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The Famous Blonger Bros.


March 2006


Mr. Mayor

Dewey C. Bailey

Dewey C. Bailey 1919-1923

So we've had a peak at Londoner. Bailey is also a familiar name, coming as he does at the end of the line. It's reasonable to assume the private line connected to Bailey's office, as he was mayor at the time of Lou's arrest. Van Cise only referred to him as "the Mayor."

Rocky Mountain News, March 27, 1923

To Mayor Dewey C. Bailey:
Yesterday you caused to be printed in the paid advertising columns of the Denver papers an announcement of your candidacy for re-election as mayor of Denver.
In justice to the main prominent and law-abiding citizens whose names you caused to be printed in your paid ad you might give publicity to your views on certain things that at this minute are agitating Denver.
CAN YOU AND WILL YOU EXPLAIN your silence in the face of repeated sworn statements on the witness stand that the alleged bunko ring on trial in the West Side court was working under protection of your police department?
CAN YOU AND WILL YOU EXPLAIN why law-abiding citizens without prison records are thrown into jail on the least pretext and held there—in some cases allowed to die without medical care—while certain members of the alleged bunko ring, boasting long jail sentences, are given more consideration and treated with more courtesy by your personal appointees than could or would be commanded by highly respected citizens?
CAN YOU AND WILL YOU EXPLAIN why Tom Clarke, your deputy sheriff, was permitted to make honor guests of certain members of this alleged confidence gang and turn over to them a room in the West Side court building for the staging of a wild orgy, when in all justice they shoud be behind bars the same as any other alleged law violator awaiting decision of a jury?
CAN YOU AND WILL YOU EXPLAIN why your warden of the county jail made special arrangements for these same members of the alleged bunk ring, placing cots in the office of the jail for their comfort during the time they were in custody?
You are responsible to the people of Denver for the acts of your appointees, and if you are not willing to accept this responsibility you have no right to be mayor of Denver.
The attitude of your administration thruout the trial of the alleged bunko ring has been one of opposition toward the district attorney and the special prosecutors and one of protection and condolence toward the accused men.
Denver's fair name is at stake. The open operations of an international bunko ring in Denver is a paramount issue in the coming city election. If you are to be a candidate for re-election, the people of Denver demand to know and have a right to know where you stand on this question.


Mr. Mayor

Robert W. Speer

Robert W. Speer 1904-12, 1916-18

The case of Mayor Speer is a bit more complex. Our first connection came in an article that happens to represent our earliest indication Lou was already king of the bunks in 1902 (note that Sam is not implicated). Speer was not yet mayor.

Denver Times, August 7, 1902

Investigates Dealings of the "Welchers' Syndicate."
Governor Orman has taken official cognizance of the operations said to have been carried on by Police Magistrate Thomas, working in connection with certain other Denver men, in which the gamblers of the city are described as having "made restitution" of several large sums of money.
Charles F. Wilson and C.L. Burpee, who at present constitute the fire and police board, were closeted for several hours with Governor Orman this morning. R.W. Speer of the board of public works was also with the governor, but his visit is said to have had nothing to do with the Thomas matter. Wilson and Burpee told the governor what they knew and what they suspected regarding the operations of the police magistrate, and were asked to investigate the matter further.
Magistrate Thomas now claims, so it is understood, that the money he collected from the gamblers was money which "a relative" had lost over the tables. He will be invited by the governor to produce the relative, said to be a connection by marriage. It is probable that when the gamblers see that there is a possibility that the syndicate which Thomas is thought to have represented is to be deprived of its power through his removal, they will come forward with their side of the case.
Evidence in the possession of the fire and police board shows that "Lou" Blonger, who has been in charge of the wholesale bunco operations in this city, had a long conference on Saturday evening in the "red room" at the corner of Sixteenth and Curtis streets, and that upon leaving he told a friend he had the matter fixed up so that his bunco game might resume operations, with not a pretense of prosecution by the police department. Indications are now that the police department will tell all it knows of the grafting operations carried on, and that thereby the danger of an investigation of the police department will be averted.

Additional articles don't connect Speer to Lou, but to Ed Chase. Under the circumstances, however, it would be hard to imagine Lou did not have a relationship with Speer as well.

Linda Womack, writing on

In 1891, another Boss came into Denver's history. Robert W. Speer began his political career as a board member of the Denver Police and Fire departments. This granted Speer the authority to oversee liquor licenses and garnered him a following among Denver's underworld. Ed Chase soon became a great benefactor to Speer. The two became fast friends as each helped the other, financially and politically. Speer developed an eyes-closed policy to the gambling establishment, while Chase provided money and voters for Speer's Mayoral election. Together, the duo managed to manipulate political control of the city.
In 1904, Speer won the election to mayor in what many called the dirtiest, most fraudulent elections ever held in Denver. The Denver Times reported fictitious names gained from obituaries numbered in the thousands, as registered voters in Speer's behalf. In short, it was a winning relationship between Speer and Chase. Speer helped Chase protect his gambling enterprises, while Chase saw to it that voters cast their ballots for Speer.

Consider what we know:

  • Sam and Lou were actively influencing Denver elections on behalf of the vice industry as early as 1890.
  • The influence in the early 90s of gambling interests over the Police and Fire Board (including Speer) led Gov. Waite to lay siege to City Hall.
  • The Blongers, like Chase, were engaged in gambling, though we don't know when they closed their last gambling house.

You might understand why I'm tempted to think that "Blonger" could well be substituted for "Chase" in Womack's quotation above without diminishing its veracity.

A 2004 report titled Honest Corruption: Mayor Robert W. Speer and Bossism in American Democracy, by University of Denver student Todd Martinez, suggests an ambivalence about simply labeling Speer a grafter. In some circumstances, he argues, the public can benefit from autocratic leadership that gets things done, even if that means making deals with the devil. A Boss, in other words, is needed in tough times, when powerful and widely disparate interests might threaten to tear the community apart if the right deals can't be struck.

The point being that Speer is remembered today for being a friend to the utility barons and vice lords, but also for transforming Denver from a boomtown into an aesthetically attractive modern city, for numerous civic improvements, for raising the wages of city laborers, for installing facilities for Denver's homeless to wash, for providing cheap bread and produce to Denver's poor — which is to say simply that he loved Denver, and he made it work. You just don't want to know the details.

He goes on to state that the Police and Fire Board instituted by Waite after the City Hall War "proved powerless to control the economic chaos of the city and to mitigate the tension between greedy businessmen and laborers." And so, in 1902, home rule returned to the Mile High City, and the "local voters" regained control of their government.

But what interests would prevail? The utilities were said to be the real power brokers prior to Speer. The gambling interests were squared off against the moral progressivists like the WCTU, and the working man's general invisibility was fueling growth in the populist movement.

