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The Famous Blonger Bros.


June 2005


Van Cise is On The Case Received a Nigerian scam email yesterday, addressed to Philip S. Van Cise. Seems they used to do business with a relative of his, "also" by the name of "Cise." Now they're looking for someone to help them move some cash out of the country. Did they pick the wrong guy, or what?

Show Me The Money In answer to Dad's question about the whereabouts of Lou's fortune, we find this at the end of one of Lou's obits:

The will leaves Blonger's little remaining property to his wife. Most of his real estate is now covered by federal and state government liens for the collection of income taxes and costs of his conviction in the state case. These may be held up indefinitely for settlement.

Much of his property was deeded to his wife before the conviction, some more in his will. The rest seems to have been swallowed up by the gummint.


New Book Not out yet, but Scott stumbled across the TOC for Outlaw Tales of Colorado : True Stories of Colorado's Most Famous Robbers, Rustlers, and Bandits (Outlaw Tales Series) on the LOC website. Guess who gets the cover?

Outlaw Tales of Colorado

Typical Here's a reference typical of the newspapers in the early part of the century — Lou or Sam's name is invoked, with the understanding that you know who they are:

Breckenridge Bulletin, August 1, 1908

Wouldn't Charles J. Hughes, the Denver corporation lawyer, make a daisy colleague of Senator Guggenheim? Where's Lou Blonger?

Which was followed by an interesting note on talking points, circa 1908:

Wonder what trust puts up the expense of furnishing the canned editorials being used simultaneously in so many Republican papers at the present time? For God's sake, fellows, have some regard for the reputation of the craft, if nothing more.

Here's another one, funnier still because Sam is dead ten years by this time. Did they mean Lou? Hard to imagine.

Creede Candle, February 16, 1924

The Albanians want Harry F. Sinclair, of Teapot Dome fame for king. He should bring home the bacon. Sam Blonger should not despair.

And this:

Durango Democrat, October 15, 1907

As it stands now, the Brewers Association, Bill Evans, and Blonger are the only endorsers of Parson Buchtel's administrative acts. We doubt if his own wife endorses him. —Breckenridge Bulletin

And more:

Breckenridge Bulletin, May 19, 1906

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.

Kitty Blonger The mysterious killer prostitute shows up again, this time in Aspen, with unclaimed mail at the post office.

So far we have her killing a man in Peach Springs, Arizona in 1888. Lou shows up for the trial; she is ultimately acquitted. Next, she shows up in Aspen in June of 1889, two months after Lou's divorce from wife Emma Loring, and five months before he marries Nola Lyons. Then in 1893, she again has an unclaimed letter at the Deadwood PO.

Blonger's Place We have wondered for a long time now about the name of the Blonger's first saloon in Denver. When referred to, it's inevitably just called Blonger's place. Now an 1894 article makes us think maybe that's all there was to the name. In a general crackdown, police closed the city's gambling houses and policy shops, including Soapy Smith's and the Blongers':

Aspen Weekly Times, April 28, 1894

Blonger's, Argyle's, and other places on Larimer and Market, including Jeff Smith's Tivoli, were closed tight and so were the three policy shops on Larimer and Fifteenth streets respectively.


Forbes Parkhill, Ace Reporter, Part II

Reefer Madness In his chapter on newspapermen, Parkhill tells us that with the introduction to Colorado of beets as a sugar crop (Lou had sugar beet acreage, by the way), Mexican laborers were not far behind, and with them came the exotic new drug, marijuana.

On one occasion, the police, having just arrested a man for selling the leafy substance, inexplicably left the evidence in the police reporters press room. A spirited debate soon began amongst the reporters as to the effects of the mysterious narcotic, with one of the newsies claiming that, while one joint left the user feeling good, a second would transform him into a raving maniac.

With the help of a colleague snoozing peacefully with his feet up on his typewriter, the newsmen decided to test this assertion. They closed the doors and windows, built a small fire on the floor, threw the pot on the flames, and left the room to await the results at a safe distance.

Alas, the man awoke coughing, stamped out the blaze, aired out the room, and went back to sleep.


