil War, Joe received a bullet, called a minie-ball, in his left hip. He carried that bullet with him to the grave.
The ball was apparently in the hip/abdomen area, though it had originally entered through the side of his chest, piercing his arm as well. He received this wound during the Siege of Atlanta in 1864. This drawing was made Joe's doctor when he located the ball in 1924.
For years Joe Belonger was a lone gold prospector to the Arizona and California deserts. He knew and had the friendship of all the Apaches, including Cochise and Mangus Colorado and even the treacherous Geronimo, the most feared of all the Apaches. Many times in his lone desert camps parties of Apache Indians would stop and eat beans and bacon with him, and they always brought him plenty of fresh-killed meat. The Apaches called him Joe Straight Tongue because he never lied to an Indian.
Joe always said that Cochise and Mangus Colorado were the best friends the white every had among the Apaches until certain arrogant white soldiers disgraced both the United States and their army uniforms by committing unpardonable acts of wanton cruelty against the reds which turned the two friendly chiefs and thousands of other Indians into ruthless white-man killers.
On one visit back to his old home in Shullsburg, Wisconsin, in 1927, Joe Belonger said, regarding Geronimo, the most deadly white-man-killer among all the Apaches: "In spite of all the cruelty of his Apache make up, it is only fair to say that many times when I was the only white man among a horde of red outlaws, Geronimo and his warriors treated me with respect. I could leave any of my belongings even money, if I wanted to, in plain sight in the wickiup assigned to me, and not one Apache stole anything. And yet, maybe that very night parties of Geronimo's warriors would go out raiding and steal many horses, mules, or cows, and, in returning, would bring back four or five white scalps, and put on a scalp-dance that lasted the rest of the night."
Joe's interestingly modern approach to Indian Affairs adds a hint of veracity. That said Mangus was killed in January of 1863. Unfortunately, Joe was all of fifteen at the time, serving in the Michigan 25th, fighting in the South, not the Southwest. It's extremely doubtful Joe was in New Mexico before the war. Magus, however, had a son, also named Mangus. We can't rule out that Joe was acquainted with him.
Cochise, who warred on the whites with his uncle, died in 1874. It is possible that Joe was mining in New Mexico and Arizona in the late Sixties or early Seventies, but we have no indication that this is the case. We would be more inclined to believe he was with his brothers till 1872-73.
Geronimo, who led his people after the death of Cochise, is a more plausible possibility. He spent many years in Arizona and New Mexico, deeply at odds with the military.
I think it would be safe to say that, as a long-time resident of New Mexico in the 1880s, Joe would have known some Apache. He was too late to know Mangus tough he had a son also called Mangus. If Joe was with Cody in the early 70s, he probably didn't know Cochise and vice versa. Whether or not he had the acquaintance of Geronimo remains an open question.
At one time, Joe Belonger saved, single handed, a new settlement of 200 white people from massacre by Geronimo's outlaw band. Joe, alone and at the risk of capture and unspeakable torture, crept in darkness near enough to Geronimo's camp to hear the plans of the proposed raid upon the whites. At that time all the Apaches in the Southwest were on the warpath and had sworn death to all whites.
Joe, again risking capture, made his way over a mountain to the camp of his friend, Chief Cochise, who, by using Joe's scheme, persuaded Geronimo to wait four suns before raiding the settlement, till he (Cochise) received an expected message from the Great Spirit. That was Joe's clever ruse to hold off the massacre till the soldiers got there.
I don't think so.
Joe Belonger joined the gold-rush to the Black Hill in 1874, and became a personal friend of both Sitting Bull, the great Sioux wars chief, and Crazy Horse, the powerful Ogalalla chief who commanded thousands of Northern Cheyenne warriors.
Here we go again, right? Maybe not. The Black Hills present a very likely prospect for Joe in that timeframe. Add to that the type of detail found as he continues.
Joe, being quiet, friendly and honest enjoyed the good will and friendship of every Indian he met from the Sioux and Cheyennes in the Dakotas all the way down to the Mexican Border. Although a real hero of our early-day West, professional historians never heard of him because he never swaggered around talking about himself as many self-praising heroes do.
Easy going and fair dealing, Joe Belonger hadn't even one real enemy, red or white in all our great West. Only the other members of the Belonger family knew about his many brave acts of personal risk.
