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The Famous Blonger Bros.


March 2004


A big day, Blonger fans

Item One: As some of you know, this site was featured today in a weekly column by Joan Griffis of Danville, called Illinois Ancestors. The column runs in our News-Gazette, perhaps other local papers, I don't know.

It is a wonderful piece and would like to thank Joan very much for her words.

Not surprisingly, the article focuses to some extent on the question of names and misspellings in genealogy. Finding the Blongers, after all, was so difficult precisely because all five western Belongers changed the spelling of their name. A word to prospective genealogists: try every permutation of a surname, and then try some more! Old censuses in particular are riddled with misspelled names.

So far, we have uncovered relevant records mistakenly indexed under the following: Blanger, Belongee, Belonge, Blonge, Blongee, Belonz, Boulanger, Belonjah and now Blonzer.

The column also mentions a site called the International Black Sheep Society of Genealogists. I haven't checked it out yet, but apparently we would qualify for membership...

Item 2: Today I also heard from Karen Stein Daniel, a certified genealogist who did a little sleuthing on our behalf in Albuquerque. Very interesting indeed.

We recently learned, of course, that Lou and Sam were in Albuquerque 1881-83. Lou says so in his pension application. Further we knew from online abstracts that a miner named Blonger worked in Cerrillos, and that a Marshal J. T. Blonger was in Albuquerque in 1882.

Add to this what was reportedly said by Joe in the Armstrong account about Sam's career as a sheriff in Albuquerque. Tall tale? That was the million dollar question.

Karen gets the million.

First, Joe: the 1890 Census of Union Veterans has Joe living in Santa Fe, but the entry is indexed as "Joseph Blonzer". See above.

Much of the report will need deciphering, but a few details are evident:

1. Joe said he fought at the Battle of Valverde, a Confederate "victory" fought on the dusty riverbed of the Rio Grande in 1862.

This is odd because Joe was 14 when he enlisted in Michigan in 1863. The Union force in this battle was the Department of New Mexico, a combination of regular and volunteer units. To fight in New Mexico in 1862, would mean that Joe went west at what, 12? Then volunteered with the Department of New Mexico at 13? Then back to Michigan to enlist at 14?

2. The Census also states that Joe had a gunshot wound to the lung, though it is not stated when or where he received it.

3. Joe also supposedly fought at Salado, near San Antonio. The Michigan 4th camped on this creek in late September of 1865, and there was a battle there in 1842, but I'll have to dig some more on that one to find its significance.

4. Joe also said he fought at Glorieta Pass near Santa Fe, in March of 1862. The victorious Union force here was the Northern Division of the Army of New Mexico under Chivington.

5. It also states that Joe was wounded in an "Indian Fight".

And Lou...

Very interesting... An article in the Albuquerque Evening Review, September 1882, tells us that Lou, while on a "sight-seeing expedition" (quotes mine) with some buddies down on Fourth Street north of the tracks, stumbled into a house of ill-repute owned by "Blonger's woman". Hello Kitty! Seems one fellow said something that Lou didn't like too much, at which point he clubbed the guy with a stick, and then a long revolver. What happened in court?

Now, Sam...

Interestingly, and characteristically, the boys are not included in numerous references checked by Karen, references that should have noted their presence, such as The United States Marshals of New Mexico and Arizona Territories, 1846-1912. Just fell through the cracks.

There are, however, articles, and one manuscript.

1. The manuscript, Rogues to Public Servants, Early Albuquerque Marshals, written in 1980 by Michael H. Reggio, states that Sam, "liked by some and hated by others," served as Marshal of Albuquerque for all of five months in 1882. Marshals were generally hired by the sheriff, in this case at the behest of some local businessmen(?). Apparently, someone suggested in an article that Sam was neglectful of his duties. Shortly thereafter he was dismissed.

2. One page of the Albuquerque Evening Review, March 1882, has three articles detailing the boys' exploits. We now have the impression that Joe AND Lou were deputy marshals.

The exploits, you ask? J. T. Blonger taking a gun from a man about to "run amuck" (original quotes), all three boys being fired upon and giving chase with a hail of gunfire, and Sam and a brother chasing two horse thieves out of town on horseback.

