The Cabinet Saloon, Deming, NM

I’ve been sitting on this for a while.

A few years ago, our colleagues down New Mexico way sent us a little gift. The husband and wife team of Bob Alexander and Jan Devereaux were engaged in their own research — in this case, regarding the husband and wife team of Frank Thurmond and Carlotta “Lottie Deno” Thompkins, gamblers of the Wild West and associates of the Blongers — when they came across a photo they thought might be of interest to us. Here it is.

The Cabinet Saloon

This is the Cabinet Saloon, in Deming, New Mexico, if I recall correctly. The year is indeterminate; we can see electric lighting, with wires strung rather haphazardly over the bar; to the left there is what appears to be a vending machine. Some of the clothing appears to post date the Wild West. Turn of the century, perhaps? 1910? I’d like an expert opinion.

But the big question is, who are these men? Specifically, who are those four gentlemen at the bar? Let’s have a closer look.

4 Guys

The elephant in this room, of course, is the short gent with the cigar. Could it be? Scott is dubious, but I’m inclined to believe it’s Lou. Wishful thinking?

First off, Lou was well acquainted with southern New Mexico, not to mention Thurmond and Thompkins, who eventually settled in the Deming area. They were all renowned sports and professional gamblers in the style of your Earps, your Hollidays, your Mastersons, and frequented the same locales  — that is, anywhere that miners, cowboys and tinhorns would gather to throw away their cash.

What’s more, in a pension document dated 1887, Lou told the government the following:

Since 83 until the present time here resided with Frank Thurmond at Silver City, Deming and Kingston New Mexico.

We assume that when he says he “resided with” Thurmond, he means in the hotel Thurmond ran at the time.

And he certainly seems to share Lou’s sartorial sensibility.

So what can we glean from the minimal information we have to go on? Perhaps a comparison is in order.

4 faces

The picture on the left might represent Lou in his forties or fifties, the second two are Lou in his seventies. We have no photos of Lou earlier than that on the right, taken about 1915, when he would have been 66.

This is hardly science, but let’s see what happens if I gradually lay Lou’s mugshot over the face in question.

Lou comparison

Interesting, but inconclusive. I’m biased, but I don’t see any glaring physical discrepancy between the two.

But what about the others? To my eyes, the young man in shirt sleeves appears to be an employee; no jacket, garters on his arms, his tie tucked in, he appears to be taking a break, from a gaming table, perhaps, to pose with some visitors. Guests of some celebrity?

The fellow on the left of the saloon photo is a bit more interesting. Honestly, if cigar man wasn’t in this photo, I could easily be persuaded that HE was Lou. Here’s another comparison:

Lou and Joe

See what I mean?

In my dreams, here’s what I see…

Lou, Sam and kid brother Marvin visit the Deming area, and drop in to a local saloon for a visit. A picture is taken, with a croupier anxious to pose with the Famous Blonger Brothers.

Marvin? We have no photos of him. It’s easy to imagine, though, that Marvin resembled Lou. And Sam? Again, no photos (such a shame). We know he was a fairly imposing man, and perhaps as tall and lean as Lou was short and hefty.

It’s an enticing possibility. As I said, Scott takes a more factual approach. I’ve always been more inclined to conjecture — but then, I love to do it. And where’s the harm?

Ain’t Life Wonderful!


Dr. James


Sacramento  Daily Union, March 23, 1864

Stroud Theatre, Phoenix, 1883

Another piece of the puzzle — Blonger & Co. goes to Phoenix.

We have reams of information on Sam and Lou in 1882, when Sam was marshal of New Albuquerque, and the brothers had numerous and varied exploits, dutifully chronicled by the town newsmen.

The years that directly follow have been a bigger mystery. The brothers left Albuquerque sometime around the end of 1882. But to where?

Over time a few details have emerged. In 1884, Lou owned a saloon in San Bernardino, California. For Sam’s part, he raced his ponies in Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico in 1885. A later Supreme Court case(!) revealed testimony that Sam lived in Dodge City, Kansas that same year – bolstering earlier rumors of a Blonger visit to that town.

