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The Mark Inside

Mattie Silks (The Gamblers).

Matt Braun gives "Lou Blomger" a starring role in his tale of how Denver's most famous madam rose to prominence and fame.

Rule

Western writer Matt Braun answered our inquiry about his use of Sam and Lou Blonger -- er, Blomger - in some of his novels. He says he first encountered the duo while researching Mattie Silks, a Denver madam who supposedly engaged in an 1877 duel with a rival named Katie Fulton. The story has long since been debunked as a concoction of journalist Forbes Parkhill, and it is in Parkhill's memoir Wildest of the West, where the story originated, that Braun undoubtedly encountered Sam and Lou. Mr. Braun tells us that he changed the surname from Blonger to Blomger because it rang better in print. We beg to differ, but that's a writer's prerogative, one that we hope to exercise someday.


When Scott gave me Mattie Silks, a novel published by Matt Braun in 1972, I got home, stuck my thumb in the middle, and there he was, Lou "Blomger," on the first try. I started back toward the front of the book; more, more, on every page. Finally I just went to the beginning, and there he is on page 8. He's a major character, the first time we've run across such a thing. Interestingly, the citation we found on Google Books indicated Sam was a character (a first, to our knowledge), but now we see Lou is in there too, a lot.

Mattie remains a Denver favorite, alongside Baby Doe and Big Ed Chase. She ran the ritziest whorehouse in town for many years, and always prided herself on never having been a prostitute herself. Her house was fancy, the girls well-treated, well-paid, and well-dressed. Through the years her various houses were all downtown, in the Tenderloin, and to think she was unacquainted with Mighty Lou would be foolhardy.

Now, granted, this is fiction. Fiction. I want to make that clear, so no one mistakes the summaries to follow for history. Braun is recognized for his authenticity and historical accuracy, but let's be clear: nothing in Mattie Silks can be taken at face value.

But it might lead us somewhere, somehow. After we get the lay of land, perhaps we'll ask Mr. Braun how much he considers to be historical fact.

That said...

Mattie Silks

Chapter One: 1865

Mattie Silks, a young farm girl, is kicked out of the house by her daddy for an indiscretion with a drummer. He doesn't even know about the various farmhands...

She makes her way to Springfield, Missouri, where she immediately goes to work in the town's fanciest restaurant, the Delmonico, owned and run by portly, affable Lou Blomger.

About the same time, gambler and gunfighter Bill Hickok shows up in town. He makes a habit of eating at the Delmonico, where Mattie serves him. She sets her sights on Wild Bill, and they flirt. Lou advises her to take care, Hickok is a dangerous man...

Meanwhile, gambler Dave Tutt has lured away Hickok's female companion, and then arranges to cheat Wild Bill at poker. Calling him on it, Hickok smacks Tutt across the face.

The next day, Tutt plans his revenge, intending to shoot him as he leaves the restaurant at sundown, the light in his eyes, backed up from across the street by three associates.

Hickok takes to the street after dinner, and Tutt fires on him out of the glare. Hickok crouches, rests his long pistol on his folded arm, tips down the brim of his hat to shade his eyes, and drops Tutt with a bullet to the heart.

Meanwhile, Mattie sees the others, sober, unlike the other men in the street, fingering their pistols. She runs into the street and jumps on the back of one of the other men and wrestles with him, screaming, effectively preventing the others from backing up Tutt. Hickok is suitably impressed. Could romance be far behind?


Outstanding. The duel with Tutt seems to be real enough:

Hickok's reputation as a gunfighter began when he killed David Tutt in the public square of Springfield on 21st July, 1865. The two men had quarrelled over cards and decided to have a gunfight. At 6pm Hickok and Tutt arranged to walk towards each other. When they were about 50 yards apart both men drew his gun. Tutt fired first but missed. Hickok's shot hit Tutt in the heart. This was the first recorded example of two men taking part in a quick-draw duel. The following month Hickok was acquitted after pleading self-defence.

How cool. Of course, Lou would have been all of fifteen or sixteen at the time, fresh out of the Union Army, with a gamey leg. In 1866 he was at home in Shullsburg, in 1867 he was in Chicago. In 1868 he was in Illinois, enrolled in high school at the age of twenty. So maybe Lou wasn't there, then. It's still way cool.

But the story continues, eventually to Lou's Denver days, and how he set her up in the fanciest house in town. Stay tuned...

Now, I don't necessarily want to relate the entire plot of Mattie Silks, but I just can't resist laying some of this out. Let's continue with chapter two:

After Mattie saves Wild Bill from being bushwhacked, they become lovers. Soon the plucky young Mattie decides a whorehouse could be a real money maker — Lou convinces her that, goods times or bad, men always have money to spend on their vices — and the three of them go into business together, with Lou supplying the girls.

