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Alias Soapy Smith

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The Famous Blonger Bros.


May 2006


Soapy's Departure

Scott found an article from the Kansas Star, September 7, 1932, that looks back on Soapy Smith's career. Lou gets one mention:

Denver, in the years it has grown from a frontier village to a city, has had opportunity to know "con" men of first caliber. But of all, from "Doc" Baggs to Lou Blonger and "Dapper Jackie" French, it must be admitted the fame, ill or otherwise, of "Soapy" Smith is most secure.

The author paints a picture of Soapy as strikingly generous, as willing to part with cash as he was hungry to acquire it. Lou was described in the same way on accasion, though he obviously kept more than he gave away. Smith, on the other hand, is described as a true gambling addict, unable to stop until his luck was tapped out.

Of interest is the assertion that Smith left Denver after opposing Lafe Pence in his run for congress, and paying some unnamed price for this impudence. Lafayette "Lafe" Pence was an attorney first elected to the US House in 1885, the year he finally settled in Denver. He was an Arapahoe County prosecutor in 1887-88, and elected to Congress as a Populist in 1892. He lost his reelection bid in 1894. Not sure what the author may have meant.

Gov. Waite and Gen. Tarsney were Populists, too. Tarsney and Pence, in fact, were both lawyers for "General" Jacob Sechler Coxey and his army of "Coxeyites" in 1894, laborers who marched on Washington on behalf of the unemployed.

Soapy's Demise


Denver Behind Bars

More tidbits from Lenny Ortiz' book, Denver Behind Bars: The History of the Denver Sheriff Department & Denver's Jail System, 1858-1956.

In 1893, a mob of some 10,000 stormed the county jail in search of an Italian immigrant accused of murdering a white veteran. They strung him up at Colfax and Santa Fe.

In August of 1895, a "patrol box" was installed at Larimer and 20th, an iron box capable of holding up to three men in custody. Closing the door alerted headquarters to dispatch a patrol wagon.


Ortiz has a thing or two to say about a few more folks we're already familiar with.

Denver Behind Bars: Sheriff William Burchinell

Ortiz informs us Burchinell was elected sheriff in '91 and '93. He was a Republican, and — surprise — a majority holder in an important mine, the Denver. Ortiz makes particular note of the Sheriff's propensity for hiring "special deputies." Ortiz explains that these were basically men empowered to be armed guards, and were at times supplied to business owners in need of security.

What we know, of course, is that many of these deputies were men hired to man City Hall when the governor sent the militia to Denver city hall to forcibly remove the police board. Burchinell's deputies, alongside cops, detectives, gamblers, con men, grafters and petty criminals, managed to keep the militia at bay until the court weighed in.

Burchinell is also familiar from this little story that followed the '93 election:

Svensk Amerikanska Western, November 16, 1893

[From Swedish] So it goes. Shortly after the results of the election became known, those who were out on the streets of the city witnessed a comic opera, so that citizens who were unfortunate enough to vote for the "gang's" slate could come and see what they had chosen. Deputy sheriffs Sam Emerick, Leonard de Lue and Fred Harris had hired a wagon and drove around the city to celebrate their victory; that the election was theirs is something voters should already realized ahead of time. On the back of the wagon a sign was attached that read in large letters: "A vote for Burchinell is a vote for Leonard de Lue and Sheeney Sam." Of course they were drunk; otherwise they might not have wanted to openly acknowledge that misery. But so it was. Their slate had won and the hooligans celebrated their victory.

CHNC tells us more. Burchinell was in the Government Land Office at Fairplay in 1876, so he's an old-timer. He was, apparently a Colonel, in the Civil War, undoubtedly. He worked claims at St. Elmo; the Danville group; the Smuggler, near Leadville; the Denver, as mentioned above.

In 1893, Deputy Tom Clarke — he who threw Lou and his buddies a drunken orgy while the jury deliberated their fate — allegedly offered a delegate to the Republican county convention $300 to vote for a certain nominee. When he refused, the man accused Burchinell of having him arrested so that he would miss the vote. He sued for $20,000.

In November of 1893, suit was brought challenging Burchinell's election. Fraud was charged. In January of '94 there were suits charging he collected illegal fees.

