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May 2008


Bonynge vs. Shafroth

This turned up on GoogleBooksContested Election Case of Robert W. Bonynge vs. John F. Shafroth From The First Congressional District of Colorado, published in 1903.

The fire and police board of Denver was said to be cooperating with the state Democratic Party to influence elections — surprise. As an example, Lou was reported to have made numerous visits to the state party headquarters for the purpose of buying protection, in this case from party operative Charlie F. Wilson.


Gangs of Denver

Soapy Smith has this to say:

Hello, Boys.

The latest entry on your website is excellent. There are just two minor corrections I would like to mention, more for your own edification than actually needing a rewrite on your website post of April 26.

You mention Soapy in Creede in March of 1893. Actually he was firmly back in Denver, and had been for nearly a year. Creede died out after the June 5, 1892 fire. Soapy had returned to Denver with McGinty (the petrified man) in April. He returned to Creede just after the fire and may have been in the camp for Bob Ford's death. It has been suggested by some that he may have had something to do with Ford's death.

The second correction is listing William Jackson as a "former" member of the Soap Gang. He did stay in Denver when Soapy fled, as did others in the gang, looking after Soapy's interests in town. The time between 1895 and 1897 Soapy worked with the courts in an attempt to return to Denver. Even after arriving in Skagway he had John Bowers going back and forth to Denver. Jackson joined Soapy in Skagway, Alaska. He was one of the men who robbed John Stewart of his gold and was on the wharf the night Soapy was murdered. Jackson pulled his revolver and placed it to "Si" Tanner's chest and probably would have pulled the trigger had it not been for the mass of vigilante's running to the scene of the shoot-out. Jackson was given a ten-year prison sentence.

-Jeff Smith

Thanks Jeff!



Mollie Blonger

We recently learned from Supreme Court testimony that Sam was in Dodge City in 1885. Now a newly posted census reveals that Mollie Blonger was in town as well.

Mollie's relationship to the Blonger Bros. is unknown, but the one thing we do know, you may recall, is that she was listed as under indictment in Albuquerque for "maintaining a nuisance" in April of 1888 — just three days after hooker Kitty Blonger was acquitted of murder in Arizona. Our working assumption is that both women worked for the Blongers in Albuquerque in 1882. This latest find seems to bolster that assumption.



Honest John Shafroth and the Election of 1902

As recently mentioned here, we have learned a lot lately about the Blongers in the 1890's. Now, with the appearance of this interesting case posted on Google Books — I'm not clear on what court heard it — we shed some interesting light on doings at the start of the new century.

According to Wikipedia:

John Franklin Shafroth (June 9, 1854-February 20, 1922) was a United States Representative and Senator from Colorado... He moved to Denver, Colorado in 1879 and continued the practice of law. He was city attorney from 1887 to 1891 and was elected as a Republican to the Fifty-fourth Congress as a Representative. He was reelected as a Silver Republican to the Fifty-fifth, Fifty-sixth, and Fifty-seventh Congresses; he presented credentials as a Democratic Member-elect to the Fifty-eighth Congress and served from March 4, 1895, until his resignation on February 15, 1904, when he declared his conviction that his opponent, Robert W. Bonynge, had been duly elected — after which he was often referred to (sometimes admiringly, sometimes sarcastically) as "Honest John."

Furthermore, perhaps riding to some extent on the good will engendered by his unusual candor, Shafroth served as Governor of Colorado from 1908 to 1912. He's buried in Fairmount Cemetery, as is Lou.

Shafroth's willingness to allow that Bonynge was in fact the duly elected representative from Colorado's First District was apparently his response to the aforementioned suit filed by Bonynge, the text of which runs over nine hundred pages. And those pages reveal, in bits and pieces, yet another chapter in Lou Blonger's rise to power.

First let's look at what we already know.

