The Famous Blonger Bros.
Denver Post, March 29, 1923
VERDICT CLOSES CAREER OF 40 YEARS AS CZAR OF BUNCO RING FOR BLONGER
Heretofore Firm in Belief in His Immunity From Law, Accredited Head of "Con" Men Is Changed Man as He Paces Cell in County Jail.
By its verdict in the west side court, Wednesday afternoon, the jury in the trial of twenty bunco men brought to a close the career of Lou Blonger, accredited head of the confidence men's syndicate in Denver for forty years.
Never before had Blonger run afoul of the law. Always, as czar of the Denver branch of the national and international band of crooks and fleecers, he had occupied his throne room in Denver, firm in the belief his position was so secure as to render him immune from arrest.
Thursday, in the county jail, he realized that the end had been reached.
APPEARS TO LOSE GRIP AS HE PACES HIS CELL.
Suffering from asthma and nearing his 75th year, Blonger presented a pitiful spectacle as he paced nervously back and forth in his cell. He realizes that his last years may be spent in the penitentiary. He seems to have lost his grip and the confidence which marked his conduct during the trial appears to have deserted him.
Thru the sixty-two days of the trial in the west side court Blonger sat apart from the other members of the ring. He preferred the company of his attorneys, rather than that of the men whose plundering in Denver and thruout the nation had brought him within the pale of the law.
As he sat in the courtroom Wednesday afternoon awaiting the verdict he was nervous. As he leaned forward to talk with his attorneys his hands time and time again slapped the arms of his chair in a nervous, uncertain movement. The confidence which had been written on his face was replaced by the look of a man who sensed a calamity.
NEVER BEFORE LOOKED ON AS CROOK, HE SAYS.
"I'm an old man now," he said Thursday. "I've lived in Denver thirty-five years or more. Never before in my life has the lock of a prison cell closed behind me. Never before have I been looked upon as a criminal. I have friends in Denver. They believe in me. They do not believe that Lou Blonger ever did the things charged against him and upon which he has been convicted by the perjured testimony of a man who has been a crook all his life."
Lou Blonger in the county jail, convicted of a felony and apt to die in prison of a malady which has made serious inroads on his health, is not the same confidence czar who directed the band of bunco wolves in Denver, unmolested over a period of forty years. He is a broken man, a man who seems too tired to fight back, or considers that there isn't any use. He is old, sick, and virtually friendless, and he doesn't seem to care.
I have been wanting to create a gathering place for the many mythic and lesser known Knights of the Green Cloth who have made their way into these pages, and what better name for such a place than that of Lou's favorite Denver watering hole. Come on in and meet some of the Blongers' partners in crime the drinks are on us.
While putting that page together, I was necessarily tempted to connect all the con men known or said to have frequented Albuquerque circa 1882, a list that includes Soapy Smith, Doc Baggs, Ed Burns, Con Caddigan, Billy Nuttall and the Blongers. Then I ran across this in an 1884 article about Caddigan, who served as marshal for a short time after Sam:
He appeared as a confidence man first in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where the gang had their transcontinental rendezvous. Albuquerque was then a new town and the bunco men ran it with a high hand, electing as Justice of the Peace Dan Sullivan, one of their friends, and as Marshal and Constable Milton Yarberry, who was hanged last year, and Con Caddigan. The operation of these bunco men finally began to hurt the passenger traffic of the Santa Fe road, and the Company determined to drive them out of the territory. So when they cheated Henry Griffith, a Welsh miner, out of $75.00 through the top and bottom trick, Caddigan, Barney Quinn, Billy Knuttall, three of the confidence men, were arrested and put in jail to await indictment, escaping in a few days by the work of their companions outside who bribed the jailer. Caddigan then came to St. Louis and got a variety company which he took to Chihuahua. he played them for several weeks and then deserted them, taking all the money of the company with him. His arrest in St. Louis will afford his victims the liveliest satisfaction.
NOTE: Milt Yarberry was marshal before Sam, and was prone to shooting unarmed men.
Might this whole crowd, or most of it, have functioned as a gang in Albuquerque?
Jazz Tonight in the Elite Room.
The Original Faustina Club, consisting of six solo performers, rendering each evening overtures from all the popular operas, and under the directorship of Frankie "The Finger" Barnes.
To-Nite Only! Chick Braley and his Saxophone, performing the Hutchy-Kutchy and other Popular Favorites.
Actually, it's an animated music video, and several audio files, featuring Michael Belonger's grandson Chick Braley (our grandfather). Chick played in dance bands his whole life, and made these recordings himself, captured in Wisconsin taverns late in his career.