Later, when the other madames and bosses in town start grumbling, Hickok wants to make a show of force to head off trouble, but Mattie and Lou talk him out of it. Lou assures him he can get the boys at city hall to keep a lid on things. Hickok threatens him, making clear what will happen if Mattie is hurt.

Lou is taken aback, but not easily intimidated.

"As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods. They kill us for their sport."
Hickok frowned, and his brow wrinkled ominously. "Now just what the hell does that mean?"
"Nothing, Bill. Nothing at all. Merely a pungent observation on life from the immortal bard. Something to the effect that we survive solely on the whim of the Good Lord's sense of humor."

Mattie either was or wasn't involved in the only known classic gun duel between two women of the West. One account held that the women were topless. But one writer says:

"The fabled duel between Mattie Silks & Katie Fulton is the fabrication of Forbes Parkhill in his book "The Wildest of the West" (1951). The true story can be found in "The Rocky Mountain News" August 26, 1877 & "The Denver Times" August 25, 1877. I have found this tale repeated in at least three other western history books & in numerous magazines. THERE WAS NO DUEL, it could have been Denver's first drive-by shooting."

Next, the story follows Hickok as he scouts for Custer, and with Bill Cody. Hickok guns down Phil Coe. Then Custer dies, and Wild Bill. Mattie goes on to run houses in Hays City, Abilene, and Wichita, where she befriends James Earp, and then his brother Wyatt, and they become lovers for a short time. At one point, Mattie goes to Lou's "closest crony," Mike Donahue, political boss of Chicago, when she needs a new source for girls to be shipped west.

By 1878, Mattie has a parlor house in Dodge, and hooks up with Wyatt again, sometimes playing host to Luke Short, Bat Masterson, Doc Holliday. But soon, Wyatt moves on again, and Mattie hears tales of the boom in Georgetown, Colorado, near Leadville, and moves her business there. She hooks up with Handsome Jack Ready.

One day, an old friend comes to visit, rounder now, his nose more bulbous. The reformers had shut him down in Springfield, so he scouted around for a few months, finally deciding Denver was the future. He moved his operation there, and now he was about to make his play for control of the city — and Mattie was to set up the finest whorehouse the West has ever seen, money no object.

She takes him up on it, of course, and moves to Holladay Street, using Lou's blank check to outfit her new house with only the finest of everything.

Meanwhile, Lou goes to the Progressive Club to talk to Denver's political boss, Big Ed "Case" — accompanied by his pint-size weasel of a bodyguard, Slats Drago. Case is a practical man, and despite his gambling joints, and his control over city hall, Lou's offer is persuasive, and now they're in bed. But Lou has been playing rough with the competition.

...a man had to be pragmatic about business deals, even with a fat scorpion like Blomger. And if he read the sign right, it was too late to shed the murdering bastard anyway.

It seems the underlings of Denver's underworld kingpin, Barney Boyle, were disappearing one by one. Lou feigned innocence — but everyone, even Boyle, and especially Big Ed, was getting nervous. Lou was muscling in, demanding payoffs from the smaller joints to start. And those who pulled the strings for Boyle were all on notice that they might be next to disappear.


Okay, so let's assess. Joe spent time in Abilene, and scouted with Cody, and for Custer — though that's all by his own account, and no other.

Who was the boss of Chicago in the 1870s and 1880s? Mike Donahue?

There's a sucker born every minute."
Irish immigrant Michael ("King Mike") Cassius McDonald, who ran Chicago's first crime syndicate, is said to have coined this phrase. According to legend, it was his explanation for how he planned to get enough customers for his gigantic, four-story gambling house. This casino-like palace, "the Store," was located close to City Hall, and it provided a gathering place for Democratic politicians as well as unsuspecting gamblers. McDonald obtained the cooperation of the police force, politicians, and an army of skilled confidence men to run his rigged games.
McDonald's criminal activities prefigured those of Al Capone and other Chicago gangsters.
King Mike is also credited with saying, "Never give a sucker an even break."

McDonald is also known for his interest in boxing, including his support for John L. Sullivan.

In Dodge, Mattie might well have known the Blonger Bros., who supposedly spent the summer there, with Masterson, Earp, Holliday, Luke Short.

And then again in Georgetown, where a Blonger, probably Lou, had the Novelty Theater. Sam ran for mayor. By 1879, Lou and Sam were probably constantly traveling between Leadville, Denver and Georgetown.