In late June of 1901, a British tourist named Ritter — said to be a millionaire and proprietor of the Astor house at Tien-Tsin, China — found himself in a poker game with Lou Blonger. After losing a few dollars, he dealt himself a hand that appeared to be a sure thing. Wishing to maximize his win, a man was dispatched to Ritter's quarters to fetch a bigger bankroll. When the cards hit the table, the Brit had inevitably lost $250.

Certain he had been duped, Ritter had a constable rouse a Justice Rise from his sleep, demanding Lou's arrest. What followed was a textbook example of the game Denver bunko game. Lou and several of his men were arrested, then a deal was apparently struck and Ritter got his cash back, after which he went on to China, leaving Chief Armstrong to pursue the case without him.

DA Sanborn rejected the original complaint, calling it faulty and requesting a continuance. He doubted publicly that Chief Armstrong's testimony could convict Blonger. In fact, the Chief never showed for the hearing, and when Sanborn put City Detective Delaney on the stand, his testimony lacked conviction. According to the Denver Times:

The events leading up to the card game were not introduced nor was there any attempt to have them brought in. Chief of Police Armstrong, who had loudly stated that he would be present and testify against Blonger was conspicuously absent. No mention was made of the chance meeting between Ritter and the confederates of Blonger and the admission to the room in the Good block by means of the peculiar raps on the door. Another inconsistency that remained unexplained was Blonger's arrest and the return of the money to Ritter. The whole proceeding was a studious effort to whitewash Blonger and give him a character and license to continue to prey on unsuspecting travelers.
The claims of the police department, from the president of the fire and police board down to the latest appointee to the force, that determined efforts are being made to clean the city of the preying classes are all swept away when confronted with the facts as they exist. Less than a week ago President Adams of the board gave out the statement that the county court and its forces were interfering with the police.

The charges were promptly dropped for lack of evidence.

In August of 1902, Police Magistrate Thomas was said to have received a sizable sum of money from Denver gamblers, and Governor Orman was looking into it. According to Thomas, the money was collected on behalf of a relative who "lost" the cash to associates of Lou. The Governor called on Thomas to produce the relative. According to the Denver Times:

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.

Then came the 1902 elections.

Elbert County Banner, Nov. 14, 1902


[Selected excerpts from that column]

Apparently a lot of evidence is being collected in Denver for the prosecution of the ballot-box stuffers of that city. But nobody believes that any one will suffer for the crimes they committed in this line except the poor widow who was made a dupe of by scheming politicians, and who admits that she voted oftener than the law allows.

Throw out Arapahoe county and make it unaimous [sic]. It is rotten to the core. The gamblers and bunco steerers were too raw, as Jack Hall's dirty work amply indicates. Throw out this county—decency demands it.

Talk about Republican outrages against the ballot-box! Ye Gods! In the palmiest days of Brady and Connors (and they were the limit in their day) they weren't a circumstance to Jack Hall and the police force. At Eighteenth and Arapahoe streets on election day we saw repeaters marched up to the polls under the protection of policemen in uniform while Chief Armstrong and Smithwick stood complacently looking on.

When Stimson was nominated we declared openly that it "appeared like a walkover for Stimson." During the past three weeks, however, our readers have noticed we predicted the election of Peabody. Not many of our friends believed it possible, but when we saw the rawness and the ignorance displayed by the Democratic leaders in winking at the dirty work of the Blongers, the Halls and the other criminals, we felt such decent Democrats would revolt, and they did with a vengeance. Then too, every decent Republican got hot and went to the polls to record their protests. Thousands of decent people voted Tuesday who have not voted in years.

Jack Hall voted fourteen men four times each at one polling place last Tuesday, we are told. This certainly makes the record for "efficient work." Jack deserves hanging for his splendid work. We believe everybody who is entitled to vote ought to be permitted to vote once and have the vote counted. People who sell their votes or repeat ought to be taken out quietly and strung up.

Peabody voted for Stimson and the latter returned the graceful compliment. "Brooks voted for Adams," says the Post, "and Adams went to the polls and voted for himself."

