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Alias Soapy Smith

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October 2005


Charlie Ronan and the Battle of the Plaza

Aha! Aha-aha! Looking through the logs this morning, and I noticed that someone had come to our site after searching on the following phrase:

Charlie Ronan Dodge City gunfight 1881

Come on, people. If you know something, spill the beans!

Charlie Ronan was Sam's deputy in Albuquerque in 1882. We had recently discovered that he had been in a gunfight on the Albuquerque train platform shortly before Sam became marshal.

Now, trying the same search on Google, we find that Mr. Ronan has an even bigger claim to fame. Perhaps you recall this recent find:

Fort Collins Courier, May 5, 1881

A. Updegraph, a Dodge City bartender, was fatally wounded a few days ago by Bert Masterson, an Arizona tough.

In Dodge City in November of 1879, Bat Masterson lost re-election as sheriff, but his brother Jim, who had been a deputy under Bat, was elected town marshal.

Things in town were pretty quiet after that, and Jim's salary was cut to $50 a month. Jim took a partnership in the Lady Gay saloon with A.J. Peacock. By the spring of '81, Jim was voted out and a new administration took control.

Meanwhile, Masterson was knocking heads with Peacock, particularly regarding Peacock's brother-in-law, Al Updegraff, who had been hired as bartender. Eventually shots were exchanged, at which point Peacock and Updegraff, who had the mayor and police on their side, may have felt justified in going after Masterson and putting an end to the matter.

Fearing for Jim's safety, someone then telegraphed Bat, who was in Tombstone dealing faro for Wyatt Earp, warning him that his younger brother was in a bind. Bat left as soon as he could and arrived in Dodge on April 16, 1881.

No sooner than he had stepped off the train, he spied Updegraff and Peacock, and called out to them. The shooting began immediately.

Both parties took cover, and soon others had joined the fray, including, according to the article, Jim Masterson and Charlie Ronan, Jim's gambler friend.

Updegraff was shot through the lung in the ensuing battle, and blamed Bat for the shot. Bat was arrested, and given an $8 fine for discharging his pistol within city limits.

State warrants were issued for Bat and Jim Masterson, Ronan, and Tom O'Brien, but they were allowed to leave town, and did so. The Dodge City Times of April 21, 1881 noted that "Jim Masterson and Charley Ronan have gone west to grow up with the country."

Which is to say, he was, in fact, told to get out of Dodge.

Dodge City Times, December 08, 1877

Jo. Mason, Chas. Norton, Chas. Ronan, Piccolo Johnnie and Alby the fiddler took leave of Dodge this week and started for Sweetwater, Texas, where they intend opening out in the liquor business.
N. B. Mr. Ronan was unable to go on account of a pressure of business.

Bob DeArment's Bat bio has more on Ronan. In 1876, a loose faction of teamsters, Indian fighters and such known as the Dodge City Gang were very interested in Dodge remaining an open town. They backed the political aspirations of businessmen Bob Wright, James Kelley and others. Bat Masterson was sympathetic to the cause.

In July of 1877, gambler Ronan was arrested by Marshal Larry Deger, a foe of the Gang. Kelley demanded Deger's badge, and summoned Ed Masterson to arrest the sheriff. Masterson was able to contain the situation peacefully.

Later strangely, we find Charlie Ronan's name in that paragraph we first came across some two years ago in this book, listing the Knights of the Green Cloth in attendance at Dodge during the summer of '78, including the Blongers, three Earps, Holliday, the Mastersons, and many others. We just never noticed Charlie in there before.

Harry McCarty, US Deputy Marshal, died in Charlie's room after being shot in the Long Branch saloon.

Of course, DeArment (whom we met this summer), mentions the Battle of the Plaza. He includes this from the Dodge City Times:

The firing on the street by Bat. Masterson, and jeopardizing the lives of citizens, is severely condemned by our people, and the good opinion many citizens had of Bat. has been changed to one of contempt. The parties engaged in this reckless affray were permitted to leave town, though warrants were sworn out for their arrest. Bat. Masterson, James Masterson, Chas. Ronan and Tom O'Brien were the accused, and there is good reason to believe they will never darken Dodge City any more. We believe the authorities were perfectly right in permitting these men to go. If they will remain away, there will be no more trouble in Dodge City. Should they return they will be prosecuted.

