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The Famous Blonger Bros.


April 2005


Albuquerque, 1882, His Brother's Keeper, Part IV

Sam goes to Denver and leaves Lou in charge. Wyatt Earp and his boys are in town for a few days, laying low. So, what kind of week did Marshal Lou Blonger have?

Apr 20: Lou arrests two "young rats" who stole silverware from their employer, Leonie Winter, one of those women who, "from the nature of their business, have to do a good deal of confiding."

Apr 21: Someone breaks a couple of Leonie's windows, and a few as well at "555." Lou says he knows who did it, "and if they want to avoid trouble they had better 'walk up to the cap'n's office and settle' to-day."

Apr 22: Lou receives a telegram to watch out for "Gambler Jim," wanted for robbery. He makes an arrest, but decides he has the wrong man and sets him free.

Apr 23: Lou arrests two men for stealing horsehides when they try to fence the goods.

Apr 24: Lou arrests a drunk, then discovers the next morning that the man is recovering from smallpox, but still covered with disgusting scabs. Lou offers to forgo prosecution if he skips town. The man obliges.

Later that night, Lou runs in James Downing on a charge of drunk and disorderly after he frightened some of the girls at 77 Fourth street with a six-gun.

Sam telegraphs from Denver that he will be back next Thursday.

Apr 25: Lou arrests Charles Wallace for passing a forged check for $15. Wallace was found in a gambling room, where he had blown all the cash.

Apr 28: Lou puts two vagrants on a train.

Apr 29: The Earp posse moves on to Colorado around this date.

Apr 30: Lou "jugged two Mexicans last night who were displaying their six-shooters in the dance hall."

May 3: By this date, Lou is noted as checking in to a hotel, listed as Louis Blonger, Las Vegas. Has he been living in Las Vegas? We have no other such indication. It's just strange that he would be marshal one day, and three days later describing himself as resident of a town miles away.

Perhaps Lou left town with Sam's return, eager to address some opportunity in Las Vegas. Regardless, he's back by late May.

Bottom line, the Earp boys were good, and things in town were generally quiet. If Lou shirked his duty, neither paper made a point of saying so.


Albuquerque, 1882, His Brother's Keeper, Part V

Okay, so Lou had a fairly uneventful tenure as marshal, notwithstanding the difficulty inherent in disarming a drunk waving a revolver. Or two. So what else was Lou up to?

May 4: U.S Deputy Marshal Tony Neis arrives in town from Santa Fe. Neis accompanied Bob Olinger while taking Billy the Kid to trial in 1881. He is in town to start a branch office of the Rocky Mountain Detective Association.

May 8: Sam informs the Review that he won't be talking with their reporters anymore. The Review indicates that its crime news will therefore now be more accurate.

May 10: The Journal mentions an undescribed wanton incident having to do with "that class of people who are of no use whatever but a nuisance to society." They lobby for more help for Sam.

May 11: The Review accuses the Journal of being in Sam's pocket, and claims that everyone knows that Sam isn't out "hunting for dangerous characters or criminals."

May 12: In an open letter in the Journal, Sam rebuts the charges of non-performance of duty leveled by the Review.

May 13: Tony Neis states that Sam has been appointed "agent of the detective force" for the precinct.

May 21: Lou makes an arrest in a robbery in which Tony Neis had been relieved of $200. The AMJ praises the quick work of Sam and Lou. The article goes on to state: "They are now members of the Rocky Mountain Detective association at this place."

May 23: Lou fires a warning shot in the course of capturing a hash fiend who had beaten a "widow woman."

May 27: Sam presents Tony Neis with a badge.

That covers the spring. Lou seems content in the role of lawman. Still nothing untoward reported, beyond that cashed check, but that's a petty slim case, no matter how you slice it. It's interesting to note the lack of reporting regarding bunco activity. Are con games on the list of sordid activities being decried by the AER? They don't say. Good bet though.


Albuquerque, 1882, His Brother's Keeper, Part VI

Our story so far: Lou arrives in town in February, is caught helping filch a few bucks from a sucker, and then heartily goes to work as a deputy marshal, and even marshal for a bit. He even becomes associated with Tony Neis and the RMDA. Meanwhile, Sam is lambasted by some as ineffectual, praised by others as efficient.

But is policework Lou's primary profession? He is never referred to by any other trade. He doesn't seem to be running a saloon, or a theater. Sam does go to Denver on behalf of the Star Mine. Perhaps they have mining interests in the area.

Lou was a noted gambler, of course, and gambler was sometimes trade enough, though it often led to other pursuits as well.

June 7: Two veteran grifters arrive in Albuquerque: Bill Nuttall and C.W. Caddigan.

Billy Nuttles and Con Caddican, two of the most popular variety actors of Leadville, are in the city. They have some intention of leasing Smith & Snyder's opera house if they can make satisfactory arrangements, and if they succeed in this the boys will have some fine evenings of entertainment.

They had made their way from Deadwood — where Hickok died in Nuttall's saloon in 1876 — to Denver and Leadville in 1879, and finally to Albuquerque. In fact, Nuttall had a theater in Leadville at the same time Sam was running for mayor, and Lou was running a theater a few miles away in Georgetown. Now here they all are in Albuquerque, a town suddenly teeming with travelers, workmen and miners, all with money to lose. And guess who's in charge? Gambler Sam and his canny brother Lou.

June 8: Sam goes to Santa Fe in a bid for a deputy U.S. marshalship.

July 8: Sam goes to Kansas City for ten days. Now it's starting to sound like he's losing interest.

July 10: Sam and Lou are relieved of duty.

July 13: Con Caddigan replaces Sam.