Frank Thurmond and Lottie Deno In 1887, Lou filed a pension claim with the government. He had injured his leg years before, in his first few days of service in the Union Army, and now was asking Uncle Sam for more money with which to support his poor disabled self.
In this pension request he says a bit about his whereabouts since the war, including this:
Since 83 until the present time here resided with Frank Thurmond at Silver City, Deming and Kingston New Mexico. And here been treated in that time by Dr. Innes, Kingston New Mexico and by Dr. McGuire, of same place present Post Office address Kingston Sierra Co New Mexico
And I further state that from the year 1868 until 1883 I was with my Bro as above stated and under his care and support wholly unable to perform manual labor & support myself. Since I have been with Mr. Thurmond as above stated. I have but partially supported myself, and at present have no employment and am wholly unable to support myself by labor.
Now, we never thought much about Mr. Thurmond. Just another name among many we have come across, right?
Today, in reviewing the website activity logs, which I do fairly often (we're currently averaging 79 unique visitors a day), I decided to follow up one of the referral links. Just a lark.
Someone had been searching on the name Frank Thurmond, and come to our site. I followed the link back to the search page, and looked at the other links that came up for that name. If we had been true Wild West buffs, we would have known.
A brief summary after a little Googling:
Frank was a prominent gambler, an associate of Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp.
In 1880 he married "Lottie Deno," a famous female gambler.
Born a southern belle, Lottie traveled around the country gambling, accompanied by her nanny, a seven-foot-tall slave named Mary Poindexter. She fell for Thurmond while house gambler at the Thurmond family's club in San Antonio.
Frank and Lottie were featured characters in a recent comic book series about Doc Holliday.
By the late 80s, when Lou was in the picture, Frank and Lottie were trying to build a life as prominent, respected citizens of Deming, NM, a goal they achieved and a designation they retain to this day.
This from the Handbook of Texas Online
In Fort Concho Lottie had been called Mystic Maud. It was in Fort Griffin that she began to call herself Lottie Deno. The name was supposedly derived from a card game where she was suspected of cheating; one player suggested she should call herself "Lottie Dinero." Johnny Golden followed Lottie to Fort Griffin and was killed there within a day after locating her. Frank Thurmond was there under the alias Mike Fogerty. Lottie's gambling opponents included Doc Holliday and other well-known western figures. She left Griffin in May 1877 to join Frank in Kingston, New Mexico. There she and Frank ran a small gambling room on the rear of the Victorio Hotel. Later Lottie owned the Broadway Restaurant in Silver City. On December 2, 1880, in Silver City, New Mexico, Lottie and Frank were married. Carlotta J. Thompkins, the name that appears on the marriage register, is assumed to be her real name. From 1882 until Lottie's death the Thurmonds made their home in Deming, New Mexico, as upstanding and respected citizens. Frank became a miner, then dealt in land sales and eventually became vice president of the Deming National Bank. Lottie, who was always said to be a lady and had always worn the finest clothing and practiced the best manners, gave up gambling and became a founding member of St. Luke's Episcopal Church of Deming. She died on February 9, 1934, and is buried in Deming next to Frank. Frank and Lottie were immortalized as Faro Nell and Cherokee Hall in a series known as the Wolfville books, written by Alfred Henry Lewis. Lottie was also the prototype for Miss Kitty in the television series "Gunsmoke" and for Laura Denbo in Leon Oris's movie Gunfight at the OK Corral (Paramount, 1957).
So Lou was hanging out with Miss Kitty? And why can't the Bros. have their own comic book?
Obviously, there is more to uncover here, which is cool because this particular period, 1883 to 1887, is otherwise a bit of a mystery, at least in comparison to Albuquerque in 1882.
More News Jack Davidson passed along a great link today: Colorado's Historic Newspaper Collection, an online archive of Colorado news articles and being home sick, Scott made good use of it!
A selection of Scott's finds so far:
Colorado Miner Nov. 15, 1879
THE NOVELTY THEATRE.
This place of amusements, under the proprietorship of Messrs. Day and Blonger, with Mr. Lascell as Director of Amusements, has been running to good houses all the week, and will undoubtedly be crowded to-night, as a fine bill is to be presented.
Rip Van Winkle is now in rehearsal.
The performances of the Laischelle Family, as champion gymnasts, gave great satisfaction, and were loudly applauded.
New attractions next week. Look out for them.
Our previous info has them in the Leadville area at the time, not far from Georgetown Sam lost a bid for mayor that year.