Joe tried to enlist to go with General Custer into the battle that proved to be his last. If there had been enough horses and mules for all who wanted to go, Joe, with many other white men would have been killed along with Custer and his regular soldiers of the Seventh Cavalry.
There is a book, Men With Custer, Biographies of the 7th Cavalry, which chronicles every officer, foot soldier, scout, Indian scout, and pot washer connected with Custer's regiment the day of Custer's Last Mistake. Joe ain't in there. That doesn't mean he wasn't there, I'm just saying...
Chuck Hornung informs us that riders of a given cavalry troop under Custer's command would have all ridden the same color horse, making it easy to keep track of the movements of the various troops under his command from a distance. This would seem to indicate that not having the right horse could indeed prevent participation in a given campaign.
Uncle Joe Belonger was on the Little Big Horn battle ground the day after General Custer's last fight. A great deal of controversy has been going on all these years about which Indians killed Custer and his men. Some claim it was the Sioux under Sitting Bull; others declare that it was the Cheyennes. The truth is that not one white soldier escaped to tell the story; and both Sioux and Cheyennes were so frightened at what they had done that they all scattered and ran. The few who did talk told so many different stories that no white man could believe anything they said.
To get the truth, that historians have been guessing at ever since that fatal day June 25th 1876 Joe Belonger questioned at least a hundred Sioux and Cheyenne children who had watched the battle in wide-eyed wonder. Those Indian children, every one of them, were Joe's friends, pals, and admirers.
Those Indian children, every one, liked and trusted the gentle and friendly Joe Belonger. So, when Joe asked those Sioux and Cheyenne children to tell him all about Long Hair's big fight, they declared to the last child, in their earnest, childish ways, that while the Sioux under Sitting Bull had planned, intended, and were waiting ready to massacre Custer's whole outfit, it happened because of an unexpected move on the part of General Custer that a large war-party of Northern Cheyennes, led by the Ogalalla chief, Crazy Horse, happened to be closer to Custer than Sitting Bull and his ten-thousand warriors, so, the Cheyennes, who had made no plans whatever to kill Custer, found themselves with a chance to wipe out Custer's command which they did to the last white soldier in approximately thirty minutes. The only human being to escape that death-charge of Crazy Horse and his war party of Cheyennes, was one friendly Crow scout called Curly.
The older Indian children went deeper, by tapping their foreheads and declaring to Joe Belonger, that they felt sure the white pony-soldiers must have all been crazy when, watching wide-eyed and speechless, those children saw Custer's small command of less than 300 men, climb down from horse-back and attack the Cheyenne camp, on foot, that held at least 2000 warriors ... and worse yet, when there were at least 10,000 Sioux braves under Sitting Bull close by, ready and waiting to charge into the fight.
According to earnest words from those eye-witnesses, Indian children who had no reason to lie, Long Hair and his small handful of soldiers might well have been considered as already dead the minute they dismounted and attacked hostile warriors numbering, all told, close to 15,000.
So it was, in spite of all official reports, that the soft-spoken, unassuming Joe Belonger learned the real truth about who killed Custer.
Joe, who kept his own counsel, told no one, except certain close relatives, the facts about Custer's death. This is the first public report. Today, as this piece is being typed in 1962, Gene Swinbank, of Shullsburg, Wisconsin, is the only person living who heard Joe Belonger tell how he learned the real truth about General Custer and the Little Big Horn tragedy.
I decided to let the folks at littlebighorn.info have a crack at the Armstrong account. Joe's tale of his trip to the Little Bighorn the day after Custer's death has long been a jewel among the unverified claims in the account. Let's see what they had to say. First, my entry:
In 1962, a young student in Wisconsin submitted an essay to a statewide competition. Mary Virginia Armstrong's essay recounted family lore shared by her great-uncle Gene, who was in turn repeating stories told back in the 1920s by Gene's uncle Joe Blonger on visits to his childhood home. Joe Blonger is my g-g-g-uncle.
Joe -- an older brother of Denver con man Lou Blonger -- was, demonstrably, a veteran of the Union Army and a prospector for many years in New Mexico.
