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The Famous Blonger Bros.


January 2006


Happy New Year All from the Johnsons

Grafters Grand Opening

Come see us at our new digs,

The Club is still a part of this site, but with a sharp new look and over twenty new inductees including U.S. Grant, George Custer and Crazy Horse — and more (of the same) great jazz entertainment!


Salt Lake City

Scott came across three tidbits recently in the Salt Lake Tribune. Between 1871 and 1878, the Bros. were doing business all across Utah and Nevada. Interestingly, however, these articles are from 1897, '98 and '99 a time when Sam and Lou had already been comfortably ensconced in Denver for ten years.

First, in 1897 Sam sold two city lots to Junius Young. Curious but not shocking that Sam would have property in Salt Lake City.

Second, an 1898 article describes Lou's unfortunate encounter with swindler C.M. Fegenbush:

Salt Lake Tribune, July 5, 1898

A Notorious Baron Behind Bars on Serious Charge.
"Baron" C. M. Fegen-Bush and one J. A. Weaver, the latter claiming to be manager of an electric belt company, were arrested and charged with stealing $1000 from Lou Blonger. Early in the afternoon Blonger engaged in a personal encounter with Weaver in the Boston block. Fegen-Bush was not present, else he, too, would probably have received rough treatment at the hands of the irate saloonkeeper.
From the facts thus far brought to light it seems that Blonger, Fegen-Bush and Weaver were engaged in the mining business, Blonger furnishing the cash, Fegen-Bush contributing his experience and Weaver his wits.
Fegen-Bush has always had large ideas in the money-making line. He does not trifle with small transactions. The selling of mining stock is his long suit. Lately he told the saloonkeeper of a great scheme of legally converting engraved paper mining stock into soft money. Weaver was to act as their agent. The other day Blonger put up $1000, being promised $1100 in return for his investment, and the cash was, according to stipulation, to be converted into a cashier's check at the Western bank and placed in escrow. Weaver, it is claimed, got the cashier's check, and when he was called upon yesterday to account for it, it is said, he declared that he had paid it over to a third party whose whereabouts he was unable to disclose.
The investigation of the affair, which will be resumed today, is expected to reveal extensive operations on the part of Fegen-Bush. It is claimed that under his direction stock in numerous phantom mining concerns has been issued and much of it sold to purchasers who were innocent of what they were buying. The "baron" has been trouble a score of times, but has always escaped conviction.—Denver News.

Finally, in 1899, a Marvin sighting, in Salt Lake, checking into the Kenyon. He's listed as living at Park City, Utah.


High Concept #1 Tombstone meets The Sting meets The Godfather meets Zelig meets Deadwood

Leadville, 1879

An article in the Colorado Weekly Chieftain, July 11, 1878, describes in detail the new theater being opened in Leadville by "Search & Caddagan", the latter certainly being our old friend Con Caddigan. No female beer-jerkers are employed at the Coliseum.

The Blongers would soon be in town, as would Bat Masterson and Doc Holliday. Sam will run for mayor, and lose, in April of 1879. Lou (probably) will run the Novelty Theatre a few miles away in Georgetown.

As a matter of fact, Georgetown Courier and Colorado Miner blurbs from February and March of 1878 indicate a Novelty Theater was owned by a man named Stahl.

Also in town was Big Ed Burns, recent subject. Sam kicked him out of Albuquerque, and he's always decribed as a real hard case, but who was he? A little digging reveals yet another gangleader, a killer, and skunk, yet a con man as well, capable of charm. He was gold brick man, like so many others, and a fan of the top and bottom scam.

Interesting to us is that he was kicked out of Leadville in November of '79, two and a half years before Sam kicked him out of Albuquerque. The story is more dramatic, involving a note pinned to a man hanging from a rafter, telling Burns and others, who had been claim-jumping, to get out of town. The article will follow.

An April 4, 1879 Denver Daily Tribune article, four days after the mayoral election in Leadville (Sam lost), describes the general state of the town. What caught my eye was the statement that on Fryer Hill were to be found the oldest and best-known claims in the area, including the Little Chief and Big Pitsburgh, among others. These properties were owned by the Consolidated Mining co., the principal partners being Senator Chaffee and Horace Tabor. Sam and Lou are said to have leased both of these claims.

Rocky Mountain News, December 3, 1884

The largest producers of heavy lead are the Henrietta, Maid of Erin, Clontarf and Brookland, and the Dillon and Blonger lessees of the Big Pittsburg. ... The Big Pittsburg lessees ship the best lead.

And from Lou's obit:

Here the brothers took a lease on the Little Chief on Freyer hill from the Dillon brothers and made good money. The Dillons cleaned up $350,000 from their lease.



Here's a thought. If, while in Leadville in 1878-80, the Blonger Bros. Sam and Lou took leases on the Little Chief and Big Pittsburg, both on Fryer Hill; and if Simon was also in Leadville at the time, and worked as superintendent of the Robert E. Lee — also on Fryer Hill, then just maybe the Blongers had a lease on the REL as well...

Big Ed Burns

Here's Ed in 1879, Leadville.

(Georgetown) Colorado Miner, November 22, 1879

Lynch Law in Leadville
At two o'clock on Tuesday morning, two men were taken from the Leadville jail, by the vigilantes, and unceremoniously hung in front of the jail building. One of the men was Ed. Frodsham, a lot jumper, who had been running things with a high hand for some time past. The other was Chas. Stewart, the man wounded by Bockhouse, the barber, in an attempt to rob the latter a few days ago; the partner of his crime Harry Clifford being killed by Bockhouse. The Sheriff and jailer were overpowered. Both wretches begged piteously for their lives, and Frodsham struggled furiously, but all in vain. Crime had flaunted its bloody banners in the city until men with a sense of justice in their bosoms rebelled, and to show that they meant business, the following card was pinned on the lifeless body of Frodsham:
"Lot theives, bunko steerers, footpads, thieves and chronic bondsmen, for the same and sympathizers of the above class of criminals. This is our commencement and this shall be your fate. We mean business. Let this be your last warning, particularly "Cooney" Adams, Conner, Collns Hogan, Ed. Burns, Ed. Champ, P. A. Kelley and a great many others, who are well known to this organization. We are seven hundred strong."