3. Sam's office got a telephone in March of 1882.

4. In March of 1882, friends gave a party for Sam because he was such a standup guy. They presented him with a gold badge engraved with his name and the words "Marshal New Albuquerque". I hate to say this, but I would give up the internet to get that badge.

5. An open letter from Sam seeks to rebut charges made against him in print, accusing him of non-performance of duties. The letter is hard to read; we'll get a more legible copy.

6. Last but certainly not least, a March 1882 article tells how Sam sent a deputy to Cerrillos to retrieve a prisoner. He returned without his man, but did bring with him one Joe Belonger (again, we knew a Blonger was working the Bottom Dollar in Cerrillos). The article goes on to state that Sam (and Lou) had not seen Joe in nine years, and had thought him dead.

We are told of Joe:

He left the family circle in Salt Lake City nine years ago and has led an adventurous life since. The three brothers are all of them young, all nervy and square western men and it would be a good thing for the town if they were all on the police force.

I feel spent...


I have to say it: They rode together. The Blonger Brothers, Sam, Lou and Joe, saddled up, probably looked at each other and smiled, then chased drunken ne'er-do-wells out of town, guns blazing. That's something, isn't it?

You know, to me, getting those clippings from Albuquerque in the mail yesterday was like finding the Forest Queen. That's what it felt like, finding gold. Is that strange or what?

My mistake: Joe never did fight at Salado or Valverde, or Glorietta, nor was he wounded in an Indian fight. Those notations in the Military Census belonged to others listed on the page. For Joe, the relevant comment states simply that he had a gunshot wound to the lung. Hard to say when it happened. We'll find out.

Another Joe mystery: If Joe arrived in Albuquerque on March 10 or 11, 1882, as implied by an article written on March 13, then who was the Marshal J. T. Blonger who disarmed a miscreant on March 7? The article states that Joe's arrival made three Blongers in town, so J. T. must be Lou, right? Sam? The March 7 issue is the same that mentions "Marshal Blonger and his brother deputies." Perhaps "two or three days" (prior to March 13) was simply a misstatement. Apparently it didn't take long to deputize him and start having good lawman fun.

If Joe did indeed "leave the family circle" in Salt Lake City, 1873, Joe could easily have found his way to Deadwood in 1874 or thereabouts.

Consider: If the boys were keeping the peace in Albuquerque in '82, that means they were there when Earp and Holliday stopped in town after fleeing Tombstone. This was news at the time, and Earp supposedly gave interviews while in town, so there is surely much more to discover here. At any rate, I'm convinced now that we will find solid evidence the Blonger Boys and these fellow Knights of the Green Cloth were acquainted, maybe even old friends.


Here they are: Transcriptions of all the Albuquerque articles we have so far. This is priceless stuff. In the News section.

Lou Assaults Wizard of Oz: "Professor" Park Van Tassel, owner of Albuquerque's Elite Saloon, and the guy who insulted Lou's prostitute girlfriend (and got two whacks on the head for it), had his own claim to fame. Seems he is considered the first balloonist — that is, the first man to fly — in New Mexico. His first ascension was two months prior, at Albuquerque's 1882 Fourth of July celebration. He went on to travel the country as an itinerant aeronaut, performing at fairs, not unlike the famous wizard. The Blongers went on to name their Denver saloon The Elite.


Scott received Joe's military service record (not the pension file). No surprises, and little news. The most important is that Joe WAS injured in battle, but which one is not specified. The muster roll for Spe/Oct 1864 says "Absent wounded Knoxville, Tenn." A "Casualty Sheet" says he was injured by a "ball penetrating left chest" (matching the information from Sawtelle) and that it occurred between Jul 2 and Aug 13 1864. The regiment histories list lots of places but don't say whether battles occurred there, except the Battle and Siege of Atlanta (Jul 22-Aug 25).

Also, after his injury he was promoted not to Corporal but 8th Corporal. There are references on Google down to 12th Corporal.

On Tap: Joe's pension file could be very helpful, but it's going to take a while to get.

More importantly, we are now convinced there is much, much more to find in the Albuquerque newspapers — of which there were several in 1882 — including articles about Earp and Holliday passing through town, Park Van Tassel's historic balloon ascension, Lou's trial on assault charges, Sam's hiring and firing, and of course the daily head-knocking and pistol-whipping chores of a town marshal.