Jeff "Soapy" Smith Sez:

"I just received the June issue of the Magic Castle's Newsletter and the announcement on this year's Soapy wake is on the front page. It reads"

To benefit the Dai Vernon Fund, the Academy of Magical Arts is holding a special party celebrating the 107th Anniversary of the Shooting of Soapy Smith on Friday, July 8th.
The Inner Circle will be filled with con men, swindlers, thimble-riggers, grifters, shills and rubes, all dressed in their 1890's finest, for the Magic Castle's 2nd Annual Soapy Smith Day Party.
A thin fin (five bucks to you) will admit you to the inner circle for this special evening filled with great events, including an 1890's Costume Contest, with prizes for the Dirtiest, the Sexiest, the Most Authentic Costume and more.
Champion Pool Hustler Chef Anton performing his world famous Trick Shot routine (Chef's pool equipment and table is generously provided by Billiards & Barstools of Glendale.
Close-up Magician of the Year Whit Haydn working his classic cons at the W. C. Fields Bar.
Family insight on the nefarious Soapy Smith as told by Soapy's Great Grandson, special guest Jeff Smith.
An auction of special collectors items and more!
"The Professor," Dai Vernon, was well acquainted with the legends of Soapy Smith and was fascinated by the 19th Century Con Man. The Academy of Magical Arts, at the request of The Professor, maintains a Dai Vernon Fund for the benefit of magicians.
So dress yourself in your finest turn-of-the-century garb, keep your hand on your wallet and let's drink a toast to Soapy Smith, King of the Con men, all night Friday, July 8th at the Magic Castle beginning at 7 pm. Tickets available to all members and guest at the Front Desk.


Pass It On Picture this: A few days ago, I had the opportunity to spend a little time with my nephews and niece. I hadn't seen them in a while.

I had Wildest of the West with me, as I had intended to finish it on the plane. At one point, I slid the book to Kenny, open to chapter 10, and said "That's your great great great great uncle."

Seeing the page, his eyes bugged out. "Overlord of the Underworld?"

The line's a showstopper, no?

I spent the afternoon telling them just a little of what we now know, and will never have that pleasure again. Their reaction was everything I could have hoped for, and I think Matthew may be doing some research for us at CSU. Go for it, Matthew — CSU is a prime target for our research.


Roddick Genealogy Longtime co-conspirator Amy Griswold has put together an online genealogy for her family, which includes the following surnames: Anderson, Armstrong, Butson, Hudson, Paugh, Schindel, Atkinson, Correll, Kupper, Paulson, Schmidt, Bailey, Gillet, Larson, Pike, VanNatta, Belonger and Blonger, Graves, Lee, Polander, White, Brackett, Griswold, Oltahafer, Rice, Burbach, Gritzmacher, Whitechurch, Olthafer, Swinbank, and of course Roddick.


Wiki Lou Daniel Read has opened a new wiki site dedicated to confidence games. If you are interested in the subject, and enjoy writing about it, go to the site and add your own articles on any related subject. Others can then add to or modify your articles. That's how wiki works, strange as it sounds, and better than you might think. Self-policing, you might say.

F***in' A For those of you who find the cursing in HBO's Deadwood to be anachronistic, the earliest citation of the F word (the web says, for what it's worth) appears to be a Scottish poem written at the turn of the 16th century.

And if they said it at all in the Wild West, you can bet that some would say it all the time. Why should they have been any different in that respect than the modern potty mouths of my own acquaintance?


Forbes Parkhill, Ace Reporter, Part III

Parkhill's Soapy Soapy and Lou get their own chapters in Wildest of The West. Let's see how they stack up.

I invite Modern Soapy to respond if he thinks he can straighten out Mr. Parkhill.

According to Parkhill:

Soapy started his career in Texas when he was taken by a circus grifter, and was so intrigued by the possibilities of the shell game and other swindles that he joined the crew.

In Leadville he refined his shell game, and developed the soap scam. I'm still not clear on whether he actually invented it — I have read otherwise — but he obviously made great use of it, and became well known for it.

He then brought the game to Denver, where Doc Baggs was a principal member of his crew. Baggs had been skinning suckers in Denver for years by that time, and Parkhill believed Baggs must have been pressured to work with Soapy, as Baggs considered it just as easy to take a man for $5000 as for $5. Parkhill names two Denver gangs circa 1888, the Soap Gang and the California Gang. This bears checking into. Perhaps Baggs had to choose between the two.

Parkhill further states that Soapy preferred high-volume tactics over the big score, and that it would be up to Lou to implement Doc's big store techniques on a large scale. (In 1888, the Blongers were just settling in to Denver, and would soon open a new club called the Elite.)

In 1890, silver was discovered in southwestern Colorado, and Creede was born. For a time, the camp was run by Bob Ford, the man who killed Jesse James, but Soapy took control of the town's bunco operations shortly after opening the Orleans Club. Masterson owned a saloon their called the Denver Exchange. Ford was shot in 1892. (Lou's obit indicates he was also an important presence in Creede, but we have no other indication of this. )

Creede's heyday was short, and soon Soapy moved his operations back to Denver.

Parkhill relates the story of a gunfight in which Smith and some members of his gang were involved. Cliff Sparks, once a steerer for Doc Baggs, was killed in the fighting. In the aftermath, his friend Tinhorn Bill Crooks supposedly bites a diamond stickpin from Sparks' breast — as he pretends to be stricken with grief. This same feat is elsewhere attributed to Big Ed Burns, another soap gang member.

