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November 2005

11/3/2005

Google Books

Google's new database of printed material, Print.Google.com, went online today, so I checked it out. 6 hits. 101 Things You Didn't Know about the Mafia (Lou was Denver's first boss, then came the KKK, then the Carlino brothers), The Legend of Baby Doe: The Life and Times of the Silver Queen of the West (the same stuff about Lou as a backdrop to Horace Tabor's bad publicity regarding his affair with Baby Doe), Masterson by Richard S Wheeler (the voice of Bat remembers Sam and Lou amongst the sports in Dodge back in the day), Second-Line Agents in the Treatment of Rheumatic Diseases (bLonger is some kind of treatment), Norfleet (Frank Norfleet's biography touches on Lou's connection to the men who conned him), and Bibliothek der Unterhaltung und des Wissens (got me).

No Fighting the Underworld, or Wildest of the West, so there may yet be surprises, but the truth is all we are likely to find in the future — in books — is the odd mention, and the repitition once again of the same old stuff from Van Cise, Parkhill, and obits — the Blongers were French-Canadian (born in Vermont to French and Irish parents), came to Denver in the late Eighties, they ran saloons and gambling joints, Lou had a phone line to the mayor, they all got busted.

It's a better story than that.


11/3/2005

Blonger Bros. Calendar 2007

Just finished the design. Between that and work, I've been MIA, but there should be more to come shortly.

Oh, and the calendar isn't printed yet, but it should be available come the new year.

June
June Days


11/10/2005

Bill Cody and George Custer

As you might know, Joe Blonger claimed to have been a scout under Bill Cody during the Indian Wars, and that he had tried to join Custer at Little Big Horn but was turned away for lack of horses. When I told this to Chuck Hornung this summer he commented that Custer required each company to ride horses of the same color, so he could identify them instantly on the battlefield. He suggested, charitably, that perhaps there weren't any horses of the right color.

Custer served at Second Bull Run and Antietam, so his path intersects with Mike as well.

Sam, on the other hand, supposedly fought Indians with Bill Cody, though this would have to have been sometime before the end of the Civil War — which is possible, though we don't believe Sam was on the plains at that time. But we don't know he wasn't, either. Cody would have been shy of twenty, but an old hand at frontier adventure, having been a messenger on the plains at the age of eleven.


11/12/2005

Soapy Smith

Jeff Smith's site about Soapy is progressing nicely. Check it out.

Whit Haydn's site now has a forum area covering many germaine subjects, including con games and Soapy Smith.


11/14/2005

Blonger Bros. Forum

There is now a Blonger Bros. forum in the Forum area of Whit Haydn's website.

Here's the Abbreviated Blonger Bros. Bio penned as an introduction:


Though rarely remembered today, the Blongers epitomized the sporting men of the Wild West, and were well known across the region at the time. Taken together, they were prospectors, Indian fighters, teamsters, theater owners, mine owners, saloonkeepers, showmen, pimps, gamblers and gambling hall owners. Marshals, sheriffs, deputies, soldiers, scouts and private detectives, con men, fixers and vote riggers. And that's just Sam and Lou.

There were six brothers Belonger, born in Vermont. All but one, Michael, would go West, and change his name to Blonger. None of the five Western Blongers have any known descendants. All five were involved in mining their entire adult lives.

Raised in Wisconsin, Sam was the first to head west around 1858, to Denver, then on to California, where he was a teamster driving freight across the Sierras to the mining town of Virginia City.

Back home, Mike was the first to enlist. He fought at Winchester, Cedar Mountain, Second Bull Run, and finally Antietam, in the cornfield with the 3rd Wisconsin. A few days later, he succumbed to a heart ailment and was hospitalized. He would remain infirm the rest of his long life.

Brother Joe enlisted next in Michigan, before the age of fifteen. He wound up in Atlanta, where he was shot in the chest. He survived; the bullet was detected in his abdomen some forty years later.

Finally, younger brother Lou enlisted in Illinois, also shy of fifteen, as a fifer. After six days, Lou hurt his leg during a march and was bedridden for the rest of his enlistment.

After the war, Sam -- whose doings during the war remain a mystery -- returned home to the Midwest, where he teamed up with Lou, Lou's army buddy Bill Livingston, and Bill's family, including his sister Ella, Sam's new wife. Thus began an epic twenty-year trip across the American West.

Between 1868 and 1878, the Blongers and Livingstons ran saloons, theaters, gambling halls and brothels in Red Oak, Salt Lake City, Dry Canyon, Stockton, Virginia City, Cornucopia, Tuscarora, Silver Reef, and perhaps more. They gambled with the legendary names: Earp, Holliday, Masterson, and learned the finer points of fraud and graft along the way.

Meanwhile, Joe had taken to prospecting in the Black Hills, where he claimed to have been Wild Bill's poker pal. He also tells an intriguing story of the accounts told him by Souix and Cheyenne children the day after Little Big Horn.

In '78 Sam and Lou were in Dodge, where they gave tours, we are told, and Leadville in '79, where Sam ran for mayor while Lou ran a theater.

By 1882 both men had supposedly worn a badge, and at that time Sam was appointed city marshal of the booming town of New Albuquerque. Lou was his deputy, and the newspapers tell a colorful story of a rowdy town in need of law and order, which Sam brought to the table.

Following Earp's vendetta ride, the posse crossed the border into New Mexico, and made their way to Sam's Albuquerque, where they could rest unmolested for several days before finding refuge in Colorado. The vendetta was national news, of course, but the Albuquerque papers remained mum for days after they were gone.