Unfortunately, it's going to take some time to get those materials on loan.

Regarding Earp's so-called Vendetta: apparently Behan's hot pursuit got much cooler after Earp's posse crossed the state line into New Mexico, headed for Sam's Albuquerque.

The fact that Lou clubbed Van Tassel with a heavy stick before hitting him with his gun might suggest that he used a cane.

Who, besides Marshal Sam, gets a gold badge of appreciation after just six weeks on the job?


Typical. A book on the marshals of New Albuquerque tells us the first, Milt Yarberry, shot a man in cold blood in 1881, was arrested for murder, and then hanged in Feb. 1883. The book then says the second marshal died in the line of duty in Nov. 1886. Once again, the Blonger Boys were denied their due.


Albuquerque articles:

Yesterday Scott received microfilm of the Albuquerque Morning Journal, February through mid-July, 1882. It will take a while to transcribe and digest all the relevant articles, as there are quite a few.

A few highlights:

February 1, Sam is appointed Deputy Sheriff and Town Marshal by the Sheriff of Bernalillo County, Perfecto Armijo.

March 8, Sam deputizes his brother Lou and Charlie Ronan.

Numerous articles tell of running miscreants out of town, searching for missing persons, arrests made for assault, etc.

I am compelled to note that, whatever their failings, Sam and Lou apparently faced death or injury on many occasions, and more than once stared down the barrel of a gun, and always managed to resolve the situation with true Western grit. The details are mundane in their way, un-mythic, more like an old episode of Cops. And yet facing down drunks with pistols is harrowing work in any century and deserves the appreciation of the community. The Armstrong account tells us it paid $750 a month.

Reports of Van Tassel's brand new balloon being enroute to New Mexico.

In March, an article warns of the impending arrival of the dangerous Earps, but then nothing after their arrival.

In April, a man named Ben Meyer receives cash from Lou Blonger in exchange for a check, and immediately loses the money in a game of stud poker. Claiming he had been swindled, "and perhaps he was," he orders payment stopped on the check. Lou brings suit and "will certainly get judgment." Could this be the earliest appearance of Lou the Swindler?

Sam mistakenly arrests a gent he thinks is Frank James.

For a few days, Lou actually serves as marshal in Sam's absence. Could he really have been lame as we are led to believe by his pension request? Who would make him marshal if he was?

There is a reference to Sam negotiating the sale of a local claim, the Star Mine. His relationship to the mine is unknown. It sells for $120,000.

In July, Sam leaves town for a few days. While gone, he is relieved of his duties by Sheriff Armijo, though we are told he is offered the job again when he returns, only to decline. Seems Sam knew when he wasn't wanted. The Morning Journal maintained that Sam was one of the best lawmen they had ever had.


Articles about Sam's hiring, his first few days on the job, and Lou's arrival in Albuquerque.

By god, Sam was hired to "clean up a gang of bad out-laws." And he did it.


More Albuquerque articles:

According to the Morning Journal, Sam became a member of the Rocky Mountain Detective Association in 1882, and attempted to find a postion as a U.S. Marshal. Additionally, we are told when Sam is hired that he had "considerable experience in official work in the west."

Taken together, this suggests Sam indeed did have a long career as a lawman. The Armstrong account says Sam was a peace officer in the 70's and 80's before arriving in Albuquerque, and there may be some truth to that.

We are also told that he was a lawman after leaving Albuquerque. It was later, in Denver, that Sam lost his eye during some kind of gunplay. Perhaps his reputation led to work as a detective in Colorado in the 1890s — but for whom? We're on the case...


More Albuquerque articles:

In early August of '82, a petition was circulated by prominent businessmen heartily in favor of reinstating Sam, but now Sheriff Armijo refuses.

In late August, Tony Neis, one of those who guarded Billy the Kid on his way to trial in La Mesilla, opened a branch office of the Rocky Mountain Detective Association in Albuquerque. The Journal notes that Sam is interested.

Sam then leaves for Prescott, to go into the hotel business. But he returns. Does he leave again for good? Or go into the detection business with Tony Neis, a job that eventually leads him back to Leadville and Denver?


