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April 2004

4/1/2004

Tonight, the target is acquired — Sam Blonger and the Earp Posse...

If you've been following "What's New?" the past few days, you're probably asking "What's Up?" and "Hey, you're usually running off at the mouth, where's my full disclosure?"

Sorry for the secrecy. As it turns out, we've recently acquired, from a noted Earp scholar, a couple of fantastic transcriptions that appear to confirm that Sam Blonger, or Lou, or both, along with Sheriff Perfecto Armijo, met Wyatt Earp and his men and protected them during their brief exile in Albuquerque in 1882.

As the researcher is about to publish the full transcription of one item, a newspaper article, for the first time, we've promised to hold off posting it until after his account appears in print. The second item, a letter written by Miguel Otero, governor of New Mexico Territory from 1897-1906, first appeared in print just three years ago, so we are seeking permission before posting it here.

The Otero letter states explicitly that Otero visited the Earp posse while the men were in Albuquerque, and that "Blonger and Armijo kept watch over the boys." In the world of Earp research, there is some controversy over whether the letter is authentic. It may turn out that our Blonger research will help decide the question.

Sam Blonger was the marshal of Albuquerque for only five months, and after he was fired he quickly moved on. If the letter is a fake, the person faking it had to know that a Blonger (Sam or Lou) was marshal, and as far as we know, that has never been common knowledge. For a modern forger, it would have been far easier to say simply that Armijo took care of the boys. So if it is a fake, it is a damn good one, undertaken by someone who's done the microfilm research necessary to fool the good folks at BlongerBros.com.

Needless to say, we will keep you up to date on any new developments.


4/3/2004

First of all I'd like to mention that April 22nd will mark the passage of just one year since Scott discovered a startling article about our long-lost Uncle Lou and his Bunco SuperStore in Denver. Since then we have had great pleasure playing Pinkerton, particularly in respect to the family fish stories passed down in the Armstrong account. On that day Scott and I will look back at the past year, review our progress, and assess our next moves.

Now that our search for an Earp/Blonger connection has seemingly crossed paths with an ongoing discussion in the world of "Earpology," we look forward to an interesting year.

Scott is also currently expecting several documents related to a race for mayor in Denver where Lou seemed to play a backstage role, plus materials about Lou's divorce and death.

And let's not forget Joe's pension file. We really want to know his whereabouts between 1873 and 1882. Did he prospect in the Black Hills? Scout in Montana?


Also updated the news index today.


4/5/2004

Not to be melodramatic, but debates in the field of Earpology seem to be pretty lively, even now. Each new work on Wyatt Earp inspires another spirited debate about the myth and reality of his life, and more importantly, his standing as hero or villain. Very vigorous debate, at times.

Wyatt's case seems to have become instantly symbolic of our struggle to come to terms with the mythic outlaw/lawman. Should we be repelled? Or admiring? From the very day of the Tombstone gunfight, the fight over Wyatt Earp's soul has been a surrogate for our struggle with these characters in general.

Which is kind of funny, because we have had to face that question, too, in our own research on the Blongers. Why are we so intrigued by such men, men either of us would probably avoid like the plague in reality? Under most circumstances, rowdy, drunken men with guns make me very nervous. There, I said it.

Who am I kidding? The Blongers rock. They are cool and are looking cooler all the time, so sue me. If for no other reason, the Blongers are cool because they did it. They did ALL of it. When you do genealogy, you get what you find, you know, and I count myself incredibly fortunate Scott stuck to it and struck that little tip of the vein, just under the surface. And the gold just keeps coming. It could well be a life's work, for us both.

As it happens, the short time Wyatt spent in Sam's Albuquerque (several days) is important to the story, in its own way, as his legal status was being sorted out by the governments of New Mexico and Arizona. In other words, they were arguing over Wyatt's soul then, and they argue to this day. Our research on Sam may prove useful to the debate — at least something new to discuss. For our part, there may be more interesting news about Sam's role in these events. We are fairly certain now that he had a job to do. What will we learn?


4/6/2004

Just added a links page.