The brothers Blonger are about. Would they care? Would they be afraid? Or part of the mob?

Interesting list of criminals: Lot theives (claim jumpers), bunko steerers, footpads, thieves and chronic bondsmen. The latter would describe one of Lou's primary professions in Denver, bailing out grifters.


Leadville, 1879

'79 was Leadville's boom year. Such towns often had a stage at which it became obvious whether it would live or die, and Leadville's prospects were excellent. New deposits were being discovered all the time, and everybody wanted in on the game.

Gunman Ben Thompson was there, Horace Tabor, Baby Doe, Bat Masterson, with a visit from the Earps.

Jesse James and Bob and Charley Ford were accused of holding up stagecoaches in the area that year. Con Caddigan opened the Coliseum, and Billy Nuttall opened the Bella Union.

This article, from which I culled some of the above, states intriguingly that Horace Tabor's Opera House would put many of the smaller houses out of business. Like Lou's theater in nearby Georgetown, the Novelty Theater? It goes on to mention the incident recounted here three days ago, the lynch mob and their grizzly warning to Big Ed Burns, noting that this occurred the night of Tabor's grand opening.

I'll venture a guess: In 1878 the Blongers spent the summer in Dodge after finally leaving the Salt Lake region, but things were going sour there — and Leadville was heating up. In the end, their stay in Dodge was short. The move to Leadville was a smart one.

The question is, how long did the Blongers stay? Where were they just prior to their arrival in Albuquerque in 1882?

I am getting the sneaking suspicion Leadville '79 will get its own section...

Big Ed Burns

Here's a look back at Big Ed in 1896:

(Cripple Creek) Morning Times, February 15, 1896

Big Jim Burns, Gold-Brick Swindler, Visits Cripple Creek and Sleeps In Jail
"Big" Ed Burns, one of the most notorious characters in the West was arrested last night by Officers Clark and Reynolds. Burns is known all over the United States, and has been known to turn a bunco trick in St. Louis and Chicago on the same day. He will do anything from robbing a coop to a gold rick swindle. He was in Leadville in the early days and was mixed up in a killing in Chicago. He has been chased out of all the larger cities in the West but strange as it may seem has only done about eight years all told. He usually has a gang of men around him that are as desperate am himself and the community where they stop suffer greatly - from the depredations inflicted by these men.
In 1889 a man was shot and killed in the Palace theatre in Denver, which was then run by Bat Masterson. Burns and some of his men were in the house at the time and before the victim of the unknown assassin had breathed his last, Burns had robbed him of a large diamond stud. He escaped the officers and left the country and was never punished for the offense. He has been arrested for robbing hen roosts and selling brass bricks for solid gold.
The brick scheme was worked by him more successfully than his other games as he invariably caught his man at night and sold him the bricks under the shades of darkness. His appearance helped him on his scheme no little and when he was making a "front," would resemble a man of considerable means. He is about six feet one inch tall, has a rather good-looking face. His stomach is enourmous and he weighs about 210 pounds. When he "lines up" for a front he wears a silk hat, a long Prince Albert coat, patent leather shoes and on his shirt front a cluster of diamonds. He also wears a very large diamond ring on his right little finger and carries a heavy gold headed cane in the same hand.
When dressed thus, he is ready to sell gold bricks. When working this he stops at the best hotel in the city and becomes acquainted with all the promiment men stopping there. He picks out a man who he thinks is the easiest worked, and in confidence tells him about some gold bricks which he owns. He don't want to sell them, O no, but would like to borrow some money on them. The man would look at them and that night they would take the bricks in a grip and go out of the city limits to be away from prying eyes. Here they would open the grip, take out the bricks and with a file scrape the edges into a paper and take these to the city to have them tested. Of course the filings would be gold and the next night the money would be loaned. When the time expired for the bricks to be redeemed the man who held them took them to the mint or a jeweler to be sold, where he found their spurious nature. In the meantime Burns would be swelling around another part of the country on the money gained in this way.
Where Burns has been for the past three years no one seems to know. He arrived yesterday morning and slept in jail last night. He arrived alone but his men are supposed to be on the way and they will be "landed" as soon as they arrive. The charge of vagrancy is placed against him and he will be given hours to leave. He says he came in from Pueblo, but it is thought he came from Oklahoma.


We heard from Michael Webb at, who happens to have some cards with mugshots of some Blonger gang members from a collection of Bureau of Investigation documents from Florida. Cool. He has lots of other wanted posters, books, mugshots, etc.

Leadville, 1879

A little more deeply now... What we know about the Blongers and Leadville:

In 1887, Lou informed the gummint that he and Sam moved from Salt Lake City to Leadville in 1879, then to Albuquerque in 1881.

We know Sam ran for mayor in April of '79, and came in second. Lou (probably) was running the Novelty Theater in Georgetown.

In March of 1881 Simon was superintendent of the Robert E. Lee, on Fryer Hill. The Blongers did not lease the Big Pittsburgh, also on Fryer Hill, until 1884, but likely had mining interests. We don't know when they leased the Little Chief.

By February of 1882, Sam was marshal of Albuquerque, and Lou would soon appear, saying he's just come from Texas.

And that's about it.

Which is curious, but typical for the Blongers. Leadville in the year 1879 has been the subject of intensive study and interest over the years. So many famous faces were there, so many of Colorado's early legends. Yet the Blongers, so far, are all but a shadow.

Which means it's time to start digging. The Leadville papers seem to be absent from the CHNC, so that may yet yield some good stuff. Still...

