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.

WIFE FEARS THAT FORMER MARSHAL WILL MURDER HER

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:

LOST AND FOUND

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.

BURGLARS TAKE WOMEN’S DRESSES

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.”

AN ARTISTS CREATION

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.”

BURGLARS DRIVEN AWAY FROM RICHES

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.

WOMAN UNDER THE HEELS OF RUNAWAY COLT

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.

TAX SALE

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.

The Widow Viles

Carrie Viles

Carrie Winsor Viles Blonger Hume

We’ve long known that Joe’s only marriage to widow Carrie (Winsor) Viles didn’t last long. A new article from the Albuquerque Daily Citizen, by way of the Las Vegas Optic, colorfully describes just how short it was.

UNLUCKY NUMBER

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

This is of particular interest in that we have recently been corresponding with Carrie’s grand niece, Sara Winsor Johnson (no relation to us).

Sara informs us that Carrie is remembered in the Winsor family as something of a dingbat. Sara’s grandfather recalled having to bail her out after her first husband died, and then when she and Joe split up. When her third husband, Ben Hume, died, she was on her own.  For what it’s worth, Joe is recalled as the best of her three husbands. Not sayin’ much, I guess.

According to Sara, the Winsor family — Windsor in some branches — can trace its roots back to William the Conqueror, and first came to these shores in 1638. Carrie, if I recall, was born in Vermont, just like all the Blongers.

As for those “herediments,” the story is a confusing one.

In March of 1892, Joe traveled far up the Pecos valley, north of Cowles, NM, to a place still barely accessible today. There he claimed 160 acres straddling the Pecos River as a homestead. (Just days later Sam and Lou would strike it big on the Forest Queen claim on Ironclad Hill, outside of Cripple Creek.)

Joe then went on to prospect in Colorado, Nevada, and Cochiti, north of Albuquerque. This is curious considering that a homestead claim must be occupied and developed to be retained. So how could Joe claim a homestead, and yet continue his itinerant ways?

In June of 1895, Carrie’s first husband, Charles Viles, passed away, and three months later she purchased Joe’s 160 acres. In 1896 she had a small cabin built.

In 1897 Joe was in Bonanza, and he bought property in Santa Fe. Carrie bought an additional piece of land in the Pecos valley. Then, in January of 1898, Joe finally recorded his 160 acre homestead.

In August Joe shot and killed Alexander Allan, operator of the Bottom Dollar Mine in the Cerrillos Hills, after Allan brandished a gun and threatened to kill Joe’s fellow miner Silas Smith with a rock. His trial was December 22, 1898, and he was acquitted.  About that time Carrie sold 140 acres of the land.

Joe continued mining around Cerrillos and Santa Fe. Then, in 1902, he finally married Carrie.

Less than three months later, they divorced, and Joe went back to the desert mountains of Cerrillos. The question then becomes, did they marry to somehow settle the rights to the land? Was Joe just doing Carrie a favor? Or was it truly love gone bad?

As for the land itself, it was eventually developed it into a dude ranch known as Mountain View.  In the late Seventies it was bought by the government, and is now just a meadow.

Mountain View

Mountain View Ranch

The Mark Inside on WILL

Sounds like Amy Reading will be doing another interview about The Mark Inside, this time in our old stomping ground, Urbana, on WILL-AM, the local NPR affiliate. Listen in on April 25th, or check it out afterward on the net.

Amy says her recent interview on NPR’s Saturday Edition was much longer than what was broadcast, and discussion of Lou got cut. Oh well. The WILL interview should be an hour, I’m thinking, so it should be well worth a listen.

Great New Photos

Amy Reading came up with a few photos for her book that are new to us. These two photos, for instance, of Blonger gang members Adolph Duff and George Belcher.

Adolph Duff

Kid Duffy didn't realize it was picture day

“Kid Duffy” managed the big store for Lou; as a matter of fact, Lou tried to throw him under the bus at trial, claiming they mostly just shared an office.

George Belcher

Tip wishes he'd gotten that haircut

“Tip” Belcher was the Blonger gang’s muscle, on hand when the touch came to make sure the money was safe even if the swindle went south.

