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The Famous Blonger Bros.


October 2004


APD Received the Albuquerque PD history book. It mentions Sam as City Marshal, and the dates are correct, but no other Blonger news. Lou is omitted from the Marshals list, but that's not too surprising, as he held the post for only a few days, in Sam's absence. Would make an interesting footnote, though.

The book neglects to mention con man Con Caddigan's stint as marshal, as mentioned in some of the articles we came across.

Of course, there is some historical background included, which has a few interesting things to say:

The original town of Albuquerque, established by the Spanish in 1706, had long been a hub of commerce, exploration and agriculture, but the completion of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe in 1881 brought a tidal wave of Anglos to the area. New Albuquerque, established the year before, grew up around the tracks, eventually joining with the old town. New Town, as locals often referred to it, quickly became a rough place of open-air saloons, supply stores and brothels, "the epitome of what has become known as the 'Wild West'." This was Sam's beat.

Of the early police force, the book has this to say:

Law enforcement, to the degree it existed, consisted of hiring an officer who was tougher, but hopefully no worse, than the criminals he was enlisted to control. Soon after the founding of New Albuquerque, business leaders organized and funded a Merchant's Police Force, staffed by a town marshal and deputies.

The book devotes a few paragraphs to Albuquerque's first marshal, Milt Yarberry. As noted here before, Yarberry apparently had a habit of gunning down unarmed men, then claiming self defense. He got away with it a few times, but eventually hanged for it. Interestingly, he was evidently an early victim of a new-fangled device, a gallows that used a 400-lb. lead weight to jerk the condemned up, rather than letting him drop from a platform. "Jerked to Jesus," as the local paper put it. They got plans for the device from Scientific American.

Yarberry was in jail in Santa Fe during Sam's tenure, and brought back to Albuquerque for hanging in February of 1883. Perhaps Lou was in the crowd.

Albuquerque got it's first phones, with 50 subscribers, in 1881. By 1882, streetcars connected the new and old towns.


Griffin's Run Just re-read the story of W. T. Griffin of Winslow, AZ, the owner of a dance hall who found himself over-leveraged and decided to skip out on his creditors. Sam arrested the man as he came through Albuquerque by train, hidden in the express car with a pistol in his hand and two more on his person. 45 in hand, Sam uttered the traditional admonishment to "throw up your hands," and Griffin complied. A good bust. But it was the end of the article that caught my attention:

By his prompt and energetic action Marshal Blonger saved two different business men in this city considerable sums of money, and he should be liberally rewarded by them for his work.

Marshaling was a fairly well-paying job to begin with. If grateful businessmen were also kicking in rewards and tokens of their appreciation, seems like a cop could do all right, if he could keep from getting kilt. It also speaks to the phrase in the 10/5 update, "Merchant's Police Force." Early western cops were not the municipal employees we know today — protecting the public was primarily a way of assuring folks and their families would stick around to keep the economy growing.

Silent Marvin Youngest of the Blonger Bros., Marvin is seldom heard from. He apparently spent his adult life in Montana mining. Sam and Lou had mining interests in the area, but we can't say if Marvin worked the same mines. Thanks to Marian Coleman for hunting down the following obit for us. Marian is one of many family researchers who help others under the general banner of "Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness." Here we find Marvin spent time near the end of his life in San Francisco and elsewhere in California.

Dunsmuir (Cal.) News
October 27, 1927
Marvin E. Blonger Claimed by Death
Marvin Edward Blonger died at the home of his daughter, Mrs. R. W. Buick, in this city yesterday morning at the age of 76 years.
The deceased is survived by two daughters — Mrs. R. W. Buick of this city and Mrs. J. H. Kervin of San Francisco. Mrs. Kervin and her husband are here from the bay city today to attend the funeral services, which will be held Saturday afternoon. The funeral arrangements are being handled by Young's and burial will take place in the local cemetery.
Mr. Blonger was born in Vermont in 1851 but spent most of his life at Philipsburg, Montana. He came to California and made his home for a while with his daughter in San Francisco, but for the past three years had been living with Mr. and Mrs. R. W. Buick in this city.