We're finding indications that, during the early '80s, Albuquerque was regarded by some as being in the grip of bunco men — a charge bolstered in part by references to Sam's predecessor Milton Yarberry (who was hanged for murder), and his replacement, Con Caddigan, who was supposedly run out of town. Sam is not mentioned (as usual), but under the circumstances it's hard not to associate him with the same crowd.

More articles on Con Caddigan.

Interesting tidbit in the Caddigan articles. In describing Con's small gang of grifters, we are told: "Billy Nuttall and Sam Houston are sporting men, Barney Quinn was formerly proprietor of a saloon knows as the Sportsman's Headquarters, and Con Caddagan is constable of precinct number twelve and has been on the police force for some time."

Later we learn that Con's gang had previously worked Denver and Deadwood. Well, wouldn't you know, the No. 10 Saloon in Deadwood where Wild Bill was shot in '76 was owned in part by one Billy Nuttall. Could be an old acquaintance of Joe...

Apparently, Albuquerque was under the thumb of some shady characters. Could be Sam and Lou were part of a gang of sorts in Albuquerque, a precursor to Lou's machine in Denver. At this point one might reasonably implicate a number of the characters we've met so far — Caddigan, Nuttall, Bernard the reporter, and a host of others who might have been in on the graft.


4/7/2004

New page: Blonger Bros. Mysteries. The high points of the Blonger legends and the evidence so far.


4/9/2004

New Albuquerque pages: Lou in Charge and Sam on the Rebound


4/11/2004

The Albuquerque Newspaper Wars

In 1882, Albuquerque was growing at a phenomenal rate, the population rising from perhaps 1000 to more than 10,000. As local government and law enforcement struggled to absorb this tidal wave of newcomers, the city's two daily newspapers battled fiercely for dominance in the burgeoning market. The written attacks were often cruelly personal, and in no time the situation had deteriorated into violence.

We've compiled a series of articles from the Evening Review and the Morning Journal that chronicle the epic battle — and illustrate all too well the dangers of relying on newspapers as honest and accurate accounts.


A conversation with another researcher, concerning Ben Marks, an Iowa gambler, grifter and fixer — and alleged creator of the big store concept, wherein suckers are fleeced in a central location set up to facilitate the con — inspired a revisit to a statement in Van Cise's Fighting The Underworld.

The Federal government finally stepped in with its famous Mabray (Maybray) gang prosecution at Council Bluffs in 1910, in which all the defendants were convicted and this class of criminality effectually stopped. But the Denver chieftain, though involved, escaped. As soon as prosecution was rumored, political influences were set in motion to prevent any exposure of Blonger's connection with the gang. To insure success, the partner of a United States District Attorney, accompanied by a United States Marshal, went to Council Bluffs. They persuaded the Federal authorities to omit Lou Blonger from the list of those indicted. But to make sure that no possible whisper of that name should occur, all during the trial, which lasted several weeks, the lawyer and Deputy Marshal were in daily attendance. Their efforts were successful, because not a witness testified about Denver or its squat overlord.

Yet another indication of Lou's friends in high places: a U. S. District Attorney goes the extra mile to protect poor, sweet Lou from implication in a federal case.

Marks seems to have been a fellow traveler, yet another of these enigmatic western "sporting men," a bold combination, in varying degrees, of merchant, gambler, lawman, bunco artist, prospector, pimp, and showman (Would you think him unambitious if I told you Marks was never keen on prospecting?). We've come across many such men so far, like Van Tassel, Con Caddigan, Billy Nuttals, and of course the Earps, Holliday, Masterson, Hickok and Bill Cody. In any given month, a man might be practicing any three of the trades named above, and the next month, three others.

How does such a man enforce the law? This is precisely the dilemma that makes Wyatt Earp such an enduring puzzle. He acted as we think a western hero should act; with a star on his chest, he hunted down a band of vicious killers and eliminated the threat they posed to civic order. And yet, the killings were acts of cold-blooded vengeance that clearly represented the kind of justice that could not be encouraged.

What of the powerful companies that these men occasionally represented as law officers? Lawmen in the West, like Sam, often seemed more like employees of the local Chamber of Commerce (or mine, or railroad) than municipal workers, servants of the people. The stability of the business climate was paramount to the men with money, and it was that money that paid the lawmen. So what happens? You get order — but not necessarily the enforcement of law, as such. What you need is a tough man, with a price, who can give you what you pay him for: the removal of impediments to the unfettered sale of goods and services.