Joe also claimed to have spent years prospecting in the Black Hills. The facts as we know them do not contradict this claim. We have reason to believe that he was in Salt Lake City in 1873, but we have not been able to document his whereabouts in the six years thereafter.
Joe made many claims about his time in the wilderness, but most notable was his claim to have been at Little Big Horn the day following the battle, and his subsequent conversations with Sioux and Cheyenne children about the events of the day.
My questions to this learned forum: Is Joe's account consistent in the particulars with what we now know of the battle? Was he full of baloney? Or is it accurate enough for a story told, supposedly, by an old prospector in 1927?
The relevant excerpt from Joe's account:
"Joe tried to enlist to go with General Custer into the battle that proved to be his last. If there had been enough horses and mules for all who wanted to go, Joe, with many other white men would have been killed along with Custer and his regular soldiers of the Seventh Cavalry."
"Uncle Joe Belonger was on the Little Big Horn battle ground the day after General Custer's last fight. A great deal of controversy has been going on all these years about which Indians killed Custer and his men. Some claim it was the Sioux under Sitting Bull; others declare that it was the Cheyennes. The truth is that not one white soldier escaped to tell the story; and both Sioux and Cheyennes were so frightened at what they had done that they all scattered and ran. The few who did talk told so many different stories that no white man could believe anything they said."
"To get the truth, that historians have been guessing at ever since that fatal day - June 25th 1876 - Joe Belonger questioned at least a hundred Sioux and Cheyenne children who had watched the battle in wide-eyed wonder. Those Indian children, every one of them, were Joe's friends, pals, and admirers."
"It is a well-known psychological fact that if a grown-up person likes children, is kind to them, and treats them fairly and honestly, those children will tell that person the truth."
"Those Indian children, every one, liked and trusted the gentle and friendly Joe Belonger. So, when Joe asked those Sioux and Cheyenne children to tell him all about Long Hair's big fight, they declared to the last child, in their earnest, childish ways, that while the Sioux under Sitting Bull had planned, intended, and were waiting ready to massacre Custer's whole outfit, it happened - because of an unexpected move on the part of General Custer - that a large war-party of Northern Cheyennes, led by the Ogalalla chief, Crazy Horse, happened to be closer to Custer than Sitting Bull and his ten-thousand warriors, so, the Cheyennes, who had made no plans whatever to kill Custer, found themselves with a chance to wipe out Custer's command - which they did to the last white soldier in approximately thirty minutes. The only human being to escape that death-charge of Crazy Horse and his war party of Cheyennes, was one friendly Crow scout called Curly."
"The older Indian children went deeper, by tapping their foreheads and declaring to Joe Belonger, that they felt sure the white pony-soldiers must have all been crazy when, watching wide-eyed and speechless, those children saw Custer's small command of less than 300 men, climb down from horse-back and attack the Cheyenne camp, on foot, that held at least 2000 warriors ... and worse yet, when there were at least 10,000 Sioux braves under Sitting Bull close by, ready and waiting to charge into the fight."
"According to earnest words from those eye-witnesses, Indian children who had no reason to lie, Long Hair and his small handful of soldiers might well have been considered as already dead the minute they dismounted and attacked hostile warriors numbering, all told, close to 15,000."
"So it was, in spite of all official reports, that the soft-spoken, unassuming Joe Belonger learned the real truth about who killed Custer. "
"Joe, who kept his own counsel, told no one, except certain close relatives, the facts about Custer's death. This is the first public report. Today, as this piece is being typed in 1962, Gene Swinbank, of Shullsburg, Wisconsin, is the only person living who heard Joe Belonger tell how he learned the real truth about General Custer and the Little Big Horn tragedy."
Thanks much. If you can shoot this story down, please do. We're researching Joe and his brothers and are interested in debunking any claims that require it.
And excerpts from their responses:
That is only a old wise tail. First the Indian would had kill any whites. That would had shown up the day after Custer was Kill. Plus children doesn't always tell the truth.
Well the part about Custer getting killed is certainly true enough; but all the rest is pretty much a largish pile of male cow manure. All of the numbers are wrong, and the fact is that Mr. Bull's camp circle was the first to be fired upon.
Nice family story, though.
This looks to be another tale for your book of tall tales.