Noting that Representative Shafroth goes unmentioned here, the article above nevertheless begins to scratch the surface of the Bonynge vs. Shafroth controversy and that filthy little election of 1902.

The final tally in this election had Shafroth winning over Bonynge by over three thousand votes. Bonynge contended that he won by at least five thousand votes, and his lawyers had a lot to say on the matter. Here's a morsel from the 390 page document.

The contestee, John F. Shafroth, by reason of the grossest election frauds, feloniously devised and consummated by the political managers and election officials belonging to the Democratic party, acting for and on behalf of the contestee herein, and particularly in a circumscribed portion of the business houses, rooming houses, and tenderloin districts of the city of Denver, in said Arapahoe County, comprising mainly 28 election precincts out of the total of 236 election precincts in the said county of Arapahoe, which said election precincts contain a very small percentage of the voting population of said county; which said frauds were fraudulently [really?] and feloniously devised and consummated by political managers of the Democratic party and Democratic county officials of said Arapahoe County and the fire and police departments of the City of Denver, with the active aid, connivance and knowledge of the election officials in said various election officials in said various election precincts, for the benefit of contestee, John F. Shafroth, and other candidates upon the Democratic ticket, by means of fraudulent, fictitious, and "padded" registrations of illegal and fictitious names, by intimidation, interference and violence in preventing the registration of Republican voters; by malconduct, fraud, corruption, and oppression on the part of the policemen, election constables and officials, and judges and clerks of election, on behalf of contestee and other candidates of the Democratic party; by the "stuffing" of ballot boxes on election day with fraudulent and fictitious ballots illegally marked for contestee and the Democratic candidates; by the illegal voting of repeaters for the contestee and the Democratic candidates; by assualts, insults, violence, and intimidation practiced by the police and election constables and by the precinct election officials, resulting in the driving away of Republican voters from the polls and preventing them from voting for contestant; by violence and felonious assaults upon Republican election officials, watchers, challengers, and workers, thereby driving them away from the polls, and making it possible for said election officials to perpetrate still greater frauds against the purity of the election; by falsifying the election returns, and by innumerable other acts of intimidation, violenece, and fraud, confined mainly to said business portion, lodging houses, and "tenderloin" district of said city of Denver; all of which said fraudulent, illegal, and felonious acts resulted in more than 6,000 illegal, fictitious, and fraudulent votes being counted, returned, and canvassed as cast for contestee, John F. Shafroth...

And then it goes into some detail.

Next, we'll take a look at Lou's part in all of this.



Election of 1902

So let's take a look at Lou's part in all of this, beginning with the testimony of William Arnett, witness on Bonynge's behalf. Arnett is a familiar figure.

In 1890, Arnett was an Arapahoe County sheriff's deputy, serving under William Burchinell, and alongside Tom Clarke and Leonard DeLue. He later became a city detective, like DeLue, and had a saloon on Eigtheenth St. in the 1890's. In 1896 Arnett was part of the Home Rule coalition alongside Sam and Bascomb Smith.

And this from the Fort Collins Courier, March 31, 1923, after Lou's conviction: "William Arnett of the federal department of justice, at the request of Lou Blonger, investigated observation room abandoned by Van Cise's operatives."

On page 239 Arnett describes being turned out of a polling place at Champa and Eighteenth:

So we went right across the street to a saloon, and the saloon was open, and in that saloon I found Mr. Lunny [Democratic committeeman for the precinct] — who is now county clerk out here — and who was a Democratic committeeman, and Mr. Lou Blonger; and they there had from 15 to 20 fellows, and was giving them slips and money, and Mr. Lunney was taking them across the street and voting them, and Mr. Blonger was furnishing the slips and the money.
They would vote, and come right straight back across the street to M. Blonger and get some more slips. Finally Mr. Blonger came over and I says, you are doing pretty well, arn't you Lou?" He says, "I am pretty busy. But," he says, "I have got time to buy a drink," and while he was buying the drink they come up to him and says, "Give us some more slips right quick, we want to go back again." He says, "Just wait; I am busy right now." And he continued that about an hour, until the chief of police and Charlie Thomas came up there, and then Lou said he guessed he would go down the street, Lou says, and I said, "I guess I will go down also." So we went down from there.
Q. Who is Lou Blonger; is he one of the sporting men? — A. Well, yes.
Q. What is his business? — A. His business is to bunco people out of money down here with Sam Jones [Who?], down along Larimer street, under police protection.
MR. VIDAL. I move to strike that out.
Q. How long has he been pursuing that vocation? — A. For the last fifteen or sixteen years, anyway.
MR. VIDAL. During Republican and all administrations?
A. Under all administrations; yes sir.

The saloon was a place called the Coliseum, owned by McPhillips. Lou was paying the men a dollar a piece for each vote, perhaps three votes to a man.

Q. What class of people were these that Blonger was handling that way? — A. They were a lot of saloon rounders — seemed to be a poor class of fellows that wanted to get the money. One of them told me that he had voted twenty times that I talked with.
MR. VIDAL. I move to strike that as hearsay, and further as incompetent, irrelevant, and immaterial.

Arnett goes on to describe Jack Hall's operation down the street, similar in character to Lou's, and that Republican pollwatchers and other troublemakers were intimidated into silence, and that Chief Armstrong, standing but a few feet away, made no move to rein in Hall or his minions.

On page 243 Mr. Arnett indicates that he was a longtime Republican operative — but that no one, including Lou, seemed to care what he saw going on.

Later came the testimony of William Burchinell — longtime receiver at the Leadville land office, then sheriff of Arapahoe County — and a Republican.

He describes Hall and his crowd of young men, some twenty 17 and 18-year-olds. What's more, Republicans could hardly be found at the precincts.

Q. What class of people appeared to be doing what voting was going on there through these precincts in F and H?
MR. VIDAL. I object, as calling for a conclusion and a general statement.
A. As I say, there were not a great many people. The party that I did see some of them I knew. There were three gangs that I saw. I saw one gang under Jack Hall, another gang under Lou Blonger, and there was another under — I can't tell the name [How come?]; there were three different outfits that I knew were repeaters that I had been watching in the morning and again in the afternoon, but I didn't stop at any of those polls and see that they attempted to vote, but they were around through those two districts.
Q. Jack Hall and Lou Blonger and the other party, were they Democratic workers?
MR. VIDAL. I object to that as leading.
A. Yes sir.
Q. Are they notorious people in Denver?
MR. VIDAL. I object to that as leading and calling for a conclusion.
A. Yes sir.
Q. What is the business of Jack Hall? — A. He is a gambler.
Q. What is the business of Lou Blonger? — A. Bunko steerer.
Q. What was the name of the third party you can't mention? — A. I think he is one of Lou Blonger's gang. I saw him come out of Lou Blonger's saloon, or the saloon that they patronized on Lawrence street, next to the Markham Hotel. He brought the crowd out of there once that I saw.
Q. Now you say that those three persons appeared to be in charge of gangs?
MR. VIDAL. I object to as leading.
A. They had gangs from five. Well, the first gang that Jack Hall had in the morning, as I told you, I counted 18 boys. I was right in among them, just the same as we are here, and I counted them. And I saw Lou Blonger on Larimer street with five. I guess Mr. Ward was with me when I saw the five on Larimer street. This other man that I saw, whose name I can not call, he was up about Twenty-first — I think it was Twenty-first and Larimer that I saw him.

Next, Charles Dickerson described Lou arriving at a poll on Twentieth street in a hack, with a few boys inside, one of whom later admitted he would "vote in every precinct in Denver if I can get paid for it."

Next witness: Edmond Johnston, who claimed to have been various kinds of "officers" over the years, including a Denver cop in 1892, but at the moment wasn't up to much of anything. He describes the ejection of a duly elected Republican poll judge — seesay in his words, not hearsay, because he seen it. What's more, Chief Armstrong and George Saunders and others had gathered there "for the purpose of overpowering anything that might come up in the way of defense by Republicans."