I’m guessing both these photos were taken the day of the arrest, maybe even in the church basement that was used as a makeshift jail. Neither man seems yet reconciled to his fate.

This next one is “Big Joe” Furey, the leader of the gang that took rancher J. Frank Norfleet for $45,000. Furey worked Denver during the summer under Lou’s protection, but he could be found across the country, from California to Texas to New York to Florida, working the same game. I have long wondered what he looked like, but always thought he had the greatest name among a host of great monikers.

Joe Furey

Big Joe Furey looking dapper

Finally there’s this photo of Lou. We already had version, but this one is much better.

Lou Blonger

Another mugshot of Lou

Amy Reading on NPR

Amy more than held her own with Scott Simon last Saturday. You can listen in here: http://www.npr.org/2012/03/24/149148112/the-big-con-if-you-cant-avoid-it-avenge-it

True, she didn’t get around to Lou (it was only a seven minute segment), but we forgive her. Great job, Amy!

We’ll have more to say on her book, The Mark Inside, soon.

The Mark Inside

Looks like Lou will be coming soon to an NPR station near you.

The Mark Inside

Author Amy Reading will be on Weekend Edition with Scott Simon this coming Saturday, March 24th, to talk about her new book The Mark Inside (Random House Digital, Inc.).

For what it’s worth, she will also be on a Denver noontime TV news show on Wednesday (don’t have the details), and signing books at Boulder Bookstore on Thursday, March 22, at 7:30. 

Reading’s book focuses on Texas rancher Frank Norfleet’s quest to bring every member of the Furey gang to justice after they swindled him — twice — for a total of some $45,000. That would be some half-million bucks today. In the end his obsession brought him to Denver, then the epicenter of the American con, just in time to help Philip Van Cise spring his trap and bring down Lou’s machine in flames. District Attorney Van Cise convinced Norfeet to reprise his role as a sucker to help gather information on Lou’s Denver operation.

We first heard from Amy back in 2009, when her research led her to our site. In time she shared a few interesting items with us, including a depostion by Lou where he tries desperately to distance himself from his Big Store manager Adolph Duff.

My copy of the book is currently enroute, but Scott has had a look, and he is very suitably impressed — as is David Mamet, I might add, who wrote “Most scholarship reads like a trip to the dentist. The Mark Inside reads like a trip to the track.” Amy has really gone through the Denver archives with a fine-toothed comb, something we still hope to manage someday.

We will have more to say later; we justed wanted to give folks a heads up for this week’s interview.

Killer Kate Blonger Apprehended at Last!

Killed By a Woman

Back in 2003, one of the very first items we found when we began searching the Internet was an article about a prostitute by the name of Kitty Blonger. On February 22, 1888, in the mining town of Peach Springs, AT, Kitty was arrested for the murder of blacksmith Charles Hill.

It became clear early on that the name Blonger was (and remains) nearly unique to the five male sons of Simon Belonger who went west, and their families. None of them have known living descendants. So who was Kitty? A wife? Marriage records beg to differ. A daughter? The evidence suggests otherwise. So who was she?

That morning in 1888 Charles Hill, a family man, became enraged when he found his favorite prostitute in bed with another man – a tinhorn gambler, no less, who they called “Kid” Fay. Hill thus proceeded to bash in the door of Kitty’s room in the rear of Somerset’s saloon, and to give the Kid a sound thrashing.

According to court testimony, Kitty then produced a pistol, and shot old Charlie Hill in the head. Reeling backward, Hill fell through the doorway and into the hall, his brains spilling across the floor. Within moments, other patrons of the saloon rushed to the scene to find Kitty, gun in hand, saying “He broke my door open and I killed him, and I don’t allow no son of a bitch to break my door.”

Kitty and Fay were both arrested, and she was nearly lynched. A few days later they were both in Kingman awaiting trial.

