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The Mark Inside

Joe in The Cerrillos Hills.


Joe Blonger spent over a decade prospecting in the
desert hills near Cerrillos, New Mexico.


In preparation for our 2005 trip to New Mexico, we were inquiring about the availability of mining records, and were put in touch with one Bill Baxter, who, evidently, has more factual information about Joe Blonger than we do — records of his activities in the mines of New Mexico, mostly.

Miners in Cerrillos Hills

I have been working for some time on a database of pre-twentieth century people in the Cerrillos area, and I have quite a lot on Joseph Blonger. A bit over 3,000 words in fact, mostly references to mining claims in which he was an owner (locator) or otherwise associated (laborer or witness). My earliest reference is August 11, 1879, and my latest February 26, 1887. The records of this era are all hand-written, and the abilities and penmanship of the recorders are variable, but he appears in the records as — in descending frequency — Jos, Joseph, John, Joe, and a few spurious misspellings like Jas. and Geo. In the manner of the times Mr. Blonger partnered with others; early on with C.M. Purdin, as Purdin & Blonger, which later became Purdin, Blonger, Jenks & Andrews.

In the census of 1880, June 3, Geo.(!) Blonger is listed as a mining prospector, 32 y-o, single, born in VT [father born NY, mother born Ger], resident of Los Cerrillos Smelting Works near Rueleqa Mines. The 1890 census records do not exist, and he does not appear in the 1900 Santa Fe area census.

For the first year of the Cerrillos mining boom, starting spring of 1879, the area was divided into two factions, the Galisteo Mining District to the west and the Cerrillos Mining District to the east. Joe Blonger was active in the Galisteo MD area. But approximately a year later the GMD was merged into the CMD. The implications of all this are not clear, but Joe's activities diminish shortly after this change, possibly even with Joe leaving the area for several months. After mid-late 1881 he appears in the records exclusively as a worker in the mines. His last mining location was January 1882. For the next 5 years on which I have data he did not locate another claim.

The mines in which Jos Blonger owned an interest (located) were the Union, Agricultural, Purdin, Vulture, Washington, Little Joe, Maggie, Sunny Slope, Badger, and Chapin. None of these claims were major, with the most significant probably being the Agricultural.

That reference on your website of the 3 brothers getting together in Albuquerque in March of 1882? That matches nicely with the gap in Joe's Cerrillos mining activity. Between January 1882 and January of 1883, though Joe's name appears in a record, there is nothing that shows he was actually in Cerrillos at that time. However, from January 1883 onward Joe is back in Cerrillos and quite active in the mines.

—Bill Baxter

WOLA 2005: Joe in the Cerrillos Hills

Our first engagement upon arrival in New Mexico was to meet with Bill Baxter to learn about the hills where Joe spent many years prospecting and mining. If there is anyone who knows more about this area and the people who lived there, he just may know too much.

The first thing Bill did was hand us a map of all Joe's claims, and a printout detailing the claims he worked and other information about his time there.

Joe's Mines

Here's Bill pointing toward Bonanza Hill, where Joe spent some ten years mining.

Bill Baxter

Joe was one of some 1000 miners who descended on the area around 1879, wresting control from the Spanish landowners through sheer force of numbers. Joe may have made his way there after failing in the Black Hills, though this is undocumented.

The Cerrillos Hills are a cluster of small mountains that represent the remanants of a 30 million year old volcano. Indians were quarrying turquoise here as early as 700 AD. Then came the Spaniards, and finally the Anglos in 1879 who came in search of gold and silver, the white man's turquoise...

Cerrillos Hills

I am here, fortunately, to tell you that it is indeed hot as hell in them thar hills in mid-July. We scouted the area for a couple of hours, and it's a darn good thing Bill brought water for us to carry in, or your humble correspondent might currently be slowly mummifying in the New Mexico sun.


This is Carbonateville, which was for a short time one of the largest towns in New Mexico. Joe would certainly have come here for supplies, recreation and companionship. The road is the old Highway 10.