Come 1893, and there's trouble at City Hall. Reformist governor Davis H. Waite wants the power to make certain appointments in Denver City government, and is willing to call in the state militia to make sure he gets it. Corrupt city officials, on the other hand, have no use for the governor's meddling, and barricade themselves inside City Hall. Soapy Smith and his many armed minions are called in to assist, and together they successfully resist the efforts of the militia.

The Siege of City Hall

And so, for the moment, Soapy is the hero of Denver. He's in good with the boys at City Hall and their cohorts in the sheriff's department and courts. But then, these are the same people — corrupt cops and city politicians — that Lou is working, wining, dining and enriching...

The Siege of City Hall

Next comes the Hughes assault, April, 1895. Soapy and brother Bascomb go on a rampage, first accosting the chief of police (who covers for them) and beating Johnny Hughes, Ed Chase's partner.

Parkhill does not mention that, after the initial brawl, the brothers went to the Blonger's saloon, going inside to look for Sam, but were dissuaded from their unspecified mission by a cop interested in keeping the peace. It is noted that Lou was hiding behind them with a shotgun at the time, so it sounds like somebody dodged a bullet that night.

Bascomb was arrested for the assault, and Soapy would soon leave town in fear of prosecution.

Now, this is a little strange. Parkhill has him leaving town after the fracas (April '95), going to Texas, then Mexico — where he tried to form a foreign legion under his own command — and then returning to Denver, still in 1895, where he finds Lou in charge of the city's bunco game.

The date on the Hughes assault is from the news, so I'd be curious to date his Mexican exploits. That's a pretty short timeframe. I thought Soapy left town a little while after the Hughes assault, never to return.

On the other hand, one of the amazing things about the Blongers is the number of enterprises they could undertake in a year's time, and the number of places they could pop up. Rails made it possible — but it's just as much a matter of mindset, I imagine, a willingness to build things, then tear them down a few months later, moving on, starting over, over and over.

According to Parkhill, Smith remained in Denver after his southwestern travels, paying Lou his 50%, until news of the Klondike gold rush in 1897. Then it was on to Skagway. Anyway, I'd like to get a clearer picture of the gangs of the time and the transition of power.

Parkhill, by the way, states that Lou had operated in New Orleans at one time, a claim not repeated elsewhere. Maybray's Millionaire's Club, however operated in Council Bluffs, Lou's Denver, and New Orleans, and Lou was implicated in that enterprise.


Vice Crackdown of '94, Part I

We heard previously about the crackdown in Denver:

Aspen Weekly Times, April 28, 1894

Blonger's, Argyle's, and other places on Larimer and Market, including Jeff Smith's Tivoli, were closed tight and so were the three policy shops on Larimer and Fifteenth streets respectively.

So today I looked up the incident in the Rocky Mountain News for a closer perspective. Interestingly, Blonger's does not seem to have made the Denver press, which makes me wonder what the Aspen paper's source might have been.

First, the announcement of the policies regarding vice.

Rocky Mountain News, April 22, 1894

[..................... a]nd Opium
[.....................] Which Are Under
[.......... Polic]e Ban.
[.............. ho]uses of shady reputation
[.................] this week by the police
[................] virtue will envelop the
[...............] Market. It is the intention
[of the fi]re and police board to con-
[fine the soil]ed doves to Market street.
[After the somew]hat spasmodic raid of a year
[ago .......] stood by the republican fire
[and polic]e board, the women who are
[........] by the frailties of men have
[been al]lowed to scatter themselves all
[over t]own. They have invaded Capitol
[.....]d they own two or three blocks on
[Provid]ence street and the midway plat-
[form] in the quarter is quite as repul-
[sive] as the old section on Market between
[Ni]neteenth and Twenty-second. Vice
[rei]gns as openly and as flagrantly and
[it] stands unrebuked. On Twenty-second
avenue the houses have spread nearly up
to Welton street.
The uptown blocks will also receive the attention of the police. Some of these blocks situated in the business center are entirely given up to women who have lost all moral restraint through their associations with men. Several of these blocks will be raided and the denizens landed in jail.
Hop joints will also be suppressed. Strange as it may seem, there are three dives of this character within a hundred yards of the corner of Seventeenth and Larimer streets. "Hop," or opium of a low grade, is smoked in all of these places and the effect of the stuff on the systems of the fiends is disastrous.
Even dealers of slot machines were notified yesterday that this accomplice of crime must cease business.

Larimer and Seventeenth was Lou's stomping ground for many years. Within one block are the locations of Lou & Sam's first saloon (1880), Lou's Office, at 17th and Lawrence, and the warehouse where Van Cise built an observation post to monitor Lou's activities in 1921.