Top and Bottom Mark Dworkin comes through again, with more from that rather expensive volume, Wyatt Earp, 1879 to 1882, The Man & The Myth, A Sequel to the Untold Story (1964). Says he:

"Bartholomew's books are not indexed, so it's a laborious task trying to find anything. But I did manage to find a couple of Blonger references in volume 2. I'll keep looking for others, but they may not exist. Here 'tis, Bartholomew typos and all:"

[p. 323] Said a Siver City [NM] paper on April 15 [1882]; "A party is in town and reliably informed, says Curly Bill is not dead as told here this week by the Earp party." By this time the Earp gang had reached Albuquerque, hoping to bask under the prtectgion of City Marshal Sam Blonger.
[p. 325] The newspaper told of Earp's arrival in Albuquerque, the town through which he and his party had traveled back in late 1879 or 1880, when they left Las Vegas for Tombstone. There Sam blonger ruled as City Marshal of New Town, with his brother Lou helping, and who was later to be the super conman, the Mr. Big of vice in Denver for many years, only to be sent to prison in the 1920s. The Earp gang may have stayed in Albuquerque for a few days, and perhaps by coincidence the newspapers told an increase in petty crime in the Duke city.
The, a newspaperman was "take" in a common confidence game, and he told of in his paper. there were charges that one of the gang, perhaps "Nut Shell Bill", had given the reporter a gold watch to shut him up. Next report had Marshal Blonger blackballing that particular paper, refusing them access to the news, especially "police news". A wordy newspaper war of sorts developed, but the Earp gang had moved on toward Colorado, via the rails, as had Doc Baggs, the king of the conmen, and Bill Nuttal, Tom Ashton, and Sam Blonger; Sam had gone to Denver with "mining samples". His brother took over as marshal. And, for the time being "Sheeney Frank" and his "Silent Six" continued to work the old "top and bottom: game in Old Town Saloons."

Somebody needs a proofreader! As Scott notes, this is the first time we've found an author who mentions Lou's stint as Marshal, and further makes the connection to his Denver days. Super conman, indeed.

Bartholomew evidently researched the ABQ newspapers, as did we. As noted here previously, Sam left town for Denver during the time of Earp's stay in Albuquerque, leaving Lou in charge, supposedly to have ore samples assayed. Scott says he was inclined to take the news of Sam's departure at face value. He was involved in mining, after all. I wondered if he might have left to attend to some negotiation on behalf of Wyatt and his posse.

We are familiar with the "newspaper war" mentioned, and that Sam, in response to several articles critical of his performance, eventually refused to provide further reports to the Evening Review. The Review replied:

Deputy Sheriff Sam Blonger announces to the reports of THE REVIEW that they need expect no more news from him and that his efforts hereafter will be directed to keeping such information as he may command from this paper. This is gratifying. Hereafter, criminal news published by THE REVIEW will be more reliable. It may be interesting for some to know that Mr. Blonger's dislike of this paper dates from the discharge of a reporter who was formerly weak enough and fond enough of liquid and nicotan [sic] stimulants to espouse the cause of the officer whenever a dark-looking case came before the public, and the fact is probably of the same degree of interest that this reporter is now employed at the Journal. THE REVIEW is published as a newspaper, and any of its reporters who suppress the news will be promptly scut over to the Journal office with a letter of recommendation.

Bartholomew's final quote above also speaks directly to the bunco culture in Albuquerque. Doc Baggs is credited with inventing the "gold brick" confidence game, and refining the big store concept that later made Lou a very rich man in Denver. Bill Nuttall had previously owned the saloon in Deadwood where Hickok was shot, and later was a showman in Leadville when the Blongers were there. We are unfamiliar with Ashton, "Sheeny Frank" and his "Silent Six," but you get the idea: Albuquerque was a dangerous place for the naive. Many of the West's most famous conmen were having a good time in Sam and Lou's town. Let's not forget Soapy Smith, Con Caddigan, and others. Not to mention Masterson, the Earps, Doc Holliday... Undoubtedly the list goes on.

As for the top and bottom scam, Mark sends this:

Big Ed Burns (sic)- the notorious "top and bottom" fiend- disguised as a miner, and who has just sold a mine for $50,000. Ed has got more money than he knows what to do with, and wants to shake somebody the dice for the treats. In part, this early newspaper account was somewhat whimsical, but "Big" Ed Burns was indeed the genuine article. He was known throughout Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico as a notorious killer, con-man, and "floating tin-horn gambler. "Big" Ed was especially adept at figuratively roping in tenderfeet, and dragging them into the lair of "top and bottom men;" who, as prominent historian Paula Marks explains, were "men who used loaded dice to trick the gullible into betting against the possibility the tops and bottoms of three rolled dice adding up to twenty-one. Since the tops and bottoms would add up to tenty-one every time with unloaded dice, this was known as a real sucker trick.

