The Belonger Name

Slogging through the 150 or so pages of Joe’s military pension file, a curious exchange appears. In 1913, as Joe struggled to have the government grant him a pension increase, he was tasked with proving his identity to the pension authority. To do this he turned to the Belonger family bible, the same bible, I believe, that’s still in the possession of sister Mary’s descendants.

I have in my possession the old family Bible which belonged to my mother. The front leaves are gone so it is impossible to tell the date of its publication, but I remember seeing it in our home as long ago as I can remember. I can also remember seeing the record of my birth therein as long as I can remember, but I do not know in whose hand the record was written.

Under the head of “Births” appears the following verbatim record, to wit: “Joseph Blonger borne the September 9th A.D. 1847”.

A mistake is shown in the spelling of my surname, it being Blonger instead of Belonger, which latter is correct.

Said record shows no indication of erasures or alterations.

The notary then chimes in to vouch for Joe and his description of the bible, and adds this:

The record of the pensioner’s birth is given verbatim. It is a strange circumstance that his sur-name is misspelled, while all the others, some eight all told are spelled correctly, Belonger, his being Blonger.

Utoy Creek

Finally put two and two together!

Joe was hospitalized on August 6, 1864.

On that same date, the 25th Michigan Infantry was attached to Schofield’s Army of the Ohio. A much smaller Confederate force under Hood’s command was securely ensconced in the wooded hills around Utoy Creek, and they were the only thing standing between Sherman’s forces and the rail line into Atlanta.

Advances of the previous two days had been unsuccessful, and now a reshuffling of forces had given the Confederates time to dig in, with trenches and abatis, sharp pikes or branches extending toward the advancing enemy as they approach the trenches.

On the morning of the 6th, another attack was mounted. The Federals were beaten back with heavy losses. Joe would most certainly have been among them. A minie ball passed through his left arm, and into his side. The bullet would remain with him for the rest of his life.

The Bélangers

Here is a photographic exercise for you.

Augustin Belanger

Augustin, the gentleman pictured here, never worked for the Blonger brothers, never drank with them, was never swindled by them, never took a bribe from them or investigated them. In his entire life he probably never heard their names once and he almost certainly never met any of them. But he is important to the story. Take a few moments to examine the photograph.

He looks strangely familiar, doesn’t he? The sad eyes, the prominent nose, the sloping shoulders and round belly. Does he remind you of anyone?

Augustin lived his life as a farmer near the tiny town of Saint-Polycarpe in southern Quebec. He’s not famous, except maybe within his family for fathering 11 children and living to the age of 97. But he may be in a book someday. He is Augustin Bélanger — uncle of the Famous Blonger Bros.

We have no photo of his brother Simon, patriarch of the Blonger family, but the fact that we now have a photo of Augustin signals the end of a very long search for Simon’s parents. Work toward that end has been on and off (mostly off) for more than 40 years. But once the story of the Blongers attracted our attention in 2003, fleshing out their ancestry became a primary goal.

We have speculated about Simon’s French-Canadian origins before on this website. Multiple sources indicated that Simon was born in Canada around 1810, but that was all we had to go on. We assumed that his name was originally spelled Bélanger. But there was no record of his marriage, nor birth records for any of his children. We could have made an educated guess and connected our family tree to one of several potential Simon Bélangers living in Canada during that time period and no one would have been the wiser. But we wanted solid evidence.

I’ll spare you the details of how the slowly accumulating DNA evidence — pieced together from fourth and fifth and sixth cousins — helped us fill in the final pieces of the jigsaw puzzle. I’ll just say that without DNA testing and the huge database of tests and testers now in place, we would never have been able to make that last link between the Simon we have known for so long — the husband of Judith Kennedy and father of 13 Blonger children — and the infant found in the baptismal records of Saint-Denis-sur-Richelieu: Simon Bélanger, born December 30, 1814, the son of Antoine Bélanger and his wife Marie Elisabeth Coderre Lacaillade.

Simon Belonger’s baptismal record, 1814. How’s your French?