July 18: Sam returns, and the AMJ states that Sheriff Armijo offers him his job back, but Sam graciously declines.

July 27: Lou mysteriously appears as the mastermind behind the arrest of a jewel thief. The following is not the only reference we have to Lou "inducing" a confession:

A day or two before Goodman was arrested suspicion was directed toward him, and Lou Blonger sent a man to him asking about the stolen jewelry and offering to buy it. He fell into the trap and it was ascertained beyond a doubt that he was implicated in the burglary, but before any positive evidence could be obtained he became suspicious of Blonger and refused to compromise himself further. He was arrested Monday by Judge Sullivan and locked up.
[Judge] Sullivan and [Lou] Blonger put their heads together Tuesday and in the evening Goodman was taken from the jail and induced by Blonger to go with him and show the hiding place of the jewelry. A small portion of the stolen goods was brought to light from an old adobe house in the northern outskirts of the city. The remainder Goodman has disposed of but just how he refused to state.

We know Sam and Lou are no longer marshals. Are they still deputy sheriffs? Maybe. More likely, if Lou is "sending men" anywhere, he is working as a detective, a private dick maybe. Neis has yet to establish his branch office. Could Lou nevertheless be working under the auspices of the RMDA? Sam too?

July 28: The AMJ states that "quite a number" of prominent local businessmen want Sam back.

Aug 6: Armijo rejects a petition to reinstate Sam.

Aug 8: Marshal Caddigan is on the move, and the AMJ is right behind him (surprised?):

Con Caddigan is on deck again with his street cleaning brigade. It's hard to tell what would become of us if it were not for our very efficient marshal. He should have the thanks and support of every citizen.

Aug 23: Tony will soon open his office, Sam will be collecting money to pay for it.

Aug 26: The office opens.

Sept 7: Sam goes to Prescott, Arizona, to open a hotel.

Sept 12: Lou gets in trouble, and in so doing tells us something about Lou we would otherwise not have known — that Lou's unnamed female companion was a madam. Was Lou a pimp?

The AMJ neglects to mention Lou, or the Professor:

A disreputable fight occurred Sunday morning in the opium den near the corner of Fourth street and Railroad avenue between a gambler and a disreputable woman. The woman proved herself to be the best man. These hop joints are becoming the worst kind of nuisances, and some means should be devised to remove them, or at least to keep them orderly.

The AER is considerably less diplomatic:

Lou Blonger assaults Park Van Tassel and Will Roast on the Legal Gridiron
Early this morning a party of three men, Lou Blonger and Park Van Tassel being two of them, went on a sightseeing expedition and in the course of their rambles reached that unsavory portion of Fourth street, north of Railroad avenue, occupied for the most part by houses which sell virtue by retail. One of them, kept by Blonger's woman, the trio entered, and began to amuse themselves, Van Tassel and the woman commencing a jocular conversation. Some remark used by Van Tassel angered Blonger, who without warning brought down his heavy stick on the aeronaut's head, following this blow by another and a heavier one with a long 45 revolver, which he drew immediately, in the same place. Springing back he then cocked the gun and threw it down on Van Tassel, with the exclamation.
"You s— of a b—, you can't talk to my woman in that way."
Van Tassel had jumped up when struck the first time, but the second blow stunned him and he fell to the floor. Blonger attempted no further violence, and the wounded man was taken to the office of a physician where his wounds were dressed.
This morning a warrant was issued for Blonger's arrest on the charge of assault with intent to kill. He was arrested, waived examination and was [held?] over in the sum of 3500 to appear at the October [district court?].

We don't know what happened in court.

Sept 14: Sam returns, anxious to set up shop in Prescott.

Sept 16: Lou and Tony Neis go "down the road" together.

Oct 14: Neis returns with two criminals he had been hunting. One would assume at this point that Lou accompanied Neis to assist in the manhunt.

Nov 2: The Cerrillos New Mexican castigates Neis for not stopping more crime.

Nov 3: And then this, an anonymous open letter in the AMJ, leveling charges of organized criminal activity:

And Still They Come.
To The Editor:
I fully endorse the sentiment of the last issue of The Journal in reference to the manner that affairs are conducted by those in power in Albuquerque. It has become a matter of comment throughout the whole country that the gang run the town. The communication of Santiago Baca has the true ring. The time has come when hold-ups and thieves must take a back seat. The experience of this country is the same as all new countries, the rough and cheeky scoundrels take precedence in the control of public affairs, and hold on until they are literally driven out by the better element of society. I trust the good work begun by the citizens of Albuquerque will be carried out to the utmost, and that they will not flag in their efforts until the gang are forced to retire and earn an honest livelihood.

To whom might he be referring? It's a big town, could be lots of folks.

Nov 5: Santiago Baca pledges that, if elected sheriff, he'll only appoint marshals that are completely acceptable to local business.

Next, the final chapter.


Albuquerque, 1882, His Brother's Keeper, Part VII

So. Lou is actually most often referred to in the news as a deputy marshal, a marshal, and a detective of some sort. He cashes a check for a guy who then loses at poker, and he pistol-whips a friend in his woman's bagnio.

Meanwhile, Sam seems to pursue his duties as marshal with less vigor, leaving town fairly often. Eventually he is canned, but continues to pursue work as a deputy U.S. marshal, or again, as a detective of some sort.

And finally, there are murmurs that New Albuquerque is in the grip of some kind of gang. Not a violent gang, to be sure, but some vague type of organized criminal enterprise nevertheless. Where are the accusations, the evidence?

