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November 2004

11/05/2004

War of the Fixers, Part I Today Scott received a copy of The New Eldorado: The Story of Colorado's Gold & Silver Rushes by Phyllis Flanders Dorset (New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1970). Somewhat coincidentally, the most important Blonger material in the book concerns the subject of the last few updates: Soapy Smith's fall from power in Denver, and Lou's rise.

The situation in 1895, when Smith returned to Denver after some time in Creede, is becoming clearer. The Blongers, in tight with the sheriff's department and city hall, were expanding their control over Denver's bunco game. The incident in April, with Smith and his brother going medieval all over town, was never clearly explained in the news, though ultimately assault charges stemming from that night would eventually pressure Smith to leave several months later.

Not all of these enterprises were controlled by the suave Soapy Smith. During his absence in Creede and in Old Mexico a portly, oily man with half-mast lids from beneath which peered reptilian, gray eyes slid into the gangland throne Soapy had vacated. Lou Blonger's bulbous nose sensed the right moment for a takeover, and in a short while, from the plush office of his gaming and drinking establishment, he ruled Denver's underworld. With the help of his brother, Sam, the wily Lou built an empire of confidence schemes that threatened to gobble up Soapy's profits. Smith stood the infiltration of Lou and Sam Blonger just so long and then one day he decided to assert his rights on the basis of seniority. Warned that the Blongers were no tinhorn pushovers Soapy nevertheless tucked his derringer in his pocket and headed for his rival's club. As he was about to enter, a squad of police, tipped off by Soapy's men, arrived to persuade the thimblerigger to give up his notion of having it out with the Blongers. Soapy protested loudly and mightily but allowed himself to be conducted away from the Blonger stronghold. As Soapy left, Lou Blonger, who had watched the proceedings from behind the cigar counter inside the front door of his club, carefully put away the loaded double-barreled shotgun he held ready in his hands.

Scott wonders if we shouldn't be paying more attention to Soapy literature, of which there is a great deal. If Lou figures prominently in that chapter of Soapy's saga, there is surely a thing or two to be gleaned on the Blonger organization.


11/11/2004

War of the Fixers, Part II Today Scott found something in the Rare Books section of the ISU library that informs the tale of Soapy's fall and the Blonger's rise.

The Reign of Soapy Smith: Monarch of Misrule in the Last Days of the Old West and the Klondike Gold Rush was published by William Ross Collier and Edwin Victor Westrate in 1935, around the time Van Cise wrote Fighting The Underworld.

An excerpt from the book rather vividly describes the night of the Hughes assault, the beginning of the end of Soapy's days in Denver. It's also one of the more vivid pictures of the brothers that we've come across.

Back on Seventeenth Street, Soapy resumed his normal practices, but soon another disturbing element entered into the situation when two clever and powerful rivals invaded the Denver bunco field in the persons of Lou and Sam Blonger. The brothers Blonger were the most menacing type of confidence men, soft-voiced, quiet, quick-thinking, extremely intelligent, and unrestrainedly dangerous. Lou, suave and bland, was an organizer of considerable ability who always used the velvet hand rather than the mailed fist to attain his ends. Sam was a taciturn individual who never discussed his business or his plans with anyone except his brother and possessed a face extremely hard to read, particularly as his eyes always were hidden behind a pair of blue goggles.
When the Blongers opened headquarters in Denver, with Sam in official charge, Soapy Smith's indignation mounted swiftly at this encroachment in a field he had considered his own private property. His voluble protestations that he intended to "smoke them out" brought swift admonitions of caution from his friends who knew the Blongers. He was told that the brothers were not "greenhorns" and that they had a powerful friend in Bat Masterson, who was now in Denver and had known them in Dodge City. But Soapy was never one to heed advice of this nature, and he set out, singlehanded, for a conference with Sam Blonger which had no objective of peace. A policeman saw Smith enter the Blonger place and, sensing that trouble was ahead, hurried after him. He caught up with Soapy just as he was heading for the card room. He stopped him at the door, argued with him vehemently and, after some parley, induced him to leave without carrying his warlike plans, a timely intervention which undoubtedly saved Soapy's life. Shortly afterward it was revealed that Lou Blonger, gripping a double-barreled shotgun, had been crouching behind the cigar counter, prepared to fire the moment Soapy opened the card-room door.
Soapy made no more open efforts to settle matters with the Blongers, but clashes between members of the rival gangs were frequent in the early days of the Blonger invasion. In time, a species of armed truce was established, but no friendship ever was wasted between the two camps.
As time passed, the Blongers developed into a pair of the most proficient con men in the country, their profits running into tens of thousands. They became the normal successors to Smith after the latter left Denver for the last time, which he did the following year [1897]. But, with the inevitable fatality which must dog the lawless, justice finally ensnared the brothers, and Lou, convicted of conspiracy to swindle and sentenced to a long term, died in the Canon City penitentiary. The Blonger gang was run to earth by J. Frank Norfleet, noted Nemesis of the bunco fraternity, who, having himself been swindled, spent years on the trail of revenge.

Sam's blue goggles, of course, covered the fact that his eye had been shot out. We'd still like to know how that happened.

This writer also links the Blongers and Masterson, and to Dodge City. Not a surprise, but a decent citation.

The writer also indicates that Lou was hiding behind a counter with a shotgun, perhaps waiting to shoot Smith in the back as he tried to enter the office. Was Sam inside?


11/28/2004

Lou and the FBI It suddenly occurred to Scott today that Van Cise was assisted in his investigation of Lou's organization by Roy Samson, a division superintendent of the U.S. Bureau of Investigation — the FBI. As such, they should have information on the investigation. He's filing an FOI, so we should find out in a few weeks, maybe.


11/21/2004

Wyatt Earp and The Albuquerque Newsmen Some may recall an earlier mention here of an Albuquerque Evening Review article referring to the Earp visit to that city. The article was unreadable in the microfilm copy available to us, but a transcript was graciously forwarded to us by Mark Dworkin. The May 13, 1882 article was published after Earp's departure, as per his request; he and his companions, including his younger brother Warren and Doc Holliday, were laying low after their so-called "Vendetta ride." Interestingly, the article describes Wyatt's subsequent death in Arizona, which of course turned out to be untrue.

Read the article in context.


November 2004


 

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