The Drunken Orgy

To commemorate the Great Raid on the Blonger gang, we present this cartoon from the Denver Times, March 27, 1923. Scott photgraphed it on a recent trip to Denver. The original clipping was found in the papers of Robert Maiden, part of the collection at the Denver Public Library.

Maiden was working for the Federal Narcotics’ Bureau in Kansas City when Col. Van Cise recruited him to assist in the Blonger gang investigation. Maiden worked with Andy Koehn and A.B. Cooper in surveilling the gang, and the collection contains notes, newspaper articles and other items related to the case.

The Drunken Orgy

Lou, Duff, French and Dep. Tom Clarke have a toast to Mayor Bailey

The sketch depicts Lou Blonger, manager Adolph “Kid Duffy” Duff, bookmaker John Homer “Dapper Jackie” French, and Sheriff’s Deputy Tom Clarke, king of Denver’s West Side Criminal Court. They are all singing the praises of Lou’s old pal Mayor Dewey Bailey, who had been questioning Van Cise’s entire operation, suggesting it was plot by the city’s stock brokers to legitimize their own racket and crush the competition in one fell swoop.

By all accounts, the three main defendants were feeling good about their chances as the jury began their deliberations. Things seemed to be going their way; three of the jurors were bought and paid for, and in a pinch they’d been told they could expect a favorable result on appeal.  

On the other hand, in all likelihood Lou, Duff and French would be spending the night in the county jail, and maybe longer than that. While some of the smaller fry never made bail at all — which Lou would later regret — the three principals had been free since their arrest, but no more; with the jury out they would be guests of Dep. Clarke…

But their cozy cells, across the “Bridge of Tears” to the county jail, would have to wait. Instead they were sequestered in the Grand Jury room as they waited (prematurely) for a verdict. Clarke procured several bottles of whiskey, and a few young ladies for good measure, fans of Mr. French, no doubt. Meanwhile, one floor below, Van Cise and his team worked on the case into the night.

Both Van Cise and Forbes Parkhill tell this story in their books, from different perspectives. Parkhill recalls that the press pool had been at the bottle as well, and at one point conducted a mock rape trial as curious bystanders in the gallery were supposedly unaware of the charade. 

Van Cise recounts how the drunken Clarke had burst into his office, bellowing and blustering, incensed that the Colonel would try to give him orders in his own court. The jury had just retired for the night, and the prosecutor had ordered the defendants be taken to their cells. Clarke would have none of it.

Unfortunately for Clarke, Van Cise could see a whiskey bottle in his back pocket, and the next day a grand jury was convened. Clarke lost his job. The papers buzzed about the “drunken orgy” in the West Side Court.

As for the rest? They endured five more days of deliberation, when the final juror broke, and Van Cise got his convictions. Lou and his pals would soon be on their way to the penitentiary at Canon City.

Blonger Day, Belated

Now that Scott has had his say, I’d like to add my two bits.

In past years (though I missed last year) I’ve taken this opportunity to review the finds of the preceding twelve months, and talk a bit about the future. Back to it.

Good Old Mountain Dew

In 2011 I got my first taste of McCulloch’s Mountain Dew Whiskey. John W. McCulloch’s whiskey, known as “The Whiskey Without a Headache,” was well known around the turn of the last century, but the distillery ceased production with the onset of Prohibition.

Green River Whiskey ad

J.W. famously bought his eighth interest in the Blongers’ Forest Queen mine with twenty barrels of the stuff.

Now his descendants have picked up the baton, and returned several of their famous products to the shelf. The bottle is long empty, and it’s time to reorder. And no, it didn’t give me a headache, though I can’t say it blotted out ALL my troubles.

Shootout at the Fashion Saloon

We found that Sam was witness to a shooting in Aspen’s Fashion Saloon in 1885. His testimony:

Was sitting with my back to the bar; heard a gunshot; jumped to my feet and saw deceased in the actof falling; his gun flew out of his hand to the floor; a man came in the side door and shot; he was taken out by several parties; deceased was on his hands and knees with his head toward the floor when shot.

It seems Frank Jones had been drunk and causing trouble, and when Special Officer James Fitzpatrick came to arrest him, Jones pulled a gun. He got off a shot to no effect, and Fitzgerald put him to the floor and whacked him with his pistol. As Jones struggled on the floor, hoping to get off another shot, Bernard Riley put a bullet in him and ended the fray.

