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Alias Soapy Smith

The Blonger Project.

In 2003, the Blonger Bros. finally found their way back home.

Though they were both famous and infamous in their day, time had almost completely eroded the memory of their exploits. Lou Blonger, in particular, was well known in the 1920s, notorious enough that his death merited an obituary in the New York Times. But almost 80 years later, the mention of his name evoked only blank stares, even in his adopted hometown of Denver. Little had been written, and even less said, about the boys from Wisconsin — or was it Vermont, or Canada? — since the final account of Lou's arrest was published in 1936. With few children and even fewer grandchildren, the Blonger Bros. left no one to retell their stories, to cherish their photos, to visit their graves. Time marched on.

Many of the colorful figures they cavorted with — Earp and Holliday, Bat Masterson, Soapy Smith, Ed Chase, William Pinkerton, Harry Tammen of the Denver Post — remain famous, but the Blongers sank slowly into obscurity. Perhaps it was due to their longevity, as all lived well past their prime. If they'd died young and handsome and at the business end of a Peacemaker, perhaps some enterprising newspaperman might have elevated them to the same level as other legends of the West. As it was, their long and interesting lives ultimately led them down a historical cul-de-sac.

Their unlikely restoration to the family tree was brought about not by a miracle, but by the Internet.

Absent the World Wide Web, the Blonger Bros. would still be lost souls, brothers of our great-great-grandfather who were born, recorded by a census taker, and then whisked into the ether, never to be heard from again. Off to Canada? Died of diphtheria? We probably would never have known. But in the new world of image databases, periodical archives, and Google, the Blongers had nowhere to hide. William Pinkerton, Lou's old friend, would have been proud. Within a few days, we had found our men. In Colorado. In New Mexico. In Utah, Kansas, Arizona, and Montana. In California and Washington. Now the hard part began. We had a handful of jigsaw puzzle pieces, but what was the picture?

At the center of the picture is Lou. What little we know so far about Lou Blonger's personality, his adventures, his dreams and desires, comes primarily from a handful of sources. Foremost is Fighting the Underworld, the complete account of his downfall, written by his nemesis, Philip Van Cise, the district attorney of Denver County. The second is a small collection of obituaries. The third is a military pension request in which Lou himself describes his movements between the end of the War and 1887 — such frequent moves it's a wonder he remembered them all.

We know much less than this about his brothers. Our most intriguing resource is a surprisingly iconic account originally spun by Joe Belonger, preserved by his nephew, Gene Swinbank, and then published by Gene's cousin's granddaughter, Mary Virginia Armstrong, a great-grandniece of the Blonger Bros. That Joe's tale survived at all is a testament to the compelling stories he had to tell.

Newspaper archives in Albuquerque were another exciting find. Microfilm research on a handful of issues has yielded numerous articles about Sam as marshal of New Albuquerque, Lou as his deputy, Lou on trial for assault, and a good deal more.

What to think of the blood relatives who knew (or claimed to know) Wild Bill Hickok, Cochise, Buffalo Bill Cody, Geronimo, General George Armstrong Custer, and President Ulysses S. Grant? What to make of the distant uncles who ran the most famous saloon in Denver, who wore badges in New Mexico, viewed firsthand the carnage at Little Big Horn, and who made millions in the mines of Colorado?

We got curious, and we got working.

No one has documented the lives of these men, except for the last three years of Lou Blonger's life covered in Fighting the Underworld. Certainly no one has sorted through the evidence to separate fact from fiction. We found the Blonger Bros. worthy of such an effort, and so we present this Web site as the central repository for Blonger studies.

Not that we intend these pages to be as dry as a dissertation. While we're learning, we'll have a little fun with our old kin as well. We hope you do, too. Enjoy!

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