More to the point, Lou did not leave Missouri for a short tour of the West, seeking the most likely place to dig in. Rather, around 1871 Sam and Lou took off from Red Oak, Iowa, where they first worked in the "hospitality industry," and would then own a series of saloons, gambling houses and other businesses from Salt Lake City, to Tuscarora, Cornucopia, Virginia City, Silver Reef and more that finally led them to the Denver area. Then, after spending two or three years in this area around 1880, they both went south, perhaps to Texas, and certainly to Albuquerque. Lou would then spend several years near the Mexican border, in the Kingston area, before finally going back to Denver around 1888.

Did Lou help finance Mattie Silks? Could be; we don't know.

But what about Chase? This has always been an interesting question. Chase is today remembered as the boss of Denver. Yet so much evidence points to Lou as boss, at least by the mid-1890s. Were they both bosses in different senses? Did Lou wrest control from Chase? Did Chase run gambling, and Lou bunco? Did Chase cede some control to Lou in exchange for a price? We don't know the specific answers to any of these questions, so it's interesting to see Braun's take. We do know that the Progressive was upstairs from one of Lou's joints.

And what about Boyle? We think of Soapy Smith as the bunco kingpin, at least in the early 1890s. Does this Boyle have an historical counterpart? Was there violence involved in his downfall?


Mattie's lover, a gambler named Cort Thomson, has started to hang out with a group of grifters and cutthroats recently run out of San Francisco, known as the California gang, at Murphy's Exchange, known as The Slaughterhouse.

Meanwhile, Lou's bid to usurp Barney Boyle "spills into the street" when three of Boyle's lieutenants are found dead in the gutter. With the addition of madame Sallie Purple, found stuffed in a barrel with a pig's foot in her mouth after openly defying Lou, the count was eleven dead, by some counts.

Sallie's death has Mattie wanting out, but Lou talks her out of it, quoting more Shakespeare. He assures her "Case" won't be a problem — Lou now controls the Tenderloin vote, and so the city. Case would have no choice but to go along.

Then Boyle makes his last mistake, going to a whorehouse with just two bodyguards. Lou's guys lay in wait outside, and cut them down with shotguns when the step back into the street. The King is dead, Long live the King.

With Boyle out of the way, the fat man's word became law, his rule absolute, and few sovereigns wielded the degree of power he now held over Denver. Ed Case capitulated, humbling himself before the tenderloin's new monarch. As Blomger had predicted, they made an exchange. Quid pro quo. Case was allowed to go on living, and in return he became Blomger's mouthpiece with the uptown crowd and the politicos on Capitol Hill.

Now, this all is supposed to take place around 1881, 1882. We know Lou had gone south by this time, not to return in earnest until 1888. In 1890, Sam and Lou were still minor players in town, ushering ghost voters to the polls in the service of greater powers.

Ripping, tale, though.

It's also interesting to see mention of the California gang. This enigmatic group, known to us from Parkhill's Wildest of the West, was said by Parkhill to control bunco operations prior to Lou's rise to power. Contemporary papers tell us, instead, that the California Gang was a group of female "pickpockets" led by May Bigelow, "Queen of the Pickpockets." The pockets were picked, by the way, during trysts in the ladies' chambers. Sam and Lou were their protectors in Denver in the mid-Nieties till they were finally dispersed by the police.


After the OK Corral, Earp and his cronies have been run out of Arizona. Doc "Holiday" is arrested in Ed Case's Interocean Club, an attempt by Bat Masterson to forestall Doc's extradition to Arizona. Bat, sent from Gunnison by Wyatt Earp, approaches Mattie in an effort to influence Lou to pull strings in the State House. Lou decides to use the case to test Big Ed's usefulness...

Wyatt comes to Mattie on the sly. He calls Lou a he-wolf, and questions if Lou is really doing anything about Doc's predicament.

"Wyatt, I don't know why you came here tonight, but let me give you some good advice. Don't brace Lou Blomger. This isn't Tombstone, or Dodge, it's the big city. And the only game they play here is dirty pool."
"You're sayin' he'd sooner shoot me in the back then argue about it. What makes you think I wouldn't do it to him first?"
"Not a thing. Except you'd never get the chance. You're in his bailiwick now, and I'd lay odds he's had you covered since the minute you hit town."

Wyatt threatens to kill Lou if he doen't come through — but Mattie gets him to reconsider.


We know now that Lou did, in fact, have a connection to the Earp posse. In 1882, after leaving Arizona, the Earp posse paused in Albuquerque for several days while the process of sorting out their legal status got under way. And who was marshal of New Albuquerque at the time of their visit? Lou, of course, who was appointed acting marshal by his brother Sam while he traveled to Denver, seeking to sell the Star Mine.