So, the first hurdle in 1902 was the formation of a new city charter, and the battle lines were drawn.

The first charter, largely shaped by Denver's moral progressivists (WCTU, Anti-Saloon League), called for the strict regulation of the utilities and ultimate municipal ownership of them and their franchising. It also contained prescriptions to mitigate social vice (gambling, prostitution), abusive corporations, and the spoils system that was plaguing the municipal administration. This charter would grant much-needed power to the municipal government and temper the clout of the business elite in Denver, however, as Speer recognized, it had its drawbacks. Its strict regulation could potentially scare away business from the city, and Speer recognized that this could be devastating to a city that inevitably relied on business for its prosperity.
The first charter was defeated in what was a highly controversial election, which the Speer machine was reported to have rigged. The extent of Speer's role in fixing the election remains uncertain, but it is clear that political maneuvering on the part of Speer's growing political machine prevented the passage of the first charter.

Yet another scandal to research...

Such corruption would mar Speer's reputation for the rest of his career, but it is arguably an example of "honest corruption" because Speer clearly had a shrewd understanding of Denver's needs — perhaps better than the populace itself — and knew what type of municipal structure was in the city's best interest. In the end, Speer and his machine successfully backed second charter that gave more freedom to the utilities, but one that also created an equally powerful municipal leadership to offset the influence of the business world. From a democratic idealist's perspective, the alleged tampering of the charter election clearly represents an egregious corruption in the democratic system, but from a pragmatist's perspective, it may have ultimately proved to be in the city's best interest. It set the stage and created the framework for an impressive period of recovery and progress under the leadership of Speer. Had democratic principles been obeyed and the first charter passed, the city may have remained in chaos as the business community, working class, and the municipal government could have become further alienated.

I don't want to offend any readers, so you may insert your own wry observations here.

So, the fat cats could deal with him, the vice lords counted on him, the working man thanked him and the poor man blessed him. But there was one loser during the Speer administration:

However, one constituency that Speer never won over was Denver's moral community, for he had a reputation as being a friend of public vice and the underworld community. However, it would be unfair to say that Speer approved of public vice, but rather that he acknowledged the inability of any municipal government to enforce morality, and thus he felt his efforts were more effectual in mitigating it.

And then, a little closer to the crux:

Like his alliances with the business elites, Speer's alliance with the barons of the underworld provided him social and financial capital: "from Chase and Chucovich [Denver's gambling barons], Speer got money to help the needy. In return, the Speer-controlled police force closed its eyes to violations of liquor and gambling ordinances". This tactic was classic Speer, for while it smacked of political corruption, it was a pragmatic arrangement in which Speer could capitalize on ineradicable public immorality in order to, ironically, finance a moral cause. Understandably, however, the moral idealists of Speer's time refused to see the practicality in this and did a good job of portraying Speer as a corrupt, morally-bankrupt politician who had trampled on American democracy.

He continues:

However, Speer's achievements would not be allowed to overshadow his shady dealings and dubious results from the election. In the years from his election in 1904 to 1912, a movement of progressive reformists was mobilizing to remove Speer from office and restore clean government in Denver. Villifying cartoons and articles in the Post as well as the News portrayed Speer as a power-hungry tyrant who catered only to economic interests. In 1912, after successfully playing up a scandal in which Speer dismissed his city attorney Henry Arnold for allegedly exposing the administrations over-taxation of homeowners, the movement was able to generate enough public outrage to lose him the election in 1912.

Another essay:

In 1885 Mr. Speer was appointed by President Grover Cleveland to the position of postmaster of Denver and in 1891 Governor Routt appointed him president of the Denver fire and police board. From Governor Adams he received appointment to the position of president of the board of public works and became thereby ex officio member of the fire and police board. He was also appointed to the same position by Governor Thomas and so continued to serve until 1904. All through this period of office holding Mr. Speer was a diligent student of municipal government.

Here the author skips over the governor's assault on the police board, going on to list the mayor's many achievements:

He searched out the best principles utilized in the government of larger cities, read every authority upon municipal problems and when he was called to the mayoralty in 1904, he entered upon the duties of his position with high ideas and ideals, many of which were regarded as revolutionary but which through his practical efforts became tangible assets in the city's development and upbuilding.
Mayor Speer
For two consecutive terms he continued as Denver's mayor and transformed a straggly and somewhat unsightly western town into a city beautiful. Utility, sanitation, comfort and beauty all figured as dominant features in his plans. His labors resulted in the building of the Twentieth street viaduct and he was the first to suggest construction of the Colfax- Larimer viaduct. His efforts led to the paving and graveling of many of Denver's streets and his initiative brought about the building of extensive sanitary and storm sewer systems. He established the boulevard and parkway systems and he felt that not only utility but beauty must be considered and that the city's development should be upon a plan that would produce a harmonious whole. He therefore created and planned the civic center, regarded as one of the most beautiful and inspiring works of man. He carried forward a system of tree culture that won the plaudits of artists and horticulturists throughout the world. An unsightly dumping ground was transformed into beautiful sunken gardens and Cherry Creek, which for years had remained an unsolved problem of other city heads, was curbed by him through the building of a great retaining wall, along one side of which was constructed a beautiful driveway that the city fathers named in his honor.
Beauty entered into his plan for city lighting and unsightly telephone and telegraph poles were placed in alleys. He opposed the construction of buildings more than twelve stories in height because such would obstruct a view of the mountains; and to Denver's parks he turned his attention, establishing new parks and boulevards, from which he discarded the signs "keep off the grass." He also opened many playgrounds, especially in the more congested districts, that the children might have opportunity for healthful fun.
He was also instrumental in establishing the museum at City park, one of the finest and most complete in the world, and also in establishing the public bathhouses. His initiative resulted in the building of the Welcome arch and one of the public improvements in which he personally took greatest delight was the Auditorium, which will ever stand as a monument to his public spirit. "His greatest pleasure," said the Denver Times, "was had when the big building was thrown open free to the public for some great concert or other entertainment. Then, always, Mayor Speer, his expansive and genial smile spreading over his face and his eyes aglow with the joy he could not conceal had he tried, was to be found hastening here and there about the entrances, seeing that none was turned away."

He goes on about free concerts with seats for "the old and the feeble, the crippled and the ill," his support for outdoor sports and parks, and his program to supply coal to the needy at reduced prices.

Yet another grafter with a heart of gold. Reminds me of Mayor Daley the Elder. Mr. Mayor, your table is waiting.


Sam Emerich

Remember this from the investigation into the Londoner campaign for mayor, 1889? Sam and Lou were implicated as well.

Witness was doing something in connection with the April election. With others he was furnishing slips with names and residences to men who voted on them. The witness thought Sam Emrich had written them. Sheeney Sam had delivered him forty-five at one time, forty-six at another and ninety-five at another in cigar boxes.

