The Famous Blonger Bros.
There is, sometimes, more to life than the brothers Belonger.
But let's not get crazy. Blonger Day, after all, is a mere two weeks hence, so stick around. Blonger Day, April 22, celebrates the day in 2003 when Scott finally uncovered the link between g-g-grandad Mike Belonger's five missing brothers and the notorious Lou Blonger, Overlord of the Denver Underworld.
We like to take the occasion to assess our progress over the last year, and look at what's coming up. We'll be making an annoucement of inteest at that time, so come on back. It should be an interesting summer.
The Tourists Club
Alert associate Soapy Smith found this picture on eBay, taken in a studio at 1740 Larimer which housed Blonger Bros. Tourists Club in 1892. We don't know when the photo was taken, or who the men are.
Rocky Mountain News, August 26, 1922
...Newspaper records of the history of the two Blongers in Denver are meager. They reveal little of their activities.
The police blotter, on the contrary, is rich with accounts of the two men and their checkered careers. First entries were made about 1881. After that year they follow at irregular intervals, reaching a climax in the 90's. One of the famous raids made by the police on the ... tourist's club, 1740 Larimer Street operated by the "Blonger boys" was that of Feb. 13, 1892.
Engineer Trapped in Bet.
Both Lou and Sam, together with men named Walker and Phour, were captured and charged with the robbery of C. I. Tolly, a mining engineer and assayer of Longmont, Colo. Tolly had complained to the police that he had come to Denver and had been discussing a money transaction with a friend in the Markham hotel, when two men, who had been listening, approached him and began talking of mining. On the pretense of showing him some ore from Creede, they invited Tolly to walk with them to Larimer Street.
As they passed the Tourists club, the story goes, one of the men asked Tolly if he would mind stepping in for a few minutes. Tolly stood behind one of the men as they engaged with a some others in a friendly game of poker. One of the men drew three aces and a king and turning to Tolly asked him what he would bet on it. Tolly reluctantly replied that if he were playing he would put $100 on it.
The man on the other side of the table made a pretense of taking the bet. Of course, the aces and the king lost. The men then insisted that he pay, and when Tolly attempted to escape they threatened his life if he did not sign over the money. Tolly made out a check for $100 and went back to Longmont. Friends urged him to return to Denver and complain to the police. His complaint resulted in the raid.
Time flies. Once a year, on the day our family became reacquainted with our long-lost uncles, the Famous Blonger Bros., we like to assess the year's finds, and talk about goals for the coming months.
First, the big news: we'd like to announce the Blonger Bros. Convergance Tour 2007. Starting in California following another engagement, Scott will head east toward Denver with his lovely wife Julie. Tami and I will head west from Illinois shortly thereafter. Here's what's on the agenda:
Burying The Hatchet If all goes well, Scott will meet with the infamous Soapy Smith to bury the hatchet and make peace between the Smiths and Blongers. While we wouldn't suggest that Lou and Sam drove Soapy and his gang from Denver and Soapy to his fate in Creede but when Soapy and brother Bascomb went on their rampage in 1895, the Blongers were waiting in the wings, ready to take over Denver's bunco operations lock, stock and barrel without missing a beat. Let's pray there's no bloodshed.
Silver Reef Then, after a stopover in Vegas, Scott and Julie will visit Silver Reef, down in southwestern Utah a neck of the woods not often gotten to. Lou said he and Sam lived (and probably had a saloon, etc.) in Silver Reef in 1878, after doing the same in Tuscarora in 1877, and just before moving back to Salt Lake City later in '78. This is also the summer in which they supposedly spent the summer in Dodge. Busy boys.
Lawrence Meanwhile, Tami and I will be heading east by land with our trusty canine Digit. First stop: Lawrence, KS. Lawrence, founded in the 1850s, was a stop on the California Road going west, and a prominent community in the anti-slavery movement running up to the War between the States. Hickok spent time there during 1858-1859. During the war, many men were killed and much of the city burned to the ground by Quantrill.
Lawrence is better known to us as the place where "Lou Blomger" got his start, running a hotel and restaurant. In Matt Braun's novel Mattie Silks, Lou hires a young Mattie as waitress, takes a shine to her that lasts many decades, and later sets her up in Denver as the city's most powerful madame.
Dodge City Next Tami and I go on to Dodge, where everyone seems to think Lou and Sam spent that special summer in 1878, gambling and hobnobbing with the likes of Doc Holliday, the Mastersons, the Earps. That summer Bat's brother Ed was killed, Wyatt is appointed Assistant Marshal. Eddie Foy is killed, as is Dora Hand. Bat is appointed Sheriff.
Many sources place the Blongers there at this time, including Lou's obits, but Lou's pension request is silent on this, and no documentation has been found.