Lou Steps Up

Which brings us to our next clue, discovered some months later. Shortly after Kitty’s arrival in Kingman, the local paper reports that one L. Blonger, of San Bernardino, California, had arrived in town. Until this moment, we had toyed with the idea that Kitty, sometimes called Kate, might be Joe’s common-law wife; Joe was a bachelor for most of his life. We couldn’t rule it out. But suddenly Lou seemed the more likely candidate for some kind of romantic link to Kitty.

Kid Fay

Dayton M. “Kid” Fay was the son of prominent Prescott publisher Artemis Fay, and the young gambler’s legal counsel, E. M. Sanford, esq., was suitably top notch. In fact, in short order the court moved to “ignore” Fay’s case, and he went free.

Though Kitty had a rougher time, she did, somehow, manage to retain Fay’s attorneys. After three days of testimony the judge instructed the jury to return a verdict of not guilty, and they complied.

Kitty, only the second woman in Arizona to be tried for murder, was remarkably composed throughout the trial, but on hearing the verdict she broke down and began to weep uncontrollably. Before leaving the courthouse, she told a reporter that she was going back east to the bosom of her family. This was not to be.

But who paid for Kitty’s hot shot lawyer? Fay’s father? Did Sanford take the case Pro Bono? Or had Lou come to Kitty’s rescue? And if he did, what was his motivation?

Albuquerque

About a year later, a research trip to New Mexico turned up more clues. An article in the Albuquerque Evening Citizen, dated to the time of Kitty’s trial, mentioned in passing that Kitty was a “sporting woman formerly of this city.” Sam and Lou, of course, were in Albuquerque in 1882 — that was the subject of our trip to that city.

Then we found an article from September of 1882 describing an altercation between Lou and a companion, a bartender and gas balloonist who went by the name of “Professor” Park Van Tassel. On a visit to a local house of ill repute, the well-lubricated “aeronaut” happened to say something to the madam of the house that Lou deemed inappropriate. Lou showed his displeasure by pistol-whipping his friend, twice, knocking him to the floor, and then tossing his cocked gun to Van Tassel’s chest, muttering “You son of a bitch, you can’t talk to my woman that way.” The house, the news reiterated, was run by “Blonger’s woman” — thus all but declaring Lou a pimp.

For his part, Marshal Sam Blonger was never mentioned in connection with this whorehouse on Fourth Street, though he probably didn’t need to be. In fact, though the Blongers are often described as having a long history of offering sex for sale as well as liquor and gambling, hard evidence to that effect is scant. The Albuquerque episode is the only connection we have ever found between the Blongers and a particular brothel.

Mollie Blonger

About this same time, we learned from historian Chuck Hornung that hookers often took (and take, I suppose) the surname of their pimp – and maybe a new first name to boot, for good measure. That would explain a lot. Kitty had been part of Lou’s “stable” in Albuquerque, and had taken his name has her own. By 1888 she had drifted to Peach Springs, no doubt under the wing of some other pandering barkeep.

In fact, another article found on the same outing, coincidentally dated just two days after the conclusion of Kitty’s trial, indicated that one Mollie Blonger had just been detained in Albuquerque for “maintaining a nuisance” — legalese for running a brothel. Now we were wondering just how many soiled doves named Blonger were going to turn up. By 1888 both Sam and Lou had long been married (Sam since 1866, Lou since 1882), and yet there were still these women, popping up here and there, still going by the Blonger name years later as they continued to ply their trade across the Mountain West. I would point out that this could strain a marriage, but if being a pimp doesn’t strain a marriage, I don’t know what would.

While it was tempting to suggest that Kitty was “Lou’s woman,” the existence of Mollie emphasized that this was still an open question. Adding to the confusion, Lou got married for the first time late that year, in San Francisco, to a girl named Emma Loring. Might Emma also be Kate or Mollie? Or another girl from the house? Nothing to support that. Likewise we couldn’t confirm Lou was the romantic link to Kitty, though his connection to the brothel, coupled with his presence at the trial in Kingman, did seem to suggest it. In fact, I was certain of it.

Our only other clues were two dead letters addressed to Kitty, one in Aspen in 1889, and one in Deadwood in 1893. It looked as though Killer Kate had gone underground, never to be seen again.