More Albuquerque articles:

On March 28, 1882, the Morning Journal carried two particularly interesting articles back-to-back.

The first tells us how Sam and his sidekick Murphy kicked some serious butt:

A party of roughs rose up on their muscle at the dance hall last night and started up a general row. Marshal Blonger and his assistant, Murphy, entered into the fight and after a short battle placed the men under control and placed them safely in the jail in old town. There were four of them and they were pretty hard citizens. They will receive a trial in Sullivan's court to-day.

The next article details the imminent arrival of the Earps and Holliday:

The Earps in Albuquerque.

Last night, at a late hour, a JOURNAL reporter learned that the famous Earp boys were headed for Albuquerque, and that they were on the Atlantic express which arrives in this city this morning at 6:18. In the party there are two of the Earps and five of their confederates. These men have made for themselves a name in southern Arizona which has become a terror to the entire country. They are now pursued by the sheriff and a posse, who are desirous of capturing them for the murder of Stilwell, at Tucson, last week. There is a general feud in and about Tombstone between the Earp boys and the cow boys. Virgil Earp was at the time city marshal of Tombstone, and he, with two of his brothers and Doc Holliday, shot and killed the cow boys last October. Since that time there has been a continuous war between the two factions. One of the Earps has since been killed, and Virgil has been wounded and is now at his home in San Bernardino. The rest of the party are outlaws, and fugitives from justice. It is not likely that they will remain in this city, if they stop at all, as they are too shrewd to stay in this locality. Should anyone attempt to arrest them there will be life taken, as they are, without doubt the most desperate men now at large.

Whoa there.

This interview with Earp is from the Evening Review of May 13, 1882, quoted in Wyatt Earp: The Life Behind the Legend, by Casey Tefertiller:

...He stated that they had come to Albuquerque to escape persecution while awaiting the result of an effort being made by Governor Tritle to secure their pardon from the president; that they were then being sought for by their foes, and that they would not give themselves up to the Arizona officers without resistance.... The party remained in Albuquerque for a week or more, their identity being well known to fifty people or more.... During their stay here, "Doc" Holliday and Wyatt Earp quarreled, and when Albuquerque was left the party disbanded, Holliday going with Tipton.... 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.

According to the book, the Earp party arrived in Albuquerque sometime after April 15. Checking the timeline, this means that they very well could have come and gone while Sam was off to Denver (April 19-May 4) and therefore while LOU was in charge (of new town, at least)!

This on March 8:

Monday night J.M. Lewis and C.W. Soper, two mixologists, went out for the purpose of having a little fun. Their idea of fun seemed to be to fill up their skins with bad whisky and fire their revolvers in the air just for the fun of hearing the report. Marshal Blonger heard the reports and deputizing L. H. Blonger and Charlie Ronan went in pursuit of the men. They followed them, braving the heavy wind and sand which filled their eyes and faces, to their room, in an adobe building in the northwest suburbs of the city. As soon as the officers came up to the house the two "funny" men commenced firing at them through the window and the officers returned the fire, at the same time getting at a safe distance from the improvised fort. As soon as they retreated the two fellows rushed out, uttering the nearest they could to Apache war whoops, and firing their guns at Marshal Blonger's party, who returned the fire. Soper and Lewis escaped under cover of the storm and darkness, but they were arrested yesterday, and brought before Judge Sullivan who placed them under bonds of one thousand dollars each to appear for examination this morning. This promiscuous shooting and spreeing lawlessness will have to be stopped and these fellows will receive a just punishment.

And this on April 2:

This morning about half-past one o'clock a man named Jones, who is in the employ of Wells-Fargo's express company in this city, was in Zeiger's saloon quarrelling and flourishing his revolver about in a dangerous way. The man was drunk, and Marshal Blonger, who came into the saloon about that time, took the revolver away from him. Jones is a man of family and Marshal Blonger therefore took him out of the saloon and started him on his way to his home, which is in the Highland addition. The marshal left him when they got near the railroad track, and just after Jones moved on toward his house he turned toward Blonger and said, "I will have my revenge upon you," or words to that effect. Marshal Blonger paid but little attention to this, considering it only the remark of a drunken man, and returned to Zeiger's. He had been there but a few minutes when he saw Jones come into the room with a shot gun in his hands. The marshal concluded at once that the man was going to shoot him, and so, stooping down, he ran toward him and, catching the gun by the barrel, threw it up out of range of himself. Just as he did this the gun was discharged, and the charge passed over his head and lodged into the wall of the club room, near the upper southwest corner of the saloon. The marshal then arrested Jones and took him to the lockup.