And then there’s the pension document Lou filed in 1887, from Deming, New Mexico, in which he stated:

“Since 83 until the present time here resided with Frank Thurmond at Silver City, Deming and Kingston New Mexico. And here been treated in that time by Dr. Innes, Kingston New Mexico and by Dr. McGuire, of same place present Post Office address Kingston Sierra Co New Mexico”

Now this:

Ira Stroud

According to the Phoenix Weekly Republican, in February of 1883 Ira Stroud sold a city lot to Gus Ellis & Co. The buildings on this prime piece of downtown property, a saloon and theater, were slated for destruction.


The lot itself, on the northwest corner of what are now Washington St. and 1st St., was at one time the location of the first store building to be erected in Phoenix, Hancock’s Store, opened in July 1871. It served as the town hall, county offices and general meeting place of early Phoenix.

Curiously, a week later, there were still performances at Stroud’s Theatre, and in March James Allen was busted in Stroud’s saloon for firing his weapon “in a promiscuous manner”. His prosecution was noted as the first of its kind in the territory. He got 6 months and fined $250.

Strouds gunplay

And finally to the point. In March and April, more ads for the theater were run, but this time with new proprietors – Blonger & Co.


Was this Lou? Sam? Both? Neither? Surely not the latter.

In his pension request, Lou doesn’t mention living in Phoenix (or San Bernardino, for that matter). But what about Sam? He did spend time in Arizona during this period. Sold a racehorse to Earp nemesis Johnny Behan in March of ’83, so there you go.

Anyway – a new star on the map, a new advertisement or two for the gallery, and a new joint for the list, a theater, no less. That’s a good day.

P.S. – Soapy Smith was in town that year as well, hawking his soap. Small world.

Sam and the Austin Stage

Details of Sam’s exploits during the Civil War years are few and far between, which is a real shame. The California Trail! An infant Denver! Driving a stage over the Sierras! And that’s just about all we know.  Imagine the epic story that’s just out of reach!

And then consider how much more Sam went on to experience. Puts every one of us to shame.

Anyway, we’ve always taken Sam’s stage driving stint with a pinch of salt. Sam’s obituary had him driving to Austin in 1860-61, which is possible, as far as we know — but Blonger obits have proven to be less than reliable.

Then came news, via Kenny Vail, that he’d come across two slight but revealing references to Sam, dated 1864 and 1865. To wit:

Reese River Reveille, November 24, 1864

Wadleigh & Wilson’s Stage. Arrivals from Virginia – D. Guion, Sam. Blonger, Mr. Shengler.

Reese River Reveille, February 28, 1865

By the Fast Freight – Left for the West. – H. A. Kelly, J. M. Irvine, H. B. Meredith, B. F. Gliddon, S. N. Blonger, Mr. Kamack.

So, Sam rode into Austin from Virginia City — recent home of reporter Sam Clemens and a young Calamity Jane — or perhaps from Sacramento, stayed three months, then went back across the desert and the mountains, and on to his mysterious dealings in Sacramento. Not much to go on, and yet…

Foremost, this is our first sighting of Sam in 1864, so that’s handy. It may now be safe to assume that he spent part of 1864 in Sacramento and/or Virginia City.

Second, this places him on a damn freight wagon heading into Austin, quite specifically, and as suggested by his obit — though in 1864, rather than ’60 or ’61. As Kenny Vail said:

I noticed on your website it says Austin boomed in ’62. This is not accurate. It really boomed in ’63, but was still drawing the sporting fraternity, San Francisco capitalists and Eastern investors well into ’64.

Thus, I found the likes of John Bull, Langford Peel, James Earp, Carberry, Spiker and a host of others gunmen not so well know – all there in ’64 before Blonger came on the stage. Even Frank Leslie and James Vogan made appearances in ’64.

And while we’re name dropping:

BTW, Austin was the Holy Hell coming out party for Jimmy Earp, who was about two years younger than Sam. Earp remained there for a total of 13 or 14 months, going to Idaho in fall 1865.

So what was Sam doing? His obit said he drove freight, but these notices aren’t explicit on that point. Kenny again:

In regards to the story of Sam driving a stage between Sacramento and Austin, allow me to set a backdrop for his Austin arrival that I found.

There was an alternative in transportation from the big-time Overland Stage & Mail Company, which blew half way across the continent, and then back on a daily basis. West-bound from Austin to Virginia City was a Fast Freight & Express Co. (also passengers) with proprietors Guion, Wadleigh and Wilson. Those were the three names usually advertised. Sometimes it was called “Guion, Wadleigh & Wilson’s Stage.”