San Bernardino

We have long believed Lou when he stated in a pension request that he spent the years 1883 through 1887 in the Deming, New Mexico area, staying in the hotel of gamblers Frank Thurmond and Carlotta “Lottie Deno” Thompkins. Then we found him running yet another saloon, in 1885, in San Bernardino, California.

George Creek

We also believed Joe to be in the Black Hills in the early 1870s, when he supposedly was communing with the Sioux and Cheyenne, and playing poker with Wild Bill. While he may indeed have spent time on the Plains around this time, we now know he was in California in 1875, at a place called George (or George’s) Creek. While he was listed in voter rolls as a farmer, this area in the eastern Sierras sounds more suitable for prospecting.

Joe’s Face

Now we finally know what Joe looked like. What a treat.

Joe Blonger

Joe Blonger


Who Was Kate “Kitty” Blonger?

An article from 1906 seems to have solved a lingering question — by suggesting that two important characters in our long narrative may in fact be one and the same. Yes, the pistol-packing prostitute from Albuquerque with the Blonger name, who shot Charles Hill in the head in 1888, may have also been Mrs. Sadie Wilson, who married Sam in 1889. Their marriage would end just four years later, with Sadie detailing a long history of savage beatings at Sam’s hand.

The 1906 article, which details the scandalous behavior of a Denver city detective, paranthetically implicates one Kate Blonger — also known about town as Mrs. Hank Domedion, the man “Sadie Wilson” would marry after she divorced Sam. Domedion was another bartender, by the way, and the same article suggests that “Mrs. Demedion” was keeping a “hotel” of suspect character.

A few years later Kate/Sadie would be in the news again, when her latest husband, the aforementioned city dick, threatened to kill her and all her “friends.”

The Mark Inside

Amy Reading’s new book came out, and there will be a short review soon to follow, but I’ll say this: Reading has given us the first new look at the trial of the Denver bunko men in many years, with a broader perspective than any previous author, including Van Cise. Not only does Reading outline the evolution of the American con, she makes a pretty good case that “humbug” is more central to the American way of life than we want to admit.

The Elite

We also found this ad for Sam and Lou’s ill-fated palace of spirits, the Elite Saloon.
Elite Saloon ad

Joe & the Widow Viles

Finally, there was this article, finally revealing just how short Joe’s only marriage actually was.

Couple Were Married in Room Thirteen of a Hotel.

The Pecos Valley Correspondent of the Las Vegas Optic says:

Thirteen is a sure unlucky number. Some time about the middle of April Joseph Blonger, an old miner and a Grand Army man of Santa Fe, led to the hymeneal altar in the Plaza hotel at Santa Fe, Mrs. C. A. Viles. The solemn obligation that bound them together as man and wife was performed in room 13.

Hardly two moons had passed over the fair contracting parties till Blonger concluded it was a good deal more economical and not near so hard work to hold down a miner’s cabin, so he gathered up his bed, bid the fair bride of less than sixty days good by and again picked up the pick and shovel, departed for Cerrillos and gave all his right, title, and “herediments” back to the fair one, shook the dust of the Pecos from his feet anl [sic] left.

Albuquerque Daily Citizen
July 16, 1902

What Tomorrow Brings

As for the future — things are looking up. New stuff has been popping up like dandelions, and we’re feeling anxious. Scott’s begun the process of putting a book together, there are still places to go and and articles to uncover, and yes, there is a script in the works, for what it’s worth. We started thinking about it years ago, of course, but things are proceeding now. Frankly, we know it’s a long shot, but what the hell? This material aches for it, and we’re happy to oblige.

Beehive Ranch

Speaking of Lou’s cherry orchard, the Beehive Ranch, here’s Lou outstanding in his field in 1917:

Beehive Ranch

This picture of Lou seems to have made other appearances over the years. You decide:

Lou with Marshall



Amy Reading on HuffPost

Amy has an article on about great American con men, including Lou…

Mystery Mary

Of the Blonger graves listed on Find-a-Grave, that of Mary (Mollie/Mattie) M. Blonger remains a mystery. We’re not sure who she is, but it’s tempting to think this might be the Mollie Blonger accused of running a brothel in Albuquerque in 1888, just a few days after hooker Kitty Blonger killed Charles Hill in Peach Springs, Arizona.

We assume Mollie (a common variant of Mary) took her surname from either Lou or Sam (or both), as Kitty did, when the boys apparently served as their pimps in Albuquerque in 1882 – and elsewhere, for all we know. At any rate, the Blonger name undoubtedly came from either Sam or Lou, but apparently without the benefit of marriage…

Desperately Seeking Sam

Sam Blonger's headstone, from the north?