Updegraff died of smallpox two years later.

Finally, I must take issue with Bob's assessment of Ronan's last days. DeArment says that in February of 1882, Bat traveled from New Orleans to Trinidad, Colorado, where he met up with brother Jim and Charlie Ronan, among others. He states that Ronan would be dead of consumption within six weeks.

Unfortunately, we have Charlie:

  • Killing Egan on the platform in Albuquerque, Dec. 31, 1881.
  • Chasing drunken bartenders with guns with Sam in April, 1882
  • Helping arrest Griffin in April, 1882

Who knows? Back and forth, sick the whole time, dead by mid-April?

It is also worth noting that in April of '82, Earp's posse was on its way to Trinidad when they stopped in Albuquerque after their Vendetta ride.


Marshal Sam's Deputies

While at the University of New Mexico this summer, we photographed the pages of an essay or dissertation titled Rogues to Public Servants: Early Albuquerque Marshals, by Michael H. Reggio. We were first alerted to this manuscript by Karen Stein Daniel months ago, but I'm just getting to it now.

First, some background:

Albuquerque new town was built a couple of miles from old Albuquerque in anticipation of the railroad's arrival. On April 6, 1880, this transportational lifeline ushered in great prosperity for central New Mexico, but with it came a host of problems. One major problem was that of law enforcement in the rapidly expanding boom town of new Albuquerque. Immigrants were pouring in by the thousands and they wanted a safe city in which to live. In this climate came a call for a modern police force to protect their lives, property and rights. Answering this summons were not only upstanding public servants, but also the dregs of society.
New town was Precinct 12 of Bernalillo county and fell under legal jurisdiction of the county sheriff. Normally, the sheriff would name one of his deputies as town marshal and others as marshal's assistants called deputy policemen. Each precinct had its own elected police judge and to act as its enforcer, a constable. Oftentimes, the county sheriff would deputize the Precinct 12 constable as marshal and city merchants would pool a monthly wage by subscription for him.
Albuquerque was a wild town in its early years and the county sheriff watched over it until its first election on February 1, 1881. Then citizens chose a police judge and constable. Voting day conditions were excellent, bringing forth a good turnout, perhaps an attempt by some to forget the three confessed murderers who were taken by a mob from the old town jail the night before and lynched. Two men ran for constable. Milton Yarberry received fifty-five votes while J. H. Robb received nineteen. The large majority was understandable because the ballot had only Yarberry's name printed on it and to vote for Robb, voters had to write in his name. Nevertheless, Albuquerqueans were content as the six and one-half feet tall marshal appeared "in every way qualified for the position." They soon regretted their choice.

Reggio goes on to describe Yarberry's brief tenure, notably the killing of Harry Brown, who was unarmed, after arguing with Yarberry over a woman. Yarberry was exonerated on the grounds that Hill was a dangerous man who would have killed Yarberry.

In June of '81, Yarberry shot a drunken carpenter, and his welcome in town was spent. He was hanged in February of 1883.

Succeeding Yarberry was Jeff Grant, who got good marks but only served a month, moving on to Arizona. Grant established New Albuquerque's first jail.

After Grant was J.C. Allen, who did a good job for six months, then went back to Illinois. Reggio continues:

However during [Allen's] successor's five-month administration, citizens again became disenchanted with police. Ths marshal, Sam Blonger, was controversial, liked by some and hated by others. The sheriff appointed him at the request of Albuquerque businessmen in early February 1882. Yet during his tenure many complaints and charges were made against him, especially for non-performance of duty.
Most of Blonger's deputies were also looked on with distaste. When early in the marshal's term, deputy W. H. Burke resigned, the Albuquerque Morning Journal announced that he "did just what the majority of citizens desired he should do as he has been guilty of conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman." A month later Selso Guteries was removed as policeman and the Journal reported that this change was probably for the best. At the end of June, a prisoner incercerated on a charge of drunk and disorderly escaped from old town jail with jailer Sanchez and Officer Cornelius Murphy of new town in pursuit. They captured him outside a nearby town and the prisoner bolted as the officers were trying to put leg irons on him. He was stopped by a .45 caliber bullet through the back of his head. The deputies buried him on the spot and went to the nearest alcalde (judge), whereupon they were exonerated. A few days later, yet another officer, Thomas Bonner, was released from duty on charged [sic] of "crooked conduct," even though he had already skipped town. The merchants showed their overall dissatisfaction when Marshal Blonger went to Kansas City for ten days. They requested that the sheriff replace him, which he did with old town marshal Archie Hilton.
Although Blonger was controversial and perhaps not universally satisfactory, he did usher in two important reforms. He increased police force efficiency with installation of a telephone and with Archie Hilton from Old Town, he began putting prisoners on a chain gang to work on streets and clean up nuisances.

Reggio then describes Albuquerque's squalid, vermin-infested jail. The prisoners found the chain gang a pleasant diversion.

During mid-1882, some local businessmen formed a police committee called the "Committee of Safety." Among other things, they called for the appointment of Hilton to marshal, advanced their own choices for deputy, and publicly warned con men to get out of town. In October they requested a complete replacement of the police force, and submitted names to the sheriff, who acquiesced, naming Edgar Howe as marshal. At this point, the Albuquerque cops get new blue uniforms, and began to take on a more modern feel.

It was, undoubtedly, this committee that published this notice:

Albuquerque Morning Journal, November 3, 1882

And Still They Come.
To The Editor:
I fully endorse the sentiment of the last issue of The Journal in reference to the manner that affairs are conducted by those in power in Albuquerque. It has become a matter of comment throughout the whole country that the gang run the town. The communication of Santiago Baca has the true ring. The time has come when hold-ups and thieves must take a back seat. The experience of this country is the same as all new countries, the rough and cheeky scoundrels take precedence in the control of public affairs, and hold on until they are literally driven out by the better element of society. I trust the good work begun by the citizens of Albuquerque will be carried out to the utmost, and that they will not flag in their efforts until the gang are forced to retire and earn an honest livelihood.

So, for Reggio, Sam and his deputies were generally considered a rough crowd, and the actions of his underlings greatly responsible for the eventual public displeasure with his administration. Naturally, most of this behavior won't make it to the papers — consorting with prostitutes, gambling, hard drinking, confidence games — but would be known to the locals.

At this point, all the evidence considered, we can start to imagine the bigger picture. Judge Dan Sullivan, in office throughout the early years of New Albuquerque, is a sport himself, and receptive to graft. Con men are already a problem in town when Sam takes office, and things get even better for them. Sam's deputies aren't the lowest of the low, but they are sports and gunmen — Lou, Charlie Ronan, Cornelio Murphy, Burke, Guteries, Bonner. Like the Dodge City Gang and others, these men represented a breed of sport that greatly valued a law enforcement establishment that knew its place, that did not interfere in business, and did not discourage the having of fun.

In August of 1882, Con Caddigan, a veteran bunk, is said to be marshal in New Town, though Reggio omits him from his list. By December, Marshal Howe has arrested Constable Caddigan along with Billy Nuttall and others for a swindle. Caddigan is released for lack of evidence connecting him to the conspiracy.

Here's my question: What about Sheriff Armijo? The only indication I've seen that Armijo had a problem regards Baca's campaign against him as a part of the corrupt administration. And Lou was campaigning with Baca? How does that make sense when it was Armijo who appointed Sam in the first place?


Outlaw Tales

Just got my copy of the new book Outlaw Tales of Colorado : True Stories of Colorado's Most Famous Robbers, Rustlers, and Bandits (Outlaw Tales Series). They went with a different cover.

Author Jan Murphy does a serviceable job, but repeats a few of the old misconceptions in the chapter on Lou — that he was French-Canadian (born in Vermont to French and Irish parents), and that he operated mainly in Salt Lake and New Orleans before coming to Denver. Both may be true — he was in the Salt Lake area for years, but we have yet to place him in New Orleans. More to the point, we now know so much more that this old saw no longer suffices as his bio.