See entire ad for Van Tassel's first ascension


Con Caddigan and the Blonger Bros.:

A little something to cleanse the palette. Today Scott brings us an article from the LA Times, dated May 27, 1911. It seems one C. W. Caddigan jumped bail after being charged with selling fake gold bricks to an old gent from Minnesota.

It goes on to tell us that Mr. Caddigan served as marshal of Albuquerque. The 1882 Morning Journal confirms that Con Caddigan was indeed the man who replaced Sam as deputy sheriff, and was then appointed marshal of New Albuquerque. But here we are told he was run out of town by the locals in 1883, "punctuating their warnings never to return with arguments more emphatic than words."

The 1911 article goes on to say:

Caddigan, it is alleged, had turned some crooked jobs and the hustling western camp preferred his room to his company. He was associated in the New Mexico City with several notorious characters, two of them being the famous Blonger brothers, and one of them Soapy Smith, the great confidence shark, who was perhaps less clever, but a deal more real than J. Rufus Wallingford.

Two interesting things here:

  • This is before Lou's arrest in Denver by ten years, and yet the Blonger Bros. are apparently "notorious" as far as Los Angeles.
  • Not only was the marshal before Sam, Milt Yarberry, hung for murder, but the one after was run out of town by a posse. Guess Sam done okay.

Scott also ran across an article from late '82 that has Sam, on a day's notice, as the Republican candidate for town constable. Opposing him are Con Caddigan running as a Democrat, and Tony Neis as an independant, after losing the Republican nomination to Sam. Tony Neis opened the local office of the Rocky Mountain Detective Association, and was a friend of Sam's — and Lou too, with whom, at one point, he went "down the road," whatever that means.

The tally (incomplete at press time): Caddigan, 990; Neis, 320: Blonger, 130. I don't care what they say, I'm calling this one for Caddigan. Oh well. That makes Sam a two-time loser — He was defeated in his bid for mayor of Leadville in 1879.


Articles about Tony Neis and the Rocky Mountain Detective Association.

In 1882, there was a photographer's studio on Second street in Albuquerque, Wittick & Russell. Wittick would go on to become a famous photographer, a contemporary of Ansel Adams.

Wittick's photo of Geronimo.

At the time, Wittick took many photos of government officials and the like. Perhaps he took one of Albuquerque's lawmen brothers.


Now we jump ahead to 1894. The years between 1890 and 1920 are still very sketchy, though we know the very broad strokes: Sam and Lou were both well-ensconced in Denver by this time, overseeing mining interests and other business, and Lou is busy building his bunco racket. In 1894, their Elite Saloon on Stout Street would be going gangbusters.

But now this from The Colorado Springs Weekly Gazette, August 16, 1894:

Yesterday Peter Eales and Detectives Duffield, Harris and Lew Blonger came down and as usual landed in Oldtown. The usual batch of warrants that usually follows Eales's advent to this county have failed to materialize, up to date.

Not entirely sure what that means, but... Detective Lew Blonger??

Lou never said, Joe never said, Van Cise, nor any other source we've found to date has mentioned Lou as a policeman, beyond Lou's claim to be a Texas sheriff, which always had the quaint sound of an affable old fart telling tall tales. Finding out he was briefly city marshal in Albuquerque was disconcerting, but this is truly strange. The implication is that Lou was owner of a tony Denver night spot, a mining tycoon, architect of an international bunco empire — and solving crimes, all at the same time.

And so, naturally, Lou is invariably described as a gambler and sporting man. Why not?

That is, assuming he actually solved any. And for whom did he detect? Was he a Rocky Mountain Detective? Seems likely. He was a friend of Tony Neis, and it appears that Sam was with the agency, though for only a short time, perhaps.