And then, just a few days ago, a break in the case.

Mrs. Domedion

Denver Post, October 21, 1893, front page, center column. Two US Deputy Marshals are in hot water; charged with transporting a prisoner from Denver to Philadelphia, the suspect’s wife had boarded in Chicago, and the couple had gone AWOL upon arriving in Pennsylvania. The assumption was that the wife had boarded with a satchel full of cash, and the cops had looked the other way at an opportune moment.

Of more interest to us was the assertion that one of the marshals, Davis by name, had taken along a companion, a woman by the name of Kate Blonger. Interesting. And she was known around town by other names as well. In fact, it was as Mrs. Hank Domedion that she reportedly ran a “rooming house” on Curtis.

Adding insult to injury, the Post asserted that by virtue of Marshal Davis’ address, Kate was the deputy’s landlady to boot, and that “by reason of his handsome face, manly form and official position,” he had become “the star boarder of the Chicago block.”

Naturally we found the story entertaining; we’re as curious about Kitty as we are about any of the Belonger boys, and it was good to get a bead on her once again. But there was something familiar about the name Domedion; Scott and I both thought we’d come across it before.

Sam In Love

Upon Sam’s return from the West after the Civil War, he married Ella Livingston of Mt. Carroll, Illinois, the sixteen-year-old sister of Lou’s army buddy William. As far as we can tell, Ella – and her extended family – then traveled along with Sam and Lou as they relocated, once a year, like clockwork, from Iowa to Salt Lake City, where they had their first saloon, to Stockton and Dry Canyon, Virginia City, Cornucopia, Tuscarora and Silver Reef, following the booms, prospecting some, and running their various saloons and gambling halls – and, I suppose, brothels. Did “the girls” follow from town to town as well?

Then finally the gang landed in Denver, in the year 1879. Though they seem to have spent a fair amount of time in Georgetown, where they had a theater, and Leadville, where they had mining claims, and Sam even ran (unsuccessfully) for mayor, at that point Denver was a home of sorts, and it appeared they might settle in for the long haul.

But for whatever reason, the boys soon got hungry again, for the road and adventure and opportunity, and they were gone by the end of 1881, to Albuquerque, a new brothel, and a sweet new gig as town marshal for Sam. Ella remained behind in Denver, with their two children, Mable and Frank. Lou’s wife Emma was apparently MIA.

After Albuquerque, Lou wandered south to Deming, and by 1885 he was running a saloon in San Bernardino, California. Sam was running horses here and there, and otherwise hanging around Aspen.

Then, in 1888, Sam and Lou finally reunited in Denver, anxious to see what they could make of themselves in this burgeoning western metropolis – and their wives weren’t invited to the party. Within a year they were both divorced, Lou claiming the elusive Emma Loring had abandoned him.

Curiously, both remarried within weeks. Lou married Cora (Nola) Lyons, an actress, so they say, and they would stay together – despite Lou’s twenty-year affair with mistress Iola Readon, aka Blanche Blonger.

Sam, on the other hand, married Mrs. Sadie Wilson, twenty days after his divorce. And just four years later she would divorce him, on grounds of extreme cruelty. Several savage beatings were recounted in the news. An Albuquerque paper decried the crude and dangerous man that Denver had made of Marshal Sam.

And yet, shortly thereafter, Sam married Virginia Pierrepont, widow of a local fireman – though by doing so he apparently reneged on yet another promise of matrimony to one Jesse Wheat, who sued Sam for $25,000. Sam and Virginia remained together until Sam’s death in 1914.

Alias Sadie Wilson

Sadie remarried too, as it turns out, to a saloon owner by the name of Henry J. Domedion — but folks just called him Hank.

Yes, Kate “Kitty” Blonger was Mrs. Hank Domedion. And Sam’s second wife Sadie Wilson would later marry Henry J. Domedion. The circle was complete; Sam was the link. In fact, their relationship may have been longstanding even at the time of Sam’s divorce from Ella in 1889, maybe even causing the split.

