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The Famous Blonger Bros.


February 2007


Mattie Silks VII

Mattie Silks

To reiterate, I'm about halfway through Mattie Silks, by Matt Braun, first published in 1972. Mattie was one of Denver's most famous madams, and Braun weaves a ripping yarn revolving around the farm girl's legendary rise to wealth and power.

But how can you tell the story of Denver's wild western days without Lou Blonger? Braun can't, it seems. "Lou Blomger" is a recurring character in his books on Western crime, and this book, recently republished as "The Gamblers," tells Lou's story in nearly as much detail as Mattie's.

It's a novel, of course — Lou wasn't in Denver in the mid-Eighties as he is in this tale — but it's built on the real thing, approximating many of the major characters and events of the day.

I hope my editorials don't appear to be nitpicking. I know Mattie isn't history and wasn't intended to be. But you know, I want to tell the story, 'cause it's a great story, and I want to take the opportunity to tell you what we actually know about Lou. It's what we do. So I hope Matt won't take offense as the story continues:

Mattie Silks

One night, simmering resentment of the Chinese community flares into violence, and a mob of angry white men storm Hop Alley, beating and murdering Asians, young and old alike. Mattie sends lover Cort Thomson and her bodyguard Handsome Jack Ready to protect Chin Lin, called the mayor of Chinatown, and his wife Matsu. Matsu is shot by one of the mob, Handsome Jack smashes the man's head into a brick wall, killing him.

Later, in the street, a man is selling cakes of soap. You guessed it. Enter Jefferson Randolph Smith.

Soapy had been in town many years, tirelessly training new recruits, building his gang, refining the short cons that were his stock in trade, finally opening the Tivoli. His only real competition is the California Gang, but they keep off each other's turf, so things are stable and Soapy's riding high.

Until Lou Blonger came to town.

Now he's paying 25% off the top, up from the 10% he paid Barney Boyle. And everyone, including Soapy, is afraid of Lou's little enforcer, Slats Drago — my new favorite name.

This fat sloth was the greediest bastard he'd ever seen.

One day Soapy is tipped off that the California gang is planning a big con in Denver, a fixed foot race. Soapy plots to do away with his rivals once and for all — and Cort Thomson is the key.

The California gang have a ringer, a champion runner from California. They pass him off as a novice, and the stakes grow to nearly half a million. But thanks to Soapy, the ruse is uncovered, and the gang is arrested. At Mattie's behest, Lou intervenes, and they are fined, not jailed. Now Mattie and Cort owe Lou — who might be seen as complicit in the swindle — big time. They contemplate leaving it all behind, but can't bear the thought of leaving their rewards as well.

The so-called "Chinese Riot" in Denver occured in 1880, which actually places it prior to the events in the previous chapter concerning the shootout at the OK Corral. On the other hand, Lou might have been in Denver in 1880, but just as likely in Leadville. In any event, he isn't mentioned during this passage.

Noted as having assisted refugee Chinese are gambler Jim Moon, and saloon man James Veatch, who is known to us as the commander of the army of "special" deputies as they engaged the striking miners at Bull Hill. That was 1894; sometime prior to that Veatch served as police chief.

The two gangs, the Soaps and the Californias, undoubtedly come from Wildest of the West by Parkhill, a must-read but dubious in some details. And was Soapy ever forced to give a cut to Lou and/or Sam? That's from Parkhill, too. We can't really say, though Jeff Smith of is dubious, and we have no reason to believe otherwise. Smith was fiercely independant, and the Blongers' real grip on Denver seemed only to tighten as the Smith brothers' influence waned. Jefferson and Bascomb were arrested after the Hughes assault in 1895, and things became increasingly difficult there for Soapy, who lingered in the region for a while, taking time to "organize an army" in Mexico, then eventually leaving for the Yukon.