Saint-Denis-sur-Richelieu is a farm community on the banks of Richelieu River near Montreal. We don’t know how long Simon worked the land there, but sometime before 1836 he left Quebec and headed south. We imagine him as a voyageur, laying a canoe in the river and paddling the 60 miles upstream to Lake Champlain, crossing into the United States after two or three days’ journey. But whether he traveled by canoe, by oxcart, or by foot, Simon ended up in northern Vermont, first in the town of Georgia and then Swanton, where he raised a family. Perhaps with his migration he had followed his father’s example. Antoine’s decision to leave his ancestral home in the northern village of L’Islet and make his way southward put Simon in position to make that life-altering move to America.

At L’Islet the Bélangers were one of the founding families of New France. There the immigrant François Bélanger, who had crossed the Atlantic in 1634 with a small group of settlers from Normandy, was in 1677 made seigneur of an 18-square-mile tract on the shore of the St. Laurence River. Once a simple mason, now “lord of the manor” of Bonsecours, François administered its affairs, renting long-lot parcels to other settlers, operating a grist mill, and receiving part of their harvest and their labor for his efforts.

L’Islet’s location north of Quebec City. François Bélanger’s first land holding was at Château-Richer on the opposite side of the St. Laurence River.
Map of the manor at Bonsecours (L’Islet). The “domaine” in the center was reserved for François, the seigneur.

Generations of cultivateurs followed. Louis Bélanger was born at L’Islet in 1652, as was his son Pierre in 1700, and Pierre’s son Jean-Gabriel in 1736. The first two were also titled seigneur. But by the time Antoine was born in 1775, the land may have been become too crowded to support a fifth generation of Bélangers.

Antoine was prolific, fathering eight children by his first wife at L’Islet before heading south toward Montreal. He remarried at La Présentation, to Marie Elisabeth (Isabelle), who bore Simon, Augustin, young Isabelle, and then in 1820 an infant son, whom she followed into death five days later, just 23 years of age. Antoine carried on, marrying once again and returning to L’Islet to father one more child. He died sometime between 1839 and 1842. Curiously, his passing was not recorded in the church books of Quebec, perhaps indicating that he followed his son to the United States.

There is more to Simon’s family tree than the six ancestors we have mentioned. Much more. The record keeping system of the Catholic Church in Quebec was remarkably robust. It allowed us to fill Simon’s tree in every line out to four generations and in most lines out to six generations or more. Surprisingly, even though the French-Canadian population is characterized by long-term endogamy, none of Simon’s nearly 200 identifiable ancestors appears on the tree more than once.

With one mystery solved, another remains: the ancestry of Judith Kennedy, mother of the Blonger Bros., raised in an Irish nunnery, immigrant in the 1830s. DNA has allowed us to make some progress there recently, but that story must wait for another day.

Simon now has ancestors…and this is just the first page.

Thanks

Many thanks to the genealogists in the family: Pam Cote, my sixth cousin, for shaking her own family tree, which includes Bélangers in three separate lines, and suggesting that Simon of St-Denis-sur-Richelieu was the most likely candidate; and Louise Lalonde McDonald, fourth cousin once removed and a descendant of Augustin, for posting his photo on Ancestry and giving us permission to repost it here. Thanks also to Jim Belanger, a descendant of early settler Nicolas Bélanger, who may or may not be François’s son, for his excellent summary of François’s life on the Bélanger Family Site. And to several distant cousins hither and yon: you may never read this blog post, but the contribution of your DNA was essential in cracking this case.

Tribute

As I note this important milestone in our research, I would like to remember two family members who contributed immensely to our research, both of whom passed away during my long hiatus from this site.

In 2003, the very first person to answer my request for help in a genealogy.com forum, 18 days after my discovery of Lou Blonger’s criminal past, was Carolyn Conrad Salsman. Carolyn was the Belonger family genealogist, collecting photographs, obituaries, and copies of vital records long before Ancestry provided instant access. Carolyn knew a lot about the descendants of Michael Belonger, but like apparently everyone else in the family knew nothing about the fate of his brothers, who left Wisconsin for the Wild West. Like us, she was astounded by the details of their lives and eager to learn more. One document Carolyn provided was especially intriguing: we called it the Armstrong Account. In it, Joe Blonger spins tall tales about his life — many of which later proved to be true. Carolyn and I talked on the phone many times, but despite living less than 100 miles apart we never met in person, much to my regret. I had not heard from Carolyn for a few years when she died in 2013. She would have loved knowing about her Bélanger ancestry.