They also ran the same business from Virginia to Sacramento. Daniel Guion was the oldest in the group (Born 1818 in England) and I believe he actually lived in Stockton where his wife and family were set up. I give you the following example because now I am wondering if Sam Blonger was connected with them:

“THE EXPRESS. – The Fast Freight express arrived yesterday evening, bringing a large lot of apples, peaches, new potatoes, cabbage, onions, also a lot of live domestic chickens and pigeons, which can be found for sale at the proprietors of the line, Guion & Wadleigh, on Main street. The express will leave at 8 o’clock this morning for Virginia, connecting with the Fast Freight Lines there.” [Reese River Reveille – Aug. 2, 1864]

Sam was traveling with one of the firm’s owners. Riding shotgun, maybe? A backup driver? We don’t know, but at least we now know where he was.

But more to the point, how much skepticism is required to doubt he gambled, drank, scouted, prospected, fought and rode, encountered Native Americans, and villains, real Western bad guys, and heroes and adventurers. He was himself a pioneer, traversing the Rockies by wagon, on foot or horseback, over and again, like he was going to the beach. I’d like to write that story.

Soapy Gets All The Breaks

Except maybe that one time in Skagway.

Ridley Scott’s Klondike starts Monday, January 20 on the Discovery Channel. The miniseries follows two young men into the heart of the Yukon gold rush.

Ian Hart plays Soapy. If we’re lucky the writers will throw us a bone and have Soapy say a little something about Denver. Sam and Lou may not have run Jeff out of town, exactly, but I suspect they were happy to see him go. One less competitor, after all.

Besides, the Smith boys were starting to give bunko men a bad name in Denver, beating the crap out of people (including the chief of police), and then coming into the Blonger place looking for trouble. And then Bascomb, in jail for the assaults, agrees to testify against Sam (to no avail). Thanks, bro.

The Blongers preferred a lower profile, anyway. Smith loved to be the center of attention, and it bit him in the ass, a couple of times. Lou on the other hand, increasingly kept his head down, all but disappearing from the news of the day, toiling on in the shadows, and on, and on, all the way to the bank…

And yet here we are, adding another to Smith’s long list of movies, tv shows, books, video games, cartoons, action figures, lunchboxes and collectible plates. Not to mention all the extant artifacts, like a match tin Soapy just found from the Tivoli Club. He comes across stuff like that all the time. The Blongers must not have been big on promotional items. Jeff Smith (the current one) did recently come across a tiny token for the Elite Saloon, but it was issued by subsequent owners, not the Blongers. Sigh.

Though jealous, I will be watching. Congrats, Soapy. Lucky bastard.

Blonger Day, cont.

As you may know, Blonger Day also includes the ritual “airing of grievances” – no, sorry, that’s Festivus – rather, it includes a recounting of the past year’s events (as bountiful or scanty as they may be), not to mention a peak at the year to come.

The Mark Inside

In April, author Amy Reading gave an interview on WILL about her new book “The Mark Inside.” Although the conversation never turned to Lou Blonger specifically, it was a great interview and a good plug for the subject of humbuggery in general.

The Mark Inside

Sam’s Grave

April also led us, finally, to Sam’s resting place. While we had thought Sam was in an unmarked grave in Denver’s Fairmount Cemetery, where both Lou and Sam’s wife Virginia are interred, he turned up on the Find-A-Grave website, resting quietly in Riverside Cemetery. We’ll visit this summer.

Sam Blonger's headstone, from the north?

This discovery inspired Scott to create a virtual Blonger cemetery plot. Here it is:

Sam’s Bad Habit

Friend of the show Kenny Vail forwarded an interesting item regarding Sam. Seems he was a fan of the opium pipe, which isn’t a shocker, really, but still news to us.

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

Bee Hive Blizzard

April also gave us the story of a spring snowstorm that stranded a train near Lou’s Bee Hive orchard in April of 1920. Students of the Colorado School of Mines weathered the storm at Lou’s house, dining on roast pork, and pushing on to Golden on foot the next day.

The Drunken Orgy

August brought us this editorial cartoon from the Denver Times, March 27, 1923. Scott photographed 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.