Every adventure tale must have at least a few kernels of truth, else it would be relegated to the dustbin without further consideration. Anyone with a modicum of knowledge of whatever sphere he would like to have been in, should be able to spin a yarn that will withstand superficial scrutiny. Sometimes just getting the names right is enough to sustain a fiction until closely perused by a more knowledgeable audience.
Did I ever tell you about my great grandpappy who....................................
And some thought the Indians' oral history was a stretch!!!!!!!!!!
You are very gracious, cjohnson, and I thank you for sticking your neck out to tell us that tale. Few people have been so brave!
In Old Joe's defense, it's quite possible that Mary Virginia Armstrong changed the story a bit to make her essay more interesting. In any event, as Gordie said, it makes a great family story. Just please make sure future generations know that it is suspect. I get heartbreaking e-mails from people who are very sure their great-grandfather would not have lied about his heroic exploits. I try to explain the truth gently, but it's difficult to burst someone's bubble.
To be fair to the gentleman, while the "I would have enlisted if ..." part, the "on the battlefield the day after" part, the "ambush" part, and the "10,000 warriors" part may all be the standard hogwash, he's got a glimmer of truth in the suggestion that it was the Cheyennes (plus Crazy Horse) who played the decisive part in the battle. (One thinks of the old adage "the Cheyennes did the fighting, the Sioux got the glory, the Crows got the land" ...) Most theorists now would agree that Lame White Man was key -- an idea that probably wasn't common currency in 1927. So maybe we're looking at a case where the teller of the tale did genuinely hear first-hand accounts from Indians at some point after the battle ... but the rest of the story underwent the usual embroidery over the years?
Agreed on the part of the Cheyenne & CH playing a major part in Custer's end. Like most "stories" there has to be a bit of truth in them. It's just how much they have been embellished and changed that we need to be concerned with.
It is most likely that Joe Blonger visit the Cheyenne's camp days after the battle itself. It. is also other whites visit the Indians camp to after battle was fought. But not a day just after the battle was fought.
Custer did attacked the Cheyenne camp. It was the Cheyenne that repulse Custer and his troops away from the village.
But Crazy Horse was south of the village joining the warriors that had chase Reno and his troops aways. Crazy Horse did play a part in defeating Custer. He was the one that block Custer northern movement and split Custer command in two. Which had cause Custer and his troops to be wipe out.
I've heard this one before....the whole family history sounds a little suspect.
CJ, I think that you can toss the notion that Joe knew Mangas Coloradas to the dustbin also. Joe was wounded (per the Blonger Bros. web-site) at Atlanta on Aug. 6, 1864 and had enlisted on Aug. 22, 1862. Mangas was murdered by Union volunteers during January of 1863 (Thrapp's Encyclopedia of Frontier Biography states Jan. 18.) Since Mangas had been at war since 1861 (the Bascom Affair, Feb. 4), it is doubtful to me that he could have met Mangas (or practically any Apache) and lived. Also, Mangas had been seriously wounded in a fight against California Union Volunteers on July 15, 1862 in the battle of Apache Pass.
I see were one of Joe's brothers was in Colorado during 1861. Perhaps that brother had met Mangas at an earlier time and the stories were blended together?
To Scout -- I understand your predisposition. The Blongers were avid storytellers, and quite a few of their early exploits are almost completely open to debate. That's why I came here, primarily -- to debunk that which needs it.
But that's okay, because we have found that these men did live very interesting lives indeed. The tall tales aren't critical to their notoriety. For an indication, visit our index of newspaper article transcriptions here (the articles are nearly all attributed):
Of course, being news -- or in a book, much less on a web site -- doesn't make something true. But we do try to label speculation as such, and to debunk where we can, particularly in our blog.
The Armstrong account, for instance, where Joe's claims originate, has a sub page where we discuss and each claim to the extent of our limited knowledge. Here we note that Joe would have been too young to know Mangus Colorado.
I recently added to this page that Joe might have known Mangus' son Mangus, but then, why go there?
Markland's statement that Sam might have known Mangus is interesting, though. Sam and Joe seem to sometimes be conflated in these early tales.