And the next day:

Rocky Mountain News, April 23, 1894

Big Gamblers Say They Will Close Up And Wait for Business Men to Squeal, But Little Fellows with Skin Games Expect to Grow Fat—The Colfax Monte Carlo Will Not Materialize to Any Great Extent—Other Suburbs May Harbor the Beast.
Yesterday was a doleful one for the sports. They stood disconsolately about in front of the closed gambling resorts sadly discussing the situation. None of them had any idea of securing any other kind of employment. They will live on hope for a few days, and, doubtless, in twos and threes migrate to some more sportive settlement.
The big houses, like Gavin & Austin, the Arcade, the Jockey Club and Samson & Scott's, will not make any attempt to start again to-day, as they say. The morning will be spent in packing up the wheels and other paraphernalia of a gambling hell. Some of the smaller places will die hard and run till noon. The last public drawing of the policy wheel will be at noon instead of 12:30 p.m. as formerly.
The policy men have no intention of giving up their business, and it is stated that they can easily evade the law. The wheels will be transported to one of the suburbs, where the regular drawings will take place and half an hour afterwards printed slips bearing the list of successful numbers will be found in a dozen or more cigar stores. The policy men will work exactly the same game as the big lottery company, but they will not have to go as far as Honduras.
One Class Remains Gay.
The gig and saddle fiend alone, of true sports, remains gay. He alone for a week or two can throw away his money without police interference.
He will stand alone as the only publicly recognized sucker. The policy men have about decided to have the drawings take place at Petersburg.
The outlook is that Colfax will not be invaded to any material extent just at present. Probably two or three small houses may be started there, but the idea of establishing a gilded Monte Carlo has been abandoned. Colonel J. Randolph Smith has circulated a petition in the little town and has secured sixty-five signatures. The petition is addressed to the mayor and trustees and asks them to sanction public gambling. Mayor King has not quite made up his mind about the question and he holds the balance of power, as the board of trustees is evenly divided. Peabody, Higson and Jamison are opposed to the establishment of chance games. Lunney, Lessena and Goodstein will vote in favor of the new suburban industry. Mayor King will wait until the gamblers appear.
"It is no use hunting the tiger before it appears," he says. "I will let you know what I think of the gambling houses later." The business men along Golden avenue are very anxious to have the gamblers with them. They are in favor of them to a man.
Elyria is also a candidate for gambling honors and a house or two may be started there this week. Elyria's all-night cars are regarded favorably by the gamblers. Colfax has not this advantage. Fred Couch, the owner of the Jockey Club will start one faro game and a roulette wheel in Petersburg. At Joe Lowe's resort, near by, a place of similar character may be established.
Views of the Big 'Uns
The feeling among the big gamblers remains unchanged. They will all close their houses to-day and make no attempt to evade the law or start petty resorts in the suburbs. In regard to this, Johnny Hughes of the Arcade said: "We have long been running at a loss and have kept the house open just to keep up appearances. I will have my wheels and banks packed up to-morrow and quietly wait until things come our way. Public opinion is not against gambling in this town and the business men will squeel before we do."
Bob Austin of the Leadville and Tortoni clubs says: "We will close up. There is no money in the gambling business, but we have supported over 100 men right along. I have no kick to register."
John McAvoy of Austin, Gavin, McAvoy & Dale says: "I do not care anything about it. I have kept open just to keep up the reputation of the town. You will see before long who will squeel first. It will not be the gamblers. I will not have anything to do with running a place behind closed doors, but there will be plenty of gambling going on in Denver notwithstanding the orders of the police. This kind of thing just suits the skin men, who will open a place uptown, skin a few suckers, and hit the road. Our firm has large property interests here and we will in no way injure them."
The pool rooms will remain open even if it becomes necessary to test the law on this point. Otherwise, the order of the fire and police board must be strictly obeyed.
Just how the order will affect the poker club rooms, many of which are kept open to enable business and professional men to meet across the green cloth, is a question yet to be determined. Strangers are not admitted to these places and the porters may bar the new policemen out as well.

Interesting. Three gambling house owners, and they're all losing money at it — but keep their places open out of civic pride.

I suspect those private poker clubs were probably where Denver's real business got done.