With just a bit of digging, we hit paydirt.

First, Google turned up one interesting hit, a reference on Beadle's New York Dime Library to a book by Harold Payne, The Grand Street Gold-Dust Sharpers; or, Shadowing Sheeny Sam's Silent Seven. April 4, 1894. A must-read. For context, the page lists many Buffalo Bill books, and books on detectives of the era and sharpers of various stripes.

Next, on to CHNC

Fort Collins Weekly Courier, November 9, 1899

The republicans can well afford to compensate Sheeny Sam for his labors during the campaign, for he did them a heap of good while obstensibly working for the fusionists.

Where was "Sheeny" Sam when the returns came in? Echo answers, where?

Fusionists? Really? And then this curiosity.

Svensk Amerikanska Western, November 16, 1893

Så var det, ja. Kort efter sedan valresultatet blifvit kändt kunde den, som var ute och gick på stadens gator, bevittna ett sorglustigt skådespel, som kunde komma inelfvorna att vända sig på den, som varit olycklig nog att rösta för "gangens" valsedel. Herrar deputerade sheriffer Sam Emerick, Leonard de Lue och Fred Harris hade hyrt sig en vagn och åkte staden rundt för att fira sin seger; att det var deras vinst borde röstberättigade hafva tänkt på förut. På baksidan af vagnen var ett plakat uppfäst, hvarpå lästes med stora bokstäfver: "A vote for Burchinell is a vote for Leonard de Lue and Sheeney Sam." Naturligtvis voro de åkande bersuade, eljest hade de väl ej velat öppet erkänna eländet. Men så var det. Vallistan hade vunnit och busarne firade segern.

Ha! Fortunately we have our own linguist on staff. Scott's translation:

So it goes. Shortly after the results of the election became known, those who were out on the streets of the city witnessed a comic opera, so that citizens who were unfortunate enough to vote for the "gang's" slate could come and see what they had chosen. Deputy sheriffs Sam Emerick, Leonard de Lue and Fred Harris had hired a wagon and drove around the city to celebrate their victory; that the election was theirs is something voters should already realized ahead of time. On the back of the wagon a sign was attached that read in large letters: "A vote for Burchinell is a vote for Leonard de Lue and Sheeney Sam." Of course they were drunk; otherwise they might not have wanted to openly acknowledge that misery. But so it was. Their slate had won and the hooligans celebrated their victory.

That would be Sheriff Burchinell. And here's our old friend City Detective Leonard DeLue, called Leon Dean in Fighting the Underworld, the man who introduced Lou to Van Cise. A vote for DeLue and Emerich? What does it mean?

And more:

...fredligt och lugnt. Sheeney Sam hade for qvällen fått nöja sig med en "backseat," eljest hade det väl blifvit slagsmål. Det bättre elementet rådde, och vi hafva intet annat än goda ord för talarne. Det hela upplöstes i kraftiga hurrarop och tacksägelser. Och så var fröjden öfver, och Denver stad har fått återtaga sitt gamla fredliga utseendee. Politiken är död, lefve politiken!
...calmly and peacefully. Sheeney Sam had managed to content himself with a "back seat" for the evening, otherwise their might well have been fisticuffs. The better element prevailed, and we have nothing but good words for the speakers. The event adjourned with a hearty hurrah and many words of thanks. And so the joy was over, and Denver had regained its normal calm appearance. Politics is dead; long live politics!

Telluride Journal, July 7, 1904

Town Marshal Hooligan of Fort Logan Shot Mike Ryan Dead last night In His Saloon.
DENVER, July 6.—Mike Ryan, one of the most notorious of Denver's hard characters, a saloon keeper and general bad man, was killed last night in Hooligan's saloon at Fort Logan. The shooting was done by Hooligan, who is also town marshal at the fort.
Ryan had been drinking and Hooligan claims Ryan throttled him because of some trivial remark made by Holligan. After that Ryan tried to draw a revolver on the Marshal, but the latter was too quick for him.
Ryan had been in Denver for twenty-five years and his life has been a stormy one. He has served time in the pen, and was mainly to blame for the quarrel which led to the murder of William Malone by Sam Emerich a few months ago.

Say what? The plot thickens.

Next a search on "Samuel Emerich" brings up a single article:

Telluride Journal, June 16, 1904

Emerich Gets Sixteen Years.
Denver, June 14.—Samuel Emerich, a former city detective, was today sentenced to sixteen years imprisonment for the murder of William Malone, a saloon keeper, in a quarrel in the latter's saloon.

Murder! What's more, this makes Emerich a Denver city detective, like DeLue. It has been suggested Lou had as much influence with the Denver detectives as any law enforcement group in town.

More about Malone's murder to come.


Sam Emerich

Denver city detective Sam Emerich, known as Sheeny Sam, seemed to enjoy fixing an election just as much as the Blongers, Bat Masterson, or his fellow detective Leonard DeLue.

Which doesn't mean they were good at it. Their actions were hardly secret, and their support could actually cost a candidate the election.

So what else do we know about him?

In 1893, he was fixing the election of Sheriff Burchinell with DeLue.

In 1899 he helped elect Mayor Londoner, as did the Blongers, by 77 votes. He was later forced from office over the conduct of the election.

In 1901, Detective Emerich was sent to capture a fugitive, a black man who had, allegedly, beaten the four-year-old son of a mine inspector. Emerich and a partner took off after the man, and finding a black man near the Platte River, they stopped him for questioning. At some point the man ran, Emerich is said to have called on the fleeing man to halt, then shot him in the thigh. Within a few minutes he was dead. The New Castle Nonpareil seemed satisfied the right man was found.

In 1903, Emerich was shooting craps with Mike Ryan, owner of a notorious roadhouse, in William Malone's Welton Street saloon. A fight ensued, and Emerich got the worst of it. Malone separated the two and took Emerich to clean him up a bit.

Then Detective Emerich shot Malone. Why?

Telluride Journal, June 16, 1904

Emerich Gets Sixteen Years.
Denver, June 14.—Samuel Emerich, a former city detective, was today sentenced to sixteen years imprisonment for the murder of William Malone, a saloon keeper, in a quarrel in the latter's saloon.


Bits and Pieces

Some new items from CHNC:

The Fort Collins Courier, January 11, 1883 tells us Simon, as a new delegate to the Colorado House, would be serving on committees for mining and for the state penitentiary, neither surprising. The Blongers were, of course, very involved in mining.

Were they also interested in the policies instituted at Canon City? In 1894, definitely. Gov. Waite ultimately invaded Denver over the issue of the gambling community's influence over the release of state prisoners.

What does it mean? Can't say. Simon only served a few months.

Colorado Transcript, January 23, 1913

Mr. Easman, who has been employed by Mr. Blonger on the steam baler, met with a sad accident last week. His arm was caught in the wheel and was so badly mangled that it had to be amputated.