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.

As the jury began their deliberations at the trial’s end, the primary defendants – those wealthy enough to post bail – were anticipating the revocation of bail and the prospect of spending at least one night in jail. To make the most of their last night of freedom (at least until their ultimate victory) with a celebration hosted by Clarke, who procured several bottles of illegal spirits, and a few young ladies for good measure. Meanwhile, one floor below, Van Cise and his team worked on the case into the night.

Unfortunately for Clarke, the party did not escape the prosecutor’s notice, and the next day a grand jury was convened. Clarke lost his job, and the papers buzzed about the “drunken orgy” in the West Side Court.

Poor Wee Willie

August also brought news – again via Find-A-Grave – of yet another heretofore unknown Blonger; young Willie, son of Marvin, buried in Shoals, Indiana in October of 1879 at the tender age of 9 months.

Coming Attractions

As for the year ahead, we will be heading to Denver this summer, and though we won’t be doing research per se, we should have something to say, including, I’m sure, some photos and video.

Finally, work on a screenplay about the Blonger boys continues. Not gonna say too much about this one, except perhaps that it’s gonna to be epic, of course…


Ten Years After

Ten years after

Ten years ago today I made a surprising discovery.  While making my first foray into the new world of online genealogy, I found that my great-great-grandfather’s long-lost brother, Lou Blonger, had reigned for 30 years as the criminal kingpin of Denver, Colorado.  I also determined that no one else in my extended family knew anything about our distant uncle’s checkered past, and that even though he was once a household name in Denver, he was all but forgotten now.

That sounded like a good research project to me.

And a long one.  I knew that right from the start, even after roping my brother Craig into the deal, and sometimes brother Jeff.  There were five Blonger brothers who went west, after all: saloonkeeper Lou and his partner-in-crime Sam, itinerant prospector Joe, and mining men Simon and Marvin.  And with so many twists and turns in their stories, it seemed like many years of research – part-time, of necessity – would be involved.  Ten years down the line, we’ve learned so much, but have so far yet to go.

On this anniversary day I wanted to share a brief recap of some of the red-letter days of our search and pass along my thanks to a few of the many wonderful friends we’ve made along the way.

Here’s how it all happened:

April 22, 2003 – The key to finding the five lost Belonger brothers, missing since the 1870 census, turned out to be embarrassing simple: they had changed the spelling of their name to Blonger.  When a Google search revealed a Web site that mentioned Lou Blonger’s career as a criminal fixer in Denver, my jaw dropped.  The hunt was on.

May 10, 2003 – We made our first contact with Carolyn Salsman, a second cousin once removed.  As a family genealogist, she had plenty of information on our cousins but knew nothing of Lou Blonger’s criminal career.  Carolyn’s only information on Lou and his brother Sam was an account written by another distant cousin, Mary Virginia Armstrong, that described how they went west and became millionaires in the mining business.  The Armstrong account is based on interviews with Joe Blonger, and the colorful, sometimes unbelievable stories he told made us wonder whether he was a reliable witness.  But we were ready to check them out.

July 2003 – The late Joe Swinbank, the last remaining grand-nephew of the Blonger Brothers, sent a transcript of a family Bible with complete birth dates and places of the Blongers and their immediate family, including four brothers and sisters who died in childhood and were previously unknown.

July 30, 2003 – A previously planned trip to Colorado morphed into Blongermania.  Our first stop after arriving was Lou Blonger’s gravesite.  Then, at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Denver, Gavin and Mary Mallett gave us our first glimpse at memorabilia from Lou ‘s arrest and the treasure trove of newspaper clippings that awaited us, if a microfilm reader and several weeks’ worth of free time could be found.

August 16, 2003 – An inquiry to the Foothills Genealogical Society introduced us to Jack Davidson, a dedicated researcher who helped us locate dozens of Blonger articles and documents over the next few years, including Lou’s divorce record and the precise location of his Beehive Ranch in Lakewood, Colorado.

January 30, 2004 – Lou Blonger’s military pension file arrived in the mail.  The hundreds of pages of documentation confirmed many details of Lou’s life, including his marriage to Emma Loring, but many more questions were raised.  In particular, Lou’s exact whereabouts between 1882 and 1888 remain unclear to this day.