So what was the big deal?

A portrait, compiled from various sources:

Original Name: Slabtown

Discovery of silver in 1877 signaled another rush to upper California Gulch... The Denver and Rio Grande Railroad arrived in August, 1880. President Ulysses S. Grant and his party were among the first passengers. Leadville's population had stabilized at 25,000...

In 1880...the city of Leadville had 15,000 inhabitants, 28 miles of streets, and more than 5 miles of water mains and was in part lighted by gas. It had 1,100 pupils in daily attendance at its schools, five churches, three public hospitals, an opera house, six banks, and many business houses, constructed of brick and stone...To support this population there were over thirty producing mines and ten large smelting works, and the annual production of gold, silver, and lead amounted to $15,000,000.

Doc Baggs headed for Leadville when he left Deadwood in '79. Others who showed up in 1880 include Doc Holliday, Susan B. Anthony, Frank and Jesse James, Oscar Wilde, Buffalo Bill. Gunman Ben Thompson, Horace Tabor, Baby Doe, Bat Masterson. Not sure about the Earps yet.

Big Ed Burns, of course. Jesse James and Bob and Charley Ford were accused of holding up stagecoaches in the area that year. Con Caddigan opened the Coliseum, and Billy Nuttall opened the Bella Union. Was Soapy there yet?

For awhile anyone who was anybody came to or from Leadville. The town gave Colorado three governors, John L. Routt, James B. Grant, and Jesse F. MacDonald. Two Denver mayors got their start in the Cloud City, Wolfe Londoner and John L. Routt. The fortunes of David May, the Guggenheims, Levi Z. Leiter, Marshall Field, W.B. Daniels, W.G. Fisher, Charles Boettcher, H.A.W. Tabor, Jerome B. Chaffee, David Moffat, John L. Routt, John Campion, James B. Grant, James V. Dexter, and dozens more were either enhanced or created out of the wealth of Leadville's mines.
Leadville hosted governors, senators, and three different presidents. The town remembered the visits of Sarah Bernhardt, Buffalo Bill, Texas Jack, Maude Adams, and Charles Vivian, founder of the Benevolent Protective Order of Elks, who died in the city in 1880.

The Blonger Bros. are like ninjas, apparently — everywhere and nowhere. So much going on, such excitement, and celebrity, and press. So why are the Blongers only known from Fighting the Underworld (Bob DeArment excepted)? Never kilt nobody, I guess.


Sam Goes West

Sam's obituary tells us around 1860-61, when he first went West, he was a teamster moving freight from Sacramento to the mining camp of Austin, Nevada, a journey of 305 miles.

Here's a satellite view. Sacramento on the left, Virginia City in the middle, the Sierra Nevada range in between, and Austin on the right.


This view looks north-northeast from Sacramento. The mountains don't look intimidating from this height. Piece of cake! We'll look into it.


Here's the view across the mountains to Virginia City, from right above Sacramento.


Here's the view from Virginia City to Austin, in the far distance.

Virginia City


Here's Leadville, looking toward Denver.


Closer still. Fryer Hill is center right


Denver Daily Tribune, 1878 March 1, 1878

Another Chatty Letter from the New Town.
A Glance Into the Comique, Faro Banks and Gambling Hells.
Big Strike and a Light Shooting Scrape
LEADVILE, February 19.
Leadville is not a pretty name or a romantic name, or a poetical one, and now that the camp is waxing in size and importance, with mills, smelting works, stores, hotels and business blocks springing up on every hand, there are those who boldly insist that the name is a misnomer and that it should be changed. Located near the head of the famous California gulch, with all its stirring associations of the past year; the region of eternal snow with grand old mountain ranges encircling it on every hand, an atmosphere so light and buoyant that the blood goes tingling through the veins with the velocity of a mill race, it does seem that some more appropriate name might have been chosen, but then there is no accounting for tastes. So long as the mines pan out rich, and merchants enjoy a big trade, and so long as everything goes forward booming and red hot there is little difference what one calls it by, and Leadville might as well go down on the stream of time to be immortalized as any other title. There is a general impression existing abroad that a mining camp that a mining camp is very wicked, that great swarthy men in red woolen shirts and cowhide boots and navy revolvers strapped to their waists, swagger through the streets shooting down a tenderfoot now and then just for the fun of the thing, and that crime and vice of every degree is not only sustained but openly encouraged; but much of this exists only in the imagination, to be sure, we have the inevitable saloons with the rows and broken heads and crimson noses that periodically break out among those who pay court at their shrine with theatre comiques and faro banks, and gambling hells, where the unwary are taken in and relieved of their spare change; but at the same time there is a good, honest, moral orthodox element, which finds no joy in any of these vanities and which is even now erecting a barrier to stem the tide of wickedness. A revival is even now in progress, and on stated evenings during the week the monotony of hurdy-gurdy music and bachanalian revelry is relieved by the voice of prayer and praise and the good old songs that we heard in our childhood days, which have a strange interest and sanctity when chanted in the heart of the Rocky Mountains. Those meetings are held in a small log cabin, situated within a stone's throw of the dance hall, and during the pauses in the divine service one can hear the rattle of the bones and the asthmatic warble or the prima donna, rendering some operatic gem of negro minstrelsy amid an atmosphere thick with tobacco smoke and bottled beer. The TRIBUNE correspondent had the good fortune to attend one of these religious meetings. The room was filled to its utmost capacity. There were tough and grizzled miners who had dropped in perchance from idle curiosity and who remained to pray. There were fair and tender women, in short, all sexes, ages and conditions, while in one corner, standing bolt upright, was a gigantic fifth amendment orphan, who rolled his eyes and shouted forth his [?] with all unction that left no doubt of his earnestness. The preacher was a young, fair haired man—simple exhorter, he called himself—and his sermon recounted the trials and tribulations of Nehemiah, while endeavoring to build a temple among the Jews. The effort was an eloquent one, and listened to with marked attention. The Christian men and women of Leadville are now putting forth every effort to build a suitable church, and the prayers of faithful everywhere should go with the that they may be successfully.
The mines still show up as rich as ever, and the works are run to their fullest capacity. The Shamrock, the new strike lately made by Tom Wells, grows more and more promising, and Tom already has the appearance of a bloated millionaire. A few pounds of selected ore were taken from this mine the other day and sold readily for $135 per pound. As soon the snow disappears other strikes will doubtless be made on the same vein, as the character of the drift indicates that the deposit is inexhaustible.
Rather a lively shooting scrape occurred at Oro, three miles above Leadville, last Sunday might. A number of rumors regarding the origin of the disturbance are floating about the street, and these boiled down seem to give the following facts: On the evening in question H. Melvin, a well known gambler, entered a saloon at Oro, in company with another party whose name we did not learn, in search of a man with whom they desired to pick up a row. Not finding the offending party inside Mr. Melvin drew his revolver and proceeded to amuse himself by shooting out the lights. His second shot was directed at a lamp near the door and it so happened that one of the frail females connected with the establishment entered therein just in time to receive the ball through her right arm, near the shoulder. The bone is so badly shattered that it is thought amputation will be necessary, and at last accounts the girl's life was despaired of. Melvin was arrested on Monday, but made his escape the next day, and has skipped out for parts unknown. An impression prevails throughout the camp that the boys are altogether too handy with their revolvers and if a few examples were made it would produce a salutary effect.
The advance guard of pilgrims have already put in an appearance, and hotels and boarding houses are now full to over flowing. If the town is full now, it is hard saying what it will be two months hence, but hope there will be room enough for all. R.