In November of 1913, the Colorado Transcript mentions Virginia, Sam's wife, foreclosing on a five-acre parcel leased to Harry Lunn.

April 2, 1914, about a month after Sam's death, one news item in the Transcript mentions both Virginia's foreclosure case and Easman suing Lou. A November article again mentions the Easman case on the docket, and misspells Lou's name as Lon.

November 26, 1914, the Transcript, Easman wins his suit against (again) Lon Blonger.

May 10, 1917, Lou is among those calling for a viaduct over the tracks near Bee Hive Station.


Unfortunate Unidexter

Colorado Transcript, January 23, 1913

Mr. Easman, who has been employed by Mr. Blonger on the steam baler, met with a sad accident last week. His arm was caught in the wheel and was so badly mangled that it had to be amputated.

From other articles it appears that the unfortunate unidexter's name was William Elseman.



Bascomb Smith's Letter

Got the scans, and we're analyzing the contents along with Jeff Smith. More to come in a few days.


We'll talk about the letter tomorrow. It's interesting, poingant, and revealing. It'll be fun.

In the meantime, a few new tidbits:

Joe in the Cerrillos Hills

The Santa Fe New Mexican, March 4, 1906

Joe Blonger, who owns several mining properties in the vicinity of Cerrillos, attended to business in town today. Thomas Roberts, who has been in Socorro looking into mining properties for people of Santa Fe, returned to the city last night. J.P. Connor, who is interested in mining properties in the vicinity of Glorieta, spent the day here on business.

In NY it would have been a bridge

Scott's search of CHNC for "blooger" turned this up:

Creede Candle, Oct. 20. 1923

Lou Blonger, king of the Denver bunko artists left that place Thursday for a visit of from seven to ten years at Canon City. There are plenty of others still at large who deal in stocks and charity drives but do not specialize in selling union depots and the Capitol building.


Bascomb's Letter

We recently heard from Geri Murphy, a great granddaughter of Jefferson "Soapy" Smith. She told us of a letter written by her great-great-uncle Bascomb from the Denver county jail, to his brother Soapy, not long after Bascomb's arrest for assaulting John Hughes.

It is a simple, sad story, four pages of faded pencil on crumbling ruled paper. Scott and I, in conjunction with another great-grandchild of Soapy, Jeff Smith of, transcribed individual versions of the text, compared our interpretations of the faded markings, and finally developed a consensus on the content of the letter, nearly to a word. Determining the meaning will take much longer.

First, to set the stage.

In the early 1890s, Denver had its many gambling clubs and policy shops, and various bunko gangs plying the river of tourists streaming through the growing city. Various men controlled their own interests in these ventures, but Ed Chase was known as the king of local gambling, and the bunko gangs moved to the tune of the brash, fiery, charismatic Soapy Smith.

These men and their associates, including the Blongers, had the money and manpower to influence elections, the administration of the city, and the local courts, creating a climate regulated to maximize their profit and effectively eliminate the risk. The Blongers were particularly flush from their 1892 strike at Cripple Creek, the Forest Queen, and had the cash to make friends and plenty of them. At times, reform would wash across the political scene, but the wave would always recede in short order, and business as usual would promptly return.

One such wave, of historic proportions, was the siege of Denver City Hall, ordered of Gov. Davis H. Waite in 1894. Waite, elected as a populist, had decided to break the gambling franternity's hold on local justice by replacing the police board with his own appointees. He sent in the militia to see to the installment of his board, but the boys at city hall had fortified the place. The police, sheriff's police, city officials and firemen were joined on the ramparts by over a hundred "special deputies" sworn in for the occasion.

Many were local gamblers and petty criminals, recruited by Smith and other vice lords, and Smith played a visible role in the defender's effort to intimidate the militia, which was successful. The siege was eventually ended by the Colorado Supreme Court.

The pols and gamblers lost their fight in the courts, and the police board, along with much of the police and fire departments, were booted out. Gambling went underground, for a time, but still thrived. Smith, for his part, had made friends among those who had defended the hall, some of whom would live to graft another day, but his moment would soon pass, and by 1896 he was off to Alaska, and his fate.

And the Blonger Bros. would take his place, a throne Lou would retain for over twenty-five years.

And then there was Bascomb.

Rocky Mountain News, May 12, 1894

His Badge Didn't Go.
Bascom Smith, a brother of Jeff Smith, recklessly discharged his pistol at Thirteenth and Market last night, and when Officer Shuck attempted to arrest him he resisted with tooth and nail, finally flashing a deputy sheriff's badge. The policeman was never phased, however, and Smith was gathered in.

So how did the guard change? A gang war? Intrigue? MUR-DER?

Our first insight into this critical time came from a series of articles about an unusual occurence in April of 1895.