Vice Crackdown of '94, Part II

The inevitable repercussions of banishing the merchants of vice:

Rocky Mountain News, April 26, 1894

He Will Resist the Order Drawing a Dead Line on Immorality Above Larimer Street—Owners of Property Leased for Immoral Purposes Will Be Arrested—No Resting Place for the Dissolute Within the Walls of Denver—The Energetic Pastor of the Tabernacle Takes the Warpath.
Parson Tom Uzzell has taken to the warpath. If vice is to be suppressed above Larimer street, he wants to know why it should not also be suppressed below that street, and he proposes to find out. The announcement that the police intend to clear all dissolute women from the blocks Fifteenth, Eighteenth, Lawrence, Arapahoe, Curtis, Champa and other streets and drive them below a dead line established at Larimer street is the immediate cause of Parson Tom's crusade.
A mass meeting will be called for the Blake street tabernacle to protest against the threatened invasion. It will probably be held on next Sunday night. Committees will be appointed to take the names of all persons renting property for improper purposes and they will be prosecuted. Very naturally the campaign will not remain merely defensive, but will assume the offensive. Owners of the property in the three or four blocks on Market street which have long been devoted to this use will also be prosecuted and the indications are most favorable for a first rate fight.
Protection for the Poor.
"I do not see why the little homes of our people below Larimer street should not be protected as well as the homes on Broadway or Grant avenue. Nobody outside knows what we suffer from this cause. Children are constantly exposed to the most contaminating surroundings. There are evil houses all around the Twenty-third street school, one of the largest in the city. Across the street from the Tabernacle on Blake street the old United States hotel is one of the worst places in Denver. Already these houses have spread away outside of Market street. As my wife and I were going to the Tabernacle last Sunday we were insulted by women calling to us. Old Judge Decker, who was coming down to give us a lecture, was seized by a woman on Blake street between Eighteenth and Nineteenth and could hardly get away. You can say from me that we will not endure the coming of a lot more of these women and that I am going to attack the 'row' itself."
Mr. Uzzell called to see Chief Armstrong yesterday about the reported order that all women of loose character must move below Larimer street. The chief said that the order was not in those terms. It had been decided that the blocks must be cleaned out, but there was no order that the occupants must move to any named locality. Mr. Uzzell is satisfied, however, that it amounts to the same thing.
Secretary Taylor says the police board has issued no order on the subject except the general one published some days ago. The chief is carrying it out accordng to his discretion and the board has taken no action with regard to details.
Complaint has been made that there is a sumptuously furnished establishment of a disorderly character on Sixteenth avenue several blocks east of Downing avenue, and that there is a similar place on Colfax avenue, also far up on the hill.

Is this the same Chief Armstrong, Hamilton Armstrong, who first instructed Van Cise in the wily ways of Denver, 1920? Probably not. The next year, come the Hughes assault, the Denver chief is named Goulding. Lou famously had a direct line to the chief's office at some point. Perhaps it was Goulding.

Hamilton Armstrong, who died shortly after Van Cise took office, was described as a straight shooter. He arranged an educational tour for Van Cise of Denver's seedy underbelly, which included a place referred to as the 'row,' with some sixty houses of various levels of disrepute, though Van Cise also mentions that the old row had been closed up. Gambling, prostitution, bootleg liquor abounded. Buzzers and peepholes meant the cops never caught anybody in the act — but then the cops weren't trying very hard either.

Armstrong told Van Cise that he ran the area, which confuses me a bit as he was trying to assist the DA in getting a handle on things. He stated that constable Abe Silver ran the city court, collected graft from the local vice merchants, and regularly fixed juries in his court. And then there was Tom Clarke in the West Side District Court, chief deputy sheriff, and a member of Lou's gang. It was Clarke who catered the "drunken orgy" for Lou, Duff, French, and Parkhill, among others, in the courthouse on the night of the jury's deliberations.

Clarke ran gambling and prostitution in the black neighborhoods. What's more — aha — Clarke and the mayor went way back, to their time as U.S. Marshals. We have had several reasons to link Lou with important friends in the U.S. Marshals office, and this brings it further into focus. Law enforcement in the West, where agents of government and private entrepreneurs were often indistinguishable, was about power, money, and the order of things — business — not justice. The Blonger boys were in it up to their necks.

Armstrong then informed the Colonel that Lou and his right hand, Adolph Duff, were not simply in charge of some gang of con men. "Hell, they own the town!" Armstrong once tried to arrest Duff, but Clarke went to the mayor, who sent down word to leave Duff and Blonger alone. Being a good cop, Armstrong followed orders.

He then goes on to state that two detectives were on Blonger's payroll. Another article from this latest batch has chief of county detectives Leonard DeLue involved in the pursuit of a pair of con men in 1894. DeLue was the man who introduced Lou to Van Cise during the 1920 primaries, and who at that time was head of his own private detective agency.

Rocky Mountain News, April 28, 1894

Enforce the Law.
(Rocky Ford Enterprise.)
The Denver News deserves the thanks of the best people of the state for its emphatic and hearty indorsement of the new excise board in its suppression of gambling in Denver. The Denver gamblers have so long had the favor of the city government that they have for several years practically run several departments. Let the present righteous treatment of the gambling fraternity be made continuous and Denver will be largely redeemed and an example set to other cities which will do much to promote the enforcement of the law against one of the worst vices of the day.