Our Story So Far

Mrs. Sadie Wilson, maiden name unknown, was a prostitute for Sam and Lou back in 1882, and she shot Charles Hill in 1888. She married Sam in 1889 after breaking up his marriage, and then divorced him four years later when she could no longer tolerate his cruelty. She then married another barkeep, and by 1903 she was involved with a crooked US Marshal.

That about sums it up. Kate/Kitty/Sadie has suddenly become a much more important figure in what has already turned out to be a sweeping drama.

Joe Finally Shows His Face

Well, new information has been scant in recent months, but yesterday Scott turned on the spigot. Several new items from genealogybank.com are now in the pipe, and one in particular that solves a longstanding mystery.

But first, since we were just talking about him behind his back, let’s briefly get back to Little Big Joe Blonger.

For what it’s worth, I feel a particular bond with Joe, the worn out old scout and prospector, and I’ve always been disappointed I couldn’t put a face to the character I’ve spent so much with over the last few years.

Frankly, Joe’s position in this story particularly lends itself to the duties of the narrator, and I sorely wanted to be able to see the man telling his stories, hopefully with a visage worthy of Eastwood, or HBO, at least.

Nevertheless, I was fully prepared that we might never find a photograph. I was incorrect. The following is from the Denver Post, September 13, 1912. I give you Uncle Joe Blonger.

 Joe Blonger

Isn’t he cute? He’s exactly what I would want from a genial old prospector.

Of course, we knew about the bullet, from an AP wire service article just two sentences in length, from the Armstrong account, and Joe’s pension records. But this article was long enough to answer another question, about Joe’s service with the 25th Michigan Infantry. Had Joe returned to service after his wound, possibly accompanying Sherman on his march to the sea?

Though he did muster out with his regiment, it sounds as though he did not return to action after his injury. It’s also interesting to hear that, despite chronic discomfort, Joe feared the surgeons more, and opted to stick with his little lead companion.

Grandpa Mike

For those of you who are unfamiliar with our website and version 1.0 of our blog, we’re starting out by taking a brief look at each of the Blonger brothers. In that spirit, let’s continue with great-great-grandpa Mike Belonger.

Mike and his daughter Clara

Mike and his daughter Clara

Born in 1841, Mike was the only brother of six that never adopted the Blonger spelling. He was also the only brother with living descendants – no surprise given he had nine daughters and a son, though his son was childless. Mike’s daughter Mary begat our grandfather, Orville Braley, whose daughter Charlotte June is our mother.

Mike’s primary claim to fame seems to be his talent with a fiddle. According to family lore, the famed Norwegian violinist Ole Bull, who toured the Wisconsin backwoods on several occasions, is said to have noted that “Mike Belonger has the world beat when it comes to playing reels, jigs, and clogs, on a fiddle.” Kudos to Mike for being an early proponent of World Beat music.

What’s more, Mike also had a fan in future president Ulysses S. Grant, who is said to have thought him “the best dance-fiddler on earth.” While this may seem to be a stretch, it’s more plausible than it sounds. Prior to the Civil War, Grant – already considered a hero of the Mexican-American War – was having a tough time in civilian life, and eventually went to work in his father’s leather goods store in Galena, Illinois, just a stone’s throw from the Belonger homestead in southern Wisconsin.

Mike's Fiddle

Mike's fiddle

 

The back of Mike's fiddle

HOPE

With the outbreak of war, Mike was one of the first to enlist, joining Company I of the 3rd Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry on May 8, 1861. After training on a hilltop perched above the family homestead, Mike soon found himself bound for Maryland.

The 3rd Wisconsin had a distinguished record, and we assume Mike played his part. The 3rd began its service by arresting the Maryland Legislature in September of 1861.

But here the record becomes a bit more mysterious.

In March of 1862 the 3rd made its way into the Shenandoah Valley to confront Stonewall Jackson, but the Federal plan went awry and Mike was among those routed in the First Battle of Winchester. This is from Mike’s service pension file:

“While in said service, and in the line of his duty as a soldier, at Culpepper Courthouse, Va., or near there, in August or September, 1862, the command in which he was, was cut off from communication with its base of supplies, and for want of food & nourishment he was for several days nearly starved, by reason of which he incurred disease of heart and rheumatic affection of the entire left side. For this disease he was taken to Columbia College hospital in September or October, 1862, where he remained until about the first of January, 1863. He was removed from said Hospital to Convalescent Camp at Alexandria, Va., from which he was discharged.”