Sam was ultimately successful, as was Lou's tenure as marshal, if the papers' are an accurate indication. Lou dealt with mostly petty crimes — broken windows, rowdy Mexicans, vagrant smallpox victims, etc. The Earp posse apparently minded themselves. The Evening Review later said:

The party, while in Albuquerque, deported themselves very sensibly, performing no acts of rowdyism, and this way gained not a few friends for their side of the fight.

Did the posse stop in Albuquerque because they knew that fellow travelers ran the place? Could be. The Blongers undoubtedly knew Bat Masterson by then, and Doc Holliday, who spent time in Leadville, and possibly the whole gang from Dodge City. Masterson associate Charlie Ronan was one of Sam's deputies. But we don't really know.


Cort falls in with the California gang, and they run a footrace scam in the outlying camps — Aspen, Cripple Creek, Creede. Meanwhile, the gang war is over, peace prevails, and Lou Blomger reigns supreme. Lou's edict is simple, and is violated on pain of death, swift and sure: No crimes of violence within city limits.

What they did outside city limits was their business. They could rob, kill and hijack, torture, maim and murder, and Blomger wouldn't bat an eye. But those reckless enough to practice the deadly arts in Denver proper would be dealt a swift, brutal lesson in obeying the law. Not the everyday, garden variety law, but Blomger's law. The kind that demanded an eye for an eye, absolute, final, without appeal or clemency—or even a second chance. And as the underworld had reason to recall, Slats and his mercenaries were chillingly skilled at performing neat, workmanlike executions.

This new era of peace was not about civic duty, of course, but the rackets. Murder put fear in the hearts of customers; it was bad for business. But everyone reaped the benefits of Lou's control over the criminal element — cops, pols, bunco gangs, petty thieves, the rounders, the general public, everybody. Lou is hailed as the savior of the city. By the next election, Lou had bought himself a mayor, a police department, a district attorney...

Enter Sam.

Where Lou was a man of perception and stealth, Sam was a strong-armed bully, only one step above a common thug. Still, they made a good team since each set off the other's weaknesses. Lou was cold and calculating, but physically a defenseless tub of lard. Sam was dimwitted, obtuse as a pound of lead, but a man of huge stature, fiery temper, and an absolute passion for beating the bejesus out of anyone who disagreed with his kid brother.

There are twelve policy shops in town, owned by six men. They constitute the Denver Policy Association, and Lou aims to have a piece of every game.

To reiterate, I'm about halfway through Mattie Silks, by Matt Braun, first published in 1972. Mattie was one of Denver's most famous madams, and Braun weaves a ripping yarn revolving around the farm girl's legendary rise to wealth and power.

But how can you tell the story of Denver's wild western days without Lou Blonger? Braun can't, it seems. "Lou Blomger" is a recurring character in his books on Western crime, and this book, recently republished as "The Gamblers," tells Lou's story in nearly as much detail as Mattie's.

It's a novel, of course — Lou wasn't in Denver in the mid-Eighties as he is in this tale — but it's built on the real thing, approximating many of the major characters and events of the day.

I hope my editorials don't appear to be nitpicking. I know Mattie isn't history and wasn't intended to be. But you know, I want to tell the story, 'cause it's a great story, and I want to take the opportunity to tell you what we actually know about Lou. It's what we do. So I hope Matt won't take offense as the story continues:

Mattie Silks

One night, simmering resentment of the Chinese community flares into violence, and a mob of angry white men storm Hop Alley, beating and murdering Asians, young and old alike. Mattie sends lover Cort Thomson and her bodyguard Handsome Jack Ready to protect Chin Lin, called the mayor of Chinatown, and his wife Matsu. Matsu is shot by one of the mob, Handsome Jack smashes the man's head into a brick wall, killing him.

Later, in the street, a man is selling cakes of soap. You guessed it. Enter Jefferson Randolph Smith.

Soapy had been in town many years, tirelessly training new recruits, building his gang, refining the short cons that were his stock in trade, finally opening the Tivoli. His only real competition is the California Gang, but they keep off each other's turf, so things are stable and Soapy's riding high.

Until Lou Blonger came to town.

Now he's paying 25% off the top, up from the 10% he paid Barney Boyle. And everyone, including Soapy, is afraid of Lou's little enforcer, Slats Drago — my new favorite name.

This fat sloth was the greediest bastard he'd ever seen.

One day Soapy is tipped off that the California gang is planning a big con in Denver, a fixed foot race. Soapy plots to do away with his rivals once and for all — and Cort Thomson is the key.