Dec 2: Big news for this town, broken by the AER:

A Wholesale Arrest of Alleged Confidence Men Creates a Sensation.
An Albuquerque Officer is Among the Rest.
This morning Chief Howe, assisted by his men, arrested John P. Thornton, Barney Quinne, Billy Nuttall, Sam Houston and Con Caddagan on complaint of Henry Griffiths, who charges them with grand larceny. He claims that they enticed him into a saloon and get a certificate of deposit on the Central Bank for three hundred and forty dollars and a ten dollar note. The trial is now taking place before Judge Bell in the court house, west end.
The chief witness, Henry Griffiths, who is a Scotchman by birth, has been in town but a short time, having come in from the front and deposited his savings, amount to $340, in the Central bank, for which he received a certificate of deposit. He says that Barney Quinn made his acquaintance and introduced him to Billy Nuttalls, and told him that Nuttalls was a mining expert. He also introduced him to Sam Houston, alias Hopkins, alias Brown, was a mining speculator who had just sold a mine for $17,000. In the meantime they were all taking a drink, and Griffiths got pretty full, when they went into a saloon and commenced shaking dice for drinks. They threw the dice so that the top and bottom of the dice made it count up twenty-one every time. Griffiths thinking that it was chance, bet ten dollars that it could not be done again, and lost, whereupon, a teamster standing near offered to be they could not throw twenty-one again, when one of the party turned to Griffiths and asked him to let him have the certificate of deposit to bet against the teamster's pile, so Griffiths pulled it out, the dice were thrown, and the teamster won; the certificate was passed to him, and almost before the victim knew it, the man had disappeared, certificate and all. Griffiths was condoled with by his companions, who guaranteed to get the certificate back before twenty-four hours, and then quieted him for that night.
The next morning was Thanksgiving day, and the Central bank was closed when Con Caddagan, accompanied by the teamster, knocked at the door. Mr. W. K. P. Wislon, the cashier, was sitting inside and went to the door to see who was knocking. Seeing Caddagan and the teamster he let them in. Caddagan asked him to pay the amount the certificate called for to the man, saying that he had to go off on the train in a hurry and needed the money. This Mr. Wilson refused to do, and after some words Caddagan and the teamster went out.
Griffiths sobered up that morning and told Chief Howe about it, who immediately started to work up the case, with the above result. The officers think that Thornton is the man who personated the teamster.
Billy Nuttall and Sam Houston are sporting men, Barney Quinn was formerly proprietor of a saloon knows as the Sportsman's Headquarters, and Con Caddagan is constable of precinct number twelve and has been on the police force for some time. Thornton is also a sporting man. Caddagan is on the stand as THE REVIEW goes to press.

Dec 3: The AMJ catches up the next day:

A Raid Made on the Confidence Men Yesterday.
Con Caddigan Arrested But is Honorably Acquitted of the Charge.
The Four Others Held to Bail in the Sum of $3000 Each.
Extreme Excitement Over the Affair Among the Sporting Fraternity.
On Friday evening Judge Bell, who had just returned from Socorro, was called upon by District Attorney Owen, and a Welshman by the name of Griffiths. The latter, who arrived in this city sometime during last week, made an affidavit that he had been swindled out of ten dollars in money and a certificate of deposit, payable at the Central Bank, and amounting to $345. Judge Bell immediately issued a bench warrant for the arrest of five men, who names appeared in the warrants as "One Brown, first name unknown, and one unknown man, as principals," and William Nuttall, Barney Quinn, and Con Caddigan as accessories.
Yesterday morning Chief Howe, assisted by several officers, arrested the parties named in the warrant, and they were all taken to the marshal's headquarters.
Judge Bell was at once notified of the result, and ordered that the prisoners be taken to the court house, in the old town. Upon taking his seat, Judge Bell inquired whether or not the defendants desired an examination, to which they all responded in the affirmative. The first witness called was the prosecutor himself, Henry Griffiths, who testified that he came to this city on the evening of November 22, from Chino Valley, on the line of the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad.
The witness then went on to state in a very straightforward way, the whole circumstance attending the loss of his money.
He stated that he met Barney Quinn at John Boyle's restaurant, where witness was stopping, that Barney asked him to take a stroll, and that they went up street, where they took several drinks, that they then returned to Boyle's, and that he agreed to meet Barney at 8 o'clock in the evening. They did meet and took a walk down town, and stopped in at a saloon, where they met a man by the name of Brown and an old teamster whose named Griffiths did not know. Brown and Griffiths got to throwing dice and induced, after much talking, the Welshman to take a hand in the game. He did so to the extent of about $350. Nuttall came into the saloon just after the game was finished, and just in time to see the teamster leave with the roll. The witness went next morning and stopped payment of the draft, by stating the case to Mr. Wilson, of the bank.
All the defendants took the stand in their own behalf, and each described the portion allotted to him, so far as any criminality was concerned. Thornton acknowledged that he had the check, but denied that he had received it any but a perfectly legitimate way.
After a cross-examination of all witnesses by Judge Bell, and the district attorney, the court rendered a decision, discharging Caddigan from custody and holding the others in $3000 bail.
All the defendants were busy last evening procuring bail.

So, Billy Nuttall, John Thornton, Barney Quinne and Sam Houston take Griffiths for $340 with the top and bottom scam. Constable Caddigan is implicated when he tries to expedite the cashing of the certificate of deposit.

Dec 5: The AER expresses its hopes for an honest police force:

There is strong enough decent public opinion in Albuquerque to sustain a courageous and honest police force in the discharge of its duty. If it is necessary, that public opinion will become public resolution.

Dec 12: A local store sues Tony Neis for slander when he declares the store is a center for bunco activity:

W. H. Cline & Co. swore out a warrant last night for the arrest of Toney Neis, the well-known detective, on the charge of slander, it being claimed that he stated on the street that "Cline & Co." were running a bunko shop, and their business was swindling and that he would pull the establishment at the first opportunity. He was arrested by Con Caddigan and gave bonds for his appearance before Justice Sullivan.