About all that's left now are the walls of the hotel, and a well up the hill that never hit water.

Hotel at Carbonateville

This is a typical mine in these parts, just a hole that goes eighty some feet straight down.

Cerrillos mine

There were around 5000 holes dug in these hills, and Joe worked a number of them. In his early years there, he had some stake in the mines he worked. He disappears from the records about the time Sam and Lou are in Albuquerque, then returns. We really have no evidence he was in Albuquerque aside from a visit in March of 1882, but who knows?

In later years, Joe seemed to be working for others. Why the change? Did he just find himself craving a day's wage? A claim holder had to dig ten feet in a given year to hold a given claim. Often mines would stand unworked till the end of the year, and then a flurry of activity would assure the claims would be valid for another year. Joe often appears on documents in the late Eighties as a witness to the required digging.

Long before the "Colorado Miners," the Indians worked these hills for valuable turquoise, and the area was perhaps the continent's premier source for centuries. You can see that this distant hill is scarred on one side.

Mount Chalchihultl

Over hundreds of years the local tribes excavated the entire hillside in search of the stone. Here we are at the base of the excavated hillside. It's thought the Pueblos dug some 100,000 tons of rock here.

Mount Chalchihultl

Here's a turquoise mine being worked currently.

Turquoise mine

Bill says that most of these mines were dug in search of silver, but turned into gold mines when it came time to sell. The vast majority were worthless claims. Some mines were later worked for galena, lead, zinc.

The Cerrillos boom only lasted about five years, but Joe remained in the area much longer. A marriage license we found in Santa Fe has Joe, at the age of 54, marrying widow Carrie Viles in 1902. We had thought her name to be Clara Biles as stated on Joe's military pension survey, which also stated that Carrie's maiden name was Windsor. Census data indicates she was from Vermont, Joe's birthplace.

We recently received some additional materials from Bill Baxter, photocopied pages from The Cerrillos Mines and Their Mineral Resources. A Description of the Mines in the Los Cerrillos and Galisteo Mining Districts, Accompanied by a Map of the Same, Drawn from Actual Surveys., J. Lyman Hayward, 1880. Included are the pages that mention Joe and the claims he owned or worked, but as the book was published in '80, Joe and his fellow white miners had only been there about a year, give or take, so the data Bill supplied previously is more complete.

What's more interesting is what the book says about this mining area in New Mexico, and further, what Bill says about what the book says.

Los Cerrillos Mines

When Hayward began this book the Cerrillos boom was just a year old, but it was already becoming obvious that the only way most miners were going to make anything from their claims was by selling them to others. So a publicity program was devised — 1880 style — that had Hayward writing a book that cataloged all the claims in the most glowing and exaggerated terms, complete with a large pull-out map, and the local photographers Bennett & Brown taking lots of stereopticon views of the Cerrillos mines. Photographer George C. Bennett's brother, Edmund, was one of the major Cerrillos miners and Edmund, lifelong miner, settled in Cerrillos and raised a family there. Both the book and the photos were circulated back in the States, and to some extent provided the Cerrillos boom with an extra couple of years of life. As well as making several of the major capitalists happy.

Hayward's reference to gold in the Cerrillos Hills was and is hyperbole.

—Bill Baxter

Hayward describes the area, noting that from a distance they resemble a cluster of anthills on the plain south of Santa Fe. And so they do.

Cerrillos Hills

He also notes that the hills had been mined for centuries — by the Pueblo for tourquoise, and later the Spanish. When the native population revolted against the Spanish in 1680, many of the mines were filled and hidden to keep them from the Spanish.

Indeed, one of our first finds was an article describing the old stone tools found by Joe and his partner Whalen at the bottom of the Bottom Dollar mine.

Hayward describes the rock slide that occured at the Chalchuitl tourquoise mine, killing some twenty-five indian workers in 1680. The Spaniards attempted to press more workers into service at a local town, but the locals revolted, driving the Spanish from the area for a time.

