URL of the Fixers Over at SoapySmith.net Jeff Smith has started an update page to keep his readers current on projects and other happenings.
The Smith family's story is a bit different than our own. We only recently uncovered the Blongers and our relationship to them. Other branches of the family were aware of the brothers, but not of Lou and Sam's criminal deeds.
Soapy's descendants, on the other hand, have been custodians of his legacy for generations, and maintain a keen interest in how he is remembered and portrayed. They are fortunate enough to have a number of items Smith used in his work, and other things papers, letters, a gun, even Soapy's original grave marker.
As evidenced by Soapy's brief cameo on HBO's Deadwood, selling his bars of soap, writers continue to get mileage out of Soapy's name, and his namesake swindle. And yet, the Smith's know that he played a much larger role in the history of the western frontier. The man took over, or tried to take over, nearly every town he rode into, and to some extent he usually succeeded. The man was a serious gangster, which is to say that his story is interesting enough, and important enough as history, to be taken on its own terms. I mean, the guy had minions. Do you have minions?
The Blongers, at the moment, have no reputation to protect. By the 1890s they were prominent men in the western territories, but unlike Soapy, the Blonger Bros. shunned publicity, and learned to quite effectively control their exposure in the press. Perhaps if they'd had a Ned Buntline or Stuart Lake we would have been familiar with them. Couldn't we all use a Ned Buntline? Or maybe folks just weren't that interested. Whatever the reason, their deeds and misdeeds never took root in the popular myth of the West, or even the pantheon of con. But maybe we can be their Buntlines.
At any rate, correcting misconceptions regarding the Blongers is the least of our problems.
Forbes Parkhill, Ace Reporter, Part I
I've been re-reading Wildest of the West this weekend, and found a few overlooked items, but mostly I'd like to take second look at Parkhill's take on the Blongers.
Forbes feels like an old friend. He figures in Van Cise's Fighting The Underworld, wrote about Sam and Lou in Wildest, and may have written Lou's obit, three very important sources. Parkhill's unique vantage point inside the story has to a great extent defined Lou's legacy second only to Van Cise. And frankly, when it's all said and done, I had the impression that he harbored no ill will toward the man.
As a young reporter for the Denver Post, he first became involved in the story when he received an anonymous call late one summer night in 1922, alerting him to a mysterious raid that would take place the next day. At first he thought the target might be the union activists of the I.W.W., but with some good old-fashioned leg work, and a few well-timed bluffs, he found himself standing, inexplicably, inside Denver's Universalist Church.
There, unbeknowst to the police department, district attorney Col. Philip S. Van Cise and his staff were busily processing dozens of Denver's con men, including Lou, who sat to the side, dejected and alone, apparently sensing that this time was different. Forbes was told to stay put until the arrests were complete, but he found an opportunity and phoned in the story. Unfortunately for young Parkhill, Van Cise caught wind of the breach, and persuaded the Post's owner to sit on the story.
Forbes was pissed. We know this, because many years later, in 1951, he wrote Wildest of the West, and said as much. The book is a quick read, recounting the careers and highlights of dozens of madames, gamblers, con men and other western archetypes, often pausing only briefly on each subject. Much of it consists of tidbits culled from old newspapers, including some I have seen myself. There were, in fact, two quotes that have appeared here, only days ago though I got them from online abstracts. There were a few lines from a poem about Soapy Smith, and a few lines from Doc Bagg's lengthy quote concerning the Otero con.
But he did hold forth on several individuals, among them Soapy and the Blongers.
For one thing, he states that Lou was "king of the policy racket in Denver." He seems to be talking about 1890 or so, as he goes on to state that Ed Chase was then president of the Colorado Policy Association, and that twelve policy shops were listed in the city directory that year. Policy = Numbers. Participants bet on numbers derived from some outside source, often a legitimate, and unrelated, lottery.
1890 is early in the Blonger boys' Denver career, when they were saloon owners, and still looking for that big payoff in the mining biz. We've never really dealt with the policy racket angle before. I guess we'll have to add it to the list of charges.