Rocky Mountain News, April 22, 1895

Latest Achievement Attributed to Soapy Smith
Forced His Way Into a Room Where Goulding Was.
And the Chief Found Himself Thrown in a Corner.
Tom Sewall, the Chief's Companion, Badly Battered Over the Head.
Usual Sunday Row Furnished by the Chief of the Police Department.
The sensational actions of Jeff Smith and his brother, Bascom, Saturday night brought into prominence the actions of certain members of the police force in a somewhat scandalous light. According to the stories whispered among the men at the police station, the whole affair started in a Market street house run by Jennie Rogers. Chief Goulding and two well known saloonkeepers were in a room. The two Smiths came into the house and inquired for certain frequenters of the house. The inquiry was met with the information that the persons in question could not be seen. At this the Smiths became enraged and started for the room where Goulding and his friends were closeted. After a few knocks with the butt of a revolver the door was cautiously opened and the Smiths forced their way into the room. Tom Sewall and the chief of police jumped to their feet and started to eject the intruders.
Guns Were Used.
Just what happened then is hard to explain, but in a very short space of time the chief was on the floor in the corner of the room and Sewall was staggering to a chair, the blood flowing from a number of severe wounds on the top of his head where one of the Smiths had hit him with a gun. The actions of the third man in the room are not explained by the inmates, but it is believed that he escaped through a window.
The racket inside the house, added to the screams of the women, drew a big crowd to the sidewalk. Among them were two patrolmen, one of them being Officer Alexander, it is said. Just as the officers decided upon entering the house the chief and two Smiths appeared and walked away as though nothing had happened to disturb the peace of the neighborhood. The officers, seeing their chief with the two men, saluted and awaited orders, but none were issued, the party continuing rapidly down Market street.
Looking for the Smiths.
Just how the chief managed to square the matter inside the house is a secret, but after taking the men to Eighteenth and Larimer he left them. Sewall, whose head was badly damaged, was taken to the police surgeon's office by a friend. Here he met Captain George Duggan and anxiously inquired whether the two Smiths were under arrest. He was told that they were not.
"Why didn't Goulding bring them in?" asked Sewall in surprise.
The captain assured him that the chief had not yet arrived. Still Sewall was not satisfied and demanded that he be allowed to look into the chief's private office. This privilege was granted and a search was even made under the chief's big desk, but no Smiths were found. Sewall hinted to the captain and Sergeant Jones, who had just come in, that he had been injured by "Soapy" Smith, and that the chief was mixed up in the affair. He said, sarcastically, that he wanted to bail Smith out, and afterward told the officials that in case any inquiry was made they should say that the wounds were caused by a cable car accident.
Would Kill Smith on Sight.
Quietly, however, it is said, he told Captain Duggan that he would kill Smith on sight and his actions seemed to warrant the threat.
While this was going on at the city hall, however, the two Smiths were not idle. Officer Kimmel met the chief and Detective Connors with them at Nineteenth and Larimer. From here he followed them down to Eighteenth, thinking that in case the Smiths gave any trouble he would be on hand to help. After Goulding and Connors left the Smiths the latter went into Blonger's place on Larimer near Seventeenth. Here they said they were looking for trouble, and became quite noisy. Officer Kimmel went into the place and told the Smiths that the noise must stop at once or there would be two arrests. This settled the Smiths to some extent, and they retired from the place, muttering maudlin apologies to the officer. They next stopped at the Arcade. Here they had a quarrel with John Hughes and Charlie Lorge, battering them both over the heads with their revolvers. Hughes received one cut over the nose that will probably mark him for life, while Lorge is said to have had serious injuries inflicted on his head. Just after this little fracas Officer Kimmel went into the place and asked what was up. He was assured that nothing was wrong, and left.
Afraid for His Life.
The bartender afterward explained that he was afraid to tell while the Smiths were in because he thought Smith would kill the "whole works." Kimmel afterwards learned of the affair, and started out to find the Smiths, but they had disappeared. He called up the station, however, for instructions, and Sergeant Jones at once went to the officer's beat and gave the necessary orders.
Just before daylight Chief Goulding came into the station and asked Captain Duggan whether any of the reporters had "caught on" to the affair. On being assured that The News had the facts, the chief at once made up his mind to leave the city. He stated to the captain that he was going to Canon City to "visit the penitentiary," and did not know how long he would be absent. This was the last seen of the chief of the force, and it is presumed that he took the first train out of the city, fearing to stay to meet the scorn of the people who depend on him for protection from the very persons he was associated with when the unfortunate affair occured.
Owing to the misrepresentations of the persons who gave out the news at the police station Sunday morning, The News stated yesterday that the affair had taken place at the Side Line saloon, and when the true facts were ascertained, it was too late for correction. The connection of the two men who were with Goulding in the room at the bagnio with the proprietorship of the Side Line saloon was sufficient to justify the belief in the story that the affair had occured at that place.

The Smiths were busting heads — even the chief of police, probably a bad move — and picking fights, with the Blongers too. This excerpt from The Reign of Soapy Smith: Monarch of Misrule in the Last Days of the Old West and the Klondike Gold Rush (1935) adds detail to the story we can't corroborate:

Back on Seventeenth Street, Soapy resumed his normal practices, but soon another disturbing element entered into the situation when two clever and powerful rivals invaded the Denver bunco field in the persons of Lou and Sam Blonger. The brothers Blonger were the most menacing type of confidence men, soft-voiced, quiet, quick-thinking, extremely intelligent, and unrestrainedly dangerous. Lou, suave and bland, was an organizer of considerable ability who always used the velvet hand rather than the mailed fist to attain his ends. Sam was a taciturn individual who never discussed his business or his plans with anyone except his brother and possessed a face extremely hard to read, particularly as his eyes always were hidden behind a pair of blue goggles.
He was told that the brothers were not "greenhorns" and that they had a powerful friend in Bat Masterson, who was now in Denver and had known them in Dodge City. But Soapy was never one to heed advice of this nature, and he set out, singlehanded, for a conference with Sam Blonger which had no objective of peace. A policeman saw Smith enter the Blonger place and, sensing that trouble was ahead, hurried after him. He caught up with Soapy just as he was heading for the card room. He stopped him at the door, argued with him vehemently and, after some parley, induced him to leave without carrying his warlike plans, a timely intervention which undoubtedly saved Soapy's life. Shortly afterward it was revealed that Lou Blonger, gripping a double-barreled shotgun, had been crouching behind the cigar counter, prepared to fire the moment Soapy opened the card-room door.

And so, Bascomb went to jail for pistol-whipping John Hughes that night. The actual nature of the arguments that attended the affair are perhaps lost to history.

But were the Smiths and Blongers bitter enemies, as the incident might suggest? Did Soapy ever find himself in the distasteful position of having to pay Sam and Lou? Did the Blongers ultimately drive Smith from town?

As to the latter, probably not. Soapy and Bascomb were in enough trouble over assault charges, and Soapy was forced to lay low. The Blongers, however, were under no such prohibition, and flush with cash.

Which brings us to Geri's letter, written almost seven months after Bascomb's arrest.