A neat trick. The con man arrests the cop for speaking out about con men.

Come the new year, Lou and Sam seem to be gone, and Caddigan is off to Chihuahua to open a theater. He supposedly later absconds with the theater company's funds.

In 1884, Caddigan is arrested in St. Louis, with various bunco parapernalia, for being in on a gold brick swindle.

In the end, it is hard to say that Lou adversely influenced Sam's position as marshal, as reported by the local papers. Were they being good, generally speaking? Or were they mixed up with the local bunco crowd, and successfully offering their protection?

Perhaps the question is, considering the bunco empire they later control, is it more reasonable to imagine the brothers in opposition to Albuquerque's local bunco operations, or in cahoots?


Blonger Day Just 13 shopping days left!

Lou's First Wife Our records indicate Lou was married for the first time to Emma Loring. They were married in San Francisco, in either 1882 or 1884. Lou was supposedly residing in New Mexico during this period.

But we also know that "Lou's woman" was running a brothel in Albuquerque in September of 1882.

The next piece of the puzzle: Lou visits Kitty Blonger, pedigree unknown, while she is awaiting trial for murder in Kingman, Arizona, 1888. We don't know who Kitty was — did she marry a Blonger, was she a common-law wife, or someone's daughter? Probably not a daughter, but it's possible. We do know she was a prostitute; the man she killed was one of her regulars.

Finally, Lou divorces Emma in 1889.

It's tempting to say that all three women are one in the same, but we can't at this point.


Detective DeLue In Fighting The Underworld, Col. Van Cise says that while he was running for district attorney, Leonard DeLue (whom he called Leon Dean) encouraged him to meet with his old friend Lou Blonger, who ultimately offered Van Cise money and votes if he agreed to play ball. Van Cise rebuffed Lou, and the incident seems to have put Lou's organization near the top of the Colonel's to-do list — despite the fact that, at the time, Van Cise was only vaguely familiar with Lou, his organization, or the activities of bunco gangs in general.

This particular story was an early indication of Lou's private detective connection, backing up his supposed relationship with William Pinkerton. Van Cise said that DeLue was head of a prominent Denver detective agency. But what agency? Was he a government agent? Private?

Later, we found evidence that Lou had been a private detective in Albuquerque in 1882, assisting deputy U.S. marshal Tony Neis, and again in 1893, when he accompanied Denver cops — again, seemingly as a civilian — to Colorado Springs while investigating the "Tarsney outrage," in which the head of the state militia was tarred and feathered by men affiliated with the local county sheriff.

Well, Leonard turns up a couple of times in Colorado's Historic Newspaper Collection. First off, he was a detective with — the DeLue Detective Agency.

While not terribly important, this hints at the predominance of the storefront detective at the time, civilians who often were indistinguishable from actual law enforcement officers. As a matter of fact, we now know of two incidents where Lou — apparently as a private dick, as no additional appellation is offered — was said to have obtained confessions from suspects, and no one seemed to think twice about it.

As it happens, DeLue was involved in another incident mentioned by Van Cise, the murder of Frank Hughes Turner...

In the fall of 1916, a syndicate of some sixty men and women was uncovered in Chicago, engaged in the business of wholesale blackmail. Pretty young women would target wealthy gents, seduce them into a compromising situation, at which time the "husband" would arrive. Generally, a large sum of money could be extracted from the philanderer in exchange for silence — which is of course exactly the way the blackmailers wanted it.

Earlier, in June, much of the gang had traveled to Denver, and set up camp at a resort in Jefferson County for a little relaxation. Gang member C.E. Wilson did not initially go with the others to Colorado, but caught up with them after learning that another of the gang, Frank Turner, had held out $1500 while splitting the take from a recent score with Wilson. When Wilson caught up with the others at the campground, he shot Turner, and was thought to have gone back east to lay low.

On October 6, the Jefferson County district attorney authorized Leonard DeLue to go to Chicago and bring back Wilson and his wife. A day later, it is revealed that Wilson had never left the state; that he was, in fact, in a sanitarium, being treated for cancer.

Van Cise connects these events for us, claiming that the blackmail gang was part of Lou's organization, or at least that the individuals involved had some connection to Lou, and that they operated under Lou's auspices when in Denver. Meanwhile, Lou's associate DeLue is sent to arrest Wilson.

Should it come as a surprise that Wilson pled guilty to involuntary manslaughter in 1920, and received only a one-day sentence?


Our story so far

Two young men from Wisconsin start out supplying drinks, women, gambling and entertainment to miners in Utah, Nevada and Colorado. They cultivate a reputation as sporting men, and undoubtedly acquire a taste for fraud. Within a few years they make their way into law enforcement, and then later settle in working privately as detectives, and speculating in mining ventures on the side.

By this time their ties to some of the region's most powerful men were long-standing, and at the same time they were increasingly useful to the bunco community for their ability to fix bad situations, to equitably distribute the wealth, and to ensure a healthy environment for the fleecing of the innocent.

In 1892, they lay their claim on the Forest Queen near Cripple Creek, and the money started rolling in, and continued to do so for many years.

By 1895, their wealth, connections and influence in Colorado allowed them to accomplish two major feats that stand as their legacy — organizing the myriad Denver bunco gangs into a coordinated, regulated effort, and maintaining balance between the voracious needs of the gangs and the tribute offered up to law enforcement, city hall, and the courts. Once established, their organization would thrive for some twenty-five years, surviving Sam's death by almost ten, until soon after Philip Van Cise was elected district attorney in 1920.