Or perhaps not. Given the emerging facts about the brother's engagement in law enforcement, we now need to assume that both Sam and Lou spent time as lawmen at various times during the seventies, eighties and nineties. Sam didn't lose his eye till the late eighties or nineties, and that's when he supposedly gave up his badge.

And lets not forget Lou's alleged long-time friend, William Pinkerton.


Back to Albuquerque.

Con Caddigan and others are arrested as accessories on a bunco charge, but after hearing testimony, Caddigan's case is immediately discharged by Judge Bell.

Milt Yarberry, marshal prior to Sam, is hanged in Santa Fe.

Park Van Tassel, on the run from creditors, moves to Peach Springs, Ariz. Good old Peach Springs.

Also, a few articles now are implying, not surprisingly, that Sam and Lou were heavily involved in racing. Sam is showing a history of owning racehorses, and in 1915 the L. A. Times tells us that Lou, implicated in a wire payoff — a con that hinges on knowing the winner before the sucker bets — is described as "well known in racing circles over the last twenty years."

Sam's horses: Sorrel Dan, Comanche Boy and King Lyon.


Today, numerous articles have been added to the Albuquerque news pages. Topics: Van Tassel and the sharks, an interview with his Mrs. Van Tassel, Lou as marshal, more.

Also, an improved synopsis of Lou's career in the bunco trade.


Today begins part 2 of the Albuquerque Abstracts. Scott received the microfilm of the Albuquerque Evening Review for most of 1882.

After a cursory look, he has concluded it is unlikely we will find much news that has not already been covered, but we may find a few new perspectives. The Review apparently had a falling out with Marshal Sam, and after a certain point gave him little coverage. There is good material, however, on Lou's Marshalship, undertaken while Sam was in Denver selling the Star Mine.

Unfortunately, the vaunted Earp interview is badly obscured. Some text was recovered; perhaps we can find a complete transcript, or even examine the original.

One puzzle piece found: Earp and Holliday arrived in Albuquerque on April 15th. Sam would be in charge till the 19th, then Lou for a few days. They may well both have had the Earps (Wyatt and a younger brother) to contend with. Will the Evening Review yield any clues? Not on first examination.

Sources say Masterson was in town at the time, and met Earp at the train. He was apparently a deputy U. S. Marshal in southern Colorado at the time.

Also, a bit of back-pedaling: Joe may never have been Sam's deputy. This is an inference that may not withstand scrutiny. The Deputy J. T. Blonger mentioned in the Review was at work a few days before Joe's supposed arrival. Another article says it would be nice to have all three Blongers as lawmen, but does not indicate that this was in the offing. Yet another article mentions Sam and his brother deputies. All these don't add up, in all honesty. A suggestion, but the contradictions cast doubt on the whole hypothesis. In all likelihood, he returned to his job in Cerrillos after visiting.


More articles from the Albuquerque Evening Review, 1882.

In searching through these articles, I began to notice that these old papers used to spar all the time, sometimes with good humor, sometimes not so much.

The rivalry — read animosity — between Albuquerque's Evening Review and Morning Journal is coming into focus. Many of the glowing accounts of Sam's exploits featured in the Review, penned in the spring of '82, were written by a reporter named E. M. Bernard.

Sometime around the end of April, Mr. Bernard was canned. He was immediately hired by the Journal. From that point, Sam had nothing to say to the Review, and the Review had next to nothing to say about Sam, save for the odd bit of news and a few pointed editorials in early May. They did, however, call Bernard a drunk.

That's bad news for us, because Wyatt went to the Review for an interview, not the Journal. The interview does not mention the Blongers, of course, but under friendlier circumstances, the paper might have considered the marshal's take on the matter important. News of their vendetta having preceded them, the Earps (Wyatt and a younger brother) and Doc Holliday were considered to be extremely dangerous at the time, though after their stay it was remarked that they were actually regular joes after all.

Interestingly, the interview was not published right away, so as not to betray the posse's whereabouts to Arizona authorities. Nevertheless, many in town became aware of their presence over the course of their two-week visit. The article wasn't published until mid-May, after news of Wyatt's death reached town. The paper deemed it safe to run at that point. The report of Wyatt's death, of course, was premature by many years.

It appears Earp's posse was in town April 15 to about April 29. That means that both Sam and Lou served as marshal during their stay, uneventfully.


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March 2004



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