Wildest of the West was Murphy's primary source, down to the chapter's title, Overlord of the Underworld. As such, the rag is descibed in some detail, and the tale of how Parkhill got and lost the scoop of the year.

Next: Soapy's treatment.


The Sting

Watched The Sting again last night looking for shades of Fighting The Underworld, as we recently learned that Van Cise's book was indeed part of the research that went into the screenplay. I was struck by two things:

1. Lonnegan would never buy Redford's Hooker as having the balls to take out his boss and run the booking operation himself. Too much of a wienie.

2. It's easy to romanticize con men when they are conning evil people. And the movie does a great job of romanticizing what is, on the face of it, a pretty sordid story. Hooker and Luther con a mob runner. The runner ends up dead. Luther ends up dead too, and the motivating force behind the plot, even though he was a con men himself, and presumably had caused his share of misery. But he had a heart of gold, don't you know. The only people we see conned, after all, are the real baddies.

Even the hit men are sanitized. Gondorff's hit man is a good guy, because he protects our hero Hooker by shooting the bad hit person, Salino.


Joe at Allenville Penitentiary

The Cerrillos Rustler, November 6, 1891

More Gone!
Lee White and two others Escape from the Pen --- Commissioners Act.
Lee White, our local hold-up man, along with convicts Gould, Petrolino Rivera and Francisco Padilla escaped from the penitentiary in Santa Fe, Monday afternoon. The prisoners had whittled out wooden pistols, covered them with tin foil from their tobacco, and choosing a time when there was teams in the prison yards, charged the teamsters with their imitation guns, ran them off, cut the harness from four of Reser's horses and mounting, rode for the gates, flourishing the ominous wooden guns at the surprised and no doubt terrified guards at the entrance. Lee White and the two Mexican convicts made good their escape. One of the guards finally remembering that he had a shot gun in his hands, fired at Gould and a spent shot striking him on the elbow, both he and his wooden gun were captured.
Since the escape searchers have found the three horses belonging to Mr. Reser, that were taken by the escaped convicts. One was found near Cerrillos. All were loose and wandering around, and all showed hard usage. They had evidently been ridden as long as they could go, and then abandoned.
The board of penitentiary directors was in session at the time of the escape, concluding their session the following day. In the meantime Warden Chavez became disgusted with the way things were running and the hard luck that has appeared to follow his superintendency, tendered his resignation to take effect December 2nd. The same was received and accepted by the board. In further reference to the escape, assistant superintendent Bergman was authorized to employ a new set of guards, Col. Chavez concurring therein.
Every man in any way connected with the escape of White and his companions, were ordered discharged from the service. Frank Rankin, Wm. Cole, W.L. Evans, Joe Blonger and Barney Spee[?], experienced men, were ordered put on in the place of those dismissed.
The appointment of a new superintendent was postponed until the 20th.

Sam and the Swiss Times

According to information from Gregory LaLonde, Sam was traveling with Park Van Tassel, balloonist extraordinaire, in 1889. Further, he was apparently described as an "old-time journalist of Swiss Times fame."

So what was the Swiss Times? Some clues from the Net:

Various English language newspapers published in Geneva in the last three decades of the 19th century, and which were distributed in the major continental cities where British and American residents chose to live, reveal that the English expatriate community continued to play occasional games [of cricket] in Geneva in the 1870s and 1880s... "The Swiss Times", then published every Friday, reported that the Club was founded on Tuesday, April 16, 1872 at a meeting held in the Brasserie Landolt...


About this time Barnet Moses Giles, of Utah, a new aspirant for prophetic honors, issued a proclamation entitled, "A Voice from our Father and God in Heaven." He sent messages to President Brigham Young, of Utah, and also to Presidents Joseph and D. H. Smith of the Reorganization. He delivered some lectures in Utah but accomplished nothing, and his efforts soon ceased.
The elders in Europe had published in the Continental Herald and Swiss Times the following challenge to the elders from Utah...