In other news, I may have discovered intelligent life on another planet.

4/12/2004

Julie Kistler suggested what we have here is a Blonger Blog — a Blong, or Weblong (think french).

Hell On Wheels: Here's an interesting quote from an aticle on building the Pacific Railroad through Wyoming, though it applies to all points West:

A few of these instant towns, typically division points such as Cheyenne and Laramie, became permanent cities. Some such as Sherman and Ft. Steele lasted a little longer. And yet others which consisted little more than tents and a few shanties in which saloon keepers, gamblers, and soiled doves plied their respective trades, may have lasted only a matter of months. As the tracks were extended the inhabitants of the towns would pack up, load up on wagons and move to the next town, giving rise to the expression, "Hell on wheels," but perhaps borrowing the expression from a description of the inhabitants of General Casement's work train.

In that the Blongers, for many years, seem often to have been one step behind the railroad gangs, we'll have to re-christen the tour — Hell On Wheels: The Blonger Tour.


Looking into the Mabray case, I came across an extensive series of newspaper articles on the prosecution in 1910 of John C. Mabray and 80 odd others in Council Bluffs, Iowa. The case involved fixed fights and races, and a good dose of political corruption, but centered around fake wrestling matches. Can you imagine?

Details of the alleged operations of Mabray and his associates, known as the Millionaires' Club, in New Orleans, Denver, and Council Bluffs, were told with frankness. The sporting events, carried through by the "club," according to the witnesses, were so well planned that there was not a chance for the victims to escape. Losses ran from $2,000 to $37,000, according to the ability and willingness of the victim to contribute to the fraud, and aggregated several hundred thousand dollars.

Was Lou a member of the Millionaires' Club?


4/14/2004

If I did in fact discover life on another planet, I am told I will finally get my hovercraft.

Added a long series of articles on the Mabray (Maybray) bunco ring in Council Bluffs, Iowa. I will probably pare these down a bit, but it will be interesting to see if further evidence, beyond Van Cise's comments, implicate Lou in the notorious Millionaire's Club.

The articles will be of special interest to pro wrestling fans, and those who want to know a little more about the wire con.


4/15/2004

In the pipeline:

Info on Lou and Emma's divorce. Emma left Lou, evidently.

1915 article about the discovery of a fake horse race betting parlor.

1923 article on the double-life bombshell — Lou, his wife and his mistress — set off by the Suter divorce case.

Thanks to Jack Davidson


4/19/2004

Greetings to the readers of the St. Albans Messenger in Vermont, just down the road from Swanton, birthplace of the Blongers.

We've got our eye on New Mexico again. So much more there to mine. Photos are a very real possibility, particularly in view of photographer Ben Wittick's shop on Main street. The cast of characters is growing large now, and so familiar, after poring over pages and pages of scribblings on their daily lives. I desperately want more photos to post, and I think we might get lucky. I want to see their faces.

Lou went south after leaving Albuquerque, and spent a few years near Silver City, another mining community, down at the end of the line. Lou's antics may well continue there, and the papers will tell the story. Old names may pop up now and then.

And what about the girl? Or girls? Lou's unnamed "woman" in 1882 runs a brothel. In 1884, Lou marries Emma. She runs off in 1887. Lou sues for divorce, but Emma is out in the camps and isn't served. In 1888, Kitty Blonger, a prostitute in a mining town in Arizona, murders Charles Hill. "L. Blonger" shows up for the trial; she is acquitted. Lou's divorce from Emma is finalized in 1889. Draw your own conclusions. New Mexico records on Lou's marriage to Emma could shed some light on the matter.

As to the mountain of Denver news microfilm that awaits us, spanning thirty-odd years, Scott has begun nibbling around the edges. He says it's "all hand and eye work" from here; no searchable indicies.


4/20/2004

Two shopping days left till Blonger Day.


4/22/2004

Blonger Day

Yes, it's Blonger Day, April 22.