Cripple Creek Morning Times Dec. 21, 1899
FORREST QUEEN ASSAYS
Blonger, Reardon and Pruett, leasing on the Forest Queen claim, yesterday obtained an assay of 25 per cent lead, $4 in silver and $28 in gold. The assay was from the vein recently encountered at a depth of 106 feet, where the vein is two feet in width.
Breckenridge Bulletin, May 19, 1906
Give Us Morality Or Give Us Death
There are people so awfully full of morality that it bubbles out of every crack and crevice in their sanctimonious hide; why, morality actually stands in puddles wherever their ponderous weight makes a track in the earth. There is a man of this kind right here in Breckenridge actually this is true. His morality has every bit as beautifying appearance to it as the ears of a donkey have to his donkeyship with apologies to the mule creation, for mules never have harmed us. The writer is going to take lessons in morality from this man, and thereby elevate the moral tone of the BULLETIN; drop a few "bunco-steering" advertisements, and be otherwise good like the Summit County Journal is now. Then we will have "inflooence" in educational matters like the Journal has. But if this great moral leader, O.K. Gaymon, flunks on us and won't give us lessons just because we have said a mean thing or two about him, the people will simply have to endure our immorality until we can make arrangements for lessons with Lou Blonger of Denver, or some other moral star of the Gaymon-Blonger stripe. It's morality or bust with us.
Bayfield Blade Sept. 20, 1912
After forty-eight years a bullet has been discovered in the chest of Joseph Blonger of Denver, a veteran of the Civil War.
Joe had been shot at the siege of Atlanta. Here's a drawing of his wound.
And here's Frank Thurmond, mentioned on the 19th.
Frank Thurmond I have no doubt Lou and gambler Frank Thurmond were acquainted, but it strikes me as likely as not that Lou used Frank's home in Deming as his address for a time (1883-1887) without necessarily being there, if at all.
And More This one's odd. By this time, Sam was dead some ten years (and Lou would die in prison in less than a month). Scott thinks they meant Lou.
Creede Candle Feb. 16, 1924
Philip Van Cise has cold feet, and don't want to be a senator. Judge Burke of the Supreme Court and a few others will worry Phipps along until he opens the barrel. Carl C. Schyler has the inside track for the short term. That is the Republican situation to date.
The Albanians want Harry F. Sinclair, of Teapot Dome fame for King. He should bring home the bacon. Sam Blonger should not despair.
Billy Nuttall We've talked about Billy before; he owned the saloon where Hickok was killed. He might have known Joe at the time.
He supposedly worked with Con Caddigan and others pulling cons in Deadwood, Denver and Albuquerque, and possibly worked with Lou as well.
I just found some info about the famous Bella Union Theatre in Deadwood. It appears Billy leased the building for a while. In 1879, Nuttall resurrected the theatre in Leadville as the Metropolitan. Lou was running his theatre in nearby Georgetown, and Sam would soon run for mayor of Leadville. Masterson was in town at the time. It's a pretty safe assumption, I think, that Lou knew Nuttall, and probably Caddigan, before they arrived in Albuquerque.
Chase was also known in Deadwood, as were so many others. Could the Blonger Bros. never have been to Deadwood? An obit says they were, but no other evidence has appeared.
Back to Deadwood, Part I Been watching the HBO series on DVD. Can't get enough.
Yesterday I posted a query about Joe on a new Deadwood message board, the Black Hills Daily Pioneer. This is evidently an offshoot of the Last Stage to Deadwood site, which I have found to be very cool for browsing. I love the old news, the real thing.
Joe claimed to have been in Deadwood, and to have been an acquaintance of Wild Bill, though we have found no substantiation.
According to Lou's obituaries, Lou and Sam spent time there in the mid-seventies, or thereabouts. Again, no corroborating evidence (we know that the obits have several inaccuracies).
The answer today from the Pioneer, however, brings a surprise: "Kittie" Blonger.
You remember Kitty, of course. Whore in Peach Springs, Arizona, 1888. Shot Charles Hill in the head when he broke in on Kitty and paramour Kid Fay. Second woman tried for murder in Arizona. Visited, evidently, by Lou when she was in jail. Acquitted, self-defense. That's about all we know of her.
But here she pops up in Deadwood, in 1893, five years after the trial:
Deadwood letter list February 26.
Feb. 26, 1893
Letters remaining in the Deadwood post office Feb. 25.
I guess she didn't go back East, as she had sworn to do after the trial. Still how is she connected to all of this?
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Copyright Notice: Original material copyright 2003-12 Scott Johnson and Craig Johnson. Other copyrights may apply to materials found herein. Our primary goal is to reintroduce the Blonger Bros. to the lexicon of the Wild West. We therefore encourage the use of our research, provided due credit is given.