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The Mark Inside

The Question of the Marshalship.


Sam's tenure as marshal of New Albuquerque was short but eventful,
and not without controversy —
though the nature of that controversy remains unclear.


Albuquerque, 1882

Feb. 1: Sam is appointed city marshal — chief of police — of New Albuquerque by county sheriff Perfecto Armijo. The post also conferred upon him the county title of deputy sheriff. In such a case, fulfilling the wishes of local businessmen was paramount, and the police were paid by subscriptions collected from these merchants.

New Albuquerque was the section of town that had recently sprung up around the railroad, a rough neighborhood made up of industrial areas related to shipping and railroad construction, saloons and stores, brothels and worker housing. Things were more genteel across the tracks in Old Town, with its stately old haciendas and villas.

Feb. 3: An itinerant peddler named Tom Henry goes to the Albuquerque Morning Journal (AMJ) office and complains that Marshal Blonger shook him down for $4.25. The peddler had a valid license to do business in the area, but Marshal Blonger had disagreed, and demanded the small sum to settle the matter. There was even a receipt for the money, supposedly, signed by Sam.

This action of Marshal Blonger has a bad look on its face and he will do well to clear it up. Not for a single moment will the people of this town stand any such crooked action on the part of its officers, as this would indicate.

Feb. 4: Mr Henry delivers the following to the AMJ:

In examining the article in your paper of yesterday, I find that I perverted the facts. Mr. Blonger, the efficient marshal, never received a cent from me, nor do I hold it receipt from him as stated in your paper, and am very sorry that the whole matter was misunderstood.
Very resp't

The AMJ chalks it up to Henry being a liar. But then, the AMJ was consistently generous to Sam throughout his tenure; it appears their relationship was good from the start. Having a "working relationship" with the local publishers became a key part of the Blonger Bros. success. The Evening Review (AER) would not debut until mid April.

So how can we ignore the likelihood that Henry was pressured into thinking it just wasn't worth his while? It was only $4.25, for pete's sake. How much pressure would it take? Are we wrong?

Feb. 8: Eighth day in office, and a petition is being circulated to replace Sam. Not necessarily a diss. Could be some just wanted somebody else more. Still, not a good sign. What was the word on the street? We aren't told.

Feb. 9: The AMJ tells us a lot about nothing. Everybody's talking about "the marshal question," and the petition. Of this discussion, the reporter only tells us some are opposed to Sam. The paper's solution is to hire both men, as the other fellow, Jacob Brennan, seems to be a good man. Marshal Blonger, we are told, "has done nothing in his official capacity deserving of censure, and it is but right that he be given a trial." For what?!

Feb. 10: Armijo tells the AMJ of his intention to appoint Celso Gutierres to do duty as marshal in New Albuquerque — alongside Sam — and to also appoint Brennan when he receives the petition from the Board of Trade.

Marshal Blonger is to be retained, contrary to the expectations and wishes of quite a number of citizens. The sheriff takes a practical common sense view of the whole question and will try to satisfy all concerned, and if he can't accomplish this by the appointment of one man he will appoint more. He has everything to say in the matter, and as long as he entertains the views he holds at present the best citizens will endorse anything he may do.

Gutierres would be let go March 19, with no regrets. Brennan seems to disappear from view after these statements.

Feb. 15: Lou arrives, saying he came from West Texas. He was last known to be in Leadville, June of 1880. Lou would later claim to have been sheriff of San Angelo, Texas, though no evidence has been uncovered to confirm this.

Mar. 16: After an illustrious six weeks as marshal, Sam is given a surprise party at the White House saloon, where he is presented with a custom made gold badge, inscribed with his name, and presented by his grateful friends.

By this time, Sam has run some vagrants and trouble makers out of town, chased a few horse thieves, made a few minor arrests, and been threatened and shot at a few times.

May 8: The AER declares that Marshal Blonger has vowed to cease giving them police news. We are told that this decision stems from the paper's dismissal of a particular reporter, "formerly weak enough and fond enough of liquid and nicotan [sic] stimulants to espouse the cause of the officer whenever a dark-looking case came before the public." That same reporter, E. M. Bernard, was then promptly hired by the AMJ.

THE REVIEW is published as a newspaper, and any of its reporters who suppress the news will be promptly scut over to the Journal office with a letter of recommendation.

