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.

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.)