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December 2005


Joe's Wife Carrie

Yesterday we heard from Sara Winsor Johnson, who is the great niece of Joe's wife Carrie Viles. Just this summer we found information that told us her true name — from the name on Joe's pension survey we had thought her name was Clara Biles...


Simon's Coal

An interesting find today, about eldest brother Simon, on New stuff is going online all the time, so it pays to check in now and then.

Simon was a mining man, once superintendent of the Robert E. Lee mine, and for a brief time, assemblyman to the Colorado legislature. He spent many years in Colorado.

Today's find is from the "United States Congressional Serial Set," the nature of which I am not totally clear on. I can't even detect the volume or year, though Scott found evidence we are talking around 1909.

A Mrs. Dickson, with whom Blonger formerly roomed here in Seattle, Wash., a negress, stated that she had heard Blonger talk of his coal claim. That he belonged to some sort of club and that the members of the club all had coal claims and handled them on shares. These claims are in Alaska. That Blonger went downtown three or four times to sign some papers in connection with his coal claim.

Other evidence indicates that Simon is the Blonger in question, and that this is a deposition of some kind relating to the ownership of vast, lucrative coal fields in Alaska. The case ultimately involves Morgan, Guggenheim, and Standard Oil, who were very interested in clear title to land claims in Alaska, and Teddy Roosevelt, who wanted to retain the right to return such lands to government ownership.

The volume is at the U of I, so we should be able to explore further.


Con Man or Influence Peddler?

This article popped up a few days ago, and it points out a distinction that we have discussed now and then, the difference between a con man and a fixer.

In point of fact, by the time Lou was in his seventies, he probably considered material involvement in a confidence game beneath him. His political clout was such that he was apparently quite content to profit by protecting and facilitating the games rather than participating in them. As such, Lou is technically notable as an influence peddler, and not a con man.

Yeah, not a fixer, but an influence peddler. Lou is a kissin' cousin of Tom DeLay.


That said, Lou spent years in the company of bunco artists, and was occasionally arrested on bunco charges or implicated in swindles. Sometimes these involved loans underwritten by Lou that were then lost in a scam or crooked card game. We have no direct evidence Lou was a classic grifter like Doc Baggs or Soapy Smith, but it was his world and he had a role in it, probably since the days of their first saloon.

It seems that for the average professional gambler/saloon owner/showman/prospector/peace officer fraud was often a part of the experience. Consider: If, at a certain time in your life, you are making your living by making bets, it would take a bright moral line indeed to refuse to take the money of some well-heeled rube eager to lose it. One famous short con is called the top and bottom. You're sitting at a bar. Three dice are rolled. The total of all the top and bottom faces together comes to, say, 21. The roller bets you that the next roll will total 21 as well. Would you bet against it?

Of course, the total is always 21, because the opposite sides of a die always total 7. Yet this was a very profitable game for some. And if the mark was bright enough to know better? Bet against twenty-one and use marked dice instead. Knowing this, in a town full of gambling, drunken men, and not acting on it when confronted with the opportunity, would require a strength of character many of these men lacked — as evidenced by their being in a position to confront the temptation in the first place.

Simon's Coal

Here's an excerpt from an article on Roosevelt that sheds some light on the Alaska coal affair:

Since the Civil War - Chapters XX-XXI
...Coincidently with the disagreement over the Payne-Aldrich act, there raged the unhappy Pinchot-Ballinger controversy. One of the last acts of President Roosevelt had been to withdraw from sale large tracts of public land which contained valuable water-power. The purpose and the effect of the order was to prevent these natural resources from falling into private hands and particularly into the hands of syndicates or corporations who would develop them mainly for individual interests. President Taft's Secretary of the Interior, Richard A. Ballinger, took the attitude that the withdrawals were without statutory justification and he therefore revoked the order for withdrawals immediately after coming into office. Upon further investigation, however, he re-withdrew a part of the land, although somewhat doubtful of his power to do so.
During the summer of 1909, Gifford Pinchot, the Chief Forester, addressed an irrigation Congress in Spokane and asserted that the water-power sites were being absorbed by a trust. Much interest was aroused by the charge, which was looked upon as an attack on the Secretary of the Interior and his policy. Within a short time the idea became widespread, through the press, that Ballinger was associated with interests which were desirous of seizing the public resources and that this fact lay back of his partial reversal of the policy of his predecessor. This impression was deepened by the charges of L.R. Glavis, an employee of the Department of the Interior, concerning the claims of a certain Clarence Cunningham, representing a group of investors, to some exceedingly valuable coal lands in Alaska. Glavis asserted that the Cunningham claims were fraudulent, that many of the Cunningham group were personal friends of Ballinger and that the latter had acted as attorney for them before becoming Secretary of the Interior. President Taft, with the backing of an opinion from Attorney- General Wickersham, upheld Ballinger and dismissed Glavis. The press again took the matter up and the controversy was carried into Congress, where an investigation was ordered. About the same time Pinchot was removed for insubordination, and additional heat entered into the disagreement. The majority of the congressional committee of investigation later made a report exonerating Ballinger, but his position had become intolerable and he resigned in March, 1911. The result of the quarrel was to weaken the President, for the idea became common that his administration had been friendly with interests that wished to seize the public lands.


Outlaw Tales

Scott reports that, a Boulder newspaper, says of Jan Murphy's Outlaw Tales of Colorado:

Outside of Alferd Packer, I recognized none of the outlaws in Murphy's book (and she actually misspells his name as "Alfred"!). But there are tales of Soapy Smith, "Con Man," Jack Slade, "Gunslinger" and, ominously, Lou Blonger, "Overlord of the Underworld."

They also report it's a "great bathroom book."


Simon's Coal, Teddy Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Ballinger-Pinchot Controversy

This cropped up on, a brief excerpt from a report in the US Congressional Serial Set, year unknown, probably 1910, Volume 10. The set is a collection of documents and reports from the House and Senate.

In a search for one S.R. Blonger, located by George Simmonds, agent, it was learned that he, Blonger had moved to Denver, Colorado, but his street address could not be found.
A Mrs. Dickson, with whom Blonger formerly roomed here in Seattle, Wash., a negress, stated that she had heard Blonger talk of his coal claim. That he belonged to some sort of club and that the members of the club all had coal claims and handled them on shares. These claims are in Alaska. That Blonger went downtown three or four times to sign some papers in connection with his coal claim.

Simon, living in Seattle, apparently owned shares in a large coal claim in Alaska, along with other members of a "club".

When we first saw this reference in the US Congressional Set, we thought perhaps Simon had sold someone fake mine stock, or vice versa, and this was testimony from an investigation or trial. Aha, we said. Simon's a swindler!

Not so fast.

Searching on other names in the short blurb brought other short references, and searching on names in those brought others. Then wider searches on the important names. All the way to Teddy Roosevelt. What's going on here?

Time for a history lesson. A great deal of ink has been spilt over the so-called Ballinger-Pinchot controversy, one of the most thoroughly discussed topics in American conservation policy.

Shortly after the turn of the twentieth century, a vast coal field was discovered in Alaska.

Mr. Ballinger and the National Grab Bag, by John L. Mathews, Hampton's Magazine, December 1909

Back of Controller Bay, beginning almost at tidewater and extending inward until they are lost beneath the immense ice masses of Bering and Martin's River Glaciers, extend the coal fields. Near the seashore this coal, which crops out upon the surface, is of a soft, bituminous character about the equal of the best Illinois fuel. A little farther back is found an enormous amount of a semibitummous, coking coal, the equal of Pocahontas, George's Creek, or any other first-class coking coal of West Virginia. And beyond this again lies Carbon Mountain, practically a great mountain of the finest anthracite in the world- probably the largest known deposit of this valuable mineral.
The total value of these Controller Bay deposits (and they are but a small part of the total Alaskan coal-fields) is beyond calculation. They have never been surveyed. The coal in sight on Carbon Mountain is in four veins reaching to thirty feet in thickness and extending entirely around and through the mountain. What lies beneath the surface no man knows. All this coal is within an hour of the ship side and can be transshipped to San Francisco for less than Colorado coal can climb the first range of mountains.
A vast quantity of this coal is well adapted for use in the vessels of the Pacific Squadron, making these coal lands especially valuable to the government. At present that squadron is supplied with coal from the East.