So what stories did he skew? What secrets did he keep? And why wouldn't the Review, now in opposition to Sam, give us the straight skinny?

By this time, Sam has had a few interesting days as marshal:

  • Evicted numerous "vags" from town, including notorious top and bottom scam artist Ed Burns
  • Put several men on the town chain gang
  • Been threatened with a gun by J. M. Kinneman
  • Chased horse thieves through town
  • Been shot at by two drunken bartenders
  • Broken up bar fights
  • Faced down a fugitive dance-hall owner with three pistols — and no nerve
  • Almost had his head blown off by a drunken resident with a shotgun

Of this final incident, the AER (Bernard, we assume), says:

Marshal Blonger's conduct Saturday night proved that he is a brave man and no wanton killer. Had he shot Jones, he would have been promptly acquitted.
Blonger is a good one. It takes nerve to jump straight at a cocked shot gun loaded with buckshot. Dallas Studenmire or Joe Eaton would have shot Jones.

Even assuming a biased press, it's evident by this time that Sam is a bold man, apparently cool in the face of drunken gunplay, and yet restrained enough to avoid the use of deadly force himself. We have no evidence Sam ever took a life, though Joe's stories indicate he killed in his early days in California. Others have suggested that Sam and Lou dispatched, or had dispatched, a member or two of Soapy's Denver gang in the Nineties. But Sam's tenure as marshal was untainted by murder on anyone's part.

So what are the whispers about, the innuendo, the bad feelings?

May 10: The AMJ decries an undescribed "exhibition of wantoness" on the street the day before, and calls for Marshal Blonger to have assistance, as he is the only officer in town and unable to be on duty at all times.

There is an element in this city which, if given an inch, would ride over all rules of decency and law. They must be made to feel that the law has a powerful hole [sic] upon them or they will take it upon themselves to trample upon the right of respectable people. The present city marshal is deserving of praise for his efforts to preserve order in the city and enforce the law, but as we before remarked, it is requiring too much of one man.

May 11: The AMJ states that the United States marshal for New Mexico will be opening a branch office in town, and that Sam Blonger will be the local agent.

Meanwhile, the AER takes exception to their rival's call for more police:

What is Mr. Blonger's arduous duty and how is it performed? Everybody knows that it is not hunting for dangerous characters or criminals. The Journal states that the people of Albuquerque appreciates this deputy sheriff's services. So they do, but they do not appreciate them as the Journal does. There is a wide difference between what the Journal says and what the people think.

The AER goes on to state:

The statement which appeared in this morning's Journal that Marshal Morrison had appointed Sam Blonger deputy marshal for New Albuquerque, is denied by Mr. Morrison, who states that he has not given the subject a moment's thought and that he is not even acquainted with Mr. Blonger... Evidently there is a falsehood somewhere, and it isn't with Marshal Morisson either.

So, to some, Sam is a problem. Just too friendly with the town's bad element, perhaps. And unwilling to enforce certain laws, as well? Was Lou part of the problem?

Lest we forget, Sam's predecessor, Milt Yarberry, was at the time awaiting the hangman. He made a habit of shooting unarmed men, then planting a weapon on the victim.

May 12: Though no specific charges have been made in print, Sam publishes an open letter, or "card," in the AMJ. The Journal expresses the opinion that Sam is doing a fine job and he should just ignore his critics.

A Card.
Inasmuch as the dirty quill driver on the twilight sees fit to attack me in my official character, I take this occasion to make a statement. I know that a refutation of any charge which may emanate from that source would not be accredited by the old residents of this city, who are familiar with the reputation of the writer, but there are others, not acquainted with him, who might be induced to believe what he says, and for that reason only I appear in this card. He charges me with non-performance of duty as marshal of this city. If there is one respectable man out of a hundred in Albuquerque who says that I have neglected my duty, then let him come forward and I will resign the office. In my recollection there is only one instance where I have omitted to carry out the requirements of my position, and that was when I failed to arrest Saunders, local of the evening sheet, on one of his drunken sprees, when he drew his pistol, indulged in indecent language and otherwise made himself obnoxious to the community. During that same spree he visited one of the houses of ill fame in this city and conducted himself in such a way that the proprietress of the place had him put out of the door.
A short time ago an item appeared in the JOURNAL stating that I had, in performance of my official duty, closed up the "Gem," a notorious house of ill fame. On the face of this the sundown sheet attacks me, and has kept it up ever since. But, anterior to this, on March 16, on mentioning the presentation of a badge to me, by the citizens of Albuquerque, he said:
"The badge is one of the handsomest the reporter has ever seen, and there is probably no one who better deserves such a token of esteem from our citizens than Marshal Sam Blonger, who is one of the most efficient officers in the territory, and certainly the best marshal New Albuquerque ever had."
This is the last time I shall take notice of anything that may appear in that obscure sheet, and if any man of standing will prefer and substantiate the charge of non performance of duty as a city official, then I will step down and out. Respectfully,
City Marshal