Page 1
Page 1
Page 2
Page 2
Denver, Colo. Nov. 18, 1895
Dear Bro Jeff,
I thought I
would write to you / I have
writen Severl times but
never got aney ancer / I gest
Received a letter From
Emie and Eava / it is to
bad Bob Emies Husband
has lost his mind and is
in Jail at Beltan and
our too Sisters are
in a very bad fix / if I was
out or ever get out I could
help them to get along
Som way for Criest sake /
if you can go there or can
do any thing for them do
it for they are in a bad
fix / if I had aney money
I would Send it to them
if it was the Last I had
but I have not got aney
money not one cent
and in a very bad fix
my self / but I may get
out some time and if I do
I will go to hard labor
Rether and to see my own
Blood Suffer for aney thing /
I have lernt a very dear
leson but I think it will
be a good thing for
me / I Saw Mr. Clay
and he said he got
a tellorgram from you /
he said he would do
aney thing he cold to
get me out but you
know how that is / that
may be the last of it /
the Grand Jury found
another Bill agent
me / I will go out to
plead not Saladay [guilty?]
to Salt and Entent
...[to] Kill / I don't Know
Page 3
Page 3
Page 4
Page 4
how I will come out /
Every thing goes wrong
and it would not
serprise me if I get
in the pen before
they get thrugh with
me / old Deneson was
fired out of office a
day or two ago / he...[won't?]
have the pleasur...[e of]
proscuting me any
way / I said to Clay
that I herd you was
coming back / he said
he would be glad
to see you…[again?] /
the Grand Jury found
a bill agent Sam
Blonger for obtaning
stolen goods / it was
about a check I got him
to get the money
out for me
when you had the
Joint over Solmons
Pawn Shop / the check
was for Six Hundard
dollars / Sopose you
rember it / Bowers and
Jackson won it so they
want me for a witness /
what would you do
if you was around /
I dont Know of aney
more to write so
I will close / from
your Bro Bascom
Cor County Jail
Denver, Colo. Nov. 18, 1895
Dear Bro Jeff,
I thought I would write to you. I have writen Severl times but never got aney ancer.
I gest [just] Received a letter From Emie and Eava. It is to bad Bob, Emies Husband, has lost his mind and is in Jail at Beltan [Texas], and our too Sisters are in a very bad fix. If I was out, or ever get out, I could help them to get along Som way, for Criest sake. If you can go there, or can do any thing for them, do it, for they are in a bad fix. If I had aney money I would Send it to them, if it was the Last I had, but I have not got aney money, not one cent, and in a very bad fix my self.
But I may get out some time, and if I do, I will go to hard labor Rether and to see my own Blood Suffer for aney thing. I have lernt a very dear leson, but I think it will be a good thing for me.
I Saw Mr. Clay, and he said he got a tellorgram from you. He said he would do aney thing he cold to get me out, but you know how that is. That may be the last of it.
The Grand Jury found another Bill agent [against] me. I will go out to plead not Saladay [guilty?] to Salt and Entent [assault with intent] ...[to] Kill. I don't Know how I will come out. Every thing goes wrong, and it would not serprise me if I get in the pen before they get thrugh with me.
Old Deneson was fired out of office a day or two ago. He...[won't?] have the pleasur...[e of] proscuting me, any way.
I said to Clay that I herd you was coming back. He said he would be glad to see you…[again?]
The Grand Jury found a bill agent [against] Sam Blonger for obtaning Stolen goods. It was about a check I got him to get the money out for me when you had the Joint over Solmons Pawn Shop. The check was for Six Hundard dollars. Sopose you rember it. Bowers and Jackson won it so they want me for a witness. What would you do if you was around?
I dont Know of aney more to write so I will close.
From your Bro, Bascom Smith
County Jail

Wow. Not the Bascomb I thought I knew. Touching, really.

So, what's it all mean?

1. Where's Soapy? Has he left for the Yukon?

2. Who is Dennison? Well, turns out the Col. is quite a character himself, and we'll do more on him later. But here's the short bio: son of Ohio governor, partner of Sam and Lou in the Forest Queen claim, DA and judge in Denver.

While running for mayor of Columbus, Ohio in 1879, he was noted as being supported by "the most disreputable bummers, as well as the entire gambling fraternity, their cappers, and the gin-mill combination." He lost.

A Chicago Trib article of 1882 describes the plight of Dennison's poor family, left back in Ohio after the Colonel's journey west, uncared for, living off the generosity of Dennison's parents, his wife forced to perform on stage to feed her children.

"She has four children, ranging from 4 to 9 years of age, and a husband living in Denver, who neither writes nor sends her a dollar, oblivious to her existence and to his four children. Gentlemen returning to Columbus who have seen him in Denver report that he makes money fast, and, in his princely style, anybody can share it with him—except his wife and children."

Col., your table at the Grafters Club is waiting.

But all of this begs the question — why would a corrupt son of a gun like Dennison, a partner of the Blongers and corrupt politician friendly to the bunks, be looking forward to prosecuting Bascomb? A grudge, perhaps? Certainly not out of moral indignation.

3. What about Bowers and Jackson? Jeff Smith informs us that "Reverand" John Bowers and "Professor" Turner Jackson were members of the soap gang. Jeff tells us they were both involved in the Stewart robbery in Skagway, the robbery which ultimately led to the shooting death of Soapy.

Greeley Tribune, December 29, 1892

"Soapy" Smith, "Joe" Bowers and "Dr." Jackson, three of the slickest con men in America, have left Denver for a short season. We have no doubt but they will return in time to assist the ladies of capitol hill in redeeming Denver at the election next spring—just as they did last fall.

4. But what about Sam and the $600 check? Now we get to the heart of it.

The Grand Jury found a bill agent [against] Sam Blonger for obtaning Stolen goods. It was about a check I got him to get the money out for me when you had the Joint over Solmons Pawn Shop. The check was for Six Hundard dollars. Sopose you rember it. Bowers and Jackson won it so they want me for a witness.

So — Bowers and Jackson "win" a check, give it to Bascomb, who takes it to Sam, to "get the money out for me." As a party to the transaction, the state wants Bascomb as a witness in the case against Sam, or against Bowers and Jackson — not sure. One more to research.

When did this transfer occur? It had to be before the Hughes assault months prior, as Bascomb went directly to jail. Additionally, Bascomb suggests Soapy might "rember" it, indicating it had been a while. This may mean that the Smith's relationship with the Blongers may have soured prior to the night of the assault, but it nevertheless does assert that there was a working relationship between the two camps in the recent past.

And what kind of transaction was it? All we can say with relative certainty is that Sam gave Bascomb cash for a check that was probably the payoff from a swindle.

But did Sam cash the check for Smith, who would have had trouble cashing it elsewhere at the time? Jeff Smith favors this interpretation.

Or did Sam buy the "Stolen goods" at a discount as a way to launder the transaction? This would insulate Bowers and Jackson from prosecution, and make some cash on the side — the role of a fixer. In this case, it got him into trouble. We will have to find out more.

We saw this scenario before in the Otero con in 1882. Doc Baggs took a check for $2400 from New Mexico businessman Miguel Otero in a fake lottery scam. Baggs then sold the check to Pliny Rice at a discount, after which Rice intended to cash the check for its face value.

But Otero's son, also named Miguel, and a future governor of New Mexico, demanded justice. Baggs, of course, simply confessed that he didn't have it, so the younger Otero pursued Rice, who attempted to sell the check back for $1000 — and then produced a fake check to complete the deal! On a second try, the real check in hand, Rice was arrested by an honest Denver cop recruited by Otero.

So, I'm swindling some tourist. Will I take a check? You bet! How better to get at all that money he has back home in the bank — much more than he would carry while traveling. Once I have his check in hand, the next order of business is to pass it off. Cons can be very difficult to prosecute as it is, but if the evidence is no longer in your possession, it's even harder.

An associate buys the check, say fifty cents on the dollar. The grifter gets cash, trading value for liquidity and anonymity, and the buyer makes 100% profit if he can get the check cashed. It didn't always work, obviously, but I guess it worked often enough to be worthwhile.

All this matters to the extent that the Smiths were never known to work for anyone, the Blongers included. And this certainly doesn't prove otherwise — but there is more to uncover.

It is plain, however, that the Smith's Denver fortunes were on the wane in 1895, and the Blongers' on the rise.