William Bury Westall was born in Oswaldtwisle in 1834, his father being a cotton-mill owner. William went to Switzerland as the Swiss correspondent for 'The Times', later editor of 'The Swiss Times'. He met revolutionaries in Russia and wrote many novels, the first being 'The Old Factory' which is based on his father's mill.

A Swiss publication, in English, distributed in major European cities to expatriate Americans and Brits. Does it make sense? Would Sam ever be a correspondent for such a publication?


Sam & Lou? Who knows?

Albuquerque, c. 1882.


From Lou's obits:

Denver Post, April 21, 1924

...Lou Blonger was a character that lives today mostly in the fiction tales of the early west. Soldier and sailor, sheriff and saloonkeeper, he roamed the stretches of the frontier and his name is written into the early annals of Texas, Utah, and Colorado, and more especially into the pioneer history of Cripple Creek, Creede, Leadville and the Black Hills.
Always a big-hearted spender, always alert to help out an unfortunate, Lou, as he was familiarly known, won friends wherever he went and in every walk of life.
Often, when he was in the right mood and his mind went back to those rosier days, Lou would tell his Denver cronies all about his career as a sheriff. He was particularly fond of the story of Jimmy Smith and Nels Anderson, who came to blows over a San Angelo, Tex., roulette wheel. They decided to fight a duel and Lou was an official of some sort to see that fair play was had. Fair play was had. Walking forty paces, as agreed, the men turned and fired at each other and both dropped dead in their tracks. This was the land where Lou Blonger was sheriff...

Denver Times, April 22, 1924

...Generous and kind, he was beloved of the upper stratum of the underworld. And by those above accepted frequently as an honest friend. Blonger never soiled himself by direct contact with the shady transactions with which his name was linked by rumor. Nor did he live the life of a criminal. Whatever operations he conducted, he organized as a business man, sitting in his offices down at the American Bank and Trust Company building. However intimate he was with his workers during "business hours," his time off duty was spent in better circles. His homes were maintained with the best in the better quarters of the city and his associates after working hours were unquestioned.
Blonger wielded a political influence that was, in quarters, absolute. He handled this, too, quietly and without ostentation. Never was he mentioned as a politician nor did he seem to take more than ordinary interest in political events. Yet sitting behind the throne, he controlled political destinies in a way of his own...


Lou and Van Cise

Contrast Lou's gentle, nostalgic obits with this from Lou's indictor and arch nemesis, Denver district attorney Colonel Philip S. Van Cise.

Twelve years after Lou's death, Prosecutor Van Cise recalled in Fighting the Underworld his last conversation with Lou. A few days before going to the penitentiary, Lou asked to see the Colonel, who had the ailing octegenarian brought from the county jail to his office.

What a contrast to all those other meetings! No longer alert, no longer confident, no longer powerful, but broken physically, shattered in nerves, a wretched old man, the former czar of the underworld was to beg a favor like a mendicant of the streets! His meandering tale was nearing its end.
Asthmatic, feeble, tottering, Blonger sank into a chair and gasped for breath. His clothes hung loosely on his shrunken frame, and his cheeks were haggard.
'Colonel,' he said, 'I am an old man. I am seventy-three. I am in terrible physical condition. I have a bad heart, bad stomach, bad lungs, bad kidneys, all my insides are gone. Seven years, three years, one year, is death. Surely you don't want me to die down there [Cañon City Penitentiary]? I'll go there for two months. But then, for God's sake, get the Governor to pardon me.' He held out shaking hands, a fifty-year criminal, now fearful of his doom.
This time the younger man [Van Cise] was silent, while Blonger waited as the minutes passed.
Finally the prosecutor said: 'Blonger, this is not an easy matter to pass upon, especially when the applicant, like yourself, is sick. But when a defendant has been convicted and asks for leniency, the reasons for its granting must be given. You seek a pardon because of your physical condition. You ask for a release because you do not want to die in the penitentiary!
'Neither your sickness nor your impending death should be considered. What are your deserts? What leniency have you shown to others? What God have you worshiped except the Almighty Dollar?
'When you stole preacher Menaugh's trust funds, did you hesitate? When, overwhelmed with shame, he committed suicide, did you give any aid to his family? When you took the life earnings of old man Donovan of New Orleans, and reduced him from comfort to penury, what did you do to ease the last moments of his life?
'You have been a criminal from the time of your youth. You have been the fixer of the town. You have prostituted justice. You have bribed judges and jurors, State, City and police officials. You have ruined hundreds of men. With that record, tell me why a death sentence is not your due?
'As to your plea for parole, I say no, emphatically and for all time no. Before the king of the underworld is pardoned, the penitentiary doors should be torn from their hinges and all other occupants be first turned out. They would be less dangerous than you. You have met your day of judgment and the death sentence is your due. I will fight to the last any attempt to give you leniency of any kind or description.
'I guess that's the end,' said Blonger, and the last conference was finished.