Joe Swinbank was not a genealogist, and I don’t remember exactly how we ended up corresponding. But as a descendant of Mary Catherine, little sister of the Blonger Bros., he was interested in their story and provided a single document of enormous value: a transcription of the Swinbank family Bible that contained vital information (names, dates, and places) for Simon Belonger and his children. Joe died in 2010 and his daughter Barbara wrote to let me know soon afterward, but my posts had already become infrequent and his passing was not noted here at the time.

To Carolyn, my second cousin once removed, and Joe, my second cousin twice removed, you have my eternal gratitude, and may you both rest in peace.

— SJ – 7/17/2019

Julia Belonger Located

The six Blonger brothers also had three sisters: Elizabeth, who apparently died unmarried, Mary, the youngest and mother of five, and Julia, born second after Simon. We know that Julia had seven children by a man named Revoir, and that they disappeared from the public record when they moved east in 1892. Now we know why.

Thanks to DNA testing, we have reconnected with Julia’s branch of the tree and learned the reason they were so hard to find. Like Sam, Lou and the others, the Revoir family chose a new name—Rivers. Despite the similarity, revoir doesn’t mean river, of course; in French it means “to see again,” as in au revoir.

Tony Neis, Detective

Harold Gordon was kind enough to share this find of his, a business card he discovered in a collection of Victorian-era Masonic calling cards.

Neis Busioness card

Tony Neis was the man who recruited Sam and Lou into the Rocky Mountain Detective Association when he established an Albuquerque office in 1882. Their membership in the group appears to have been short-lived, but we do know this: on the day they became members, Lou arrested and secured a confession from a man who stole some $200 in goods from—Tony Neis.

Lou’s First Wife, Emma Loring, Located at Last

We’ve learned a great deal about the Blonger brothers’ various wives and mistresses—Sam’s mercurial relationship with prostitute Sadie Wilson, Joe’s ill-fated attraction to the Widow Viles, and Lou’s unusual arrangement with mistress Iola Readon among them. Lou’s first wife Emma Loring, however, remained a cypher, until now. Don’t be surprised the beautiful young woman above has a tale to tell.

The date of Lou’s marriage to Emma remains unknown. In 1882 Lou was living in Albuquerque with Sam and was noted in a local news item as being romantically and professionally linked with the unnamed madame of a local brothel. In ’83 he apparently moved south to Deming or thereabouts, and the following year he had a saloon in San Bernardino, California.

At some point during this period, Lou married a young widow by the name of Emma Loring in San Francisco. Curiously, she makes no further appearance in the greater Blonger world, save for Lou suing her for divorce in 1889, claiming abandonment. He then promptly married Nola Lyons, to whom he would remain married (if not faithfully) for the rest of his life.

So, who was this mysterious Emma Loring, who evaded us for so long? Something of a San Francisco celebrity, as it happens.

Born in Germany in 1858, Emma K. Vohrer came to America at an undetermined age and eventually married a New York physician named Loring, a retired British army officer. Between Dr. Loring’s considerable wealth and a large inheritance Emma received after their marriage, the Lorings rose to prominence in San Francisco society, and owned numerous properties in the city and across the bay in Oakland. Dr. Loring died sometime prior to 1882, when Emma may have first met Lou, leaving her a wealthy widow.

She became known around San Francisco as a talented painter, but she was perhaps better known for a project she undertook in Piedmont, where she attempted to build a rambling pavilion intended as a beer garden and concert hall. Construction began using bits and pieces salvaged from “Midway palaces of the Midwinter Fair.” Unfortunately, wealthy residents in the Piedmont neighborhood did not care for the structure, known as the Castle Loring. As she pursued the matter in court, the unfinished building sank into decay. Eventually it burned to the ground under dubious circumstances.

A Race For A Daughter

We pick up Emma’s trail in 1895, six years after Lou sued her for divorce.

On October 12 of that year, The San Francisco Call described how Loring had gone to the county clerk’s office earlier that day intending to stop her daughter May from obtaining a marriage license, but arrived just three minutes too late. The Call noted that Emma then became “partly hysterical.”