Abilene Joe claimed to have spent time here.
Cañon City Tami and I'll be passing by the penitentiary where Lou died on our way into Colorado. Hopefully we can get a picture or two.
Buena Vista This little Colorado town is home to Frontier and Silver Creek Ranches, where siblings Jeff and Linda and I worked for a time years ago. We'll stay here a few days.
Cripple Creek From our base near Buenie we'll finally visit Ironclad Hill and try to determine what's become of the Forest Queen mine, Sam and Lou's mother lode. This is also the site of the Battle of Bull Hill, not far from the Queen, and we'll check this out too.
Leadville Next we'll head to Leadville, where the boys spent 1879, along with Horace and Baby Doe Tabor, Molly Brown, Doc Holliday, Ed Chase, Bat Masterson, and three prospectors accused of holding up a stage that year, Jesse James and Bob and Charley Ford. Sam ran for mayor.
While there, Tami and I hope to pan some gold, and visit the Blonger mine.
The Blonger is near Fryer Hill, as is the Robert E. Lee, where Simon was superintendent, along with the Climax, the Little Chief, and the Matchless, among others. Here's a map of the district, with Leadville at the bottom, and Fryer Hill just above and left:
Here's the Blonger, center, just off the end of E. 5th St.
Georgetown Sam or Lou (probably Lou) had a theater here in 1879.
Nederland Lou had a tungsten mine here around the time of WWI, and a hotel.
Later, it's on to Boulder, and Denver, where we may have a meet or two, and a chance to check a few sites we've nailed down since our last visit.
Wellington Linda's place.
Council Bluffs On the way home, Tami and I will pass through this bunco town. Master con Ben Marks was from Council Bluffs, and became the town's fixer in later years. Council Bluffs went down in 1919 when the Maybray gang and their Millonaires Club saw the light of day. Both Lou and Yellow Kid Weil are said to have escaped prosecution in the case.
Council Bluffs may also have been the departure point for Sam's wagon train going west in 1858 or 1859.
Red Oak Not far from there is Red Oak, our last stop. Sam and Lou started their journey west here, in what was a frontier town at the time, managing a hotel and billiard hall. It must be considered likely that the Council Bluffs grifters, such as Marks and old friend Doc Baggs, might have frequented these Red Oak establishments, as it was on the rail line.
There you have it. It's a full plate. We may not get everywhere, and we won't be doing research so much as checking things out, but we should nevertheless have plenty to report, and lots of photos to show. Maybe video too, we'll see.
Here's a map of our destinations.
Now let's begin the appraisal...
Did any wishes come true?
Why yes. A year ago we expressed a desire to find out if Lou was in southern New Mexico, as he said he was, 1883 through 1887. The book Black Range Tales, the remembrances of a Silver City pioneer, states that, along with the Thurmond brothers, Lou "Blanger" was indeed one of the big gamblers in town. No further details, but it's worth noting that in addition to living in the Deming/Silver City area, Lou claimed to have stayed with Frank Thurmond and by extension Thurmond's wife, gambler Lottie Thompkins during his stay. Now we have to look into the period more extensively.
We also talked about pinning Sam down during the Civil War. This didn't happen, but we did find evidence of Sam's journey to California a petition he signed requesting the government build a bridge on the Snake River. The document indicates Sam traveled the California Trail, via the Lander Cutoff, in 1858 or 1859, with a train of seventeen wagons. Family lore says he went barefoot.
Denver Behind Bars: The History of the Denver Sheriff Department & Denver's Jail System, 1858-1956, by Lenny Ortiz, offered a wealth of new information on Lou's cronies in Denver the arc of their careers, their connections, and seminal events. This isn't a book that talks about the Blongers, but it is riddled with insight into the men Lou would later count on to protect his bunco operation including men who have not been linked directly to Lou, but who may be guilty by association, including Bat Masterson, Sheriff David Cook of the Rocky Mountain Detectives, Police Chief Hamilton Armstrong, Sheriff Burchinell, detectives Tom Clarke, William Arnett, Sam Emerick and Leonard DeLue.
In May, we located the Blonger Mine in Leadville, which may or may not be the shaft on the Big Pittsburg claim leased by the Blonger Bros. We'll see that claim this summer.
In August, Scott and Julie took a trip to beautiful Philipsburg, Montana, Marvin's home of many years.
A rich new strike was made on the Forest Queen two days after Lou's conviction...
BlongerWorld made its debut, powered by GoogleMaps.
In September, the calendar 2007 was released. Looks great. Still some available.
We got information on Sam's wagon train, and got a much, much clearer picture of the numerous Blonger joints in Denver.
In entertainment news, we found a fleeting reference to Lou in the book High Sierra but not the Bogart/Lupino film.