Ouch! Harsh. Of course, in the context of his book, Van Cise might be forgiven a bit of hyperbole, yet I am not inclined to think Lou would be the most vile creature in Cañon City.


Stay tuned.

So sorry to leave you hanging. There's more to say, more to discover, but the pressures of work sometimes take their toll.

The Forest Queen

April 7, 1892, Sam, Lou, and a few others truly struck it rich on Ironclad Hill, near Cripple Creek. The Forest Queen turned out to be one of the most productive mines in the district, churning out gold and other precious minerals for over fifty years. Though the ownership of the mine was a complicated affair, by the time of Lou's death, he was apparently the sole owner, and he willed it to his wife before entering Cañon City Penitentiary.

We are told the old mine will soon be gone, if it isn't already, as modern mining techniques will obliterate the site.

And the name? There was another Forest Queen in Colorado, near Irwin, that was in its heyday thirteen years earlier, around 1879. And there are others still.

And yet I have to wonder if the following may have influenced the namers.

Aspen Weekly Times, February 27, 1892

Steamers Collide at Sea.
LONDON, Feb. 26—News of a terrible disaster in the North Sea, by which a steamer went to the bottom, carrying with her every soul on board, with only one exception, was received in this city at a late hour to-night.
Only meagre details of the catastrophe have been obtained, but from the dispatches already at hand it is learned that the steamers Loughbrow (British) and Forest Queen came into collision off Flamberough, a village of York county, east of Riding, on the North Sea.
So quickly did the Forest Queen founder that her crew had no chance to save their lives and all hands with the single exception of the captain went down to a watery grave.
The dispatches give no information as to the extent of the damage done to the Loughbrow.


Sam & Lou? Another sighting?

Albuquerque, c. 1882.

New page: The Wolves of Seventeenth Street, as Lou and his compatriots were called.


Lou's Ghost

Scott found this about Denver's Tombstone Tour:

Tom Noel is no stranger to Fairmount Cemetery, the final resting place of some of Denver's most noteworthy names. Back when he was a grad student in history at the University of Colorado at Denver, Noel -- aka "Dr. Colorado" -- worked at Fairmount, Denver's second-oldest cemetery, as a night receptionist. "It was a great job in grad school," he explains. "You know how noisy college libraries are. Dead people cause you no problems. On top of that, I could take home flowers. Although my girlfriend did get suspicious that I only brought home gladiolas."
Instead of flowers, today Noel will present famous residents of "Colorado's most illustrious city of the Dead," exhumed solely for the very seasonal Tombstone Tour. The walking, talking ghouls (played by several still-living Denver celebrities, including City Auditor Dennis Gallagher) will range from madam Silks and educator Emily Griffith to underworld-operator Lou Blonger, publisher William Byers and architect/developer Temple Buell, who designed his own mausoleum -- but didn't make it big enough to hold his extra-long coffin, which had to be put in at an angle. "It's a gaudy, black-gold marble building," Noel says, "if you want an example of bad taste."
The tour, a benefit for the Colorado Historical Society, runs from 1 to 4 p.m. at the cemetery, located at 430 South Quebec Street; the Denver Hearse Society will help provide transportation between gravesites. Tickets are $28 for CHS members and $35 for non-members; for information and reservations, call 303-866-4641. -- Patricia Calhoun

October 2005



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