The AER responds by pronouncing that the card was surely written by Bernard, the former Review reporter now working for the Journal, and Sam's toadie.

When Deputy Sheriff Blonger takes snuff now, the Journal sneezes. This, for a paper which a month ago had an opinion on the Chinese question, is something of a fall.

So, the only time Sam didn't do his duty, in his opinion, was in declining to arrest Saunders, of the Review, when he had recently gone on a bender, had brandished a pistol in a public place, and caused a row at a whorehouse. The Review, for its part, seems to have some objection to Sam closing down the Gem.

May 13: Tony Neis informs the AMJ that Sam will be working with the newly-opened local branch of the Rocky Mountain Detective Association, not as Deputy United States Marshal as reported, but as "agent of the detective force for this precinct." The RMDA was an affiliation of various law enforcement officers and detectives trying to coordinate their crime-fighting activities across the region — but it is also worth noting that RMDA detectives worked for pay, and the organization at times was criticized for stifling the development of local police departments in order to protect its members ability to profit from the solving of crimes.

May 20: W.F. Saunders of the AER swears out a warrant for local justice Judge Sullivan, after Sullivan called him into the street to demand a retraction of various articles concerning the judge. The case is thrown out.

May 21: Lou arrests a man who burglarized Tony Neis. The man confesses.

Lou and Sam Blonger deserve credit for their quick work in this case, and their capture of this man proves they are in earnest in suppressing crime. They are now members of the Rocky Mountain Detective association at this place.

May 27: Sam presents Tony Neis with a custom gold badge of his own.

June 8: Sam goes to Santa Fe with an eye on the deputy United States marshalship for the region.

July 8: Sam goes to Kansas City for ten days.

July 10: In Sam's absence, he is relieved of duty, and deputy Lou with him. Lou hands over the keys to the jail. The AMJ states no charge was given, then continues with this backhanded compliment:

Whatever else may be said of Sam Blonger, he has made the best marshal Albuquerque has ever had.

July 18: Sam returns to town.

The Marshalship.
S. H. Blonger returned from Kansas City Sunday night, having stopped off at La Junta, and visited Pueblo on his way back. Immediately after his arrival he sought Sheriff Armijo and had a talk with him, regarding the marshalship. The sheriff told him of the turn affairs had taken as soon as he left for the east, and he said that he took the course he did only as a temporary measure and to quite the complaints which were being made against the absent marshal.
The sheriff authorized the JOURNAL to state that he offered to reinstate Mr. Blonger in his old position, but that offer was declined with thanks by that gentleman. The fact of the matter is that Mr. Blonger does not care to have the place while there is any opposition to him. It is supported by voluntary subscriptions and unless every one contributes the place is not worth having.

July 28: The AMJ states that "quite a number of prominent business men and others" think Sam should be reinstated.

Aug 3: A petition is circulated on Sam's behalf.

Aug 6: The petition is submitted to Sheriff Armijo, but he rejects it. The next day's AER goes on:

The sheriff stated that he had considered the whole matter of Blonger's connection with the police force before he removed that officer, and that as no reason had been presented to him to change the conclusion at which he had then arrived, he could not grant the request.

After this, the Blongers linger in town for a few months. That winter, Sam runs for constable against Tony Neis and Con Caddigan, and loses to the latter.

All in all, the discussion in the local papers of Sam Blonger's political career is incomplete. Obviously, the man committed no heinous transgression, as Yarberry did, or to a lesser extent, the gold-brick artist Con Caddigan after him, who was later run out of town.

And yet, it appears he was a polarizing figure, for reasons not fully explained. But there is more to know. Sam had his place in the order of things, and Lou had his, and their interests would always be intertwined. So what about Lou?.




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