It's interesting that both Sam and Lou Blonger apparently had such long careers as detectives, and yet this was largely ignored in their obituaries, and almost every other written source beyond the Armstrong account and newspaper articles written at the time of their actual service as such.

It occurs to me that the private eye business would make a perfect front for a bunco operation (or any kind of operation). Keep in close touch with law enforcement, help them out when you can by chasing down some criminal or extracting a confession — one might just as easily do the same for commercial interests like the railroads or Wells Fargo as the Earps did — but mostly sit in your office and keep tabs on things. Interesting that cops at the time found it a viable option to send private dicks to make arrests, though I suppose it's not essentially different than the modern bounty hunter.

Perhaps you wonder, as I did when Scott and I began our research, what's the big deal about bunco? Maybe con games were widespread back then, but the gangs we know were all about booze, drugs, gambling and prostitution. But confidence men? What's so big about being the Fixer? This article from the Silverton Standard, March 5, 1892, might give you an inkling. A reporter traveled to the flegling town of Creede to have a look around.

"Change clothes for Creede," was the salutation which greeted our ears as the train left Wagon Wheel Gap. The passengers did not exactly change clothes, but many were seen to place their scarf-pins out of sight, run their watch-chains through the arm-hole of their vests and make other preparations for defense against the disciples of "Soapy" Smith whom they expected to meet at the depot. In a few minutes the train stopped at Jimtown and the passengers were not disappointed. The platform was lined with bunco steerers who worked most industriously and with apparent good results. In the near neighborhood wheels of fortune and the nut shell game attracted considerable attention and some money.

And later:

As the resources from the mines would never support a town of 500 people, we had to look elsewhere and have concluded it must be the suckers, and the sight of "Soapy" Smith and his 150 disciples only confirmed our opinion. For the more wealthy suckers, the land board gave a little side show and sold them, for the small sum of $225,000 some 700 lots which in the spring can only be reached by boat.
As a show, Creede is a success, and if you avoid "Soapy" Smith, it is well worth the price of admission. It has grown up like a mushroom in the night.


Show me the money Dad asks a really good question: What happened to the money? Sam and Lou owned successful saloons, hotels, gold, silver and tungsten mines, and of course, they took a share of every bunco game in Denver for over twenty-five years. So where did it all go?

Both men were survived by their wives, who lived comfortably in a Denver hotel for the rest of their lives. No kids. Obviously whatever fortune they had is gone, but to where? The widows did not, apparently, live lives of luxury. We might be able to shed some light on this with a little digging...

But first, a little poetry, courtesy of the Silverton Standard (San Juan County, Colorado), November 26, 1892:

A thousand burdened burros filled
   The narrow, winding, wriggling trail.
A hundred settlers came to build,
   Each day, new houses in the vale.
A hundred gamblers came to feed
On these same settlers—this was Creede.
Slanting Annie, Gambler Joe,
   And Robert Ford; old Olio—
Or Soapy Smith, as he was known—
   Run games peculiarly their own,
And everything was open wide
And men drank absinthe on the side.
And now the Faro Bank is closed,
   And Mr. Faro's gone away
To seek new fields, it is supposed,
   Most verdant fields. The gamblers say
The man who worked the shell and ball
Has gone back to the capitol.
The winter winds blow bleak and chill
   The quaking, quivering aspen waves
About the summit of the hill—
   Above the unrecorded graves.
Where balt, abandoned burros feed
And coyotes call—and this is Creede.
Lone graves! whose headboards bear no name
   Whose silent owners lived like brutes.
And died as doggedly, but game;
   And most of them died in their boots.
We mind among the unwrit names
The man who murdered Jesse James.
We saw him murdered, saw him fall,
   And saw his mad assassin gloat
Above him; heard his moans and all
   And saw the shot holes in his throat.
And men moved on and gave no heed
To life or death—and this is Creede.
Slanting Annie, Gambler Joe,
   And Missouri Bob are sleeping there,
But Slippery, sly old Olio,
   Who seems to shun the golden stair,
Has turned his time to loftier tricks—
He's doing Denver politics.


Our research associate in Denver, Jack Davidson, passed this along:

Here's a land where all are equal
Of high or lowly birth-
A land where men make millions
Dug from the dreary earth
Here meek and mild-eyed burros
On mineral mountains feed,
It's day all day in the day-time
And there is no night in Creede
The cliffs are solid silver
With wondrous wealth untold,
And lined with the purest gold,
While the world is filled with sorrow,
And hearts must break and bleed,
It's day all day in the day-time
And there is no night in Creede

Cy Warman in Stampede to Timberline, Muriel Sibell Woole,
Sage Books, Denver, 1967, 11th Printing, Pg. 319

Private Eyes and the RMDA A December 18, 1876 letter to the editor from the Denver Daily Times sheds a little light on the role of detectives in the late nineteenth century.

I'm a bit fuzzy on the details, but the writer, F.M. Case, is responding to an attack by a previous correspondent, writing anonymously, who supported the Police Commission bill, and apparently also supported the dismantling of Denver's fledgling police detective division, claiming the extra costs of the Commission could be offset by cuts at the expense of the detective division. Case accuses Deacon Walker of the sheriff's department, and a member of the Rocky Mountain Detective Association, of writing the earlier letter.

Of course this detective business in the police force, when a citizen can get an officer for this purpose without paying him for his services, interferes with the business of the private corporation or company known as the Rocky Mountain Detective Association.

So. Even though the RMDA was composed to a great extent of sworn law enforcement officers, when they were on a case as RMDA agents, it was business.