From Bob Alexander's Dangerous Dan Tucker

Sam kicked Big Ed out of town in February, 1882. Ed later worked with Soapy Smith in Denver, perhaps in competition with the Blonger Bros. and their cohorts, till Smith left town.

Albuquerque Morning Journal February 16, 1882

Burns Bounced.
Ed Burns, the notorious hold-up, was escorted to the train last night by Marshal Blonger, and sent on his way south with instructions never to show his theiving mug within the city again. Burns is a dangerous man to any community, but there are others in this town to-day who are equally bad and should be made to travel. Marshal Blonger told a reporter last night that he intended making his rounds to-day to gather the poll tax, and that all men that he could find without any visible means of support, would be compelled to go to work or leave town. We know of a number of individuals who belong to this class, and if the marshal has any trouble in finding just who they are, we will not hesitate to publish their names, as they are known here. The vags, for they are nothing else, must go.

Interesting, too, to hear Doc Baggs brought into the conversation, since he was the one who scammed Otero's father in Denver just a couple of weeks before the Earps showed up in ABQ [April, 1882].


Otero was the young son of a prominent ABQ businessman, who is purported to have seen to the needs of the Earp posse during their Albuquerque stay. He later went on to become governor.

Big Ed, a violent and profane man, plied his trade in many Western towns, including Leadville, Santa Fe, Buena Vista, Trinidad — and Tombstone. He was arrested by Virgil Earp in that town in August of 1881, so he was surely no friend of the Earps.


Lou and Soapy Soapy and the Blongers went way back, at least to their days in Albuquerque. By the 1890s, Soapy had established himself as a political power in Denver, and was fixing elections (sometimes with Bat Masterson's assistance) in addition to running poker games, policy shops, managing teams of con men, etc. — in competition with Lou.

Soapy spent some time as top dog in Creede, but when he returned to Denver in the mid-nineties, the Blongers had apparently consolidated their power.

Soapy left Denver in January of 1896, under threat of imprisonment over an assault on John Hughes. His brother Bascomb was already in the slammer for the same crime. Jeff Smith says Soapy's lawyers advised him to leave, as Lou's influence in the courts would have him put away in a heartbeat, illustrating how power had shifted in Lou's favor by that time.

The Rocky Mountain News article about the Hughes assault brings up a couple of interesting items. The article is dated April 22, 1895, and details a strange night in Denver.

Chief of Police Goulding is in a whorehouse with two bartenders, one named Tom Sewall. Soapy and brother Bascomb barge in and beat the chief and Sewall, and the third man escapes.

Moments later, as a crowd gathers outside, the chief and the Smiths emerge, claim that nothing is wrong, and go on their way. Tom Sewall is taken to the police surgeon to repair the gashes in his head where one of the Smiths had pistol-whipped him.

On hearing that the chief had not come back to the station with the Smiths in custody, Sewall claimed he would kill Soapy Smith on sight if he saw him. Meanwhile, the Smiths had left Chief Goulding's company and gone into "Blonger's place," where they made a commotion. A policeman entered the building and got them to leave.

Next, the Smiths went to the Arcade, where they assaulted John Hughes and Charlie Lorge.

As the morning came, Chief Goulding showed up at the station house. When told the newspapers were aware of the night's intrigue, he promptly excused himself and took the first train out of town for a while.

A few interesting points:

First, Blonger's place, as described in the article, would have to refer to the Blonger's first saloon on Larimer, which we still cannot name. We can, however, now say that they owned this place until at least 1895, much later than we suspected. Whether they had yet opened the Elite, we don't know.

Second, I am wondering if the third, unnamed bartender might be Lou. He crawls out a whorehouse window, and goes back to his saloon. Later, Soapy and Bascomb come to the saloon, but are threatened with arrest by the local beat cop. There is not yet enough evidence to call this in inference, just a theory.

Jeff Smith mentions a source that has Lou claiming, some time later, to have been waiting in his office with a shotgun — in which case he was very close to being known as the Man Who Shot Soapy Smith. This jives with comments from Ken Gaunt, who suggests that Sam and Lou may actually have whacked a couple of Soapy's associates around this time, and that Soapy would have been shotgunned to death had he entered Lou's office as expected...


Chief Goulding has his say The day after the Rocky Mountain News article about the Hughes assault, Chief Goulding gave his side of the story:

"Explanation of the Sunday Morning Disturbance and Why There Were No Arrests at the Time — All the Bad Men of Denver are Deputy Sheriffs Who Carry Guns, Says the Chief of Police."

October 2004



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