The California gang have a ringer, a champion runner from California. They pass him off as a novice, and the stakes grow to nearly half a million. But thanks to Soapy, the ruse is uncovered, and the gang is arrested. At Mattie's behest, Lou intervenes, and they are fined, not jailed. Now Mattie and Cort owe Lou — who might be seen as complicit in the swindle — big time. They contemplate leaving it all behind, but can't bear the thought of leaving their rewards as well.


The so-called "Chinese Riot" in Denver occured in 1880, which actually places it prior to the events in the previous chapter concerning the shootout at the OK Corral. On the other hand, Lou might have been in Denver in 1880, but just as likely in Leadville. In any event, he isn't mentioned during this passage.

Noted as having assisted refugee Chinese are gambler Jim Moon, and saloon man James Veatch, who is known to us as the commander of the army of "special" deputies as they engaged the striking miners at Bull Hill. That was 1894; sometime prior to that Veatch served as police chief.

The two gangs, the Soaps and the Californias, undoubtedly come from Wildest of the West by Parkhill, a must-read but dubious in some details. And was Soapy ever forced to give a cut to Lou and/or Sam? That's from Parkhill, too. We can't really say, though Jeff Smith of SoapySmith.net is dubious, and we have no reason to believe otherwise. Smith was fiercely independant, and the Blongers' real grip on Denver seemed only to tighten as the Smith brothers' influence waned. Jefferson and Bascomb were arrested after the Hughes assault in 1895, and things became increasingly difficult there for Soapy, who lingered in the region for a while, taking time to "organize an army" in Mexico, then eventually leaving for the Yukon.

At the same time, the period of chaos in 1894 surrounding the City Hall War and the Battle of Bull Hill seems to have been a turning point for the Blonger Bros. — many of the major and minor characters went on to positions of great power throughout the West, men who would later be tied, closely, to Lou Blonger and his fate.

By 1898, Lou is well-known as Denver's bunco king, to the extent that the police laugh in Lou's face, as reported in the news, when he charges C. M. Fegenbush with conning him out of $1000.

Oscar Wilde comes to town. The Irish poet will lecture on aestheticism at the Tabor Grand Opera, and would-be Western highbrows flock to the city. Many others take a more cynical view of the lily-gazing intellectual.

As for Soapy's crew, the pickings are easy, and many of the visiting throng find themselves with a lighter purse than the day before.

Including Bill Cody. Having lost a treasured watch, he goes to see his old friend Mattie. Perhaps she can convince "Boss Blomger" to flush it out. No, Mattie says, Lou would never bother. But maybe her men can find it, and she sends Cort and Handsome Jack to talk to Soapy.

Soapy is uninclined to help, but Cort invokes the name of Slats Drago, and Smith grudgingly retrieves the watch from a stash in the back.

Meanwhile, Lou has brought in an expert from the East, one Adolph Duff, aka "Kid Duffy." Duff is adept at managing so-called big store operations like the rag and the wire. Fake stock offices and betting parlors will be set up downtown, and an army of ropers will bring in the sheep for shearing, as if on an assembly line. The take could be enormous, and the operation completely immune from prosecution — Lou now had the federal prosecutor in his pocket.

But trouble is brewing. The bad blood between Cort and Soapy is quickening, and a confrontation seems inevitable. Seeking to save Cort's skin, Mattie approaches Lou for yet another favor — his promise not to punish Cort if his feud with Smith results in gunplay. Lou wonders if perhaps everyone will be better off if they were both dead, and agrees. He's always had a soft spot for his little "towhead."


Wilde did indeed visit Denver, in 1882. The story has its own curious connection to the real story of the Blonger Bros.

Here's what Forbes Parkhill had to say about it in Wildest of the West, Comparing Wilde to Denver's favorite con man, Doc Baggs:

Uncultured Denver was somewhat suspicious of Oscar Wilde's aim to spread culture throughout benighted America. His favorite phrase, "too utterly," aroused the suspicions of rough-and-ready westerners who, accustomed to "Doc" Baggs' con games, saw in the lecture tour an attempt to sell our citizens a cultural gold brick. The following is an excerpt from the "Ode to Oscar," published in the News: When thou talkest of being utter We show up "Windy" Clark who, we will bet Can utter more in the brief circumscribing of a minute than thou canst in a week. If thou dost boast of being too, we will produce Charles Baggs, M. D., who is as too As thou art, and a durned sight tooer.

Too Utterly sounds too much like Totally.

New Mexico businessman Miguel Otero was one of those who went to Denver in search of edification. He was unfortunate enough to meet the redoubtable doctor during his visit, who took him for $2400 in a fake policy shop.

The con is notable first and foremost because it played out quite publicly in the papers. What's more, the accounts of the stout efforts of Otero's son, also named Miguel, to recover the funds are a joy to read. It's unsurprising the younger Otero would one day be elected governor of the state.

