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Alias Soapy Smith

Con Clans.

Excerpted from Hustlers and Con Men, by Jay Robert Nash (1976)

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Hustler's and Con Men

Lou Blonger, a French-Canadian who had migrated to the mining camps while still a youth and then settled in Denver, Colorado, had started it all in 1880. With his brother Sam tending bar, Blonger opened in that year a rowdy saloon replete with wide-open gambling (all of the games from roulette to faro were rigged) and dance-hall hussies available to customers for $5 a night. As law and order swept Denver clean of the more obnoxious public vices, Blonger first got rid of the girls, then the gambling. But his suffering saloon was soon revived when he instituted wholesale bunco games, tightly protected by local police who were in Blonger's secret employ.

For almost forty years Denver was Blonger's town; he operated his hustles without any interference from the law, and his clan of con men broadened until, in 1922, more than 500 sharpers were on his payroll or split 50 percent of their monies with him for being allowed to operate in Denver.

This large, red-faced fat con artist was the "fixer" in the history of American con, and for several decades a private phone line ran from his office above the saloon directly to the office of the city's chief of police. As "King of the Denver Underworld," Blonger could and did order the arrest or release of any man in Denver. It soon became the capital of con, and such master hustlers as Jefferson Randolph ("Soapy") Smith began their career there, comfortably fleecing suckers while under Blonger's protective umbrella, lining the fixer's pockets with half of the take. Smith's bunco racket was as simple as any other in that gold-brick era. Working with a roper, suckers would be inveigled into purchasing bars of soap from the hustlker when they were told that under the wrappers of several were $5 bills. This was demonstrated when the roper purchased a bar of soap, peeled back the wrapper, and shouted "Eureka! A five-spot! The man's honest," or some such drivel for the naïve rubes crowding around. Of course, no other bars of soap containing the alleged $5 bills were sold.


 

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