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Alias Soapy Smith

The Blongers Come To Denver.

After years running saloons in the gold camps,
the Blongers finally settled in to Denver and began
building their organization.

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The Blonger Bros. did not so much move to Denver as gravitate toward it. Though our best estimate has Lou finally settling into town as a permanent resident around 1888, their ties to Denver were longstanding, perhaps even reaching back to the town's earliest days as a gold camp. The Armstrong account, based largely on the statements of Joe Blonger, says this:

Sam Belonger, when a boy of 18, walked barefoot with a wagon train across the ground where Denver, Colorado now stands. There were only two cabins then. At one time, about six miles east of where Denver's capitol-building now stands, Sam Belonger and Buffalo Bill Cody, while on a scouting trip, were chased and surrounded by a war party of eight Indians. Their only chance to survive the fight was to shoot their horses and use the bodies for breastworks. Both Uncle Sam and Buffalo Bill, being dead shots with rifles, killed all eight Indians and escaped.

We do know Sam went west by wagon train on the California Trail, apparently in 1859 — he signed a petition as one of thousands who had traveled the Lander Road through Wyoming that season. Had Sam arrived in Denver at that time, it would, indeed, have been a motley collection of buildings in an area that had seen only Indian camps and prospectors only a year or so before. But one has to assume that after his initial passage to California, he would have to wait until 1860 to return. While there may not be much truth in the preceding paragraph, we do know from voting records that Sam was in Colorado by 1861, so his early visit, at least, is not improbable. Bill Cody, a boy of thirteen, heard the call of Pikes Peak and came to Denver in 1859, but only stayed for two months. On his way back to Kansas, he stopped in Julesburg, Colorado and took up with the Pony Express.

After the Civil War, Sam returned to the Midwest, and soon took up with younger brother Lou, embarking on a journey across the western territories, hopping from gold camp to gold camp, prospecting, saloonkeeping, and gambling.

Daily Silver State, March 4, 1876

John Barrett is selling wood at $20 per cord. Judge Bassett is sending Chinamen to jail at Elko. Sam and Lew Blonger, at The Palace, are selling whisky and cigars as usual at two bits per drink. Jack Small now smiles upon us, but as yet there is no game for him. The Blue Jacket has lots of bullion snowed in at Bull Run. Smith Van Drillen will get it out in a few days.

Though Sam and Lou undoubtedly visited Denver occasionally in their travels, they probably first spent real time there during the years 1879, '80 and '81. The Blongers were active in Leadville and Denver at the time. Eldest brother Simon and youngest Marvin were there, in the mining business, perhaps working with Sam and Lou. Simon would do a short stint as an assemblyman, and go on to to become superintendent of the Robert E. Lee mine. A Blonger, probably Lou, had a theater in nearby Georgetown and Sam ran for mayor of Leadville in 1879. Sam, his wife Ella and son Frank are listed in the federal census of Denver in 1880, Lou and Sam (again) are listed in Leadville.

Novelty Theater

Sam and Lou may have owned a saloon in Denver around 1880, as Van Cise claimed, or that may have come later, in the late 80s. Or both. By 1882, Sam and Lou went to the southwest for a while, where they worked as lawmen — in the only confirmed instance, Sam as town marshal of New Albuquerque, and Lou his deputy, and then as private detectives. But here they also may have used their status as lawmen (perhaps for the first time) to benefit themselves and others by protecting the bunko trade, including, perhaps, his own deputies.

In 1883, the brothers appear to have separated. Lou says in his pension request that he spent the next four years with gamblers Frank Thurmond and Carlotta Thompkins in the Deming, New Mexico area, near the Mexican border. It's not unreasonable to assume that this statement, made to the government, was an understatement. Lou probably traveled extensively, gambling throughout the area, while running a business or two and speculating in mining claims. In fact, San Bernardino, California voter rolls indicate he had a saloon there in 1884.

Sam took to horseracing, and had his horses shipped to races throughout Colorado and New Mexico. Though it appears Sam and Lou were not together during this period, Lou could easily have spent a great deal of time with his brother on the road. Deming may just have been his home base.

By 1888, following Kitty Blonger's trial for murder in Arizona, Sam and Lou took up residence in Denver and would make it their permanent base of operations. They soon opened a saloon in the Croff & Curtis Bldg, 1644 Larimer St. and within a short time are said to have been major players in the local policy racket alongside Ed Chase, Soapy Smith, and others.

By 1890, a number of bunko gangs were said to be operating in town. There were a handful of men at the time performing the vital role of fixer for the gang — fixing bail, bribing cops and jurors, paying off DAs and police chiefs and the like — but chief among them were Ed Chase and Jefferson Smith.

By this time, the Blongers were no stranger to con games. To run a boomtown saloon or gambling hall was to be a bunko man as well, and the Blongers had run many a joint. There were implications of fraud in Albuquerque in 1882, but common sense dictates they were by now well-versed, if not in the shell game or soap swindle, then in other crooked games like lottery scams, top and bottom, and the big mitt.

The Blongers' cozy relationship with Denver law enforcement was good for business. Both Sam and Lou were experienced lawmen by this time, one-time members of the Rocky Mountain Detective Association, and had many friends in the business, like William Pinkerton and Bat Masterson. They would go on to earn or buy the allegiance of a substantial portion of Denver's police and sheriff's departments, local politicians of no particular party, and even some in the U.S. Marshal's office. Some Denver city detectives like Leonard DeLue had a particularly special relationship with Lou. Having a good friend in Harry Tammen of the Post didn't hurt either.


 

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