According to law, these lands could be claimed by individuals for $10 or $20 an acre, at a limit of 160 acres and as long as you developed the resource. Small associations could be formed, but the law forbid large-scale corporate development.

What was a big corporation like Standard Oil to do, especially with a tree-hugger like Teddy Roosevelt in office?

Get a bunch of insiders and good ole boys to file the claims as individuals, then buy them out later, at a tidy profit for all. Which is exactly what they tried to do — until 1906 when Roosevelt withdrew the lands from the public domain, throwing 900 mineral claims covering some 150,000 acres into legal limbo.

Among these claims are included certain groups known as the Greene group, the Alaska Petroleum and Coal Company group, the Alaska Development Company group, the Harriman group and the Cunningham group.
The first group of filings on this Alaskan land—and these are among the nine hundred awaiting patent—were made for the Alaska Development Company of Seattle, in 1902. They were of the worst type of "dummy entries." A contractor and a Katalla saloonkeeper picked the dummies and paid them $100 each to ile [sic] on the claims and assign them to the Alaska Development Company. Later, when the government detected this fraud, members of the Alaska Development Company refiled on the same claims. These claims are "believed to be under option to the firm of MacKenzie and Mann, the Canadian financiers said to represent the Standard Oil group, and owners of the Canadian Northern Railway. Standard Oil interests are involved in the Greene group, controlled by former Mayor Harry White, of Seattle, now of California, and by other Seattle men.

Simon would appear to be one of those "other Seattle men."

In 1907 the Seattle Star blazoned forth on its front page an "expose" of the Alaska Petroleum and Coal Company. This corporation, headed by Clarke Davis (according to the Star story-and it has never been gainsaid), a well-known and prosperous citizen of Seattle, had sought for oil in Alaska, and had failed to find it, but had found the now famous coal lands. Then a number of men who had organized the corporation filed, by power of attorney, upon these Alaska coal lands. Each took 160 acres, and all of them transferred their locations to the corporation. Then the corporation issued $5,000,000 of stock in one-dollar shares, basing the value on the ownership of the coal lands. Clarke Davis, said the Star, received one million shares for promotion work and for his own coal locations. Other shares were given to organizers of the corporation, and yet others were placed in the hands of men whose influence would be of value to the company. Many treasury shares were sold at prices ranging from seven cents to forty cents per share.
The Star created a sensation by announcing that under the law it is impossible to transfer titles to the location before entry, and that if any plan is entered into to do so the entry is refused and the land becomes again part of the Public Domain.

In other words, these lands could not be sold to a corporation for aggregation — which had been the plan from the beginning.

A prospectus was issued by the company and widely circulated through the mails. It stated that the company owned 1,920 acres of valuable coal lands in Alaska. Many people invested in stock. Failing legislation that would make their filings legal and give them title to the coal, the directors were in a dilemma. If they proved their claims and assigned them to the company, after taking oath that they were filing on them for their own use, they would be liable to prosecution by the government. And, on the other hand, if the company failed to get possession of the coal lands its officers might be liable to prosecution for the use they had made of the mails.

If the individuals who had the claims filed in their names went through with the deal and sold out to Standard, they would be criminals. If Standard failed to get the law changed and acquire the land, they too would be in trouble.

Mr. Ballinger was the attorney chosen to relieve this situation and to pilot the Alaska Petroleum and Coal Company through legal obstacles to a clear title. He went to Washington and did all in his power in two directions-one to secure the patenting of the lands in dispute, the other to secure broader laws for the use of corporations in grabbing Alaska.
The firm of Ballinger, Ronald & Battle, of which Mr. Ballinger was the senior partner until he became connected with the public service, is one of the leading legal forces of Seattle. In the Northwest, Ballinger, Ronald & Battle are generally recognized as the legal representatives of Standard Oil in Seattle.
Ballinger adds an agreeable personality to a keen knowledge of the law. He had been Mayor of Seattle and by a war on slot machines had made something of a reputation as a reformer. He had served the government as a lawyer on one or two occasions, and in various ways had attracted the attention of Roosevelt. In March 1907 the President appointed him Commissioner of the General Land Office in Washington. The unpleasant significance of this lies in the fact that Mr. Ballinger was thus in charge of the department which could refuse or consent to patent the Clarke Davis group of coal claims.
He took no action on the claims of his clients while he was Commissioner, but his appearance in Washington was immediately followed by the turning of Roosevelt's attention to the question of Alaska coal lands and a message to Congress asking the corporations be permitted to patent considerably larger areas. Ballinger appeared before the Committee on Public Lands for the House of Representatives, and urged the passage of such an act. In referring to the Clarke Davis situation he stated that to his own knowledge the men concerned had been guilty of merely technical violations of the law.

