How Bout Sam?

Lou’s older brother Sam was born, like Lou,  in Swanton Falls, Vermont, in 1839.

Though no photos of Sam are known to exist, it is said that in many ways he was Lou’s complement; where Lou was short, stout and affable, and prone to rely on his personality to get his way, Sam was tall and imposing, with a taciturn disposition, and a fiery temper.

The first of the Belonger brothers to go west, Sam’s early days are still something of a mystery. We know he crossed the Green River in 1859, at the age of eighteen, with a large train of seventeen wagons bound for California. By 1861 he was in Aspen, where he voted in a territorial election. In 1865 he took possession of a tract of land near Sacramento.

There were tall tales, though, that painted a more vivid picture. Brother Joe told stories of Sam arriving in Denver when it consisted of only a few cabins — which would have been a short window indeed, in the fall of 1858. He also claimed Sam scouted with Bill Cody in the hills above Denver, where they fought off an Indian attack. Sam’s obituary claimed that he hauled freight across the Sierra Nevada mountains between Sacramento and Austin, Nevada. Whether any of these stories are true, or partly true, we don’t know. What we can say with confidence is that this period in his life was surely filled with dangerous adventure.

Upon his return to the Midwest after the Civil War — purportedly via the Isthmus of Panama — Sam hooked up with little brother Lou, and soon they began their tour of the western mining camps. Over the next  fifteen years they had at least eight saloons in Utah, Nevada and Colorado, and soon became known across the West as the Blonger Bros., saloon men, gamblers and mining speculators par excellence.

In 1879 Sam ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Leadville. The Blongers had several mining claims near the town, and a theater in nearby Georgetown.

By 1882 the boys had moved on to the fledgling city of New Albuquerque — situated along the new rail line that passed within a mile or so of the old city — and shortly thereafter Sam was appointed marshal. A news account said that he already had extensive experience in “official work,” suggesting this was not the first time he had worked in law enforcement.

Sam’s tenure in Albuquerque is well-documented in the local news. His first official action seems to have been to extort a traveling peddler — who mysteriously recanted his accusation the next day. The local businessmen (who paid Sam’s salary) immediately began to question their support for Sam.

But then he got down to business. New Albuquerque was a rough young town, with more than its share of saloons and whorehouses, and the railroad was bringing a steady stream of dangerous and unpredictable men to town; a firm hand was needed to keep the peace. Sam seemed, at first, to fit the bill.

Over the next few weeks dozens of troublemakers were either jailed or sent packing, including the notorious Big Ed Burns. Along with his deputies — which included his brothers Lou and Joe, the local judge, and Earp crony Charlie Ronan — Sam faced horse thieves, pistol-packing barkeeps, and a host of gun-wielding drunks — all summarily (and peaceably) dispatched. Sam seemed to be just what the town needed.

As time passed, Sam continued his efforts to clean up the town. When the Rocky Mountain Detective Association set up an office in town, Sam and Lou joined up, and Sam even pursued an appointment as a deputy U.S. Marshal. But things were already beginning a downhill slide.

One of the local papers had taken a dislike to Sam, and what’s more, his brother Lou was not making things any easier. Lou had a brothel, and was occasionally caught cheating poker. It may well be that Sam was putting his thumb on the scale, using his position to protect the activities of some, while their competitors were compelled to move on.

Whatever the case, Sam eventually seemed to lose interest in the job, and on July 10 the local sheriff relieved him of duty.

After Albuquerque Sam and Lou parted ways for a time, with Sam devoting himself to his thoroughbreds, running horses in New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Minnesota, and elsewhere.

Finally, in 1888, Sam and Lou joined forces once again, this time taking Denver by storm.

In Denver they would again open a long series of saloons and gambling houses — nine at least — along with gambling outposts in policy shops, cigar stores and candy shops all across towns. Conniving with the likes of Soapy Smith, Big Ed Chase, and Bat Masterson, they fixed elections, and nurtured gangs of bunko men, who had a host of swindles but relied largely on crooked poker games run in private rooms at the back of their joints. When the police came calling, the Blongers were there to post the bail.

In 1892, Sam and Lou struck it (pretty) rich with the Forest Queen gold mine in Cripple Creek. As partners they had two present and former Denver district attorneys, who surely came in handy. The money also didn’t hurt when it came to making payoffs of various kinds. Their influence was on the rise.

In 1895, after members of Ed Chase’s gang were arrested for a swindle perpetrated by the Blonger’s crew, Sam was arrested in an attempt to pressure him into giving up the guilty parties. The case eventually fell apart, but it seems the damage may have been done. While Lou went on to consolidate his hold on Denver crime and politics, Sam largely disappears from the news after this incident.

Sam died in Denver in February of 1914.

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