Sam Goes West

Western Nevada holds two points of interest: Sam's first trip west, and later, Sam and Lou's time in Virginia City in 1875.

We are told Sam drove freight through the mountains and desert from Sacramento to Austin. Austin was founded shortly after the discovery of precious metals in May, 1862 — later than we were thinking. A year later there were 10,000 people.

So — Sam left home in early 1858(?), around the age of eighteen, and traveled with a wagon train across the plains to Denver — which was no more than a handful of buildings at the time. He voted in Colorado in 1861. Then drove freight between California and Nevada in 1862-1863.

Putting Sam in Nevada during 1863, instead of early in his adventure, say 1859-61 (when Virginia City was first booming, our initial assumption), makes it more plausible Sam was acquainted with Bill Cody. The likely assumption now puts Sam in Colorado early on, prospecting, if he was like most other young men there. But the excitement in Denver was initially short-lived, and he could easily have drifted to the plains for a time. Then on to California and Nevada during the war, finally showing up in Sutter County, California in 1865, settling a debt of some kind with mormon Lyman Woods, who signed over to Sam a tract of land.

Samuel Clemens

Okay, let's nominate another for the Grafters Club: Sam Clemens began his writing career as a reporter for Virginia City's Territorial Enterprise in 1862. Virginia City is situated midway between Sacramento and Austin. He first used the pseudonym Mark Twain in 1863, something to do with his fondness for alcohol at the time. He lived there until 1864, leaving town in a rush after challenging James Laird to a duel. Twain's a maybe, sure, but maybes get in if they class up the joint.

I'm anxious to look into the state of affairs in the Comstock area regarding the Native Americans of the area, the Shoshoni and Paiute, I believe. Indian attacks on stages and Pony Express were common there in the mid-1860s.

As to 1875, that was a boom year for Virginia City, and many fortunes were made. A conflagration destroyed the town that year, but it quickly rebounded. This is Gunsmoke territory, mind you. There's a lot to find.


John Mabray

Gave J.C. Mabray/Maybray a Grafters Club page today with tons of articles on the Millionaire's Club of Council Bluffs, a fake sports betting scam that spanned the country. Lou barely escaped indictment in the sensational case in 1910, according to Van Cise, by the intervention of a U.S. District Attorney.

Just noticed that one article indicates Ben Marks role in the affair was as fixer. Mabray organized the scam.