In a newspaper interview Baggs readily admitted to the swindle.

"I'm a poor man and Otero is rich. I need the money and he can afford to lose it. He dares not squeal or have me arrested for he is a businessman, has served several terms in Congress and is afraid of publicity."

The check was given to banker Pliny Rice, who paid some fraction on the dollar to Baggs et al. for the note, which he intended, of course, to cash for face value. The younger Otero had him pinched instead.

As for the elder Otero, he was apparently unwilling from the start to publicize his error in judgment — despite the fact that the papers were all over the story — and he never showed to testify, so Baggs walked.

More to the point, Wilde's visit, as well as Otero's run-in with Baggs, occurred at the time of the Earp posse's stay in Albuquerque, which means that Sam was in Denver, too, and that Lou was back in New Mexico, babysitting Wyatt and Doc.

And most curious? A few years ago, Chuck Hornung bought a used book, one volume of the younger Otero's autobiography. Inside was a carbon copy of a typed letter to a friend of the Governor. In it, Otero describes how he helped his father by seeing to the needs of Earp and his men during their Albuquerque visit. He also mentions that Earp and his men were "watched over" by Blonger and Perfecto Armijo, the county sheriff. This letter constitutes are sole direct link to Earp and Holliday.

But if Miguel was in Denver, battling with Rice and Baggs to retrieve his father's money, how could he be running errands for Wyatt Earp in New Mexico?

Earp scholars are interested in the letter because Otero describes the argument that led Holliday and Earp to part company. Holliday supposedly chides Wyatt about his Jewish girlfriend, suggesting he's become a "jew-boy," a comment said, perhaps, in jest, but taken seriously by Earp.

Kid Duff

Kid Duff was indeed Lou's big store manager, a veteran of Missouri's Webb City gang, and Colorado Springs. At the time of his arrest in 1922, Duff was described as a man of property and influence in Denver. He killed himself after his release from prison.

It's worth noting that author Matt Braun endows the story of Lou Blomger with the one major element missing from the factual record — a cold-blooded killer, Slats Drago, the enforcer, feared by lawman and outlaw alike. Now, for all we know, Lou was indeed a muderer. He may have ordered killings, perpetrated by others. We don't know. We have yet to find specific allegations, or evidence that implicates Lou in any murder. But how could a man wield such power over government and the criminal community with no threat of violence? Maybe the evidence is forthcoming, or maybe he just got away with it...


Mattie and Cort marry in a Tenderloin ceremony of legendary proportions. Gambler Cliff Sparks is best man. Lou drags the mayor and chief of police along, against their better judgement.

Not long after, Cort goes to Murphy's Exchange — called The Slaughterhouse — for a drink. It's Sunday night, business is slow. The only other member of the California gang around tonight is Cliff Sparks, and he's glad to have somebody to drink with. Murphy himself is behind the bar tonight.

In bursts Jim Jordan, his scalp bleeding. He'd been at the Missouri Club, got into an argument with Tom Cady about the Soap gang. and Cady bashed Jordan on the head with his cane. After waking up in the street, Jordan had Cady arrested.

But Soapy won't leave it at that. He appears to the Slaughterhouse door — with Cady and two gunslingers. Smith's gun is already drawn and cocked. He isn't after Cort, just Jordan, but Cort is feeling feisty.

Soapy tells Cort to back off; Cady pulls a sword from his cane and makes for Jordan. Jordan goes for his gun, but Smith fires and Jordan drops.

Cort pulls his Colt and hits Soapy in the shoulder, one of the gunslingers shoots Cort in the chest. As he goes down, he gets off another shot, hitting Smith in the thigh. Meanwhile, Cliff Sparks and Smith's other gunmen trade shots, both are hit, and both fall dead in their tracks.

Cady turns to leave, assuming Jordan is dead, but he's not. He rises on his elbow and shoots Cady in the back of the head. Finally joining the fray, Murphy shotguns the first gunslinger as he moves to finish off Cort.


Jeff Smith was ready for this one:

Looking forward to see if Braun uses the killing of gambler Cliff Sparks in Murphy's Exchange. Soapy and Cort were on opposite sides and both were arrested in connection with the shooting.

On the evening of October 11, 1892 at the Missouri Club, Tom "Troublesome Tom" Cady was involved in an intense argument with noted killer, Jeff "The Black Prince" Argyle, the manager of the club. Jim "Gambler" Jordan who also went by the name, Henry Gilmore, became engaged into the quarrel and was struck by Cady. Cady was arrested and Jordan went over to Murphy's Exchange where he met up with gambler Corteze D. Thomson, known as "Cort" to his friends. Working behind the bar were partners John Murphy and Martin H. Watrous.