Sam voted in Central City, CO, 1861, so we know he was there. We also know he took the California trail, as he signed a petition in 1859 to this effect, asking the govt to build a bridge across the Snake River. In 1865, Sam received a piece of land near Sacramento from Mormon patriarch Lyman L. Woods. But that's all we know for sure about Sam prior to 1866.
Joe was wounded at Atlanta while serving with the 25th Michigan. He mustered out in 1865, and in 1868 he is in Illinois.
Later, in 1882, while Sam was marshal of New Albuquerque, and Lou his deputy, a deputy sent to Cerrillos to bring in a prisoner returned instead with Joe Blonger, who had been prospecting in the Cerillos Hills. News accounts state that Sam and Lou had thought Joe dead, and that they had last seen him nine years before. At that time, Sam and Lou were in Salt Lake City, where they ran, at least, the Omaha Beer Saloon, and a canned oyster distributorship.
Thanks for everyone's interest!
cj...I don't mean to be to harsh but there is a lot to be suspicious of here. He arrived on the Custer battlefield a day after the battle? And like some 1800's version of Art Linkletter he interviewed the Indian children one by one to get the "real truth?" Apparently in his fantasy the village still stands. He hangs out with all the famous western personalities of history. Everyone it seemed scouted for Custer and hung out with Geronimo, Wild Bill, Jesse James, Billy the Kid and everyone, and I do mean everyone, knew Calamity Jane. I think we have to remember that a lot of men were proud of their yarn spinning.
Calamity Jane said she arrived on the battlefield right after the battle. Wonder if she ran into Old Joe? So did Nat Love, alias Deadwood Dick, along with Frank Grouard, who discovered the battlefield first...I thought it was Paladin myself. Fred Hans, Will Logan, Bob Nixon and hundreds more made similiar claims. They are what they are...myths, yarn spinning and a whole lot of bull. But they can be quite entertaining.
Kenny, I can guarantee no one visited the Cheyenne camp 'days after the battle.' I'm sure many made such a claim though.
I have no quibble with anything you say. Joe's tale regarding LBH is probably all or mostly rubbish. I was just asserting that the Blonger brothers Sam, Lou and Joe had many interesting exploits across the mountain West that are well documented.
As to the so-called Armstrong account, we love having these stories as family lore, and are content to consider them to be mostly fiction.
Enough has proven true, however, and enough has proven to be within the realm of possibility, that we have taken as part of our effort to put these various claims under the microscope. Hence this discussion.
So, it appears Joe had some knowledge of the day's events beyond the story commonly told in his day but how can we say more?
He met his death, an old man in his 90's, when a young Mexican bad-man stabbed him with a Bowie-knife in Seattle, Washington, and robbed him of 18,000 dollars in big bills that he had sewed inside the lining of his vest. The woman that Joe hired to sew the bills there told the Mexican about them.
Definitely untrue. His death certificate indicates that Joe died from a coronary thrombosis on July 8, 1933, after some four days under the care of Dr. Al Jordan. The portion of the death certificate reserved for "death due to external causes (violence)" is blank. If Joe ever had such a run-in, it apparently did not lead to his demise. Obviously Joe did not tell Gene Swinbank the circumstances of his own death, so
it's possible that Gene embellished on Joe's prolonged and painful slide into death with an incident that happened to Joe earlier in his life.
Joe's final year or two found him bedridden, incontinent, waiting to die. In July, 1933, he developed gangrene in his foot and was moved to Harborview Hospital, where he finally succumbed three days later. He was cremated and thus has no headstone.
Joe always said: "I've lived in the toughest towns in the West Abilene, Dodge City, and all the rest, and I kept out of trouble by minding my own business and staying sober." Joe used to say, "That's my advice to all young men mind your own business and don't get drunk."
We do know that Joe was kicked out of at least one old soldier's home because of his drinking. This one may be for the benefit of the young'uns...
On balance, the big questions I believe, are these:
Where was Joe 1870-1873? On the plains with Cody? In Arizona with Cochise?
Where was he 1873-1880? Prospecting in the Black Hills, hanging with Hickok, Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse?
At any rate, Joe undoubtedly led a most interesting life, and yet he apparently felt compelled to make stuff up anyway. That's what tall tales are for, I guess. Gene Swinbank may have had his way with the facts as well. Nevertheless, we're getting closer to the history of it all the time.