(By Chicago Tribune, printed in Washington DC Post, August 6, 1911)
Mabray, the magnate of the con game trust, will soon be liberated from Leavenworth Prison.
This announcement will cause interest in many cities. It will carry a sting into hundreds of homes and offices. For the Mabray gang, operating through the Western States, with its main "store" at Council Bluffs, Iowa, was unquestionably the most businesslike and effective swindling organization ever brought into an American court. Its winnings in 1908 alone, as figured out by attendants of the trials of two years ago, reached a total of almost three quarters of a million.
J.C. Mabray and his gang staged fake horse races, wrestling matches, foot races and prize fights. In all of these events one of the contestants dropped dead. In the alarm and fear of arrest that followed, the gang would disappear with the money. The victim was in no position to complain, for in almost all cases he had been caught in an effort to help fleece someone else. If he did complain, the police could not or would not help him.
The gang was rounded up in 1910 by the post office authorities. Fifteen were prosecuted in federal court by Sylvester R. Rush, special assistant attorney general for the United States, who figured in the Alaskan coal and Western land fraud cases. Most of those tried received sentences. Only two men, however, have been tried so far in the state courts. There are 3,000 indictments standing, and at a mass meeting in Council Bluffs several weeks ago a demand was made that these prosecutions be pushed.
The confidence operators might still be filling safety deposit boxes with banknotes were it not for a trivial accident and a bit of feminine improudence. The wife of John R. Dobbins, of Princeton, Mo., the "steerer" who introduced T.W. Ballew, of the same city, to the gang, to his loss of $30,000, is said to have been so pleased with the transaction that she could not resist whispering it about. As a result the public made Ballew's life miserable by its inquiries concerning race horses. Ballew filed a charge of swindling. But the gang actually came to its misfortune through the mistake of a mail clerk.
Mabray used Box 4 at the post office and the clerk happened to throw a letter for him into an adjoining box. The letter was opened by mistake and, being in the code of the gang, aroused much interest. It was turned over to the post office authorities and J.S. Swenson, an inspector, began to work up a case that took him all over the West.
While the main "store" was in Council Bluffs, the gang also operated more or less frequently in Cook County, Illinois, outside of Chicago; in Seattle, Los Angeles, Denver, New Oreans, Little Rock, Hot Springs (Ark.), Kansas City, South Bend (Ind.), Pittsburgh, and other cities. Of these, New Orleans and Denver were perhaps the favorite "branch stores."
The "store" kept a set of traveling men who went from place to place in search of likely victims. Big men were their prey. They could not afford to bother with small fry. A 'mike," as the victim was called in the technique of the trade, who could not produce at least $1,000, would have been too small to cover expenses. The stage settings and accessories were expensive.
The victim, a man of wealth and position, with a tendency toward sports and sharp bargains that would make him susceptible, having been found, it was necessary to provide a "steerer."
The standard story for the "steerer" to tell was something like this: "Mr. Mike, I have a cousin who's coming out West pretty soon with a bunch of Eastern millionaires who are looking into an interurban proposition. (Mabray, called "Gordon," was the cousin.) My cousin's been with this bunch for years, and he's really made 'em, but they won't give him credit for it. The schemes have been his and he's entitled to part of the profits, but they won't do him justice. He thinks he sees a way now, though, to get even with the (blankety-blank) hogs while they're here. They're a bunch of sports out for a good time and they've got a horse that they think can beat anything. They'll bet any amount on him. Well, my cousin has picked a horse in Missouri that he knows can beat their horse. He tried him out and timed him and it's a cinch — nothing to it. We're going to put all the money we've got on him and clean 'em up. Sounds sort of raw, but you wouldn't think so if you knew how they've trated him. My cousin and I can't bet openly against the bunch, of course, so we wondered whether you couldn't come down and bet the money for us like it was yours."
This sort of talk, when made to the right sort of man, could not fail to be effective. "Mike" usually agreed to play the part of the racehorse man with the unknown horse. Unknown, by the way, is an odd word in this connection. Red Leo, as pretty a little runner as ever stepped, was used constantly under that name and was the horse upon which all the "Mikes" placed their money.
When "Mike" had agreed to act the part he was instructed to bring some negotiable paper of his own. They did not want to deal with any irresponsible parties. "Mike" was to bring a bank draft or some such negotiable security for a good sum, $10,000 or so, to show himself a man of substance. No suggestion ever was made that this sum was to be played upon the race. No, it was merely to be on exhibition.
Arrived at Council Bluffs, or Denver, or New Orleans, or wherever it was, "Mike" would be plunged into the midst of ready money. Every man he met had handfuls of money. As much as $50,000 would be in sight at one time. Naturally this impressed the average "mike" as an undeniable evidence of millionaires. All the properties were carefully arranged. As, for instance, in Pittsburgh, a three-car special train was provided for the "millionaires."
When the betting began, "Mike" was made stakeholder. He sat with his own personal draft before him on the table to show that he had the financial responsibility of one who is to figure in matched races. Soon, the money of "the cousin," and of the "steerer," would be gone, but the "millionaires" would be crying, "More, more, more." Then "Mike" would fall.
Nothing had been said at any time as to his betting his own money; but there would be the "millionaires" crying, "More, more," and sure to lose. In would go the draft and "Mike" would be caught. Before the start the money probably would be hustled into a safety deposit vault, "Mike" standing by to see it properly done. But the minute he was out and away for the course the money would be removed and "Mike's" draft cashed and secured.
At the race course, "Mike" would find all the proper paraphernalia of the matched race. Red Leo was a horse to inspire confidence. Everything would be in readiness. The flag would drop and the horses get away with Red Leo well in the lead. Red Leo, "Mike's" horse, would seem a sure winner. Then, suddenly, the jockey would throw up his hands, reel in his saddle, and plunge to earth, blood flowing from his mouth. He had "bitten the bladder," in the "patter" of the business.
Instantly, panic fell upon the "millionaires." Here was scandal and arrest — betting and the killing of a jockey. A rush would be made to escape before the police should arrive. Everybody would run to get away. So well was the plot worked that "Mike" rarely understood the fact that he had been swindled until he was well out of town. Ballew, one of the victims, even gave a member of the gang whom he met at the depot $25 with which to get home.
Sometimes the bunco syndicate worked through a wrestling match, a running race, or a prize fight, according to the inclinations of the "mike." But in all the events, one of the principals fell dead and all the others ran to avoid arrest. When it dawned upon the victim that he had been swindled there were several reasons why he should not make an outcry. In the first place, he was a well-known citizen and could not afford to admit that he had been connected with a "sure thing" game or a disreputable death.
So far only two men have been tried in the state courts. Of these, John R. Dobbins, of Princeton, Mo., who introduced T.W. Ballew to Red Leo, was given a seven-year sentence. Frank Scott, another alleged "steerer," was acquitted. Mabray will have to face more than two dozen indictments in the Pottawatomie County courts. R.B. Herriman, secretary of the organization, is dead, having passed away in a Los Angeles jail. Harry Forbes, a Chicago lightweight, was among those convincted, but took an appeal. Bert Shores, a Seattle wrestler, got 15 months. Leon Lozier, once a phenomenal runner, was implicated.
The books of the gang were kept in cipher. Each man had a number. There were hundreds. Mabray was No. 66. Unfortunately for the bunco syndicate, the key to the ledger was found and many were implicated. The entry which deals with the Ballew case is as follows: "Mike Ballew, $30,000, Red Leo, Blood run. Louied him." Ballew, it may be mentioned, was a banker with 14 lumber yards, two department stores, two lime kilns, and other properties. This shows the class of men who were victimized. Of the Ballew operation, Mabray received half and Dobbins, the "steerer," $7,500.
Mabray himself has a whimsical belief in honesty as the best policy. "I never 'miked' an honest man," is his assertion. "Honesty is the best policy. With honesty, none of these fellows would have been caught and I would not have been in the pen."
R.B. Herriman, F.C. Brown and E.C. Moore, three of Mabray's chief lieutenants, were captured in San Jose, where they were in luxurious hiding. An interesting point is that among the suits filed were included charges against Ernest E. Hart, president of the First National Bank of Council Bluffs, who was charged with collusion. These charges are among those not yet heard. When these state court cases are heard the public at least will have full information in one of the most interesting and complicated confidence games ever worked.