The former attorney for one group of coal claimants — the "Cunnigham group" — is appointed by Roosevelt to a post as commissioner of the General Land Office, and immediately he goes to work to loosen restrictions on corporate acquisition of public lands. How quaint. He fails to investigate Standard Oil's move on the claims, brushing off the deal as a minor violation.

In the year 1907 a law was passed and presented to the President, but it was destined to go no further. While it was pending before President Roosevelt, however, Mr. Ballinger was actively at work for it.
Meetings were held in Seattle at which men prominent in northwestern business and political circles were present. Among others interested in these conferences were former Governor McGraw, of Washington; H. R. Harriman, an officer of the Alaska Petroleum and Coal Company, from whose connection it comes about that these are known as the Harriman claims; John Schram, president of the Washington Trust Company and a trustee of the Alaska Petroleum and Coal Company, and F. F. Evans, a mining "broker. Mr. Ballinger was moved to leave his desk in the national capital and go to Seattle and there meet with the conferees. These men used their influence in urging James Garfield, then Secretary of the Interior, to aid in securing the signing of the bill.
Mr. Ballinger's friends in Seattle, and he has many of them, have assured me that they could see nothing improper in his thus pushing the claims of his former clients against the very department of the government with which he was officially connected. Indeed, some of his friends explained his participation to me-and they could see no objection to the situation-by the statement that Mr. Ballinger is, or has been, financially interested in 155,000 shares of the stock of the Alaska Petroleum and Coal Company.
But although the act of 1907 did not get past President Roosevelt, nevertheless, on the twenty-eighth of May 1908, there did go into effect a new law providing that locators who had, in good faith and for their own use, located prior to November 12, 1906, on coal lands in Alaska, might be allowed to combine their holdings to 2,560 acres (four square miles), and work them as a corporation.
This might be read in three ways: it might be construed to admit only those that had entered the lands before planning to combine; it might be construed to admit everybody even if their plan to incorporate were made before location; or it might take a middle course and include those that filed in good faith as individuals and then formed a corporation before entering for patent.
"We hoped," says a man very close to Ballinger, "to be able to give the statute the broadest possible interpretation so that all locators would be included. We hoped, in fact, to find in it a new rule for construing more broadly the old 64O-acre statute."
In the meantime-in March 1908-Mr. Ballinger had resigned his position as Commissioner of the General Land Office. It may, therefore, have been due to his absence from the scene that this law, which Ballinger had helped to pass, contained a truly Rooseveltian last paragraph so strongly antitrust that the purpose of the law was lost. This paragraph, too long to quote, provides that if by any means whatever, tacitly or directly or in any indirect way or in any manner whatever the lands involved become concerned with, or the property of, or in any way connected with any agreement in restraint of trade or any corporation concerned in such an agreement, the lands shall revert to the United States and the title become void. It is said that Gifford Pinchot drafted this paragraph. Part of the coal lands lie in the Chugach Forest Reserve-which would give Mr. Pinchot good reason to take an interest in the legislation.
This antitrust paragraph daunted the promoters. Not a single claim has been pressed for entry under this antitrust act and the grabbers are pushing to have it repealed.

And so, as Taft entered office, a new law basically validated the specific situation of the coal claim holders, grandfathering in their right to sell the lands for corporate use. But a final clause added by the Forestry Service's Pinchot — a holdover sympathetic to Roosevelt's conservationist agenda — gave the government the right to take back the land under a very broad set of circumstances.

Under Taft, Ballinger was appointed Secretary of the Interior (shades of James Watt). After releasing certain lands for development that Pinchot had worked to safeguard under Roosevelt, Pinchot went on the offensive.