Just one year ago today, Scott's relentless digging finally payed off when he spied that first fleck of gold, an online article on AmericanMafia.com that told us something amazing about our great-great-grandfather's brother. Lou Blonger (not Belonger, his father's name), a forgotten uncle on a lost branch of the family tree, was a man they called The Fixer, perhaps the Fixer, one of America's earliest crime bosses.

Shortly after Scott's initial discovery, he received the Virginia Armstrong account, an essay written in 1962 that recounts stories originally spun in the late Twenties by an old Joe Belonger. Astonishingly, the account makes no mention of Lou's nefarious career (his tale was probably not a big family favorite at the time), but instead speaks of saloons, gold mines and badges, Geronimo and Sitting Bull and Custer's Last Stand.

We were, Scott and I, from long lines, in all directions, of farmers, laborers, and working class folk — good, sensible people all. Regular Joes. So where the hell did these guys come from?

Genealogically, this was a windfall. And that was challenge enough. If half of this were true, why weren't these guys a part of history? Not big parts, mind you. But history is crawling with bit parts and character actors.

As it happens, the Blonger boys were often overlooked when historians came calling. Lou and Sam are not unknown in the lore of the West, but are often inexplicably absent from scholarly works that, by all rights, should have given them their due. Two examples off the top of my head:

  1. A book on the saloons of Denver, 1858-1916, a scholarly accounting of barrooms and their keepers, makes no mention of the boys though they had two saloons in Denver over some twenty years, the Elite being a noted night spot — not to mention numerous saloons in boomtowns all across the West.
  2. A book on the early marshals of Albuquerque makes no mention of Sam (or Lou), though Sam was in office while Wyatt Earp was laying low in Albuquerque after his Vendetta ride. We could only confirm Sam's tenure as marshal through the newspapers of the day.

The point being, the Blonger Bros. often go unnoted in historical sources in which it would be perfectly reasonable to find them. But the good stuff is there, down deep, in microfilm, military records, court documents. So maybe they need a little PR. That's our job.

Their story stretches from Vermont to California, from Cuba to Washington, and most points between. Four fought for the Union in the Civil War, and five were involved in mining. Sam and Simon tried politics, while Joe chose the solitary life of a prospector and scout. Sam and Lou were lawmen and detectives, as well as saloon owners and con men.

Finally, at the end of a career that would fill most men to overflowing, Lou embarked on a new enterprise that would occupy him for the last thirty-five years of his life, a massive bunco ring that operated with impunity on the streets of Denver and raked in millions.

We've learned a lot about all the Brothers Belonger: Simon, Sam, Mike, Joe, Lou, and Marvin. Well, maybe not Marvin, so much. Many mysteries remain, but each new revelation makes one wonder just how outlandish a claim would have to be to be beyond them.


In the past year, we've met new family members, both near and far, and had the pleasure of collaborating with several researchers across the country, all of whom have gone above and beyond the call of duty in their efforts to assist us. We've even said hello to descendants of some of those involved with Lou's bunco ring and subsequent trial.

For the record: the boys had three sisters too: Julia, Elizabeth and Mary. It's certainly not our intention to slight them — you can learn most of what we know about them in the genealogy department — but the brothers here hold the center stage. They're a tough act to follow.

Stay Tuned,
Craig Johnson



4/23/2004

Some 1895 newspaper cartoons have been added, sketches illustrating a gambling den just a block or so from Lou's office in Denver.


4/24/2004

Added an interesting new article about the accidental discovery in 1915 of a wire operation in Denver. The article makes the connection between Lou's Denver operation and the Mabray gang in Iowa.

Also, another obituary for Lou. Contains a priceless quote from one poor soul at the visitation: "Old Lou, he gi' me handouts," the ragged cripple muttered. "He gi' me money to eat, he did."

Interestingly, the three obits we have seem to have come largely from one central source, as if he issued a press release on his death.