Leadville 1879

Jeff Smith responds concerning Soapy's time in Leadville:

The Leadville part of Soapy's life is sketchy. He was visiting Denver as early as 1879, but was still traveling around, as several "one day" licenses indicate. One letter is asking about prices for a fair list (a listing of city, county and state fairs around the country). Most of the history books on Soapy say he started out in Leadville. I can't verify the statement.

There is one newspaper clipping (naturally I can't find it) that mentions that Soapy was known well in Leadville, but yet I have not found anything concrete.

Leadville was high pinkings for the bunko gangs, but I think Soapy was not yet powerful enough to make an impact there, if even allowed to work. You know how rivals can be.

-Jeff Smith


Le Croupier

Remember that casino I was telling you about? This is circa 1976.

Coleman Miller

Starring Phil Johnson as Le Croupier
and Award-Winning Filmaker
Coleman Miller as The Kid!

Directed by Craig Johnson

Watch Le Croupier

Animation by eDNA Media Project



The police section of has a list of fallen officers. There were a couple of interesting notations. Here's one, from a year or so before Lou's arrest:

Policeman Forrest Ross
Policeman Clarence E. Zeitz
Denver Police Department
April 2, 1921 was surely one of the worst days in the history of the Denver Police Department. Within a few minutes on that date, two officers received fatal injuries and 15 other people were injured in two separate, but disturbingly similar accidents.
Policeman Forrest Ross was responding in a police "riot car" to a reported holdup at 13th and Broadway. As he attempted to turn onto Bannock from 14th, he swerved to avoid traffic, struck a curb, rolled the car three times and came to rest against a telephone pole.
A few minutes later, another "riot car" was responding to Ross's accident, using lights and siren. Inside the car were Policeman Clarence Zeitz, Policeman Sales (who was driving) and three newspaper reporters in the back seat. At 14th and Tremont, the police car collided with a touring car, rolled over and came to rest on its top.
In the first accident, Ross and two other policemen were injured and taken to area hospitals. Ross died two days later at St. Anthony's Hospital. In the second accident, Policeman Zeitz was killed instantly, and thirteen other people (including several pedestrians) were injured in the collision.

Could they be referring to the Bandit Chaser? Or the reason they needed a safer car? The cops pictured wouldn't fare much better in a rollover. Here's a conceptual drawing circa 1922.

Bandit Chaser

And the real thing.

Bandit Chaser


Life After Lou

Another police memorial on brings up an interesting question. What happened to the Denver underworld after the fall of the Wolves of Seventeenth Street? After all, it used to seem odd to us that con men would run a town like Denver, rather than drug dealers, pimps, bootleggers, and such. Violent gangs at least, of the type Al Capone epitomized. The bunko crowd were so genteel in their own way. But who replaced them?

There were drug dealers, of course, and pimps. They had their power. Bootleggers were lurking; Prohibition was enacted in 1920, two years before Lou was arrested. But the key, as always, was cash, and big store cons brought in major money, which was finding its way into the pockets of politicians, businessmen, even the shoeshine boy. And, according to the golden rule, enforced so efficiently by Lou, no locals were ever accosted, only tourists and visiting businessmen, so there would be little to concern the natives.

That is, until the con men got too good, and their organization too big, and tourism began to suffer, along with the town's reputation. As was said in an 1884 article after Con Caddigan's arrest in St. Louis for a gold brick scam:

He appeared as a confidence man first in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where the gang had their trans-continental rendezvous. Albuquerque was then a new town and the bunco men ran it with a high hand, electing as Justice of the Peace Dan Sullivan, one of their friends, and as Marshal and Constable Milton Yarberry, who was hanged last year, and Con Caddigan. The operation of these bunco men finally began to hurt the passenger traffic of the Santa Fe road, and the Company determined to drive them out of the territory. So when they cheated Henry Griffith, a Welsh miner, out of $75.00 through the top and bottom trick, Caddigan, Barney Quinn, Billy Knuttall, three of the confidence men, were arrested and put in jail to await indictment, escaping in a few days by the work of their companions outside who bribed the jailer. Caddigan then came to St. Louis and got a variety company which he took to Chihuahua. he played them for several weeks and then deserted them, taking all the money of the company with him. His arrest in St. Louis will afford his victims the liveliest satisfaction.

Sam was also marshal in Albuquerque during the general time period he describes. Caddigan's arrest came a few months after his dismissal. I have always wondered if Lou may have been one doing the bribing.

In 1920, the scale was much grander, of course, and the money much better, when Denver voters elected a reformer as District Attorney. Lou's downfall became a top priority for DA Van Cise.

But what filled the vacuum after the fall of the bunco men? Six words: Ku Klux Klan, and Mafia, Mafia, Mafia!