Not bloody likely.


Crime Scrapbook

Scott came across an article today. An excerpt:

Sam Howe loved being a Denver cop. He also loved to clip stories about crime and police work from the newspapers. Fortunately, he worked at both jobs for a long, long time.
Howe began his law-enforcement career as a deputy city marshal in 1873 and became a member of Denver's first organized police force the following year. He retired in 1921, at the age of 81. In between, he chased crooks and kept busy with scissors and paste, scanning up to five newspapers a day and assembling scrapbooks dealing with virtually every crime that was written about in the city, great or small.
"He wasn't much of a cop," says Clark Secrest, Howe's biographer. "He was obsessed with his scrapbooks. It was his life's labor."
Howe's obsession resulted in one of the most astonishing chronicles of crime ever produced. The 59 surviving scrapbooks, including some volumes that are almost a foot thick, chart in garish detail Denver's evolving struggles with social ills and lawlessness over half a century, from the city's frontier days to the Roaring Twenties. "There's nothing like them anywhere," Secrest says. "They're a state treasure."

The collection is difficult to access, but some is microfilmed. The question is, would/could Lou allow his exploits to be recorded here?

Soapy's Wake

Please note: the Magic Castle is for members only. If you'd like to attend the event described below, you need to talk to Jeff Smith

Soapy's Wake

Bandit Chaser

Here's a conceptual drawing of Denver's Bandit Chaser circa 1922.

Bandit Chaser

And the real thing. Lou was in the can by this time, so Van Cise never got the chance.

Bandit Chaser


Vice Crackdown of '94, Part III

I stand corrected. The Chief Armstrong involved in the vice crackdown of '94 was in fact the same grizzled old chief who made sure, over twenty-five years later, that Van Cise got the lay of the land before embarking on his career as Denver DA.

A search of Colorado's Historic Newspaper Collection turned up a wealth of information about Armstrong and his long career — much of which relates directly to the political situation in which the Blonger's were deeply involved.

The references begin in 1894, when Armstrong was a populist state senator, and would soon be the new chief of police, at the behest of Gov. Waite. Denver city hall had recently won the battle of city hall in a standoff with the state militia, but lost the war when the courts gave Waite what he wanted in the first place — power to fill certain city posts. Armstrong was his choice for CoP.

As you will see, this put Armstrong squarely in opposition to the Blongers, and Smiths, the gamblers. A short series of articles we found tie together Armstrong, the City Hall War, labor troubles at Cripple Creek, the vice crackdown of '94, and the Blonger's interest in it all. For the moment, I'll simply state that Armstrong served as CoP at least four times, captain of detectives at least twice, county sheriff at least once, and possibly U.S. Marshal. He was involved in Denver law enforcement during the entire last twenty-five years of Lou's reign as master power broker.

For tonight, an appetizer:

Elbert County Banner, Nov. 14, 1902


[Selected excerpts from that column]

Apparently a lot of evidence is being collected in Denver for the prosecution of the ballot-box stuffers of that city. But nobody believes that any one will suffer for the crimes they committed in this line except the poor widow who was made a dupe of by scheming politicians, and who admits that she voted oftener than the law allows.
Throw out Arapahoe county and make it unaimous [sic]. It is rotten to the core. The gamblers and bunco steerers were too raw, as Jack Hall's dirty work amply indicates. Throw out this county—decency demands it.
Talk about Republican outrages against the ballot-box! Ye Gods! In the palmiest days of Brady and Connors (and they were the limit in their day) they weren't a circumstance ro Jack Hall and the police force. At Eighteenth and Arapahoe streets on election day we saw repeaters marched up to the polls under the protection of policemen in uniform while Chief Armstrong and Smithwick stood complacently looking on.
When Stimson was nominated we declared openly that it "appeared like a walkover for Stimson." During the past three weeks, however, our readers have noticed we predicted the election of Peabody. Not many of our friends believed it possible, but when we saw the rawness and the ignorance displayed by the Democratic leaders in winking at the dirty work of the Blongers, the Halls and the other criminals, we felt such decent Democrats would revolt, and they did with a vengeance. Then too, every decent Republican got hot and went to the polls to record their protests. Thousands of decent people voted Tuesday who have not voted in years.
Jack Hall voted fourteemn men four times each at one polling place last Tuesday, we are told. This certainly makes the record for "efficient work." Jack deserves hanging for his splendid work. We believe everybody who is entitled to vote ought to be permitted to vote once and have the vote counted. People who sell their votes or repeat ought to be taken out quietly and strung up.
Peabody voted for Stimson and the latter returned the graceful compliment. "Brooks voted for Adams," says the Post, "and Adams went to the polls and voted for himself."