In naming the various camps of the district — Dimick's Camp, Poverty Hollow, Bonanza City, Cerrillos Station — one name stands out: Purdin's Camp.

Joe was partner with, I assume, this same Purdin in the Agricultural, the Badger, Little Joe, Purdin, Sunny Slope, Union, Vulture and Washington, at least.

And why, according to Hayward, had the Cerrillos area been of no interest to the American capitalist until now?

The answer is simple: New Mexico is populated by a race whom we have been taught to look upon as robbers, and in fact all that is bad. A prospector would naturally look for new discoveries in a country which is not very thickly peopled, consequently the more northern states and territories have been more extensively prospected. The Indians have been troublesome for many years in the territory, and reports (oftentimes greatly exaggerated) of the dangers to which life and property are exposed, have been circulated in many newspapers, thus deterring many from visiting the territory. Then again the remoteness from all communication with the East has been a drawback. Today the real and fancied objections have been removed. The natives of New Mexico are of a kind and generous disposition. They never molest or interfere with a person or his business. Naturally they are inclined to be indolent, yet they are willing to work when employed.
The Indian question is practically settled. As the country becomes more civilized they will not dare to roam openly over the property of others...

And speaking of the Bottom Dollar — the oldest New Mexico heartland mine on which there is documentation (1709, under its earlier name of Santa Rosa):

Santa Fe New Mexican, August 25, 1897

Last Evening at Dusk Joseph Blonger Shot and Killed Allan at the Bottom Dollar Mine.
Blonger Surrenders Himself and is Lodged in Jail—The Story of the Tragedy
Last night between 12 and 1 o'clock, Joseph Blonger knocked at Sheriff Kinsell's door and when Mr. Kinsell answered the summons said that he had killed Alex Allan, and surrendered himself to the law.
Mr. Blonger was lodged in jail and about 5 o'clock this morning Mr. Kinsell left for the Bottom Dollar mine, where the tragedy occurred, to get the remains of the dead man.
This forenoon Mr. Blonger was seen in the jail, and to a representative of the NEW MEXICAN told the following story of the killing:
"For over a month past, Alex Allan, Cyrus Smith and myself have worked and camped together at the Bottom Dollar mine. Everything had been pleasant among us, and while Smith and myself were working for Mr. Allan, no contract for any special length of time had been made, we were on good terms and no trouble of any kind had come up. Several days ago Mr. Allan run out of lumber and none could be gotten except from Chicago. Smith and myself wanted to come to Santa Fe until the lumber came, but to this Mr. Allan objected as he would then be left alone. We consented to stay until last Monday. On Saturday Mr. Allan came to Santa Fe and remained until Tuesday morning, when he came back to the mine, reaching there about 10 o'clock."
"Mr. Allan and Smith then walked to Cerrillos to attend to some business and I stayed to watch the camp. They came back just before dark. I had supper ready for them, and we sat down and ate. Just as we had finished Mr. Allan asked me what I was thinking and I told him I was going over to the Bonanza mine to get a team to take me into Santa Fe, and Smith said he would go along. This seemed to anger Allan and he said we were nice fellows to leave him all alone. To this Smith replied: 'We have to look after ourselves and if we want to go away you can't help yourself.' Allan jumped up from the table and drew his gun and covered us with it and said he would see if he could not keep us there. At this time Ed Andrews came up to spend the evening at the camp. Allan lowered the revolver for a moment and then threw it at Smith. It fell near me and I picked it up. Allan clinched with Smith and threw him to the ground. Allan picked up a rock and as he held it over Smith's head said: 'I'll brain you right here.' I don't know how it happened, but I fired at Allan and the bullet struck him either in the chin or just below. Allan sprang up and ran in circles, falling as he ran. In less than five minutes after I shot him he was dead. Before he died, I went to him and told him I was sorry, very sorry that the shooting had happened. He tried to answer me, but his breathing was so difficult and the blood was rushing from the wound so rapidly that I could not understand what he said."
"So soon as I saw he was dead, I got on a horse and went over to the Bandana mine and hitched to a wagon and drove to town, and gave myself up to Sheriff Kinsell. That is all there is to it."
From the manner in which Mr. Blonger tells as to how the killing occurred it is plain to be seen that at the time it happened he was so excited that he did not know what he was doing. He is very despondent over the matter and feels that in defending Smith he has committed a crime he can never atone for. It is certainly a sad case. It all happened in a moment of time, and in the excitement Mr. Blonger lost his judgment and reasoning powers.
This morning, about 11:30, Sheriff Kinsell arrived in the city with the remains of the dead man, which were immediately taken to Gable's undertaking rooms and prepared for burial. A view of the body disclosed the fact that two shots were fired at Mr. Allan in the excitement of the moment by Mr. Blonger, both of them taking effect. One ball struck just at the left corner of the mouth, cutting out all the upper teeth, the other hit the point of the right shoulder and ranged upward and passed through the neck, cutting the juggler vein.
Alex. Allan was well known in Santa Fe and up to a short time ago was deputy sheriff under Sheriff Kinsell, proving himself an efficient officer. About six weeks ago he left that position to work the Bottom Dollar mine in southern Santa Fe county, and was making good progress in developing the property when the unfortunate and deplorable affair of last night happened. He leaves a wife and one child to mourn his death.
Joseph Blonger, now in jail to await a hearing on the charge of murder, is a resident of the city, and is well and favorably known by many of the citizens. He enlisted in Company H, Twenty-fifth Michigan infantry, as a private in March, 1862, and served through the war, and was mustered out of the service on June 5, 1865, as a corporal. He joined Carleton post, G. A. R., of Santa Fe, August 15, 1889, and is still a member in good standing.