What's more, we discovered that Lou served as model for one of Matt Braun's favorite recurring characters, the notorious Lou Blomger. The book Mattie Silks, in particular, has Lou in a major role.
But the big shocker, undoubtedly, was the revelation that Joe had shot and killed a man his boss, no less in the course of a heated dispute. What's more, the incident took place at the Bottom Dollar mine in New Mexico. Joe's association with that mine, one of New Mexico's oldest, has been known to us since nearly the beginning, in 2003.
Some slow times in there, but all in all, not a bad year...
Lou Makes His Stage Debut
Every week seems to bring something surprising.
Until a few months ago, it was our belief that Lou Blonger had never been depicted in fiction. Then we discovered the novels of Matt Braun, wherein “Lou Blomger” plays a recurring role, with a star turn in Mattie Silks. But print is one thing and the stage is another, and so far an actual in-the-flesh portrayal has remained a elusive goal. We have made some attempts at stage- and screenplay, but none of them have gotten very far. Not long after we started this blog, we got a call from a television producer who was interested in showcasing Lou Blonger’s life, but that fell through. With no leads and no prospects, we weren’t expecting any news on this front.
So it was that some lazy Saturday night Googling turned up a most unexpected result. It appears that the character of Lou Blonger made his stage debut on March 17 in a production called Arizona, in the college town of Skövde in southern Sweden.
In an amazing coincidence, we have more than a passing familiarity with Skövde. Our great-great-great-great-grandfather, Petter Lars Andersson, was born there in 1743. (Hey, stop laughing . I’m not making this up!) Our immigrant ancestor, Johan Gabriel Johansson, lived just 15 miles away before he left his homeland for America in 1886. And in 1981, members of our family, myself included, disembarked from the train in Skövde on our way to the ancestral home at Vättlösa. But none of this has anything to do with Lou Blonger, who resides on the other side of the family tree and who we believe, heretofore, had never uttered a word på svenska.
How did this production come about? Swedish universities have a theatrical tradition called spex (short for “spectacle”) that combines aspects of musical theater, improv, and farce placed against a historical setting. There’s also an element of cross-dressing, not unlike the Hasty Pudding revues at Harvard, that harkens back to a time when the students, and thus the actors, were all male.
When I asked for more information on the news of Lou's theatrical debut, I received a very helpful explanation from Johan Ragnarsson, writer, choreographer, and spexgeneral of Arizona. The idea for his story came while listening to the song Hot Stuff by Donna Summer, which is a good example of how convoluted the writing process can be. But before I allow Johan to go into more detail on the plot, let’s cut to the chase, the moment we’ve all been waiting for:
is Doc Holliday
and Jonatan Streith
is Lou Blonger
's world premiere production of
Johan explains the plot and its inspiration:
A spex is a musical comedy, produced by university students, usually with new texts for old melodies. The audience may interact with the show by shouting for a replay of any event on stage, or be more specific by for example shouting "backwards", "faster", "harder", "in German" and so on. Traditionally the story of a spex is built around a historical person or event.
So, how did I come up with the idea for Arizona? Well, I believe it actually started while I was driving a car, listening to Donna Summer’s Hot Stuff, and realized that this sounds almost like hosta (which is Swedish for “cough”). That could be a spex song. Then I just had to figure out what historical person would sing a song about coughing. I kept thinking about it, and eventually realized that Doc Holliday was a good idea.
So what could happen around Doc Holiday? Since he was a dentist, I came up with an idea of an Armageddon parody. In the movie Armageddon, Bruce Willis plays the world's best driller who has to stop a meteorite from destroying Earth. Dentists also have drills, so I went for this idea.
Next I had to come up with what characters should be in the story, what they should do, and what year it would take place, so I did some research, mainly through Wikipedia. I needed a meteorite and a doomsday prophecy. I found out that a comet was seen in 1882, which also was the year of the end of the world according to the predictions of Charles Piazzi Smyth.
I needed a bad guy. A con artist could have good use of a town full of people scared by the thought of the end of existence. I looked for one and found Lou Blonger. (It seems that the real Lou Blonger actually helped the Earp gang during their vendetta ride, but in this story I let them be enemies.) I also put the astronomer Henrietta Swan Leavitt in the story as a counterweight. She would be the reasonable one, that doesn't believe in the doomsday, or in anything that Lou tries to convince the people that they need. From these and some other ideas, I wrote a synopsis, which I called Tombstone eller Kometen kommer. A spex traditionally have two titles. Kometen kommer [The Comet is Coming] is the Swedish title of Tove Jansson’s book Comet in Moominland.
