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.

Amy Reading on Focus 580

Amy Reading, whose new book “The Mark Inside” has been the subject of several posts here, will be interviewed on Illinois Public Radio tomorrow (Wednesday, April 25).  If you happen to live in central Illinois like we do, you can listen live on WILL, AM 580.  Elsewhere, you can listen in almost real time to the stream (click the “LISTEN” link). Either way, you can call in if you have a question. The hour-long show starts at 10 am Central Time.  If you happen to miss the live event, you can replay the show from the archives on the same page.

Happy Blonger Day!

Nine years ago today, April 22, 2003, I walked into my office at work with an idea. The previous night I had discovered that my great-great-grandfather’s long-lost brothers had apparently used the surname “Blonger” instead of the family spelling “Belonger”. Using that clue, I’d also been able to find them in census records in several western states, where they appeared with occupations such as “miner” and “saloonkeeper.” Things were getting exciting! But as I’d made the discovery late at night, I did not think of Googling the name “Blonger” until the next morning. Honestly, I didn’t really expect to find anything – at least not anything interesting.

If you’ve been reading this blog, you know the rest of the story, up to now. But maybe you were wondering how the story will end.

When I sold Craig on the idea of setting up this web site (it was an easy sell) and doing extensive research, with an eye toward eventual publication, we knew it would be a long and drawn-out process. Within a few months it became clear to me that, since we both live in the Midwest and have full-time jobs, it might take until retirement to visit all the places we’d like to visit, but there was plenty of other research that could be done in the meantime, and for six years that was fine. But over the last three years my attention has wandered, my efforts have dwindled, and Craig has essentially held down the fort singlehandedly.

A recent turn of events has set me back on course. Craig has already made mention here of a new book by Amy Reading called “The Mark Inside.” If you are interested in the Blongers, or con men in general, you need to buy it. Amy’s writing skills are first-rate (how else are you going to get published by Knopf?) – but it’s her research and analysis that really stand out. In the last third of the book, Amy digs into some of the lingering questions that Philip Van Cise, in “Fighting the Underworld,” couldn’t answer – for instance, how did Lou (and Sam) consolidate power in Denver during the 1890s and wrest control of the underworld from Soapy Smith and Ed Chase? And how then, after the turn of the century, did the Blonger gang advance so rapidly from penny-ante cons to the genius of the “Big Store”? Amy gives convincing explanations for all of this. And she knows her Denver con man lineup, too, going back to the beginning – something Van Cise, who was essentially writing an autobiographical account and not a history – did not pretend to do.

Amy’s effort made me realize I still have a job to do, and I had better get back in the game. Reacquainting myself with the mountains of research we’ve done has been a daunting task, but as I work my way through it all again I am beginning to patch together the outline of a book. Until now I have not given much thought to the final product, convinced I still had years of research ahead. But I’ve been encouraged to write by a number of colleagues who remind me that I will never have all the information I want. In the case of the Blongers that applies more forcefully than most: there are huge gaps in the timeline that will never be filled, but that doesn’t mean the rest of the story can never be told. And, my friends remind me, there is such a thing as a second volume.

And so, faithful readers who have made it to Blonger Day 2012, I have renewed hope that I might produce a manuscript in the next year or two. I’m back on task, and that’s good not only because we’d all like to see something in print, but it might mean I get to spend my retirement doing something else! – SJ

(Wait! What about Craig? He’s a writer, too, right? I will let him explain his project in his own time.)

A Word From Our Sponsors

It’s curious we have so few advertisements for the various joints owned by the Blonger Bros. Grouping together their saloons, gambling halls, theaters and whorehouses, we count six businesses confirmed  before their arrival in Denver (but probably twice that number or more), and at least ten in Denver alone, not counting policy shops, cigar store candy stands and various and sundry other enterprises.

And yet, to date we have found only eight actual newspaper ads in graphic form. That’s why it’s a privilege to add two more examples today.

This first one is for Walker & Blonger, a modest little joint the boys owned in 1898-99, with longtime Denver saloon man Sam Walker.

Walker & Blonger

Walker & Blonger saloon

Here’s what the building looked like many years later:

Walker & Blonger (1863 Larimer)

Walker & Blonger (right), 1863 Larimer

The second is a bit of a mystery. Here it is:

Blonger Bros. Saloon

Blonger Bros. Saloon

For one thing, it’s nice to see J.W. get his props here; John McCulloch’s the man who bought his eighth-share of the Forest Queen from Lou for twenty barrels of the good stuff.

There are two odd things about this, though. At this time, in December of 1896, we know of a saloon referred to as “Lew Blonger’s place” at 1644 Larimer, and the magnificent Elite Saloon, at 1626 Stout. Though this ad has the place across the street at 1625 Stout, the lunch menu is pretty convincing evidence they are referring to the Elite. But why not use the name Elite? Especially if there was another place of theirs that didn’t?

Killer Kate Fears For Her Life

First of all, I’d like to mention for the record that, although Scott agrees with me that Sam’s second wife Sadie Wilson, and gun-slinging prostitute Kate “Kitty” Blonger, are likely the same person, he cautions, correctly, that this is not the only possible conclusion. But at present it remains the most obvious one.