“My daughter is little more than a child,” she said, “but unfortunately she is 19 years of age and can please herself. She has never gone into society and has never been in a theater. She was a home girl, and I have been robbed of a jewel. I have starved and slaved and struggled to secure a future for my girl, and now she has ruined her life.”

A subsequent trip to the local justice of the peace showed no sign of May or her suitor, a hired man in Emma’s employ named Herman Braulich, 33, and it was assumed they found a minister to perform the ceremony.

“This man has betrayed me,” Emma said. “He has requited my charity by stealing my daughter. I took him in and cared for him when he needed food and shelter.”

Twice Has She Eloped

Not two years later, Emma and May were in the news again, served with a heaping helping of déjà vu. This time the San Francisco Examiner got the scoop.

Within a year of her marriage Emma May (as the Examiner called her) had divorced Braulich, at her mother’s expense. Now she had found another beau, and Emma was again beside herself in a very public way. Henry W. Attenborough, 30, was an Englishman residing in Oakland, where he went by name Dan Godfrey. He was, in his own words, a “remittance man,” a term denoting a young man banished to the Colonies by his family, supported by payments from home with the understanding that he never return. It was not a point of pride.

What’s more, like Braulich, Attenborough was also in Emma’s employ, at the Piedmont property. And again, Emma was having none of it. She petitioned the county sheriff to intervene, but he had no recourse.

“I have starved myself for years to give my daughter every comfort money could buy,” she told the Examiner. “Now she has gone to a hovel with a woodchopper.”

Ouch. Though not mentioned in either article, May was in fact Emma’s foster daughter, brought into the Loring’s New York household in 1876 but never formally adopted. Twice abandoned by May, Emma seemed particularly disappointed that her foster daughter didn’t appreciate the opportunity she had seen fit to offer.

“I am done with her. She had refinements and intellectual opportunities for which I sacrificed my health to gain for her. I am almost convinced the girl is mad. When she came to me in rags and suffering I took her to my heart. “

Not long after May’s second marriage, Emma Loring left San Francisco for New York to collect a $6000 inheritance. Before leaving she made arrangements with her agent to handle various mortgage and interest payments with funds she would periodically forward from New York.

For a few months the money arrived as promised, then ceased. Six months later another $100 was delivered, but nothing followed. No letters, no indication of any kind where she was, or what had become of her.

Within a few months her creditors were getting nervous, but neither Emma’s agent, her lawyers, or her daughter May could locate her. As much as $20,000 in San Francisco real estate hung in the balance.

Nearly three years after her departure, as a series of legal actions were gathering steam, it was finally determined that Emma had fallen sick in New York, and upon her recovery had made her way to Hamburg, where another $1000 inheritance was waiting for her to claim. She remained in Germany and eventually became untraceable.

At that point her attorneys requested a guardian be appointed to care for her estate, arguing that circumstances suggested it was imprudent to presume she was dead. Everyone had an opinion on the matter, whether they thought her sick, mentally unwell, or even dead.

Emma eventually returned to San Francisco, without fanfare, and resumed her quiet life as a wealthy recluse, in declining health, and given to the occasional quibbling lawsuit against various merchants and tradesmen, all of which she inevitably lost. And she thought someone was trying to poison her. Then she quietly disappeared from the daily discourse, until one day in June of 1903.

William Martin did some gardening for Emma, and he had last seen her late in May. Since then her mail had been piling up under the front door, and a gas light had been burning continuously in the bedroom window, day and night. Finally, on June 24th, Martin approached Patrolman Attridge, who then climbed through an open window and discovered the body on the second floor.

“Beside a bed, partly crouching on the floor, was the badly decomposed body of a woman, clad only in a night robe. Her features were almost destroyed, her hair fallen from her scalp and the flesh upon the fingers of her right hand, which had tightly clutched the bedclothes in the last paroxysm of death, had disappeared from the bones.”

The room where the body was found.

Martin had first befriended Emma at the Midwinter Fair, where they both had concessions. He eventually grew into a confidant and a caretaker, bringing her food when she was in need and badgering Emma’s daughter to do the right thing and reconcile. May was resolute.

He also learned of her finances, which had descended into a tangle of debts. She had fallen from the heights, descending into illness, frailty, and confusion. She was, in fact, at one point examined by the “Lunacy Commissioners,” whatever the hell they were. We can only wonder if Lou, her grievous mistake of a second husband, ever heard the news, or cared.