Connect the Dots

Okay, so I started too many threads at once: Parkhill, Vice Crackdown of '94, and now Chief Armstrong.

All of these topics relate to the climate in Denver of the 1890s, the crucial years when Sam and Lou were consolidating their power. Other topics in the same vein have dealt with the Blonger's ties to law enforcement, the City Hall War, the Battle of Bull Hill, and Soapy Smith.

But what's this? Chief Armstrong's career was so long, and his appearance in important crime and political news so frequent, that he has revealed himself to be a common element in all of these topics. So, rather than proceeding piecemeal, it is time to bring another layer of order to this story and tell the tale of the Blonger's rise to power.

This will be a work in progress for a while. I will gather the relevant articles, and condense the commentary into a current narrative over time.


Frank Thurmond

Scott revisited the 1885 census today, and found gambler Frank in Deming, NM, listed as a saloonkeeper, with his wife listed as "C.J. Mathews, 38."

This is obviously Lottie Deno (Carlotta J. Thompkins), but the Mathews surname is a surprise. "Very unusual for a wife to have a different surname than the husband in these old censuses," says Scott. "In fact, I have never seen it before. Still no Lou or Emma, though..."

The saloon surely had rooms for rent. In this light, when Lou said he lived with Frank Thurmond for four years, he undoubtedly meant that he was a boarder — and it's also reasonable to assume this reference in Lou's pension request was an easy out. Lou could have been anywhere at any given time during those years, 1883 to 1887.

Forbes Parkhill, Ace Reporter, Part IV

And what do Soapy Smith's descendants have to say about Parkhill's take on their ancestor?

Friends Blonger,

You can never believe most of what you read. For many years I have ran with false leads that led me wrong, all because an author made up information in order to look knowledgeable or fill blank pages. My father once told me, 'You hear a lie long enough, it becomes the truth.' I have found that in most history books there are always bits of valuable information, and loads of crap.

Mr. Parkhill's, Wildest of the West, is no exception. While it is true that Soapy started his career in Texas, there is very little information. From letters, it can be seen that he had already formed a small, close-knit bunco gang that followed him to Denver. However, there is no evidence, other than here-say, that Soapy went to Leadville, Colorado, until later. There is also no evidence that the infamous Doc Baggs joined up with Soapy. In studying the contemporary Denver newspapers I found that Baggs was already at the end of his bunco career. He was too well known and constantly being watched by the long arm of the law. This is the same problem Soapy would have in Denver, a decade later. By 1885 Baggs was long gone from Denver and Soapy was just beginning to spread his con man wings.

[Parkhill's explanation of Baggs' willingness to shill for the soap con did appear a bit forced. Baggs was an elder statesman of con by this time and it's hard to imagine him taking the role of capper at this point in his career.]

Parkhill stated in his book that there were two bunco gangs working Denver in 1888. But according to the local newspapers of the day, there were as many as twelve separate gangs. It was Soapy who consolidated many of these individuals into one powerful unit.

[Parkhill mentioned the Soap gang and California gang, though he didn't state categorically that these were the only two. I'd like to know about the others. Searches on "California Gang" draw a blank.]

It is true that Soapy used the high-volume tactic of separating cash from his victims. Before this period, the con men were using the hit and run tactic, obtaining as much cash as possible and running, perhaps not ever returning to Denver. Soapy obtained his proceeds in smaller amounts, using numerous swindles that were being performed on a daily basis all over the lower part of the city. At any given time there might be three to ten swindles going on at once. To big store operators, such as the Blonger's, this may have seemed like small potatoes, but in reality, Soapy had amassed three major empires during his lifetime using this method. He and his gang were also able to stay put in one place for a longer period of time, whereas before they had to move around from place to place.

Parkhill states that Bob Ford was camp boss of Creede when Soapy arrived there in 1892. This is a falsehood. Research shows that Ford worked pretty much alone. He had no gang, and could not possibly have run the town. He did not open up his first saloon there, until after the big fire in June of 1892, which was after many of the saloon and gambling operators, including Soapy, had already returned to Denver. Ford was shot just days after opening his tent saloon.

Bat Masterson did not own a saloon in Creede. He did manage the Denver Exchange saloon and gambling hall for another firm, but he did not own interests in the place.

The beating sustained onto Hughes by Soapy and his younger brother Bascomb, was highly publicized, so information regarding it is easy to find. Unfortunately Parkhill did not notice that the name was not Thomas Hughes, as he reported, but John Hughes. Soapy left Denver shortly thereafter, and only returned occasionally, and under the shadow of darkness. Soapy made several trips to St. Louis to see his family, Mexico, where he was involved in several swindles, and Dallas, Texas, where he was involved in an attempted murder plot of a rival gang boss. The Mexican adventure referred to by the modern Blonger's, that involved the Mexican president Diaz' actually took place earlier.