Finally, a little pearl that belongs at the end of a long string of events — the City Hall War, the vice crackdown of 1894, the Battle of Bull Hill, the tar and feathering of state militia commander General Thomas Tarsney outside Colorado Springs, and finally, Lou's involvement in the investigation of that assault. To wit:

Aspen Weekly Times, August 11, 1894

JOSEPH R. WILSON, the man arrested in Missouri for being implicated in the tarring and feathering of General Tarsney, has made full confession. It is said that one or two others have also confessed to a participation in the outrage. As the confessions criminate officials and prominent men in Colorado Springs it is now conceded that the affair was concocted by General Tarsney's political enemies. It illustrates the methods of the republican redemption League, the moving spirits of which are such men as Soapy Smith, Burchinell and the rest of the gang at Denver and Colorado Springs.

Tarsney was commander of the militia at City Hall, facing off against the police, fire and sheriff's departments, and again at Bull Hill, getting between the striking miners and the special deputies — thugs in the service of the mine owners.

But he was also a populist politician, like Governor Waite, who had declared war on the grafters. And attorney for the miners union.

The accusations in this article could really bring some threads together.


The City Hall War, The Crackdown of 1894, the Battle of Bull Hill, The Tarsney Outrage, and W. K. Burchinell

This all started back in June of 2004 when we found an article about Lou accompanying some detectives to Colorado Springs.

Colorado Springs Weekly Gazette, August 16, 1894

Yesterday Peter Eales and Detectives Duffield, Harris and Lew Blonger came down and as usual landed in Oldtown. The usual batch of warrants that usually follows Eales's advent to this county have failed to materialize, up to date.

Was Lou still acting as a private detective in 1894? Was he a Denver city detective? Or simply seeing to business as a mine owner, and accompanying the detectives as a matter of convenience or companionship?

So we did a little sleuthing of our own. A lot actually.

The crime was known as the "Tarsney outrage." State militia commander Thomas Tarsney was kidnapped, driven to a remote location, covered in hot tar and feathers, and then sent packing across the plains to a lonely farmhouse. But who had done it? Who was Eales investigating? To understand, we had to look deeper.

Tarsney was in command of the militia when Governor Waite sent them to Cripple Creek — Altman, actually — to keep the peace between striking miners barricaded atop Bull Hill, and the sheriff's army of "special deputies," sent on behalf of the mine owners, many living in Denver, to end the strike and get the mines producing again.

At first, I thought Tarsney had been assaulted by angry miners, who had ultimately surrendered to the militia, agreeing to allow the sheriff to serve his pile of arrest warrants.

But lo, the Rocky Mountain News, August 7, 1894 tells us that detectives Eales and Duffield were assigned by Chief of Police Armstrong of Denver to extract a confession from one of the accused tar-and-featherers, Joe Wilson, who eventually implicated the sheriff's department in El Paso County.

In the same issue, we are told that Tarsney had since returned to Colorado Springs, where he was to face charges of contempt of court. He was guarded on his journey there by the highest officers of the National Guard, the attorney general, and six Denver city detectives: Eales, Duffield, Connors, Peterson, Cross and Parker.

So now it appears some former special deputies — now unemployed with the end of the strike — had done the deed. Why would they attack the militia commander? Because he had ended the strike peacefully?

Yes. The men who would be special deputies had converged on Cripple Creek from across the state, but they were most heavily recruited in Denver among men who already had a distaste for Tarsney, policemen and firemen who were recently fired after taking up arms against the state militia. A special train hauled more than a hundred, anxious, mostly, to crack heads on behalf of Colorado's wealthy mine owners — the same men who held many positions of power throughout the state, not to mention the fixers and merchants of vice — usually one and the same or friends one of the other.

The Denver cops and fireman had only just been fired. A new police and fire commission had been installed by the populist governor, Davis Waite, and a wholesale cleaning of the fire and police departments was ordered. Gambling and prostitution had also been shut down, or forced underground, or to the suburbs.

And all this was made possible by the Governor's siege of Denver City Hall. He had sent General Tarsney, a fellow populist with political aspirations, to secure the replacement of three members of the Fire and Police Board with military force. Waite sought to break the sranglehold organized gambling had on Denver politics and justice, and he threatened to use the cannon and gatling guns and signal corps on bicycle of the militia to do it.

