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August 2004

8/6/2004

Sam Ties The Knot The following was found in the Rocky Mountain News, February 27, 1894:

BLONGER-PIERREPONT
Widow of a Fireman Marries S. H. Blonger
Sam H. Blonger, the well known sporting man, is once more a benedict, having been married on Sunday last to Mrs. F. O. Pierrepont, the widow of fireman Fred Pierrepont, who was killed by a wall falling during the burning of the Summit Fuel and Feed warehouse over a year ago. The announcement of this event will be in the nature of a surprise to the friends of both, as it was not generally known that Cupid had been at work in that direction. On Saturday a license was issued to the blushing Blonger by the county clerk and on Sunday, in the presence of a few intimate friends of the contracting parties, Justice Cater tied the nuptial knot. It was the new justice's first effort in the field of matrimony and it is said that he bore himself with the same becoming dignity which fits so easily on his shoulders while dispensing justice to those who break the law. Sam Blonger thinks Mr. Cater can dispense bliss as well as he can justice.

Dr. Chung Hing


8/18/2004

Strong Arm of the Law, Part I We heard yesterday from the historian for Denver's Fairmount Cemetery, Ken Gaunt. Fairmount is where Lou is interred. Ken is an expert on Soapy Smith and, like Soapy's great-grandson Jeff Smith, does Soapy shows on occasion, in costume, recreating the soap con, Three Card Monte, the shell game, etc., and talking about Soapy.

He believes the Blongers may more accurately be defined as "strong arm men" rather than con men, and that makes a lot of sense. We know Lou conned and cheated, and occasionally got caught doing it, yet we have no evidence whatsoever of Lou playing a classic grifter role. He was instead the bankroll, the fixer, the facilitator. For Sam's part, he remained untouched by the law throughout his life, and so escaped the inherent bad press, but his reputation, inextricably tangled with that of his partner Lou, convicts him nevertheless.

Friends in high places may have been their specialty. We understand the U.S. Marshal and U.S. District Attorney had an interest in keeping Lou out of jail in the Maybray case in Iowa. Tammen of the Denver Post kept Lou's name out of the papers after his arrest by Van Cise, until the effort proved futile.

William Pinkerton was an old friend as well. At first this was a bit confusing — the notorious Bunco King hanging around the spas of Hot Springs with the King of Detectives?

But we have begun to glimpse the depth of Sam and Lou's involvement with what passed for law enforcement in the West at the time — a subject completely ignored by Van Cise, though perhaps he was unaware.

Armstrong says Sam was in law enforcement in the seventies, before becoming Marshal of Albuquerque, and the Albuquerque Morning Journal implies the same. Lou said he was a sheriff in Texas before becoming Sam's deputy, and for a short time, marshal. At this time they were members of the Rocky Mountain Detective Association, a confederation of some of the region's law enforcement officials. It's unclear if privately employed detectives were members as well, but Lou was acting as such a few months after Sam was dismissed (and presumably Lou as well):

Albuquerque Morning Journal, July 27, 1882

THE NAIL CLINCHED.
A Portion of the Jewelry Which was Stolen From Howe's Jewelry Store Recovered.
Sufficient Evidence Against J. E. Goodman to Convict Him of the Crime.
Tuesday morning, July 18, M. E. Howe's jewelry store was burglarized and about $500 worth of jewelry besides $100 worth of clothing belonging to Frank Nichols was taken.
The burglar gained an entrance by removing a panel from the back door. The burglar left no clue behind him, and Mr. Howe had about made up his mind that his goods were lost and that the thief would be allowed to go unpunished to enjoy the fruits of his stealings, until the arrest of J. E. Goodman on suspicion was announced. Evidence has now been obtained and it is very likely that he will plead guilty.
A day or two before Goodman was arrested suspicion was directed toward him, and Lou Blonger sent a man to him asking about the stolen jewelry and offering to buy it. He fell into the trap and it was ascertained beyond a doubt that he was implicated in the burglary, but before any positive evidence could be obtained he became suspicious of Blonger and refused to compromise himself further. He was arrested Monday by Judge Sullivan and locked up.
Sullivan and Blonger put their heads together Tuesday and in the evening Goodman was taken from the jail and induced by Blonger to go with him and show the hiding place of the jewelry. A small portion of the stolen goods was brought to light from an old adobe house in the northern outskirts of the city. The remainder Goodman has disposed of but just how he refused to state.
The jewelry which was found was returned to M. E. Howe yesterday and its value found to be $89.75. There is but little hope of any more being recovered. Goodman will have his examination to-day. He did the work without the aid of accomplices and had he kept sober, would never have been detected.