After a short trial, the jury was instructed to return a verdict of not guilty, and Joe was free to go.

Here's a detail map of the central Cerrillos Hills mining area. The Santa Rosa — known as the Bottom Dollar — is near the middle.

Central Cerrillos

Purdin's Camp is named for Joe's one-time partner. Joe walked to the Bonanza for transportation to Santa Fe to turn himself in.

Cerrillos mining expert Bill Baxter is wondering about those who ponied up bail for Joe after he was charged with the murder of Alex Allan:

Having now had the chance to view and review your latest Blonger episodes, the curiosity I can't quite figure is the trio who went Joe's bail. John Andrews, C. A. Schenrich, and J. H. Blain. What a strange group!

John Andrews and 2 others were Joe's partners on the Badger silver-lead claim of 1880, which claim was about half way between the nearby silver-lead Bottom Dollar and the Castilian/Tiffany/Consul turquoise claims. Except the Badger, all these digs existed before 1880. The Badger never amounted to anything, but Andrews and Alex Allen (!) turn up later in the same item set in the same area. Turquoise is near its peak value at this time.

1896; "The turquoise mines north of Cerrillos are the scene of much activity at present. The New York Company, owning the Story mine, is working fifteen men regularly and taking out turquoise of a very superior quality. One magnificent stone recently obtained is represented to have been sold in New York for $8,600. Four men are at work developing the Consul claim belonging to Bennett & Andrews, near the Old Castilian. Alex Allen is enthusiastic over the prospects of the mine which he is now developing west of Carbonateville, near the mouth of the tunnel." [New Mexican; cited in The Mines of NM, p.39]

It is unclear whether "west of Carbonateville, near the mouth of the tunnel" means the old Bottom Dollar or something else. Given the timing, it's probably the Bottom Dollar.