In November of 1909, an article in Collier's (with Pinchot as the source) accused Ballinger of overlooking collusion in his official dealings with the coal claimants. Though soon exonerated by Taft, he was dogged by the allegations for the rest of his life. Taft canned Pinchot for insubordination. The President himself was dogged by allegations of cover up, a state of affairs not lost on Teddy Roosevelt, who felt his conservation agenda was being betrayed.

According to Taft's attorney general, George Wickersham, the effects of the affair were tumultuous:

The 1910 Ballinger-Pinchot affair, which involved the illegal distribution of thirty-three federal government Alaskan coal land claims to the Guggenheim interests, culminated in a Congressional investigation and brought Alaska directly into the national headlines. Wickersham, surveying the fallout of the affair, determined that it destroyed the friendship between Theodore Roosevelt and President Taft; split the Republican party into two great factions; defeated President Taft for re-election in 1912; elected Woodrow Wilson President of the United States; and changed the course of history of our country.
A chastened President Taft, in a special message to Congress on February 2, 1912, urged the enactment of legislation which would help Alaska develop its resources along the lines that Wickersham had urged.

Heavy. Roosevelt was so peeved at Taft about the whole situation that he ran against him in the next election as candidate for the Progressive party, splitting the Republicans and ushering Woodrow Wilson into the presidency.

So, really, for all we know, Simon was a sucker who bought some shares in a coal field. Or he was a Seattle heavyweight who almost got in over his head. Getting hold of the report will tell us more.


The Battle of Bull Hill

My analysis of the events at Bull Hill in 1894 is finally complete, with some long transcriptions.

Next, the subject that led us to all the other events of 1894, the key to the puzzle, the next act, the Tarsney Outrage. Think tar, feathers. Ouch.


The Ballinger-Pinchot Controversy

Ballinger Cartoon

Ballinger Cartoon


Ironic Addendum — According to the Brandeis Law School Library:

(Ironically, surveys of the Cunningham lands later showed that the lands had little coal.)


O.K. Gaymon

A first impression:

The May 19, 1906 issue of the Breckenridge Bulletin carried an editorial titled "Give Us Morality or Give Us Death," which returned fire for a broadside attack the week before by the Summit County Journal. The Journal, published by one Oren K. Gaymon, had commented that the Bulletin had ruined the recent election for secretary of the school board by endorsing the candidate Gaymon also backed. The immoral reputation of the Bulletin was such, Gaymon stated, that their endorsement had driven voters to his opponent.

The Bulletin replies, in a type of exchange not uncommon in bygone days:

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 beauitifying 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.

Gaymon was a well-known political figure at the time, having held various offices including State Senator. He was often accused of being corrupt, and of using his publications — in addition to other traditional methods — to influence elections for personal gain.

When elected Town Clerk of Dillon in 1883, he is said to have remarked:

The day has once more come when the City of Dillon will be conducted by sober and industrious people, thank God! A little more brandy straight.

In 1900 he was accused of taking two dollars from an out-of-town dentist in 1898 to place an ad in his paper. He ran the paper with another ad in place of the dentist's, then when the run was through, ran six copies with the ad. Two were for the dentist, two for the agent who sold the ad, and one for the archives.

So the only real connection here involves the reputation of these men, Gaymon and Lou Blonger, both known for their political chicanery, and here both accused of sanctimonious grandstanding.

But O.K. — also referred to as "How-much-is-there-in-it" Gaymon and "Old Knocker" for the knocks he handed out in his editorials — was both a seasoned politician in the public spotlight, and a grandstanding newspaper publisher. Lou was neither, and from all indications, afraid of the sunlight.

We've found a handful of articles from the period that mention the Blongers by name, either in connection with a con, a gambling joint, or an election. But hardly enough to justify the seemingly common public perceptions about Lou's actions and motives.

To an extent this entire exercise is all about understanding the evolving public perception of Lou Blonger — even in Beckenridge, or Colorado Springs. He was, after all, powerful through influence, not deadly violence (to our knowledge) and influence is a function of reputation. People have to know you're powerful.

So how did folks come to know they shouldn't mess with Lou Blonger? Is an occasional mention in the news enough? Or are we missing important articles? Did Lou, or so-called "old-time journalist" Sam, ever express political views in print? After Albuquerque in 1882, I don't believe we hear an actual peep out of Lou until his arrest in '22.

December 2005



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