March 4, 2004 – Craig took the bull by the horns and hired a genealogist to investigate the claim made in Sam’s obituary that Sam was the marshal of Albuquerque in 1882.  It turned out to be true, and led to a flood of information about the five months when the Blonger Brothers ruled New Albuquerque with an iron fist.

March 30, 2004 – After an inquiry on a Wild West bulletin board, we heard from Western researcher the late Mark Dworkin, who informed us of an article linking Marshal Sam, or Lou, or both, to Wyatt Earp and his posse as they made their way out of Arizona after the “Vendetta Ride.”  The ensuing research led to membership in the Western Outlaw-Lawman History Association, a trip to the national convention in Santa Fe, and many friendly exchanges with Mark, Chuck Hornung, Allan Barra, Gary Roberts, Bob Alexander and Jan Devereaux, all outstanding Western historians.  We followed up with a thorough comparison and analysis of the two “Otero letters“.

May 19, 2004 – An email arrives from Jeff Smith, who had been perusing our Web site with great interest.  Jeff is the great-grandson of Jefferson “Soapy” Smith, the Wild West con man and Lou Blonger’s most important rival in Denver just before the turn of the century.  In the midst of writing a book (Alias Soapy Smith) about his famous ancestor, Jeff provided us with all kinds of information from his research.  Together we deciphered a letter from Soapy’s brother Bascomb and mined the Gale database of digitized Denver newspapers for further clues of Blonger and Smith affairs.  This research finally led us to the exact location of the Blongers’ Elite Saloon and news of its hasty demise. Recently Jeff provided us with a century-old token from the Elite.

July 16, 2005 – We met up with mining historian Bill Baxter in the Cerrillos Hills area south of Santa Fe.  Bill took us on a guided tour of some of the abandoned mine sites and presented us with a complete record of Joe Blonger’s mining claims and activity in the area from 1879 to 1887.  He also supplied us with water, without which the city boys from back east might not have survived the trek.

July 10, 2007 – Our old friend Judge Larry Bohning, who bought several copies of our reprinted cover of  Fighting the Underworld in 2004, met us for dinner in Denver with an idea: putting the name of District Attorney Philip Van Cise, who brought Lou Blonger to justice in 1922, on the city’s new jail.  A long campaigned ensued, led by Van Cise’s granddaughter Cindy Van Cise and her husband Simon Peter O’Hanlon, with considerable support coming from Denver reporter Alan Prendergast.  After the city council rejected the proposal, Mayor John Hickenlooper rode to the rescue and the Van Cise-Simonet Detention Center was dedicated on April 14, 2010.

July 18, 2007 – We heard from Merideth Hmura after a family member tipped off about our Web site.  Merideth is related to Carrie Viles, who was ever so briefly Joe Blonger’s wife.  Three months later,  Merideth traveled to Bloomington, treated us to dinner, and offered a meticulously researched collection of Joe and Carrie’s days at the Mountain View Ranch in Cowles, New Mexico.  She too has a book in print (Mountain View Ranch).

July 23, 2007 – During the Blonger Convergence Tour stop in Cripple Creek, Craig rooted up a detailed history of the Forest Queen Mine written by Jim Jackson, grandson of one of Lou and Sam’s partners.  That led to an email exchange with Mr. Jackson, who graciously donated correspondence from the Blonger brothers and their wives, the only personal items we have so far been able to locate, as well as historic photos of the mine and maps of its interior.

November 6, 2009 — Amy Reading got hold of us regarding a new book she was writing about Frank Norfleet, the Texas rancher who, while tracking down the con men who had swindled him a year earlier, became a willing victim in the sting that brought down the Blonger gang.  The second half of The Mark Inside, published by Knopf in spring of 2012, deals extensively with Lou Blonger and his criminal enterprise, putting the Blonger name back into the national consciousness for the first time since the 1936 release of Fighting the Underworld.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been ten years since this started.  As is evident from the timeline, the first five years were a whirlwind, with new leads being developed practically every month.  The pace has slowed considerably in the last five years as the best sources have been exhausted and other priorities have arisen.  I will greatly miss the friends we made who are no longer with us.  But fear not, Blonger friends and family — the search will go on, for as long as it needs to, for as long as we can.  Thanks for sticking with us.

SJ – 4/22/2013

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.