Charles A. Scheurich was a third-level would-be politico. Charles, a political toady, was not at all involved in mines and mining. This hilariously interesting courtroom bit on him -- he apparently 'adjusted' the contents of some ballot boxes -- dates from 5 1/2 years before Joe needed bailing:

1892 January 12; "In the case of [C] A. Scheurich, of Taos county, charged with violation of the U.S. election laws, the jury brought in a verdict of not guilty, the indictment, which was drawn by Geo C. Preston, then assistant U.S. district attorney, having made such a grievous botch of spelling defendant's name as to make it impossible to discover whether or not the accused party was Scheurich." [SFDNM]

J.H. Blain had been sort of making a living at mining in the Cerrillos Hills and northern New Mexico for almost 20 years by the time he contributed to Joe's bail, but to read the records you wouldn't know it. He was a stealth miner, appearing in a few records as a witness to someone else's claims and never anything more significant. He never owned or operated anything under his name. The Barney Fife of miners? Hiding from something, maybe?

The fun puzzle is trying to see how these 3 fit together, and how they were able and willing to help Joe raise his bail. At this point I don't have that answer. If I were to guess I would say that between the 3 (4?) of them they couldn't come up with 1/10th the $2500 cash Joe needed. No bondsmen then; Joe needed the full amount. The remarkable thing is that Joe, when he was in dire need of cash, did not turn to the usual wealthy local godfathers and robber-barons as, say, Sam Blonger clearly would've done. What's going on here? After nearly 20 years does Joe have no Santa Fe contacts?

Remember, that for a brief period at the end of 1891 Joe worked as a guard at the NM State Penitentiary.

1891 November 6; (State Pen breakout) "Every man in any way connected with the escape of White and his companions, were ordered discharged from the service. Frank Rankin, Wm. Cole, W.L. Evans, Joe Blonger and Barney Spee[?], experienced men, were ordered put on in the place of those dismissed." [The Rustler v.IV n.27]

-Bill Baxter

I believe some additions to the Grafters Club may be in order, including Joe's longtime partner C.M. Purdin, partner John Andrews, would-be pol Charles A. Scheurich, and J.H. Blain, the ghost miner.

Nothing in particular... except that through the Blongers you've come into such a fascinating menagerie of unsavory characters. Here's one I ran across in the Santa Fe New Mexican of March 30, 1893. A professional parachute jumper and sham miner? Even though this has no obvious link to the inimitable Lou and his entourage, the peculiar flavor is there. This one even has a poor orphan girl who moved down to the camp in order to make a living.

"Dateline Santa Fe - On the charge of using the U.S. mail to defraud, James Ricker, of Cerrillos, had a hearing before U.S. Commissioner W.D. Sloan yesterday afternoon, and was committed to jail, in default of $3,000 bail to await the action of the grand jury. Ricker reached Cerrillos about six weeks ago and after working a few days at the mines began sending letters to various residents offering to sell bogus money. He represented that the green goods he dealt in was equal to Uncle Sam's best make of greenbacks and he sent several genuine crisp one dollar bills to the people to prove it. He offered $500 of the bogus stuff for $25 in currency, and larger amounts in proportion, the buyers to receive the goods by express C.O.D. Marshall Brown and Tony Neis got hold of his letters and carried on a correspondence with Ricker until they developed his scheme and then they notified Secret Service Agent J.H. Walker, of Denver, who was soon on hand and nabbed Ricker, with the result that he is now in jail under bonds. Mr. Walker says the prisoner is an old offender. He is a parachute jumper in the summer, and during the winter he pretends to earn a living as a miner. He formerly resided at Burke City, Idaho, and later at Durango, Colo. He is an old sharper, and Mr. Walker seems gratified over his lodgment behind bars. Ricker is a smooth looking fellow, about 30 years of age. One of the witnesses brought up from Cerrillos to appear in the case was Maggie Lovell, quite a pretty orphan girl who formerly resided here, and who since going to Cerrillos, has fallen into evil ways."

-Bill Baxter

A couple of interesting things here: this our third parachute jumper — there's also Park Van Tassel and his amazon wife Jenny. It's also nice to see our old buddy Tony Neis, who in 1882 persuaded Sam and Lou to join the Rocky Mountain Detective Association in Albuquqerque.




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