At one time during the day I was at Eighteenth or Nineteenth and Arapahoe and met Mr. Blonger there, Lou Blonger; I am intimately acquainted with him; I asked him what he was doing, and he said, "Nothing." I said, "Lou, you know you have got a whole lot of men working." He said, "No, all my men stopped at noon."
(Contestee objects to witness stating conversation with Blonger, because hearsay and incompetent.)
Witness (continuing). Blonger said, "Ed, what am I going to do?" These people have treated me all right," he said, "and if I don't get out and work they will run me out of town. Captain Delaney was right after my * * * ." He made that remark. That he came to his house and made him get out, called him all kinds of names for not using his extreme efforts to carry the precinct in which he lived, and threatened him —
(Contestee objects to the statement of the on the ground that the same is hearsay and incompetent.)
Q. Is Delaney captain of police in this city? — A. Yes, sir.
Q. And also an election official? — A. Yes, sir, I suppose he was; he was captain of police.
Q. What did Blonger say? — A. He stated that his men had not been working since dinner. Right prior to this conversation I had with Blonger, I was with Judge Allen at Eighteenth and Arapahoe. I left Judge Allen and walked with Blonger into a saloon on the opposite side of the street, and it was during that time that we had this conversation, and Lou went on and stated to me that he had not done anything since noon, and pledged me his word and honor that he would not do anything more during the day. I don't know whether he did or not. He said he had all the men working under him working in the forenoon, and that is a great many, bunco steerers
(Contestee moves to strike out the testimony of the witness concerning Blonger on the ground that the same is incompetent and hearsay.)
Q. They are Republicans, are they not, Lou and Sam Blonger? — A. I guess there was a time when they were Republicans, but Lou and Sam Blonger, on account of the business they follow, they are governed generally by the treatment they get, whether they are allowed to run or not.
Q. Well, they were Republicans years ago, were they not? — A. In years gone by I believe Lou and Sam were both Republicans.

Next, Clarence Lyman, chief political reporter for the Denver Republican (edited by "Mr. Stapleton" — Ben Stapleton?). In discussing the close relationship between the Democratic state headquarters and the Denver fire and police board, he says: time I saw Mr. Louis Blonger making very frequent visits to the Democratic State headquarters in the Brown Hotel. So I went down the street and I met Mr. Charles F. Wilson, and I very promptly accused him of selling protection to Mr. Blonger for his financial operation.
Q. Was Wilson a member of the board? — A. Yes, in exchange for Mr. Blonger's political support. Mr. Wilson fired up and said that while that proposition had been made, that the board wouldn't entertain it for a minute, which seemed to me pretty strong evidence that there was a pretty strong connection between Mr. Blonger's calls upon the Democratic State headquarters and propositions being made to the fire and police board.

Lyman later states that George Dunklee, a leading Democratic attorney, decried efforts to ferret out Democratic fraud in the election. Twenty years later, Dunklee would be the justice presiding over Lou's trial.

There is more, of course. But that's the gist of it. Puts a face on some things we've been hearing for years.



Bartholomiew Masterson

A curiosity: Bat's father was French-Canadian, like Papa Simon Peter Belonger, and his mother was an Irishwoman named Catherine McGurk. Mama Belonger was a Kennedy from Tipperary. Considering the close proximity in which Masterson and the Blongers operated for so many years, it's interesting to note they may have had so much in common in an ancestral sense.


Election of 1902

These drawings were included in Bonynge's suit to illustrate the unlikelihood of the election returns coming out of Denver's tenderloin.

Bonynge vs. Shafroth

Bonynge vs. Shafroth

Bonynge vs. Shafroth

Bonynge vs. Shafroth



Soapy's Wake

Time again to pound one back for the Soapster. Cheers!

Soapy's Wake 2008


May 2008



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