By 1921, the KKK was becoming a powerful political force in Colorado. The general bigotry of many white Coloradans was fertile ground for the Klan's ideology. The following is from a brief biography of Clarence Morley, elected Colorado governor in 1924:

Morley's political ascent paralleled an anti-minority, anti-foreign, anti-Jewish, and anti-Catholic sentiment that existed throughout the country during the 1920's. Proponents of these beliefs found many supporters in the Ku Klux Klan, which in Colorado came under the leadership of the charismatic and persuasive John Galen Locke. Locke focused less on the overt violence and racism that characterized many other Klan groups and more on creating one of the strongest political machines that Colorado had thus far seen. As the Denver Post wrote, "..beyond any doubt the KKK is the largest and most cohesive, most efficiently organized political force in the state…" Under Locke's control, the Klan secured a variety of political seats and gained advantageous alliances, including one with Ben Stapleton, mayor of Denver. Taking advantage of weak leadership in the Republican Party, the Klan promoted Judge Morley as the party's choice for governor. The primarily conservative voters of Colorado tended to vote for a straight Republican party ticket, and thus also chose the Klan. The Republicans, top-heavy with Klan members, won the 1924 election by a landslide. The Klan instituted Morley as Governor, obtained a majority in the House and Senate, elected the Secretary of State, and secured a Supreme Court Judgeship as well as seven benches on the Denver District Court. John Galen Locke's Ku Klux Klan now seemed to be in control of the Colorado political system.

Here's a barbecue outside Boulder in the '20s:


Van Cise was no fan of the KKK, and campaigned against it. This is from the Rocky Mountain News website:

Early anti-Klan sentiment was ineffective. Denver Mayor Dewey Bailey condemned the Klan, and Denver District Attorney Phillip Van Cise crusaded against it, sending agents to infiltrate the organization. He also convened a grand jury in 1921. It returned after a month with no indictments, only a recommendation for further investigation.

Col. Van Cise even appears in a recent book called The Binding Oath by Sybil Downing. This from a description of the book:

On a hot June day in 1922, the Grand Dragon of Colorado's Ku Klux Klan holds a press conference in Denver's most elegant hotel, announcing that the Klan intends to recall the popular district attorney and replace him with one of its own members. Much to his dismay, Liz O'Brien, a smart, determined, and independent-minded reporter from The Denver Post, is the only person who attends. Her editor dismisses the story as unimportant, but when Liz stumbles upon a murder in the Denver slums, she suspects that the Klan is involved. Hampered by a police force riddled with corruption, the district attorney Phil Van Cise vainly struggles to produce the killer. Liz becomes convinced that Van Cise's recall will unleash Klan rule across Colorado and, armed only with the victim's name, she races against time to uncover the evidence that will lead to the killer and stop the growing wave of terror.

In fact, it was that first told us what happened to Louis Belonger. The very same article tells us what happened after Lou's arrest:

In 1923, organized crime in Denver was changing from old west dominance to a different evil that was sweeping across the country. Benjamin Stapleton was elected mayor with the support of the Ku Klux Klan. Much of the Klan's appeal in the 1920s was due to its promise to restore law, order and morality to America. To repay political debts, Stapleton allowed Klansmen to be hired as police officers, including the Chief of Police, William Candlish. The new chief quickly abused his powers and intimidated political opponents and labor leaders in the city, imposing his own brand of morality.
By April 1925, Stapleton had had enough of Candlish's performance and secretly deputized 125 members of the local American Legion to carry out a series of raids. The raiders rounded up 200 bootleggers, gamblers, and prostitutes and uncovered a network of corruption controlled by Candlish's handpicked Klan vice squad. Candlish was fired along with twelve other Klan affiliated policemen.

Same old song and dance; who's reforming the reformers?

And the mafia? This takes place two months after Lou's arrest:

Policeman Richie Rose
Denver Police Department
On October 31, 1922, Policeman Richie Rose stopped at his house between 1:30 and 2:00am to have breakfast with his wife. He said his goodbyes and headed toward the call box at 41st and Lipan, just northwest of his home. After he walked through a vacant lot and crossed 38th, Rose saw a darkened car parked in the middle of the street. As he approached the car, several shots rang out from the vehicle. Rose ran behind a power pole near the alley and returned fire at the car. From behind some railroad ties in the alley, two other men shot at Rose, hitting him. As he lay unconscious, the unknown assailants took Rose's gun and fired all of the bullets into his body. Rose was then carried to a tavern at 38th and Lipan. Police and an ambulance responded 1½ hours later, but by then he had died. His last words were, "Mafia, Mafia, Mafia".
The killers are unknown, but it was suspected that Rose was ambushed by bootleggers.

From what I can determine, the Carlino brothers were active in Pueblo in the early Twenties. Joe Roma was the boss of Denver in the Thirties. I can't yet tell when they first came West.

I do find it interesting that the Blonger Bros. career seemed to span the entirety of the Wild West era, from before the Civil War when Sam took his first trip to Colorado and beyond, until Lou's arrest in 1922. It was the end of an age in Colorado, the passing of the Knights of the Green Cloth, who had come to wield such power as the men among men of the West.



A quick check of Colorado's Historic Newspaper Collection for "Carlino" tells us Laboris Carlino was busted for attempted robbery in 1913, accused of shooting at Harry McAndrews, while Carlino's girlfriend "rained blows" upon him.

In October of 1922, Pete Carlino confessed in Boulder to robbing post offices. Must have just been getting up to speed.

In 1923 Charles Carlino and Dominick Ingo were killed with "felonious intent" by John and Vitto (Pete) Danno and Carlo Valento.

Joe and Carrie Viles

Correspondent Sara Winsor Johnson, great neice of Joe's wife Carrie Winsor Viles Blonger, checked in recently with further news. Joe and Carrie were married in 1902 for just a year or two.

Carrie bought Joe's 160 acres a year after her husband's [Charles Viles] death. The next year she married Joe. I think he was cool to get his land back (ha) that way. That is why it is recorded in family stuff that my grandfather bought the land from Joe (again). After their brief marriage, Carrie married a Hume as I told you earlier. It turns out no one liked Hume. He came from Ohio, which is where the Winsor family made a brief stop before going to Waukasha, WI where Carrie married Viles. Do you think that Hume just hung out waiting for Viles to die and Joe messed up his plans? He died ten years after their marriage and Carrie died around 1914 or so. What a soap opera.