Emma K. Loring

There was at first some question about Emma’s death: the unlocked gate and window, a few thousand in cash that couldn’t be accounted for. Though several papers covered the story, it was the Examiner that wondered aloud about a half-full container of rat poison.

May eventually had herself declared heir, but within months she died as well. The estimated value of Emma’s property continued to increase as potential claimants pled their cases, finally reaching as high as $25,000 in real estate and other property, worth some $700,000 today. Emma’s sister and second husband Attenborough were among the four parties seeking to be declared Emma’s heir, with her sister finally prevailing.

Off To The Races

We may have a new candidate for the Grafters Club, and it’s been a long time.

Friday, October 30, 1885 was a fine day for a horse race in Dodge City. A large crowd was in attendance, with money to burn, and the judges were top notch – a Mr. Blonger (who we will assume was Sam, the horseman of the family, and known to be living in Dodge that year), Bat Masterson, and a Mr. Kelley.

Context clearly suggests this is James “Dog” Kelley, former mayor of Dodge and the man who brought Wyatt Earp to town in 1877 to bring the town some much needed law and order.

Kelley was an avid dog racer, and apparently he kept a pet bear that ended up being served for Christmas dinner in 1883.

Sam’s Life Box

Hot damn, a new mystery!

In June of 1902, a journalist in Buffalo, New York decided he needed to put in a good word for his old pal, Bat Masterson. Only weeks before, Masterson had left Denver under a dark cloud, and now he was making a go of it in New York City. New bunco charges weren’t far behind, of course, and then a weapons charge that led to the confiscation of his prized pistol. Things weren’t looking good for Bat, and people were talking. They were saying he was a bad man. A con man. A killer. Twenty-eight notches! And he misses his gun, his “best friend”.

So, to answer the critics – and to have some fun at Bat’s expense — the author reprinted an article from the Butte, Montana Inter-Mountain, recounting the words of a local old timer.

Buffalo, New York Enquirer, June 18, 1902

IS NOT SUCH A BAD MAN AFTER ALL

Bat Masterson’s Western Career Reviewed by a Man Who Knows Him Well—Lives Up to the Biblical Orders and Is a Quiet, Peaceable Man.

Once upon a time, Bat had, in fact, surrendered an earlier “best friend” without nary a whimper, and that gun was still in the possession of one Jack O’Ferral. The article continues:

Bat Had A Fright.

That was back in the days when Sam Blonger was a city marshal in the Southwest, and Jack was his assistant. Sam wears smoked glasses now and can’t see half way across the street. In those days he carried his gun on a hook and Bat was one of the boys who did the curfew act as soon as the sun went down and Sam hit the main trail of the village.

It happened one day that Sam pulled another fellow’s gun down instead of pushing it up. That ’45’ is still somewhere in Sam’s life box.

While the marshal was stretched out ruminating on the folly of pulling a gun toward him, it fell to Jack O’Ferral to run the town. Though his record showed Jack looked good to the bunch, and such fellows as Masterson, Tom Cannon and Al Skelly woke up and started after suckers. Cannon’s dead, Skelly is a police captain and Bat’s in jail.

Cannon’s funeral expenses were paid by O’Ferral and Skelly was cared for by the same samaritan until he got well. Bat developed the yellow streak which has made him famous since and handed his gun to the little killer before O’Ferral could pull the trigger for the third time.

The tale goes on to describe other miscellaneous Bat stories, reffing a prize fight in Denver, killing his first man, yada, yada…

First and foremost, this story doesn’t seem to be about Albuquerque, where we know that Sam was marshal. The details are all wrong – Sam, for instance, didn’t get shot in 1882.

So what southwestern town? When he was hired, the news stated that he had experience in “official work”, though we have no more information. At any rate, identifying the town could potentially open a big new spigot.

OK, now, let’s unpack this typically cryptic summation of the “facts”.

The glasses we’ve heard about on a few occasions, always hearsay. Sunglasses, basically, to hide a disfigured eye, shot out by a bullet ricocheting off an iron stove during a bar fight. No place, no date, but still pretty cool, and mentioned in multiple sources. It’s also kind of cool he wore his gun on a hook. I don’t know how unusual that is.