Which brings us to Deputy US Marshal Edwin H. Davis. You may recall that we finally connected Kate and Sadie on the following basis: 1) after divorcing Sam in 1893, Sadie quickly married barkeep Henry J. Domedion; and 2) while transporting a prisoner from Denver to New York that same year, Marshal Davis was reportedly accompanied by a woman known in Denver as both as Kate Blonger AND Mrs. Hank Domedion.

Our knowledge of either woman is scant. We have some colorful details about Kitty’s murder trial in 1882, but not much else of a personal nature. We know even less about Sadie, except that she divorced Sam after just four years, having suffered months of physical abuse at his hands. And, of course, her later liaison with Marshal Davis.


Fast-forward to 1907. Sadie has been married to Marshal Davis for about a year, after “a courtship extending over nine years” (and making her, at the very least, Mrs. Sadie/Kate/Kitty “maiden name” “Blonger” Wilson Blonger Domedion Davis). She is noted as the “proprietress of the Claire hotel, 1641 Arapahoe street.” The context suggests she is still in the brothel business.

Davis, it seems, had returned from a trip and confronted his wife at the Claire, threatening to kill her and all her “friends.” What’s more, he “applied opprobrious epithets to her.” Now Sadie wants a divorce and a restraining order.

 All told, it sounds like it sucked to be her. Taking a few liberties, I would describe it thus: Kitty was a prostitute under Sam and Lou’s protection in 1882, and perhaps prior. Maybe after, as well.

In 1888, while working at Somerset’s in Peach Springs, Arizona, Kitty shot Charles Hill when he busted in on her with another client. She was tried, and acquited.

Then, in 1889, Sam divorced his first wife and immediately took Kitty as his bride. By that time she was referred to as Mrs. Sadie Wilson.

In May of 1893, Sadie divorced Sam after a series of brutal beatings, claiming a longstanding pattern of abuse. In October of the same year, she was seen traveling with Marshal Davis. At this time she was already being referred to as Mrs. Hank Domedion, and noted as running a “rooming house.”

By 1906 they were calling it a “hotel.” That year, after a “nine year” courtship, she married Davis. And within a year, Davis was ready to commit mass murder.

Burglars, Umbrellas & Punchbowls

A few new odds and ends:


September 1, 1914, Denver Post. This day the Lost and Found column had two curious items in a row.

The first concerns a pearl pin, duck-shaped, with diamonds, lost at Tabor’s Grand Opera about 8:00 pm on Saturday night, and belonging to Lou’s old friend, Harry Tammen, co-publisher of the Post.

The second is from Lou himself, requesting the return of an umbrella shamelessly appropriated “from the iron bench in front of Scholtz drug store.” The culprit was obliged to please return it to Bert Davis’ cigar store — Lou’s name was engraved on the handle.


July 12, 1909, Denver Post. Lou was the victim of a serial thief most interested, apparently, in women’s clothing, including dresses, shoes, and undergarments. Detectives thought it likely the thieves were women, “their identity, however, remains a mystery.”


December 26, 1894, the Denver Post reports that there is “great admiration” for a punch bowl being exhibited by Sam. The work of Miss Birdie Atwood, the bowl is described as hand-painted with grapes, leaves, spiders and webs, with a gold stem. “The entire effect, designed by Miss Atwood, is charming and is highly creditable to the artist.”


November 22, 1912, Denver Post. Burglars again, this time breaking a window to get into Sam’s house, 1125 Clarkson Street, while he and the wife were away on vacation. Fortunately a private watchman arrived just in time to scare them off.

Problem is, they were still apparently out of town when this was published. The Post only made it worse with the following:

Blonger and his wife are out of the city, and, had the burglars not been interfered with, they would have been at liberty to ransack the house from top to bottom. 

Sounds like a dare to us. The Post reported the potential booty to be “thousands of dollars’ worth of Oriental tapestries, curios gathered from around the globe and silverware in abundance.” Thanks guys.


Mrs. Susie Orr


March 22, 1906, Denver Post, front page. Mrs. M.J. Orr was badly injured when one of Sam’s horses bolted. The colt was pulling a sulky up Sixteenth Street when workmen began using an electric riveter, sending the animal into a frenzy. The driver attempted to keep the horse under control, but when the harness broke the frightened animal took off at a gallop in the direction of Stout Street.

When the driver finally convinced the colt to turn in to the side, he kept charging, trampling Mrs. Orr on his way across the sidewalk and through the plate glass window of Fitwell’s clothing store. Both Mrs. Orr and the pony sustained nasty but non-lethal injuries. The sulky was a wreck.


Several Salt Lake Herald listings from 1889 indicate Sam’s property at lot 4, block 28, plat G was to be auctioned in light of Sam’s delinquent tax bill, amounting to a measly $.75, all of three quarters.

In 1891 Sam bought back the same lot, and lot 1, from the county. Four months later he and wife Sadie signed the property over to Lou.

Via Con Dios, Sam Blonger

Finally, here’s Sam’s obit en español, from Estrella (Las Cruces, N.M.), February 20, 1914:

Samuel H. Blonger, uno de los más notables hombres de sport del oeste, y residente de Denver por más de treinta y cinco años, murió en su casa en Denver.

That is:

Samuel H. Blonger, one of the most remarkable men of sport in the west, and a resident of Denver for more than thirty-five years, died at his home in Denver.