We actually did a lot of changes to the synopsis. Instead of keeping the story in Tombstone, we let a group of five walk through the desert to the impact place, where they would hopefully find out if the world really is in danger, and if so, how the danger can be stopped. This change is the reason why the title was altered to Arizona.
We decided that the group should consist of Doc, Charles and Henrietta. This version of Henrietta was the assistant of Charles, and after a while, since she wasn't the same person any more, we changed her surname name to Haeger. The last two of the group was Wyatt Earp and a ten-year-old Pearl Hart. (After having some information mailed to me from the library of Pearl's home city, we changed Pearl's name to Lillie Davey, since this was probably her birth name. She isn't called Pearl Hart until the end of the show.) We also decided that one of the members of the group should be a traitor, that is sent by Lou.
Markus and I and David who also joined the writing team, worked on the script during the last summer, and eventually got to this:
We start in Tombstone, which is the home of Lou, Wyatt, Doc, Lillie and Mayor Clum. Charles P. Smyth enters with a huge sign, shouting about the judgment day and brimstone and mooses. The five comet-hunters start there journey towards the impact place at the top of Humphreys Peak. On there way, they meet the Indian tribe of Paracopa (which sounds almost like Maricopa, but somewhat more like a flying tortoise), they walk through dangerous parts of the desert, where piles of sand move by themselves, they meet John Swilling, the founder of Phoenix, who lives all alone in a city he calls Stonewall, they almost dry to death in the desert, since the traitor has emptied the water bottles, they meet Robert and Arvid from Vilhelm Moberg’s Emigrants books, and they face Yellow Jack, the embodiment of yellow fever. After all this, they have finally reached Humphreys Peak, the traitor is exposed, the comet comes, but the earth survives. Lillie becomes Pearl, Doc starts selling mayflowers, Lou plants the Bois de Boulogne in various parts of Europe, Charles gets involved in the invention of Coca-Cola and Wyatt returns to Tombstone for the gun-fight at O.K. Corral (even though it actually happened in 1881).
Whew! And all of this in 120 minutes!
Not understanding the "Bois de Boulogne" reference, I asked Johan for some guidance, and he replied:
As far as I know, there are three Bois de Boulogne. Or actually there is only one Bois de Boulogne, but there are also two Boulognerskogar in Sweden. There is one Boulognerskog in Gävle and one in Skövde. They were both inspired by the French Bois de Boulogne. Boulognerskogen in Skövde is the location of our student house, where there among other things is pub on Wednesdays and disco (or dhisko according to the studentic tradition of strange spellings) on Saturdays. This house was also where Arizona was played. The house is called Boulogner.
When I presented the script for Arizona to the actors, most people didn't realize that Lou Blonger was an actual historical person. Someone thought it was just an anagram for Boulogner. And I hadn't even thought of the similarity of the names until then. So I added this to the script afterwards:
Lou Blonger rymde från fängelset och emigrerade till Europa, där han försökte sig på att plantera skog i Gästrikland, Paris och Västergötland. Det var han ganska kass på. Träden stod glest, och skogarna blev parker. Dessutom kunde varken fransoserna eller svenskarna lära sig att stava hans namn riktigt.
Lou Blonger escaped from jail and emigrated to Europe, where he tried to plant forests in Gästrikland, Paris, and Västergötland [the region were Skövde is located]. He was rather bad at it. The trees were scrawny and the forests turned into parks. In addition, neither the French nor the Swedes ever learned to spell his name correctly.
Powered by such imagination, Arizona completed its brief run on March 31. But here’s the best thing: There is a national spex competition on May 18 in Örebro. Yes, it is still possible to see Lou Blonger . perhaps for the last time ever, who knows? . on stage. Unfortunately, circumstances prevent any of the BlongerBros.com staff from attending, but we do have a cousin who’s studying in Sweden. Adam, are you available?
Johan notes that a DVD of the show will be available when editing is complete. Until then, readers of this forum will have to be satisfied with the following links:
Photos of the production (Swedish)
ATLAS2 spex company (Swedish)
University of Skövde (English)
Tearful Goodbye to an Inanimate Object
My wife names her cars. When she does, they graduate from being overpriced hunks of steel to members of the family. Lola, a Toyota Rav4, was special because she was "born" (bought) on April 22, 2003, hours before we discovered the Blonger connection, and thus Blonger Day and Lola's birthday coincided exactly. Lola was totaled in an accident on April 5. It was the other driver's fault, everyone's OK, and we've got a new car, but in a way that is hard to explain, we will miss Lola a lot.
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Copyright Notice: Original material copyright 2003-12 Scott Johnson and Craig Johnson. Other copyrights may apply to materials found herein. Our primary goal is to reintroduce the Blonger Bros. to the lexicon of the Wild West. We therefore encourage the use of our research, provided due credit is given.