Col. Dennison

From Scott:

Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army

Dennison, William Neil. Ohio. Ohio. 2 lieutenant 2 artillery 5 Aug 1861; 1 lieutenant 12 Nov 1861; captain 3 Jan 1867; brevet captain 6 July 1864 for gallant and good conduct in the battle of Antietam Md; major 6 July 1864 for gallant and good conduct in the battles of Gaines Mill and Malvern Hill Va and lieutenant colonel 13 Mar 1865 for good conduct and gallant services during the war; discharged 31 Dec 1870 at his own request.

Dennison was in the 2nd Brigade Horse Artillery under Sheridan. So Mike might have run into Dennison at Antietam. But probably not. He's 2nd from the right.

Neil Dennison, 2nd from right


After seeing how Bascom wrote his own name, we have officially altered our standard spelling and dropped the final "b".

What about Clay?

I Saw Mr. Clay, and he said he got a tellorgram from you. He said he would do aney thing he cold to get me out, but you know how that is. That may be the last of it... I said to Clay that I herd you was coming back. He said he would be glad to see you…[again?]

I found an Ed Clay working in the courts in some capacity, perhaps as an attorney.

Scott found a letter to Soapy from Perry A. Clay in Soapy Smith: King of the Frontier Con Men, by Frank C. Robertson and Beth Kay Harris.

Denver, Colo.
April 13th, 1897.
Friend Jeff:
I have not answered your last several letters because Yank and others have given me to understand that you had left Spokane. I was a McMurray man and we all put the enemy to much confusion.
The gamblers were fighting us while we had never touched them. So we thought we would give them a touch of high life. Things are picking up here to some extent. Quite a bit of building going on.
I would like to see you again and hear your jolly laugh.
You always have my best wishes. Parson Uzzell showed me your telegram. Write me when you can.
Your friend,
Perry A. Clay.

Okay, let's assume Bascomb is referring to Perry Clay, associate of Soapy. Who was Mr. Clay? A big piece of the puzzle, it turns out.

According to:

Containing Portraits and Biographies of many well known Citizens of the Past and Present
Together with Biographies and Portraits of all the Presidents of the United States

PERRY A. CLAY, formerly under-sheriff and for five months acting sheriff of Arapahoe County, was well qualified by nature for the positions he has held, being the possessor of ability and courage not unlike that displayed by his relative, the illustrious Commodore Perry, the hero of Lake Erie. He is of English descent, but his forefathers have been identified with American history since an early period in the settlement of this country, and his grandfather and great-grandfather were patriotic soldiers, the one in the war of 1812, the other in the Revolution...
The subject of this sketch is one of a family of four sons and two daughters, of whom two of the sons are deceased. Harvey, the eldest brother, was a member of a Wisconsin regiment during the Civil war, was wounded in the battle of Antietam, losing his right arm at the shoulder joint. The record in the pension office shows that, of all who received similar wounds in the war, he is the sole survivor...

Brother Mike served at Antietam in the 3rd Wisconsin, and was also disabled at the time of the battle.

In Kilbourn City, Wis., where he was born June 4, 1859, our subject spent only his infant days. He was six when the family removed to Cobden, Ill., and his education was obtained in the district schools there and the State Normal University at Carbondale, from which he graduated in 1875. Afterward he taught for two years at Makanda, Ill., and then learned telegraphy in the Illinois Central depot. He was with the St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern road and the Western Union Telegraph Company at St. Louis until 1882, when he came to Colorado. He was with the Union Pacific on the Kansas Pacific division in Colorado and later with the Denver & Rio Grande road until 1889 when he was appointed an officer on the police force, and after patrolling a beat for nine months, he was made sergeant and then promoted to the rank of captain, which was virtually the office of assistant chief. In 1894, through an attempt to make a political machine of the police department, the question arose whether or not the so-called metropolitan system meant anything. Chief-of-Police John F. Stone and Captain Clay contended that removals could not be made for political reasons, and acting under the advice of able council and the main portion of the business community of Denver, organized the police department, and held the city hall against the state militia. When the matter finally reached the supreme court, a decision was rendered against them, and Chief Stone, Captain Clay and fifty-six subordinate officers retired voluntarily from the city service.

So, it was Chief Stone and Captain Perry Clay who led the army of "special deputies" hired to stand against the state militia.

Very interesting. What they are describing, of course, is the City Hall War. Notice Gov. Waite isn't even mentioned. And voluntary retirement? And they say spin is a new concept.

In all fairness, it is convenient to say that Waite invaded Denver to free City Hall from the Fraternity. Waite knew that he was being heavy-handed by calling in the militia — he was trying to get arrested, to force the state Supreme Court to rule — but it was folly to believe the gang at City Hall would roll over and surrender their right to govern their city. Many were "duly" elected after all, and tough as hobnails to a man. With lots of associates ready to back them up. This particular treatment gives us a little triangulation on the whole affair.

During the next two years Mr. Clay and Mr. Stone carried on a paper called the Patriot, in the interests of the Republican party. Mr. Clay is an adherent of that party, but a strong supporter of its silver wing. In January, 1896, he was appointed under-sheriff by Mr. Webb and two years later he was again appointed to the position, which is practically that of acting sheriff. In 1896 he went to Europe in search of the defaulting clerk of the district court of Arapahoe, whom he arrested in Southampton and brought back to Denver, after an absence of only forty-four days.

The letter to Soapy would fit into the bio right here.

In May, 1898, Sheriff Webb died. The last paper which he dictated and signed three days before his death was as follows: "To the Honorable Board of County Commissioners of Arapahoe County, Colo.: Gentlemen: I am now lying seriously sick. I respectfully request your honorable body, in the event of my death, to appoint Perry A. Clay sheriff. He has been a most faithful friend to me, and as under-sheriff has proven himself to be a most able and efficient officer, and is thoroughly familiar with the duties pertaining to the office of sheriff.
Very respectfully,
The various Grand Army posts of the city passed resolutions requesting this appointment, and lawyers and business men joined fraternal societies in the same request; but the county board selected another man. Mr. Clay did not wait for something to turn up. The next day he bought a half interest in The Denver Examiner, "the live weekly of the west."

This guy is right up our alley. Newspaperman too. Handy.

...His countenance expresses honor and honesty, thus reflecting the true history of his life. He is no sycophant or worshiper of power. He is consistently temperate and moral. He is tolerant and generous to a fault. He is a speaker and writer of no mean ability... He has written verse which the Harper publications have considered acceptable. He possesses no small or petty larceny traits of character, nor is he "mealy-mouthed;" men and things are called by their right names by Perry A. Clay.

So we've found a figure who might very well be synonymous with "the police" when we discuss Denver in the early 1890s, and "the newspapers" when we talk about the late 1890s, and we do either fairly often.