The dates here, fuzzy at best, are critical. Was Mike relieved of duty after Winchester? Did he later fight with his company at Cedar Mountain, or Second Bull Run? More to the point, did he make it to the infamous cornfield at Antietam? Of 335 men in 3rd Wisconsin Infantry, over half (173) were wounded and 27 were killed at Sharpsburg.

Mike’s record only muddies the waters.

Mar. 10, 1886, Surgeon’s certificate recommending a total pension: “That he first noticed a severe pain in his heart at battle of Antietam, Vir. 1862. He was sent to hospital where he remained over 6 weeks.”

Okay. Grandpa Mike did his bit, and fought side by side with his Shullsburg buddies at one of the most horrific skirmishes in the history of American warfare. Other medical entries don’t contradict this conclusion.

Sept., 1862, Surgeon’s certificate recommending a pension: “Claims he incurred disease of the heart from exposure, hunger & hard marching in summer & fall of ’62 near Winchester, Va. He once marched 35 miles in 5 hours & again marched 3 days without a mouthful of food. Was disabled & sent to a hospital at Washington for 2 or 3 weeks & discharged on account of disability.”

Oct. 1862, Company Muster Roll: “absent sick in hospital since Sept. 20/62 place unknown”

But not so fast. Later records seem to disagree.

Dec. 1862, Company Muster Roll: “absent sick in hospital place unknown since Sept. 15 1862”

That’s two days before Antietam.

Dec., 1886, Affidavit of Michael Belonger protesting reduction in pension: “I received my breast trouble during Banks’ retreat from Winchester. I was sent from Culpepper to the hospital at Washington with the same trouble in my breast. It was Columbia College hospital, from there I was sent to Convalescent hospital near Alexandria, and was discharged as I believe for my breast trouble.”

That would be back in May, even before Cedar Mountain.

June 20, 1888, Surgeon’s certificate recommending a total pension: “In 1862 at Williamsburg, Virg., got disease of heart, later was sent to Columbia College hospital, there about 6 weeks. On his request to be sent Regiment he was sent away [sic]. Did not find Reg and was sent to Convalescent Camp in Md. and was discharged 10 days after.”

This is even stranger. Williamsburg should probably be Winchester. And what is meant by “later sent to Columbia…” Before Antietam? After? It’s also curious to hear that he both requested to return to duty, and that he was unsuccessful in doing so.

Mar. 23, 1890, Surgeon’s certificate recommending a 10/18 pension: “Contracted heart disease near Winchester, Va., on Gen. Banks retreat – did not go to hospital then but did in September November following and remained there until discharged for disability in January 1863.”

Jan. 28, 1891, Surgeon’s certificate recommending a 12/18 pension: “Contracted heart disease summer of 62 in Va. near Winchester not in hospital at that time afterward in Columbia College hospital – for six weeks – then went into Convalescent Camp and discharged on account of disability.”

These entries suggest that Mike was not immediately relieved of duty after Winchester. Currently I’m inclined to believe that Mike fought on after Winchester, even as his condition worsened over the summer of 1862. Perhaps the stress of battle at Antietam finally sent him over the edge.

Then again, from time to time I change my mind and find myself dubious that he ever fought again after Bank’s retreat across the Potomac.

Or maybe Mike just had a bad case of diarrhea.

Dec., 1893, Surgeon’s certificate making no recommendation: “Had diarrhoea in Va. in 1862, September went to Col. College Hospt., Wash. D.C., & has left me with chronic constipation.”

In any case, Mike returned home to Shullsburg, where he married and raised a family, and remained there rest of his life. We have heard his doctor prescribed two bottles of wine a day to ease his pain, and Mike complied.

Mike died in 1924, not long after Lou, leaving Joe the last of the Blonger brothers.