As the charter and ordinances are now, the police are obliged to make arrests in criminal cases in the city. For this service they can charge no fee. Having no exclusively police court, the policemen cannot take these cases through to termination, but (I am sorry to say) have been in the habit of turning them over to a constable or deputy sheriff, as the case might be, would charge up the fees in the case from the commencement, including the arrest, mileage, etc.; hence another reason for the passage of this bill, to enable the sheriff's office to control the entire criminal business originating in the city of Denver.

(Mileage?) In other words, if the sheriff's office and the RMDA could keep the Denver police force from fully developing its municipal courts and detective squads, the sheriff's office would continue to take responsibility for the criminal caseload — and maintain control over the dispensation of justice. And the RMDA would get paying customers for its detectives, because victims of crime would have no municipally funded alternative when a crime needed solving.

Lou and Sam were tight with the Denver sheriff's department in their time. Their ties to the detective community lasted many years after Albuquerque in '82. We don't know how long they were associated with the RMDA in particular.


Private Eyes, Part II By 1920 Lou had known William Pinkerton for perhaps fifty years. In Fighting the Underworld, Van Cise gave his take on Lou's association with the most famous of detectives:

[Pinkerton's] company had long earned and enjoyed an enviable reputation as first-class detectives; but their business was not that of law-enforcing officers, but of private agents protecting the interests of their own clients. Consequently, they had to deal constantly with underworld characters and get information from them. Blonger and [Pinkerton] had been friends for years. They corresponded regularly, and met annually in Hot Springs, Arkansas, to talk over the criminal situation, [Pinkerton] to find out from Blonger and friends the names of those who had attacked his clients, such as wholesale houses, hotels, or contractors; and Blonger in turn to get from the detective whatever information the latter had gleaned about the activity of police departments or victims against Blonger and his gang in Denver and elsewhere. It was a quid pro quo of mutual profit to the great detective and the great crook.

Curious, but not shocking, that Van Cise never indicates he was aware of Lou's apparently long career in the detective business.


Otero/Baggs Affair Added some more articles to the Otero/Baggs page. A few points of interest, but first, a recap.

1882. Las Vegas, NM businessman Miguel Otero, a wealthy merchant, former NM statesman and VP of the ATSF, travels to Denver with his twenty-year-old son Miguel Jr. Lured into a lottery shop by a young steerer who claims to be an acquaintance from back home, the elder Otero is convinced he can't lose, until he does, forfeiting a check for $2400. Before he knows it, the shopkeeper — the notorious Doc Baggs — and his steerer are out the side door, locking it from the outside, and Otero is left to find his own way back to his hotel.

Otero Sr. is content to chalk it up to experience, but Jr. makes it his mission to get the money back. First, he stops payment on the check. Next, General Cook of the RMDA is engaged, who threatens Baggs with arrest, and then negotiates to buy back the check.

The check turns up in the hands of broker Pliny Rice, and a trade is arranged, $1000 in return for the $2400 check. As they are about to trade notes, Otero Jr. snatches the check from Rice. Unfortunately, Pliny's check is a fake.

Another meeting is arranged at a local bank. This time, Otero gets assurances that the check Pliny carries is real, but as soon as the trade is made, Otero has Rice arrested by a cop in civilian clothes. The Denver Daily News especially commends Jr. for his choice in Officer Hopkins, as he could be trusted not to let his superiors interfere with the pursuit of Baggs.

Next, Rice threatens to sue Otero Jr. over the promised $1000. The police, under Chief Lomery, are supposedly casting a wide net for Baggs. The Daily News describes the scene at the offices of Baggs' attorney:

The statement of THE NEWS yesterday morning that the whole police force were engage in hunting for "Doc" Baggs, was strictly correct, and further investigations revealed some rather amusing particulars. The office of Baggs' attorney was besieged till a late hour of the night by policemen and police sergeants, many of them in citizens clothes, who hung around the stairway and in the corridors waiting to find the bold, bad man whom Mr. Lomery thinks is armed with bowie knives and revolvers. The building in which the attorney has his office is a large one and has in it many law and other offices. The police were industriously examining the water closets, hanging around the back stairs and patrolling all parts of the building.


Some of the policemen were bolder in their ventures and nearly all of the whole forty-four called at the office of Baggs' attorney and inquired if the doctor was there, while one of them hung around the door for three mortal hours, and on being asked at the end of that time what was wanted, asked if "Doc" Baggs was inside. One policeman slept in the lawyer's office nearly all night and did not leave till 2 o'clock yesterday morning, when he was fired out by the janitor. A short time afterward he was seen groping about the alley at the back of the office looking for the great bunko-man. Baggs' attorney gave the policeman a letter to Mrs. Baggs, asking her to say to her husband that the police were hunting for him, and that if he would come down town and permit himself to be arrested everything would be all right.

The day before, a reporter had accosted Baggs walking down the street. Baggs' take on things:

"...I think the papers do wrong in trying to slaughter me. I am conducting a fair, legitimate business. My mission is to skin suckers. I will defy the newspapers or anyone else to put their hands on a single man I ever beat that was not financially able to stand it. I'd score to cheat a laboring man or a poor mechanic. My dealings are with gentlemen."
"Why don't the papers pitch into bad places and try to break them up, and also go for the 'tin-horn' gamblers, who are robbing the poor laboring man of his last dollar. Here are all these keno and faro rooms running night after night and no one says 'stop them.' Many a poor laboring man who has been robbed of his few dollars of hard-earned money has come to me for help and I always help them in such cases. I have often found a poor devil of a clerk gambling away $25 of his employer's money and I have taken him one side and said: 'look here, you are bracing yourself against a game that I can't beat, smart as I am. Here is $25, take it, fix matters straight and never bet on a game again.' There are many young men that I have thus saved from ruin. I never try to rob these poor fellows, but now because of an ex-member of Congress, who told me that he knew all about finance and was the smartest man in this whole Western country, starts out with me and gets robbed of $2,400, at least they say he was, the press all began to attack me. I look down with supreme contempt on all these 'tin-horn' gamblers, and I will give $250 toward suppressing them and driving them out of town. But I will tell you one thing: We want a chief of police that can see a trick when it is turned, and who won't let a sucker be skinned before his face and eyes.
"What is your moral defense for your action, Doctor?"
"Emotional insanity, sir. A few weeks ago a poor man was tried for murder and acquitted. The man he killed had broken down his home, destroyed his wife's honor, cheated and lied to him, and Stickney was thus driven insane. Guiteau, controlled by base passion and maddened by his thirst for office, killed Garfield. Sickles found that a man had betrayed the honor of his home and had polluted his wife. Whenever I see one of those robbers of human nature, who have grown rich from public plunder, but who still desire more, — when I see such men looking into the windows of banks and wishing they could steal the bonds without being publicly disgraced, or gazing into a jeweler's window and thinking how they would like to get away with all the diamonds, I know what with all their cunning and shrewdness they are suckers and an irresistible desire comes over me to skin them. I am emotionally insane. I feel like downing them if I can."
"If you could see men as I see them, surrounded by the glistening pile on the counter or table which they hope so soon to be theirs; if you could see the cold, selfish, cruel glitter in their eyes, you wouldn't blame me. When the last trick is turned, however, and the pile they think they are cheating somebody out of, slips from their grasp, the look of blank amazement and horror that comes over their faces is one of the funniest things I ever saw."
"What do the papers want to abuse me so for? I don't drink, I don't smoke, I don't chew, I don't cheat poor people, I pay my debts. And there is one thing more you can say: I never made any attempt to and have never used my influence with Governor Pitkin to have Chilcott appointed Senator. I thank God that that is a crime I have never been accused of."
With this parting shot at the follies and vices of the day, the doctor bade the reporter "good-day," and lifting his umbrella passed out of the doorway and up the street, leaving the reporter more puzzled than ever at the singular character of the cleverest confidence man in Colorado.


Blonger Day

Blonger Day, again. Two years ago today, Scott was querying Google, trying out variations on the name Belonger in hopes of finding some sign of our great-great-grandfather Michael's missing brothers. He found one right out of the box, and it was big as a billboard:

Since then, you can see we have discovered a great deal, and shared it with you here, along with our our questions and ruminations. For the second time now, I'd like to take a moment to look over the past year and take stock of the effort as a whole.

A year ago we were still giddy about all the great material we had found in the Albuquerque newspapers. Confirming Sam's tale of being marshal would have been plenty, but the place started to come alive for us, just a little, like a town in a sitcom. There's the saloon, the brothel, the newspaper office, the town jail, and the street where the colorful characters play out their boilerplate dramas. And then there's Wyatt Earp and His Tombstone Posse.

The whole Earp connection is overdone, of course. It's of no importance, really. But it brings a certain cachet to the Blonger story, and if anyone ever decides to make a movie about Tombstone that DOESN'T LEAVE OUT THE PART ABOUT THE POSSE CROSSING OVER INTO NEW MEXICO, Sam and Lou could liven up the script a bit. They're a cinematic pair — tall, hard, steely-eyed Sam, and the chubby little schmoozer Lou. Not to mention Soapy Smith, Doc Baggs, Con Caddigan, Bill Nuttall, Professor Park Van Tassell...

So we learned a great deal about Sam and Lou in 1882. Other documents, including a military pension request from Lou, filled in some of the spaces between 1868, when Sam and Lou left Illinois, and 1887, when Lou submitted his request from southern New Mexico. Boomtown after boomtown, running saloons and theaters and god knows what, all across the West. What a ride.

And we had Van Cise's book to give us some detail about Lou's latter days in Denver. We found out a few things about old Joe too. But how does one become The Fixer?

Shortly after Blonger day, Scott and I agreed that we needed to know more about the glory days and the Blonger's rise to power. Now we do, a little.

First of all, there's Soapy. We met Jefferson "Soapy" Smith's great-grandson, Jeff "Soapy" Smith, and started to develop a picture of the Denver bunco scene in the 1890s.

I found that, contrary to my initial impression of Soapy as the quaint flim-flam man with his suitcase full of soap, he was in fact a prominent gangster in Colorado at the time, well-known for his extensive operations in Denver, where his connections kept his boys out of jail, for his benevolent dictatorship in Creede and his army of minions, swarming the trains as they pulled into town, and for his high hand later in Skagway, where he was gunned down in 1898.

As "General" Smith, he and his cronies helped defend Denver City Hall from the state militia during the City Hall War, 1892. By 1895, Soapy and his brother Bascomb were apparently feeling threatened by the Blongers, and nearly had a deadly confrontation with them. Within a year, Soapy would leave Denver forever.

In a process that is still not very clear, the Blongers continued to extend their influence over the city's rival gangs, until no one was working the streets of Denver without Lou's approval, and not without surrendering a cut to maintain the good fishing — which was precisely the fixer's role: to maintain balance and maximize everyone's profit. It takes money to make money.

As it turns out, Soapy's story can tell us a great deal about the world of the Blonger Bros. circa 1895.

We also learned a few things about g-g-grandad Michael's war injury, some kind of heart disease, brought on by exposure and exhaustion during the Union Army's retreat from the Shenendoah Valley under pressure from Stonewall Jackson. He would serve until the battle of Antietam, after which (we think, though it might have been before), his heart problems forced his hospitalization.