Sam Blonger's headstone, from the south?

Do you have an eye for detail? Then you might like this puzzler.

We recently discovered Sam Blonger’s gravesite online, thanks to these photos from Scotti McCarthy. From her Find-a-Grave post, we know that Sam is buried in Section 20 of Riverside Cemetery. I think it will be easy enough to find Sam’s grave when we visit it in person this summer, but I’m impatient. I want to know exactly where he’s buried, and I want to know right now. Can we figure out the precise location of his final resting place using information posted on the internet, and nothing more? Why, I think we can.

Section 20, from the south

Section 20, from the north

Take a look at the photos of the headstone and notice the details in the background. Then click on one of the aerial photos of Section 20 (from Bing Maps “Bird’s Eye View”) to open up a higher-res version. Compare the details and tell me if you can spot Sam’s headstone. I think I found it, but I’m interested to see what others think.

Give it a try! It isn’t as hard as counting penguins from space.

Slumber Party at the Bee Hive Ranch

The Mining School boys didn't count on an April blizzard.

On Saturday, April 17, 1920, the Colorado foothills were hit by a spring blizzard that covered the tracks of the interurban line that ran through Lou Blonger’s cherry orchard, the Bee Hive Ranch, in suburban Lakewood.  After the three-car train stalled, it was quickly covered with snow.  Luckily the passengers were evacuated to Lou’s place, where they were greeted and fed by Mrs. Anna Brooks, the caretaker.  There is no mention in the news report of exactly how many people ended up at the Bee Hive, but if the report is accurate, at least two women and 20 students of the Colorado School of Mines must have spent the night.  The two women helped Mrs. Brooks feed the stranded travelers and the work crew of 75 that came out the next day to dig the train out of the shallow, quarter-mile-long cut. Actually, it might have been the Bee Hive’s biggest party: roast pork for everyone, after a dressed pig was purchased from one of Lou’s neighbors.

It took almost two days to free the train, but by then the mining students were long gone. On Sunday, they decided to hike the seven miles out to Golden, a decision that could easily have proven fatal.  They all made it, but many of them suffered from frostbite and exposure.  Dedicated students, indeed.

Still, that was not the biggest news in the April 20 edition of the Denver Post.  Just below the story of the blizzard was a brief account of an incident that would change the course of world history.

What’s With The Shades, Sammy Boy?

Speaking of Sam’s demise in 1914, we have yet another item of interest to share on Lou’s older brother.

Correspondent Kenny Vail — who, by the way, says he has a trove of information on numerous Blonger confederates, including Charlie Ronan, Con Caddigan, and Billy Nuttall — recently contacted us with an article he came across in the Rocky Mountain News. It seems Sam was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

An Interesting Day at Wittmore’s Justice Mill.

The cases against the Chinese opium joint proprietors and their patrons, who were “pulled” on Monday night by the order of Coroner Linton were arraigned…. The Chinese fined were Ah Joe, in $100 and costs; Sam Hing, in the same; Ah Wee, Su Quie and Ah Gee, in $50 each and costs. Then there were the white men who had been taken at the Arapahoe street joint for smoking. They are Sam Blonger, G.S. Howard, George Perkins and J. Kennedy. They were fined $50 each and costs. Another man named W. Hutchins was not fined… The costs in each of these cases was $7.50.….

Denver Rocky Mountain News – Oct. 13, 1880, p. 3

We’ve heard the Blonger name occasionally linked with the odd Chinese opium den, but this is the first time we’ve caught one of them red-handed. For shame, Sam. For shame. This would have taken place while the boys were hanging out in Leadville, not long after Sam ran for mayor.

Amy Reading’s Interview on WILL

You can listen here. A review of her book will be forthcoming in this space.

Hello, Sam — We’ve Been Looking for You

Sam Blonger's headstone

We’d been looking for Sam for nine years — he was the only Blonger whose final resting place had not been determined.  But apparently we weren’t looking nearly hard enough.  Turns out this photo has been on the Find-a-Grave web site for the last three years, thanks to researcher Scotti McCarthy. For some reason (that I needn’t bother to figure out at this point), I thought Sam was buried in Fairmount Cemetery in an unmarked grave. Instead, he’s in historic Riverside Cemetery, north of downtown. I will visit him this summer.  In addition to answering the lingering mystery of Sam’s location, it also prompted me to set up a “virtual cemetery” of Blongers on the Find-a-Grave web site. Neat idea, and one that I hope to build out some more in the future.

Now if we could just find a picture, or even a drawing, of this guy.