Just what does he mean, "induced by Blonger"?

After Albuquerque, Sam still expressed interest in law enforcement, and may have continued on with the RMDA. Armstrong tells us that Sam's eye was shot out in Denver, sometime after Albuquerque, while in the role of lawman. This incident, still undocumented, may have ended his career.

We know that Lou was one detective sent to Cripple Creek to investigate the assault on General Tarsney in 1893. Union miners had tarred and feathered the General, presumably because he had his state militia do an ineffective job of protecting them when the sheriff's department — and a gang of ex-cops and firemen imported from Denver — tried to end the miner's strike forcibly a few weeks earlier. This confrontation came to be known as the Battle of Bull Hill.

Who was he "sleuthing" for? The RMDA? The Marshal's office? The article doesn't say, which may imply he was not a state or federal agent. We do know that he and Sam owned two mines in the Cripple Creek mining district, so he could hardly have been an impartial participant.

So maybe it wasn't strange at all that Lou and Pinkerton should be friends — they were apparently colleagues as well.

Perhaps more to the point, what kind of favors might Sam and Lou have done for powerful men? What kind of jams might they have unjammed? Like Wyatt Earp, calling in favors from Wells Fargo and the railroad tycoons after his Vendetta ride, the Blongers apparently had influence that reached from coast-to-coast. And once again, I have to say it: Then came Van Cise...


8/19/2004

It's in the Genes, Part IV

Chateau Le Royale Program

As you can see, this is an itinerary for an evening of gambling at my casino. This was April 19, 1975, so I'd be just shy of sixteen.

Chateau accounts  Chateau accounts  Chateau Royale News  Letter to the Editor  The Sting script

The Painter Kid

These are from the account books. Also, the front page of the first Chateau Royale newsletter, a letter to the editor, and the cover of a script for Tom Hrubec's new video production of The Sting, circa 1975, starring Bob Nelson, Jeff Wisser and Keith Rauschenberger (Illinois State Senator Steve Rauschenberger's brother). I myself was to play the role of Kid Twist, whom I suspect was modelled on Lou's own William Sturns, The Painter Kid.

And finally this gem from the second newsletter:

CHATEAU ROYALE HISTORY
What's In A Name?
The Chateau Royale (la Château Royale, meaning 'the Royal Castle', loosely) has been around for a long time. In name, since 1973 if not before. Originally called Château La Royale, the name was changed because of the incorrectness of la, actually le, and it's position in the name. The originally title is still preferred by some.
It is felt by some that long after the death of the casino, the name shall live on elsewhere.

8/24/2004

Strong Arm of The Law, Part II Early in Fighting The Underworld, Van Cise makes two assertions that underscore the importance of Lou's career as a lawman/detective.

First, he indicates that Lou's original influence in Denver stemmed from his relationship with the Chief of Police.

Van Cise also recalls that he was first introduced to Lou by Leonard DeLue (whom Van Cise calls "Leon Dean"), "a former inspector of police and at that time the proprietor of the largest private detective agency in the city."

Did Lou work for DeLue at one time, or with him? What agency did DeLue run? Once again we see that Lou's career in law enforcement was instrumental in shaping his criminal career. The power to enforce the law was also the power to circumvent it, and in the West, as elsewhere, this power was used by many for great financial gain.

I'm starting to detect an almost mob-like quality about the lawman culture in general. Not all, of course, or even most. But there was definitely a dynamic widely at play here: businessmen need a tough man to keep commerce humming and the drunken misfits at bay, and in return, said tough man gets a great salary and earns the undying gratitude of his employers — who may in fact be in a position to return the favor. He also finds himself in a postion to profit from the crimes of others — by getting paid to not arrest them. By the 1890's, Denver was firmly in the grip of such men, and they were old friends of Sam and Lou Blonger.

When Lou finally got his meeting, he offered Van Cise money for his campaign in return for the cooperation of the DA's office. Generally speaking, the DA would set a low bail for bunco men — a thousand dollars to get out of jail. With such an arrangement, the cops could arrest a grifter if compelled to, then Lou paid the grand, then the grifter skipped bail, after which he would perhaps be sent to work with a crew in another town. A con that might net tens of thousands of dollars — which ended up in pockets all over town — might cost a measly couple thousand in bail, worst case. That's The Fix


August 2004


 

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