Meanwhile, the Denver police, firemen, sheriff's department, along with gamblers and con men recruited by the gambling fraternity, had armed themselves and fortified the hall. In the end, the siege was a standoff, and the state supremes decided the issue in Waite's favor. And then his new commissioners shut down gambling and fired just about everybody.

Days later, this same motley crew is on their way to kick some striker ass, and the militia shows up and orders them back to camp. The strike is over shortly thereafter.

And then, when some of the strikers go to court regarding actions taken during the strike, such as the dynamiting of the Strong Mine, Tarsney shows up as one of their attorneys!

So, finally, it comes as no surprise to see this latest:

Aspen Weekly Times, August 11, 1894

JOSEPH R. WILSON, the man arrested in Missouri for being implicated in the tarring and feathering of General Tarsney, has made full confession. It is said that one or two others have also confessed to a participation in the outrage. As the confessions criminate officials and prominent men in Colorado Springs it is now conceded that the affair was concocted by General Tarsney's political enemies. It illustrates the methods of the republican redemption League, the moving spirits of which are such men as Soapy Smith, Burchinell and the rest of the gang at Denver and Colorado Springs.

The preceding is a general accusation, of course, but it has such symmetry that it's interesting to contemplate. The thought of Lou investigating, or at least attending to the investigation, of a crime committed against his political enemy — conceiveably on his behalf or that of his associates, as retribution — is ironic, at least, though not surprising, not anymore. Brazen, I think, is the word. The whole crowd, grafters all. A few points:

1. Sam and Lou were mine owners, including the New Port, and the Forest Queen, which was near the foot of Bull Hill. Eales was a mine owner. Sheriff Burchinell was a mine owner. Hell, anybody who was anybody in Denver had shares in a mine.

2. Blonger's was closed down because of the new police commission.

3. Lou had good friends at the sheriff's department — or did he have them because of this series of events? The same question applies to the Denver city detective squad.


Blonger Mine

Scott finally tracked down the Blonger Mine, which only recently came to our attention.

The Blonger was/is in Leadville, on Fryer Hill. Here it is, center, just off the end of E. 5th St.

Blonger Mine

Now we've got a bead on the Forest Queen, too. It's closer to Altman, atop Bull Hill, than I thought.

Forest Queen

Here's Altman on the left, the FQ on the right, and Cripple Creek beyond.

Forest Queen


Sheriff Burchinell

Greeley Tribune, August 11, 1898

What a pity it is that that grand division of the sheep and goats among human kind promised us in scripture at the ultimate end of things mundane, can not be successfully effected in society at large, and especially in politics, this side the grave. But alas! we fear it is impossible, and at all events it seems to be utterly impracticable in Arapahoe county. If there is a spot in this sin-stricken world where there is a more heterogenous blending of the good and the bad, of the white sheep and the black goats, with, if any odds, a, predominance of the goats over the sheep, than in the city of Denver, we should like to hear it.
And it appears too, that the goats can not be herded in any one party. For of course the goat in politics, is just the same as he is in his own proper sphere in the slums and the alleys eating garbage and invading unsuspecting back doors, precisely the same ubiquitous creature of devilish proclivities in both instances. Take for instance the simon-pure silver wing of the once great republican party; there is a division in its ranks; not on the line of the sheep and the goats, oh, bless you no, but on the line of fealty to Teller and the silver interests. Each wing, branch or chism is accusing the other of a covert intent to turn the party over body and soul to Wolcott and the administration in the coming elections, and there is a big sprinkling of goats in both factions. Just think of Sheriff Burchinell, of George Graham, of H.H. Eddy or Archie M. Stevenson getting into any sort of white company and calling anything else black. And these people--excuse us, these goats are to lead our cause in Arapahoe county and probably control the nominations for fusion in Colorado. There are also goats, for the time being calling themselves "democrats" or "Populists," but we do not need to name them here; the other fellow can be trusted to do that, and especially if any of our goats manage to get to places on the state ticket.
Once more the TRIBUNE feels it necessary to speak in the background this time. If the silver parties can not do this, it will be found that on occasion, the McKinley republicans can, and in that event they will defeat us at the polls.

May 2006



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