Sam, Lou and his associates knew how to use their power for financial gain, and this contributed to Sam's eventual dismissal. By now, though, they were working as private detectives, joining the Rocky Mountain Detective Association for a time.

Through the mid 1880s, Sam went north to Colorado, racing horses, speculating in mines, and probably still working in criminal investigation. At some point, he lost an eye in a gunfight, and wore dark blue glasses the rest of his life to hide his disfigurement.

Lou moved south, to Deming, where he spent time with gambler Frank Thurmond and Lottie Deno.

In 1888, Lou was sighted in Kingman, Arizona, at the trial of prostitute Kitty Blonger. A regular customer named Hill had barged into her room at the back of a Peach Springs saloon, where she was in bed with a gambler called Kid Fay. The two men scuffled, and Kitty shot Hill in the head.

She was the second woman to stand trial for murder in Arizona. When Fay was exonerated, his high-priced lawyers remained to defend Kitty. She was acquitted. Who paid for the lawyers? And who was Kitty Blonger?

By late in 1888, Sam and Lou had settled in Denver. They were old hands of the West now, with many influential friends, men whose names are mostly forgotten, but they were sheriffs, mayors, U.S. Marshals and judges, reporters, even Tammen of the Post. William Pinkerton was Lou's old friend -- they vacationed together in later years -- as was Bat Masterson. The Blongers were loyal friends and had loyal friends, which was helpful on occasion. Still more friends could be bought, and campaign contributions made such a welcome gift.

But it's easy to be generous when it's someone else's money, and they were good at getting it. A collection of saloons, gambling houses and policy shops made them major players in town, and their connections downtown gave them leverage on the street. Protection was particularly critical to the confidence gangs that infested the town, and it was doled out by a number of bosses, including the Blongers, Ed Chase and Soapy Smith, who held the upper hand in the early 90s as king of the Denver fixers.

In 1892, their power increased when they struck it rich at Cripple Creek's Forest Queen mine. The mine was a great producer, in service intermittently until the 1940s. This newfound wealth might well have lead them to retire, but they did not.

By 1895, following the Governor's armed assault on Soapy's empire -- and Denver's City Hall -- Soapy found himself laying low after his brother was jailed for assaulting a bartender (and an embarrassed police chief as well).

The newspapers say the rampaging Smith brothers also visited Blonger's place that night, and barely missed a shotgun shell in the back from Lou, who was waiting behind the bar. A cop intervened and dissuaded the Smiths from entering Sam's office, perhaps saving their lives. Soapy would leave for Alaska after several months, never to return.

Around this time, the Blongers' hold over the Denver bunco community -- another gold mine -- became virtually complete. By the time of Lou's arrest in 1922, the gangs were raking in a half million a year from tourists and visiting businessmen in so-called big store cons like the rag. More than a hundred steerers worked the summer streets of what was known to con men across the country as the Big Store of America, and Lou Blonger, with his older brother Sam until his death in 1914, got a hefty cut of every swindle.

The police were compliant, because the mayor willed it, and the DA always fixed bond at a reasonable cost of business. The sheriff's police were old friends and the judges in on the racket. A private phone line ran from Lou's office to the mayor's. The tourists were shorn of their assets -- which entered the local economy from the top down -- and the locals never heard much about it, or cared, and everybody made money. The ones who didn't? Either they weren't talking, or everyone involved was covering the tracks of the actual perpetrators.

Enter a young populist candidate for district attorney, Philip S. Van Cise. A colonel in the Big War, the idealist Van Cise rejected Lou's offer of campaign money in exchange for low bail bonds for bunco defendants, and when he took office, he set about a lengthy investigation into the so-called Wolves of Seventeenth Street.

Using wiretaps, an observation post, and undercover cops, he spent nearly a year gathering evidence on as many of the Denver gang as possible. His biggest challenge turned out to be keeping news of the investigation from reaching the sheriff's or police departments, especially the Denver detectives.

Finally, in August of 1922, Van Cise launched a dragnet across the city to round up as many of the known gang as could be found before word hit the street. He got thirty-three, including Lou and his manager, Adolph "Kid" Duff. Arrestees were secretly held in the basement of a local church to avoid interference by the police.

At the time, the trial was a sensation. Twenty defendants were tried as one. It ran a record length, and had a record number of objects entered into evidence. What's more, no defense was presented, on the grounds that the prosecution had not proven its case. On the night the jury began its deliberations, a deputy furnished booze and women to Lou and a few close friends for a "drunken orgy" in the holding room. Reporters were in attendance. Drunk, they staged a mock rape trial while the jury was out.

Unfortunately, their bribed juror did not do his job, and they were all sentenced to several years in prison. Lou died six months after going to Canon City penitentiary, at the age of 73.

His vast estate went mostly to the state and the lawyers. His wife got the Forest Queen.


11/19/2005

Rise of the Blongers

I've lately been adding to this area of the Gang section, but I still have a ways to go. I have a pile of 1894 news articles ranging from the City Hall War to Bull Hill to General Tarsney's tar-and-feathering. It's taking some time, but a coherent picture is beginning to form of the period during which the Blongers were headed toward total control of Denver. I'll let you know when it's complete.


11/24/2005

Reunion

Saw some old chums this weekend, including some who worked the tables at my old casino, or played them. Had a great time and hope to do it again next year.


11/26/2005

The Soap Game Lives

Soapy Smith turned me on to this one. This is great. The soap game is alive and well on the internet:


Milt Yarberry

Today we had a visit from Donna Linas, who believes she may be related to Yarberry. He was marshal in Albuquerque before Sam, and made a habit of shooting unarmed men. He was a preemptive strike kind of a guy. And he hung for it, a few months after Sam left office.


November 2005


 

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