It is highly doubted that Soapy paid any of the other crime bosses a percentage of his earnings. He did certainly pay the police a vast amount, but money can only do so much. Soapy was far too well known and open about his vocation. The police were openly in league with the soap gang, and the Rocky Mountain News broadcasted the fact weekly. In order to save their selves the police were forced to un-associate themselves with the soap gang, and then proceed to dismantle it.

[Makes sense. I don't see Smith easily knuckling under to the Blongers, and that is Parkhill's assertion — and yet the Klondike rush that finally lured him to Alaska didn't occur till 1897, so Soapy had to bide his time after the Hughes assault in 1895.]


—Jeff "Soapy" Smith
great grandson of Jefferson Randolph ("Soapy") Smith

Thank you, Mr. Smith!


Prelude to the City Hall War

In March of 1894, Populist Governor Waite wondered why prisoners transferred from the penitentiary to the state reformatory all seemed to get paroled. Hmm. He took the matter to the state supreme court, hoping to get a ruling that would allow him to remove the current penitentiary commissioners. The court preferred to wait for the lawsuit.

Pagosa Springs News, March 16, 1894

It seems from newspaper reports that every Denver tough who is not behind bars is either a deputy sheriff, or a special police officer.
The merry political war in Denver still continues. In the Republican camp Stevens is on top, while Governor Waite is running things with a high hand among the populists.

And later:

Probably never before in the history of this country has a governor been enjoined by a district judge from doing any certain contemplated act. Judge Graham of Denver the other day enjoined Governor Waite from doing a certain thing in relation to the Police and Fire Board.
Will Governor Waite never quit his foolish business of removing officials contrary to law and all decency? If he will keep on the balance of the year as he has in the past month he will have the whole state in a muddle. He should read the decision of the supreme court of Kansas on the act of Governor Lewelling in removing Mrs. Lease.

I can definitely see Lou as a Special Police Officer.

Mine, All Mine

In preparation for our trip to New Mexico, we were inquiring about the availability of mining records, and were put in touch with one Bill Baxter, who, evidently, has more factual information about Joe Blonger than we do — records of his activities in the mines of New Mexico, mostly.

I have been working for some time on a database of pre-twentieth century people in the Cerrillos area, and I have quite a lot on Joseph Blonger. A bit over 3,000 words in fact, mostly references to mining claims in which he was an owner (locator) or otherwise associated (laborer or witness). My earliest reference is August 11, 1879, and my latest February 26, 1887. The records of this era are all hand-written, and the abilities and penmanship of the recorders are variable, but he appears in the records as — in descending frequency — Jos, Joseph, John, Joe, and a few spurious misspellings like Jas. and Geo. In the manner of the times Mr. Blonger partnered with others; early on with C.M. Purdin, as Purdin & Blonger, which later became Purdin, Blonger, Jenks & Andrews.

In the census of 1880, June3, Geo.(!) Blonger is listed as a mining prospector, 32 y-o, single, born in VT [father born NY, mother born Ger], resident of Los Cerrillos Smelting Works near Rueleqa Mines. The 1890 census records do not exist, and he does not appear in the 1900 Santa Fe area census.

For the first year of the Cerrillos mining boom, starting spring of 1879, the area was divided into two factions, the Galisteo Mining District to the west and the Cerrillos Mining District to the east. Jos Blonger was active in the Galisteo MD area. But approximately a year later the GMD was merged into the CMD. The implications of all this are not clear, but Joe's activities diminish shortly after this change, possibly even with Joe leaving the area for several months. After mid-late 1881 he appears in the records exclusively as a worker in the mines. His last mining location was January 1882. For the next 5 years on which I have data he did not locate another claim.

The mines in which Jos Blonger owned an interest (located) were the Union, Agricultural, Purdin, Vulture, Washington, Little Joe, Maggie, Sunny Slope, Badger, and Chapin. None of these claims were major, with the most significant probably being the Agricultural.

That reference on your website of the 3 brothers getting together in Albuquerque in March of 1882? That matches nicely with the gap in Joe's Cerrillos mining activity. Between January 1882 and January of 1883, though Joe's name appears in a record, there is nothing that shows he was actually in Cerrillos at that time. However, from January 1883 onward Joe is back in Cerrillos and quite active in the mines.

—Bill Baxter

Thanks, Bill!


Prof. VT, Aeronaut

Scott found this yesterday:

Van Tassel ascent, 1882

This is a photo of "Professor" Van Tassel's first balloon ascension, Albuquerque, July 4, 1882. It was also the first ascension on New Mexican soil. But where's the basket?

The photo was taken on Second Street between Gold and Central Avenues. Who knows — Sam, or Lou, or even Joe could be standing in the background.

June 2005



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