As soon as word reached Jefferson "Soapy" Smith that Cady had been arrested, he rushed down to the city jail and posted bail for his friend. Smith and Cady made an entrance into Murphy's Exchange whether coincidental is unknown. Some claimed that as Smith and Cady passed close by Jordan, Cady made a flourishing move with his cane towards Jordan who in turn pulled out a gun and began firing.

John Murphy testified that as the two men passed each other Jordan offered to buy a round of drinks, then added, "I was at Croft's place when you had the trouble with Argyle, and I am sorry for you." Cady shouted back, "You're a ______liar" and struck Jordan, a second time that night, with his cane. Pistols were quickly drawn out by both sides. Cady shouted for Soapy to shoot. At the same instant Murphy grabbed Cady and held him from shooting his revolver. Two shots rang out and Clifton Sparks fell to the floor. He died moments later where he lay. Murphy claimed everyone had their pistols out, but could, or would, not say who had fired the fatal shots.

Murphy's partner, Martin Watrous, testified that Cady had struck Jordan and when guns were being drawn Watrous took a hold of Jordan and threw him to the ground to prevent him from pulling his weapon. Jordan screamed, "Let me go, or we'll both be killed." Jordan broke away and was able to fire his pistol once.

As Clifton Sparks lay dying on the saloon floor Murphy went to his side. Seeing there was nothing he could do for the man, he said, "Cliff, old man, they're off at sheep head, and you're the last." Cliff whispered, "I'm last" and died. Bill Crooks kneeled down over his friend and wept.

It has been written that as Crooks weeped over his friend's death he placed his head down to the dead mans chest, as if listening for any sign of a heart beat. With no one being the wiser, Crooks removed Cliff's diamond stick pin with his teeth.

Tom Cady, Jim Jordan, John Murphy and Cort Thomson were all arrested. Soapy escaped arrest by exiting the saloon when the shooting had stopped. He turned himself in the following day. No one could agree on an accurate account of the shooting. Some were pointing at Jeff as the shooter. Soapy's gambling club and saloon, The Tivoli Club, was ordered closed, but for some unknown reason, Murphy's Exchange was allowed to continue operating.

Cady and Jordan were tried on murder charges and acquitted. Soapy was also charged with the murder and it took his attorney, Judge Belford, nearly two months to convince Judge Burns to find his client not guilt. The shooting of Clifton Sparks was never resolved.

-Jeff Smith

We've heard that story about the stickpin before. Some tell a similar tale of Big Ed Burns.


So Cort Thomson is shot through the lung, Soapy Smith in the shoulder and thigh, and another five men are dead. After a few dicey moments, Cort is on the mend, and soon Mattie sends him off to find her a "cow plantation" to buy, both as an investment, and as an incentive for the troublesome Cort to spend less time in Denver.

But the incident at Murphy's Exchange has had far-reaching effects. Jarred by the grisly scene in the Tenderloin, the general public is in a mood to reform. The newspapers, more interested in a big story that sells papers than reform itself, jump on the bandwagon with all their weight. Then the preachers, then the Governor, and finally the pols.

The situation is potentially fatal to the current order. Lou controls the Tenderloin, and the Tenderloin controls Denver, as he has said, but Case reminds him — the maxim only holds when the two parties are butting heads as usual. Lou's vote is a swing vote. One third votes Republican, or thereabouts, and one third votes Democrat. The other third votes the way Lou tells it to, and so goes Denver.

But if the reformists find a candidate whose appeal crosses party lines, in the service of a popular cause, Lou loses his grip. Case is already acting cocky. Lou calls in Mattie and tells her the fight will cost money; he needs 50% now from the all whorehouses, not 25%. She objects. Slats and Jack Ready take a fighting stance. Sam attacks Ready, but Ready downs him. Meanwhile, Mattie has drawn a gun, and she backs out with Ready, telling Lou she wants out...


Interesting. In 1892 Davis Waite was elected governor, as a Populist, on a reform platform. His tenure would mark a tumultuous time for Denver's vice district. We'll see where Braun takes it.

And Sammy — say it ain't so...


Lou sends Sam around to collect Harvey Tannen, publisher of the Denver Tribune. Tannen, a slight man, complies, but is unmoved when Lou orders him to use his paper's influence to defuse the reform movement. Even Lou's threats against Tannen's children fail to motivate him — Lou sems to be losing his grip on Denver.


Van Cise himself asked Harry Tammen why Lou's name had been withheld from the Denver Post coverage of the bunko gang arrests for so long.