-Sara Winsor Johnson

Intrigue in the Southwest. I bet she was a looker.


Get Well, Jack

Our best wishes go out to Jack Davidson, our faithful Denver researcher, who is currently recovering from surgery. Get well soon, Jack!

The Blonger

Another "blonger" hit added to, this time a cryptic notation in an apparently untraceable, undated "information circular." As luck would have it, however, the notation includes three terms that give us a good clue as to the subject matter: Chrysolite, Climax, and Robert E. Lee.

And what do these three have in common? They were and are Leadville mines. We proceed on the assumption, therefore, that the Blongers had a mine named Blonger in Leadville.

Lou's Haunts

On a recent visit to Denver, Scott, Jeff and sister Linda checked out a few Blonger sites. Below is Lou's grave in Fairmount. No, his stone is not the big white one, but the little brown one behind. The obelisk belongs to W.S. Iliff — who, in all probability, was related to J.W. Iliff, one of the subscribers to the secret fund DA Van Cise used to pay for Lou's investigation.


Below is the reservoir that irrigated Lou's famous cherry orchard, which was across the road. It's an old subdivision now.



Rogues Gallery

Michael Webb found some familiar faces in a box full of artifacts from Jacksonville, Florida. We believe them to be part of the Jacksonville, Florida police department's rogues gallery — a collection of mugshots kept by for possible future use in identifying criminals.

Everyone in the collection was arrested in Van Cise's raid in 1922, as noted at the bottom of each. This represents nearly everyone arrested that day, save Lou, Kid Duff, and a few others. These represent the first actual artifacts we've found relating to the Blongers.

See them all

William Loftus


Florida Mugshots


Things on first notice. The tallest is 5-10 1/2, a couple at 5-9 1/2.

There is a notation on Charles Smith that he jumped bond in Miami(?) in Jan 1923. I think you are right in presuming these were printed right after their arrest. Not sure WHY they were printed, seeing as they were in custody, but that's another question.

The F.P. numbers, I discovered, have to do with fingerpint classification, the Henry Classification System. As such they are of no enduring interest to us, so I don't think I'm going to spend much time trying to decipher them.

I like how they list occupations for all of them. (but Jack Hardaway=gambler)

John Grady looks kind of like Bluto.

For the most part, these guys look like they had tough lives.


Sam's Deputies

Earlier we analyzed a dissertation titled Rogues to Public Servants: Early Albuquerque Marshals, by Michael H. Reggio. In summarizing Sam's tenure as marshal of New Albuquerque, Reggio managed to fill in some blanks for us regarding the public's opinion of Sam. In essence — con men were a problem in town, Sam was thought to be lax in the execution of his duties, and his deputies were viewed with distaste by many. His deputies — or his posse, at least — would include brother Lou, gambler and gunman Charlie Ronan, Judge Dan Sullivan, Cornelio Murphy, W.H. Burke, Selso Guteries, Tom Bonner, jailer Perfecto Sanchez.

Reggio recounts an incident involving Murphy and Sanchez running down an escaped prisoner. We missed an article on the subject the first time around, but Scott came across it yesterday:

Albuquerque Morning Journal, June 29, 1882

An Escaping Prisoner Shot and Killed by the Jailer.
The Particulars of the Shooting at Isleta Yesterday Afternoon.
Two prisoners confined in the old town jail made their escape some time during Tuesday night by digging a hole through the adobe wall. Their names could not be ascertained, as the jailer, Sanchez, in company with Officer Murphy, started after them yesterday morning.
Last night Marshal Blonger received a dispatch from Murphy, dated at Isleta, stating that the men had been overhauled and one of them killed by Sanchez. No further particulars were received, and Marshal Blonger and Judge Sullivan boarded the Pacific express last night and went down to the junction to learn the particulars of the killing.
From a train hand on a freight train which came through Isleta about 5 o'clock yesterday afternoon, the JOURNAL learned that the fugitives had been overtaken near the bridge which crosses the river at Isleta, and that while the officers were attempting to put the irons on them, one of them started to run. He was ordered to halt by Sanchez, but did not heed the command. Sanchez then fired at the fleeing fugitive, the ball entering the back of the head and piercing the brain, killing him almost instantly. The body was lying on the ground just north of the railroad bridge, and about fifty feet from the track.
The man could not have been charged with any crime greater than assault and battery, and there were […] ting a grave offense. The supposition is that the unlucky fellow is the man who was engaged in a street brawl on the corner of Railroad avenue and Second street Sunday night. If this was the person he was serving a sentence of thirty days for being drunk and disorderly.
The news as soon as received here, spread like wild fire, and became the principal topic of conversation upon the streets. The general impression seemed to be that there could hardly be sufficient provocation for killing the prisoner, as he was known to be unarmed, and as his offense was a petty one. Even if he had escaped it would have been the best thing that could have happened. It would be well, however for people to suspect judgment in the matter until the officers have had an opportunity to give an account of the killing. The entire party will arrive here on the Atlantic and Pacific train this morning.


Leadville, 1879

Here's the guy who beat out Sam for mayor.

Fort Collins Courier, June 12, 1879

Leadville's Police Mayor
A drunken man lay sprawled out upon the walk at the corner of Main street and Harrison avenue, says the Eclipse. Of course there was not a policeman in sight, but Mayor James, who is always "happening around," walked up, collared the drunkard, and led him away to jail. The remark made by rather a profane spectator is worthy of reproduction. Said he: "That's a h—ll of a note; Mayor James has to run round and make arrests, while the police are down on State street, drinking with bunko thieves and the girls."

January 2006



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