In short, the Sheriff-Apparent, Defender of the Hall, and personal friend of the Smiths is telling Bascomb he would like to help. Bascomb knows better.

But there's even more to this letter. When he states that he was a McMurray man (in 1897), a search of this site yields the connection. In April of 1897 T.S. McMurray and the Taxpayer's ticket swept to victory in Denver, despite the best efforts of the gambling community, including Bat Masterson, at least one Denver police detective, and surely the Blongers too. But Perry was in opposition. Obviously, a complex individual.

Perry also shows up as an early example of the use of the moniker mile high city:

20 July 1905, Wellsboro (PA) Gazette, pg. 1, col. 2:

The reunion of the B. P. O. E. will be held in Denver in 1906. Perry Clay led the fight at Buffalo for the mile high city.

So, what have we here? Far be it from me to besmirch Mr. Clay's good name, but I think somebody's got a table waiting in the Grafters Club. Up front.


Ballinger-Pinchot Controversy

A while ago, a few tiny, cryptic references on sent us in search of the Congressional Serial Set, 1910, Volume X. Four trips to library later, we still haven't quite achieved access to it, but no fear. Another document that contains the same material has now appeared, and this one, Investigation of the Department of the Interior and of the Bureau of Forestry, published by Congress in 1910, is unrestricted.

The new volume confirms much of what we needed to know.

In 1902, what was thought to be a massive coal field was identified in Alaska. Environmental regulations recently enacted by Teddy Roosevelt's administration made it illegal for a single entity to claim a tract of this size, or for many owners of smaller tracts to combine their holdings. This arrangement was well-suited to areas condusive to the mining of precious metals, as such claims could be profitably worked on a smaller scale. A coalfield, however, was a different matter, and Standard Oil had its eye on this one.

In an attempt to cash in despite the law, a small group of Seattle businessmen arranged for dozens of individuals to claim individual tracts, with the understanding that the land would be transferred at some point to Standard, and they would each have shares in the undertaking and make a good profit in the process.

The trouble didn't start until 1909, when Collier's printed an article accusing Taft's Secretary of the Interior, Richard Ballinger, of quashing an investigation into the deal a few years before, when he was in Roosevelt's General Land Office. Ballinger was from Seattle himself, had been an attorney for the group, and even had a financial interest in the deal.

But what was Simon Blonger's role? The original reference was unclear.

In a search for one S.R. Blonger, located by George Simmonds, agent, it was learned that he, Blonger had moved to Denver, Colorado, but his street address could not be found.
A Mrs. Dickson, with whom Blonger formerly roomed here in Seattle, Wash., a negress, stated that she had heard Blonger talk of his coal claim. That he belonged to some sort of club and that the members of the club all had coal claims and handled them on shares. These claims are in Alaska. That Blonger went downtown three or four times to sign some papers in connection with his coal claim.

The Investigation gives a just a little more. Of the several in the inner circle acting as agents in the deal, the most well-known are the thirty-three Cunningham claims. Simon signed up with another agent named Simmonds. Simon was no longer in Seattle at the time of the investigation, but had moved back to Denver, and was evidently not pursued.


Bascomb with a "B"

Controversy! Scandal! Intrigue! Jeff over at begs to differ on the spelling of Bascom(b)'s name. We had always used "Bascomb" previously, even though most sources seemed to spell it it "Bascom," because the former is in fact the accepted spelling for the name — and those old papers are littered with massacred monikers. One ad for Park Van Tassell's place in Albuquerque spells his name both ways — Van Tassell and Van Tassel. Go figger.

When we saw Bascom's signature we thought perhaps we should alter our standard, though his level of literacy might well extend to his own name. I've seen other examples. So, six of one... I could go either way. But I just changed 'em all!

Ain't Life Wonderful!


True Detective Mysteries

We've got some great stuff coming up from a 1932 article by one of Van Cise's key assistants, Detective Andy Koehn. The article is in True Detective Mysteries magazine (source of the truss ad), and it has lots of great material, written a few years before Van Cise penned Fighting the Underworld. At least the second half does. We're waiting on the first installment.


True Detective Mysteries, March, 1931

Be A DetectiveProtruding EarsShape Your Nose


Unmasking the Denver Bunco Ring, Part I

True Detective Mysteries

Adding a new feature article today, a rare pleasure. Published in 1932, four years prior to Fighting the Underworld, this article may well have inspired Col. Van Cise to give it a go himself.

After Philip S. Van Cise was elected District Attorney in 1920, I believe it took a while for him to figure out what Denver's culture of graft was all about. The world of the bunko steerer was alien to his experience. But in time he understood something of how the bunko games were played, and how much money was being drained from the tourist class — a half million a year, at least. In time he understood that Lou — to whom the Col. took an immediate dislike when they met during his primary campaign — had extensive and powerful connections, and the loyalty of many citizens of lesser stature, as well. He would be a hard man to catch.

For our part, we can add that Lou, and older brother Sam too, had dabbled in "official work" since the early Eighties at least, so it should come as no surprise that he would have good friends among the Denver cops, sheriff's department, and the detective squad in particular. It was, in fact, former city detective Leonard DeLue that introduced Lou to the Colonel.

And so it was that secrecy would be essential in bringing down the Blonger organization. To do it, Denver's district attorney would have to cobble together his own detective force, paid for by donations quietly solicited from wealthy reform-minded citizens.

Enter Andy Koehn, a veteran police detective from St. Louis. Recommended by a cop trusted by Van Cise, Koehn would be useful for surveillance. He could investigate the areas frequented by the Blonger gang without being recognized as a cop. Even better, no one on the Denver police force would recognize him either.

The article is in two parts. The first details the swindling of Frank Donovan, a retired contractor from Dallas. He lost $50,000.

Van Cise described a big store con as well, the fake stock market con called the rag, as told by Blonger bookmaker Len Reamey. The rag's evil twin, the fake betting parlor con known as the wire, is detailed here by Koehn.

But not really: "Greyson," the Spieler, is introduced to Donovan as a financial wizard, and later he admits that he trades stocks with insider knowledge. Yet the bunks decide to play the wire with Donovan instead of the rag. Eventually, Donovan is pulling winning horse after horse out of a notebook. Inside trader on the stock market AND possessor of a magic notebook that knows the winner of every race? That's just lazy.

The Donovan swindle also involves wonder horse Deneen, though Koehn misspells it Deenen. That's odd, as Koehn would surely have heard the name spoken.

Next: The Vampire Squad and unauthorized electronic surveillance circa 1922. No joke.

Denin, the Wonder Horse of all the Ages


Bascomb with a "B"

Jeff Smith talked us into it... He has a letter wherein Bascomb signs his name with the final "b," so we capitulate. It is the accepted spelling of the name, so despite the numerous instances where the name is spelled otherwise, we're going to go with the original spelling.

March 2006



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