We learned that Sam's gold badge still exists, along with a pistol of his(!) — though we still haven't discovered the owner.

We heard from the grandson of one of Lou's victims. Writing under the pseudonym "George Costanza."

Perhaps most interesting, we began to understand that both Sam and Lou had deep, long-standing personal connections to law enforcement and the private detective business. The Armstrong account had told us Sam was a lawman for many years, and Van Cise obliquely mentions Detective DeLue and William Pinkerton, but it was startling to realize that Lou himself had been a marshal and deputy sheriff, at least, a member of the Rocky Mountain Detective Agency, and a private detective on at least a few occasions over many years.

Their relationship to law enforcement was unquestionably a critical source of power in Denver, but as it turns out, their time in the biz makes a good story in itself. And yet this aspect of their personal history is usually completely overlooked — partly a legacy of Van Cise's near-monopoly on the Blonger story, till now. Fighting the Underworld has always been the go-to source on Lou Blonger, and Van Cise made no indication that Lou had been a lawman or detective.


And the beat goes on

Silent Marvin

Marvin Blonger's wife is still a mystery at this point. A marriage record from Missouri has "Marian Blonger" and Molley Ann Beard tying the knot in 1873. Marvin's daughter, Abbie, was born in Illinois a year in 1875, so this seems plausible. Later, Marvin's children list their mother's birthplace as Missouri. Still later, on their death certificates, Abbie and Ollie Blonger list their mother's maiden name as Penoyer and Penard. Beard could be a bad transcription of Penard.

Could Molley be the same Mary A. Blonger, died 22 Apr 1893 at age 34, who's buried in Fairmount Cemetery in Denver? That's what we originally thought. Marvin presumably was in Colorado in 1885 when his son was born. Ollie was born in Montana in 1891. Did the family move back to Colorado before Molley died? By 1900, Marvin and Edward lived in Montana and Ollie lived in Utah with her sister Abbie and Abbie's husband James Kervin.

Today I discovered a listing for Mary S. Bernard Blonger in the cemetery listing of Missoula Cemetery in Missoula, MT, along with Edward Blonger, who died in 1917. No date of death was listed for Mary, but the similarity of the surname to the other variations makes it virtually certain that (a) Marvin and Molley were indeed married in Lincoln Co, MO, in 1873, and (b) the Mary A. Blonger buried in Fairmount Cemetery is not Marvin's wife.

So who is she?


Salt Lake City

Scott discovered that the Salt Lake Tribune has had news from the 1870s online for just ten days now, at Utah Digital Newspapers. We know Sam, Lou and possibly Joe were in a few towns in Utah in the 1870s, most notably Salt Lake, but we haven't had anything new from that region in a while.

Several new leads all come from the Salt Lake Tribune. What's interesting is that the original search for the word "blonger" returned no items. Instead, the initial items were found with a search for "belonger".

The first, dated March 10, 1873, shows S.H. Blonger of Stockton, Utah, checking into Taylor's Hotel. The third, dated November 5, 1878, reports that a message is waiting at the Western Union Office for L. H. Blonger.

The second, dated May 12, 1874, is the most interesting, but unfortunately the left side of the small article is partially obscured. Here is a transcription, with some guesses:

Shipman and Blonger.
[We] call attention to the card of
[Ship]man and Blonger, who have remo-
[dele]d Reid's Building. This firm are
....Sole Agents for the Brewer and
....s' celebrated Ales, Porter, and
....r, of which, every man who likes
....eer, speaks in words of commen-

What might their business have been? More show business? This last item led Scott to search the same database for the word "shipman", which resulted in several additional hits.

An item from December 31, 1873, shows that a Blonger (was it Lou or Sam?) had recently paired up with Shipman and was dealing in — believe it or not — oysters. Don't take my word for it:

Shipman and Blonger

The ad was found on other dates for a few months.

An item from October 23, 1873, congratulates the pair on the new business, and confirms the company's address as No. 56 Main Street. Another item from a year before proves that the business was previously run by a man named Brewer in the same building.

Booths Oysters

A further search for "blanger" showed L. Blonger arriving at the Valley Hotel on May 26, 1874, from Sioux City (Iowa, one presumes).



More from the Salt Lake Tibune

So far, we have the Bros. in Salt Lake City suing someone as Blonger & Bros., one of them selling canned oysters with Shipman.

In trying to decipher the item of May 12, 1874, I searched for the phrase "ales porter" and came up with a slew of new hits.

It turns out that the item referred to a new business, NOT the oyster business that Shipman and Blonger started in October, 1873. Instead it was a completely new concern. I found this ad in the same issue:

Omaha Beer Saloon

Some better guesswork on the May 12 news item now gives us:

Shipman and Blonger.
[We] call attention to the card of
[Ship]man and Blonger, who have remo-
[dele]d Reid's Building. This firm are
[the ]Sole Agents for the Brewer and
[Bemi]s' celebrated Ales, Porter, and
[Lage]r, of which, every man who likes
...[b]eer, speaks in words of commen-

The Omaha Beer Saloon ran ads until Sept. 21, 1874. None of these ads, by the way, were indexed under either "shipman" or "blonger". Technology still isn't quite up to reading the broken print on these old newspapers. My guess is that in a typical specimen, a word may get indexed correctly only five percent of the time. So you have to be persistent, and try variations.

By way of coincidence, we also find in Salt Lake City at the same time attorney Wells Spicer, who presided over Wyatt Earp's preliminary hearing at Tombstone in 1882.

And I confirmed that there was indeed a Dr. Hamilton in Salt Lake City (remember Lou's varicose veins?).


Beer Saloon? Finding old advertisements regarding the Blongers' businesses is fun.

April 2005



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