"Yes, that was done by my orders, because Lou Blonger was one of my best friends. I hated like hell to use his name, but the story became so big we couldn't possibly hold it out any longer."

And then, of Lou and Tammen's business partner, Fred Bonfils, he said:

"You know, son, Lou taught me the most valuable thing I ever knew. He taught me how to catch a sucker." A moment later he added: "I caught one." He jerked his thumb toward Bonfils's office and finished: "I've still got him."

Scott reports that Lou Blomger also appears in Matt Braun's The Spoilers and Bloodstorm, as well as Shadowkillers, The Judas Tree and Deadwood as previously mentioned.


Closing in on the end here...

Now Denver's politicos are wondering how to proceed in this climate of reform. Fielding a slate of candidates acceptable to Republican and Democrat alike is out of the question. But perhaps both sides could back a single candidate, a man with a clean slate, no skeletons in the closet. Such a man, if supported by both parties, could make the Tenderloin's swing vote irrelevant, be elected district attorney of Denver, and put an end to Boss Blomger's stranglehold on the city. It could work...

Enter "Paul Vandever," lawyer, devout Christian, upright citizen, Populist candidate. Lou's $50,000 campaign contribution is returned to him in shreds. The major parties run no candidates for the office, and Vandever wins handily against Lou's "Independent" candidate, his own lawyer. Before you know it, Lou's summons are going unanswered.

Not long after, Kid Duffy has suspicions about a mark he's working, but Lou tells him to proceed. Meanwhile, a strange group gathers at the DA's office — state rangers, the DA's staff, and prominent citizens. Now that Ed Case had agreed to turn state's evidence, Vendever was ready to arrest as many of Blomger's men as possible, on bunko charges. The ratag team was a necessity — the city cops or detectives couldn't be trusted. The DA's hole card was a private dick from Kansas City, the very man Duff and his crew had clipped only days before — with his complicity, as it turns out.

So, Duff turns state's evidence, Lou goes to jail, Mattie too, for a few days, and Denver comes clean. Even the bunko men flee.

The End


Everything gets a bit compressed here at the end. In book-time, this is around 1894, when Davis Waite, a Populist, was governor — Colorado's only third-party governor. Waite sent the militia into downtown Denver in an attempt to wrest control of city government from the vice lords. Interestingly, this is actually about the time Lou began to grow in power, following Soapy's departure. His hold on Denver would only grow for many years to come.

It is true that in 1894, the gambling joints were shut down, temporarily, and the vice district squeezed and restricted. By 1901, gambling would be permanantly outlawed. Bunko would be Lou's major crime during his last thirty years. Bunko had the distiction of being lucrative, as well as easy to hide from the public. Not from law enforcement, mind you, just the public, but that was enough, and many people made a lot of money.

Vandever — Philip Van Cise — would actually be elected in 1922. He became the Republican candidate after nominees beholden to a senator and the governor split the machine vote, giving reformer Van Cise the nomination.

As for Duff — it was actually young Blonger bookmaker Len Reamey who turned state's evidence. Duff killed himself on his release from prison. Lou, of course, died at Cañon City penitentary six months after his arrival.

A few parting thoughts.

In literature, Lou is invariably a fat pig, whale-like, bloated, greasy, gargantuan, blubbery — you get the picture. And it's usually intended to emphasize his evil nature.

I don't particularly want to talk about body issues, but seriously, I don't think he was that fat. People love to talk about his bulbous nose, too. To illustrate my point:

Fat Lou

The mugshot is Lou in 1923. The sketch is from Lou's trial in 1924. You can see how his nose, chin and jowls are magnified, his girth increased. His notorious ways seem to exagerrate his actual stature. Or maybe he put on weight in the county jail.

I would also point out that, while Lou may have been feared — he was certainly known as a man willing to administer a beating — it is equally true that he was known as an affable man, and generous. More to the point, he did appear to have a wide circle of loyal friends, many of whom were the foundation of his influence. It was an old boy network, and Lou was one of the old boys. In contrast, by the end of Braun's book, Lou Blomger is universally feared and reviled. And eating voraciously.

I'd also like to say I have a different impression of Sam. I have not imagined him to be an oaf, doing dirty work at Lou's direction, hoping above all to protect his smaller sibling. He was already a seasoned frontiersman by the time he took Lou west in the late 1860's. He was a competent lawman, detective, and editorialist, we are told. He was tight with his little brother, true. And Lou was the people person; Sam is often described as taciturn. I don't know, it's hard to say. I just never got the impression Sam was anything less than an imposing man.

As for Mattie, I think it's a foregone conclusion she was acquainted with Lou on some level. They both lived and worked in the same neighborhood for decades. But that's all we know at this point.

-CJ


 

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