Finally, an article further describing Lou's double life with his wife and mistress. Shortly after Lou went to jail, the mother and stepfather of Lou's young mistress Iola were in divorce court. Iola's life with Lou — five nights a week together in the house he built for her on Williams Street — became an issue in the divorce. Protests Lou:

"I don't want to be quoted," he said. "It is blackmail — that's all, blackmail. I don't see why this man wants to bring me into it anyway. How can I help his divorce case one way or the other? How can I, I ask you? I don't even know who this man is. If I did know I wouldn't want to know him. I wish you would tell the paper that everything between my wife and me is on the level. She's a good woman. Why, she will be over here in the morning with my clothing."
"Say, what would a girl like that want with an old man like me?" Blonger queried and laughed. "Do I look like I'd be running around like some of these young fellows? I'll tell you one thing, I know enough to realize that if I was running with some other woman and putting out any money that somebody else would be spending it."

Lou's wife Nola, who got the other two nights a week, had this to say:

"I would not be surprised at any tragedy which might result from this, for knowing Lou Blonger as I do I know that he has a weak heart and that after the shocks which he has withstood in the past year, there is no telling what shock might do to him. He is old - weak and broken."
"Toward Lou Blonger I have the same kindly feeling as I would for a brother who had always been kind to me. For the past twenty years he has lived his life and I have lived mine and we have in no way interfered with each other."
"If he has become involved with another woman and if his name is to be dragged thru another scandal I am sorry for him, but I cannot help it for I believe that what he is now suffering is only retribution for the past which he has lived."
"He has never wanted a divorce - in fact, he was christened in the Catholic church and has never believed in divorce. Had he wanted one I should have given it to him twenty years ago. As it is, we have gone on living our separate lives, he with his friends and I with mine."

Mr. Suter, however, suing for divorce, complained of being harangued by his wife to be more like Lou Blonger — who was, after all, a much better provider.

It strikes me, in the reading I've done of late, that common-law marriage was quite widespread a hundred years ago — which is to say that many ancestors we regard as married were in fact only considered man and wife by virtue of the time they lived together; thus Iola Readon was called Blanche Blonger by some. Perhaps that was the case with the infamous Kitty Blonger as well.

If that's the case, comparisons of marriage rates over many decades might not reflect the reality we think they do. How many of our great-great-grandparents might never have actually been married at all?


4/25/2004

A closer look at Lou's handwritten divorce papers indicate he married first wife Emma Loring in San Francisco. Unfortunately, the Great Earthquake (and subsequent fire) in 1906 destroyed all pertinent records, with the exception of information published in the newspapers. Our best hope for finding out more about Emma still lies in the New Mexico census data for 1885.


4/26/2004

Today Scott received Joe's service record, sooner than expected. Although the file is over an inch thick, and contains a great deal of information, it does not detail Joe's travels through the 70s and 80s, as Lou's did. Oh well.

Some high points:

Joe was indeed married, though not to Kitty Blonger (we were thinking Lou anyway). In 1902, Joe married Clara Windsor, a widow, in Santa Fe. They were divorced sometime before 1915.

Joe mentions moving to Michigan before he enlisted in 1862, at the age of fourteen. But who moved? Sam enlisted in the same regiment, about the same time. Did older brother Sam return from his first journey West, then move part of father Simon's fragmented family to Michigan?

Joe was wounded at the siege of Atlanta in mid-August of 1864. The bullet pierced his left arm, then entered his chest, where it remained till he died.

A mention of Cerro Gordo, California is intriguing — it was a huge boomtown. And we also find a surprise with Lou — he was living in Denver in late 1883 when he signed Joe's request for a pension increase.

In 1912 he was apparently living with Lou (I guess that means he probably knew something about his brother's shenanigans).

Near the end of his life in 1933, he was living in Seattle with Simon's daughter Emma.

What is most interesting is what is left out — no mention of his time in Salt Lake City (attested to in the Albuquerque article), nor time in Deadwood.

Beyond that, he usually went by "Belonger," he stood about 5' 10" (his enlistment records made him sound pretty short, but he was only fifteen at the time), and is said to have resided in Los Angeles, Denver, New Mexico, Arizona, San Francisco. Veteran's homes include Monte Vista, Colorado at the Soldiers and Sailors Home, Kansas at the Western Branch, the Battle Mountain Sanitarium in Hot Springs, South Dakota, and of course, Sawtelle in Los Angeles. He hit 'em all... Apparently he wasn't a model patient (glug glug).


April 2004


 

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