I don’t know what he means by “Bat was one of the boys who did the curfew act as soon as the sun went down and Sam hit the main trail of the village” but the context suggests Bat was a local troublemaker, out and about at night doing no good.

It happened on day that Sam pulled another fellow’s gun down instead of pushing it up. That ’45’ is still somewhere in Sam’s life box.

This took a bit of parsing. Scott found one other reference to a “life box”, and it appears to mean torso. So, Sam tried to disarm someone, screwed it up, and got shot, the bullet still residing (presumably) within the confines of his skin — just like his brother Joe, who carried the minie ball he met during the siege of Atlanta in his gut for sixty years.

While the marshal was stretched out ruminating on the folly of pulling a gun toward him, it fell to Jack O’Ferral to run the town. Though his record showed Jack looked good to the bunch, and such fellows as Masterson, Tom Cannon and Al Skelly woke up and started after suckers. Cannon’s dead, Skelly is a police captain and Bat’s in jail.

Cannon’s funeral expenses were paid by O’Ferral and Skelly was cared for by the same samaritan until he got well. Bat developed the yellow streak which has made him famous since and handed his gun to the little killer before O’Ferral could pull the trigger for the third time.

Intentionally obtuse? The gist of it seems to be that, while Sam convalesced, O’Ferral attempted to arrest Masterson, Cannon and Skelly on bunco charges. Cannon ended up dead, Skelly wounded, and Bat gave up his gun without a fight. O’Ferral then paid for Cannon’s funeral and nursed Skelly back to health. What a guy!

And he still has Bat’s gun.

 

Mysteries at the Museum, Part II

It was great to see the show. Lou has been written about many, many times over the years in non-fiction books on confidence games, famous criminals, criminal psychology and the like. He’s even made an appearance in several works of fiction, always the slimy, obese mobster. But never on the screen, big or small. So, cool.

In a nutshell, the 10-minute segment describes how Lou and his gang made lots of money bilking Denver tourists with a fake stock exchange (just as they did with fake betting parlors, as seen in The Sting), and how District Attorney Van Cise bugged Lou’s office as part of his investigation. This was 1922, making it one of the earlier examples of electronic bugging. Cutting edge stuff.

And now, by my right as one of the world’s two living experts on the Blongers, I will pick some nits. This is the fun part.

1) Pronunciation. Come on, folks. The proper pronunciation of the name Blonger is spelled out phonetically on our homepage, and we even have a page dedicated to the subject. In short, it rhymes with “conjure”. Not “longer”. Not “wronger”. It’s French; that “g” sounds like a “j” (or “zh”, if you want to get picky)

2) No way in hell would the fastidious Philip Van Cise show up for work with several days stubble on his face.

3) At one point, Van Cise is shown with a tape recorder, apparently reviewing the recordings. Sorry. Magnetic tape recorders didn’t exist in 1922, and wouldn’t see widespread use for at least a couple more decades.

4) The show seems to suggest that Lou and his crew created the Big Store con in the 1920s, when in fact the concept was in widespread use by that time. That said, the Blonger gang may have made better use of it than anyone before or since.

Mysteries at the Museum, Part I

Lou has finally made his television debut, and here he is:

Lou on Mysteries at the Museum

(The actor looks familiar, but I can’t seem to find a credit for the part.)

A few months ago Scott and I were contacted by the staff of Mysteries at the Museum, a Travel Channel program that examines the history behind various historical objects — in this case, a dictaphone in the collection of History Colorado Center in Denver.

The dictaphone itself, apparently, has no actual significance, except as a stand-in for the machine used by DA Philip Van Cise in his investigation of Lou and his gang. The show’s producers were aware of our website, and contacted us in search of images they could use. While we certainly had plenty to offer, they were really only in need of pictures of Lou and Van Cise. They could have gotten these from a copy of Fighting The Underworld, of course, but we were happy to help, and got a screen credit!

The half-hour format of the show features three unrelated segments, each detailing a different artifact. The show in question is titled Metal Winners, the Big Con, and Operation Babylift. It aired on December, 8, 2016 on the Travel Channel. (We weren’t aware of the air date, or we would have mentioned it sooner. I just found out it has already aired.)

It’s available for viewing in several places, including iTunes, where I accessed it for 3 bucks.

More to follow…