At the same time, the period of chaos in 1894 surrounding the City Hall War and the Battle of Bull Hill seems to have been a turning point for the Blonger Bros. — many of the major and minor characters went on to positions of great power throughout the West, men who would later be tied, closely, to Lou Blonger and his fate.

By 1898, Lou is well-known as Denver's bunco king, to the extent that the police laugh in Lou's face, as reported in the news, when he charges C. M. Fegenbush with conning him out of $1000.



Mattie Silks VIII

Here We Go.

Oscar Wilde comes to town. The Irish poet will lecture on aestheticism at the Tabor Grand Opera, and would-be Western highbrows flock to the city. Many others take a more cynical view of the lily-gazing intellectual.

As for Soapy's crew, the pickings are easy, and many of the visiting throng find themselves with a lighter purse than the day before.

Including Bill Cody. Having lost a treasured watch, he goes to see his old friend Mattie. Perhaps she can convince "Boss Blomger" to flush it out. No, Mattie says, Lou would never bother. But maybe her men can find it, and she sends Cort and Handsome Jack to talk to Soapy.

Soapy is uninclined to help, but Cort invokes the name of Slats Drago, and Smith grudgingly retrieves the watch from a stash in the back.

Meanwhile, Lou has brought in an expert from the East, one Adolph Duff, aka "Kid Duffy." Duff is adept at managing so-called big store operations like the rag and the wire. Fake stock offices and betting parlors will be set up downtown, and an army of ropers will bring in the sheep for shearing, as if on an assembly line. The take could be enormous, and the operation completely immune from prosecution — Lou now had the federal prosecutor in his pocket.

But trouble is brewing. The bad blood between Cort and Soapy is quickening, and a confrontation seems inevitable. Seeking to save Cort's skin, Mattie approaches Lou for yet another favor — his promise not to punish Cort if his feud with Smith results in gunplay. Lou wonders if perhaps everyone will be better off if they were both dead, and agrees. He's always had a soft spot for his little "towhead."

Wilde did indeed visit Denver, in 1882. The story has its own curious connection to the real story of the Blonger Bros.

Here's what Forbes Parkhill had to say about it in Wildest of the West, Comparing Wilde to Denver's favorite con man, Doc Baggs:

Uncultured Denver was somewhat suspicious of Oscar Wilde's aim to spread culture throughout benighted America. His favorite phrase, "too utterly," aroused the suspicions of rough-and-ready westerners who, accustomed to "Doc" Baggs' con games, saw in the lecture tour an attempt to sell our citizens a cultural gold brick. The following is an excerpt from the "Ode to Oscar," published in the News: When thou talkest of being utter We show up "Windy" Clark who, we will bet Can utter more in the brief circumscribing of a minute than thou canst in a week. If thou dost boast of being too, we will produce Charles Baggs, M. D., who is as too As thou art, and a durned sight tooer.

Too Utterly sounds too much like Totally.

New Mexico businessman Miguel Otero was one of those who went to Denver in search of edification. He was unfortunate enough to meet the redoubtable doctor during his visit, who took him for $2400 in a fake policy shop.

The con is notable first and foremost because it played out quite publicly in the papers. What's more, the accounts of the stout efforts of Otero's son, also named Miguel, to recover the funds are a joy to read. It's unsurprising the younger Otero would one day be elected governor of the state.

In a newspaper interview Baggs readily admitted to the swindle.

"I'm a poor man and Otero is rich. I need the money and he can afford to lose it. He dares not squeal or have me arrested for he is a businessman, has served several terms in Congress and is afraid of publicity."

The check was given to banker Pliny Rice, who paid some fraction on the dollar to Baggs et al. for the note, which he intended, of course, to cash for face value. The younger Otero had him pinched instead.

As for the elder Otero, he was apparently unwilling from the start to publicize his error in judgment — despite the fact that the papers were all over the story — and he never showed to testify, so Baggs walked.

More to the point, Wilde's visit, as well as Otero's run-in with Baggs, occurred at the time of the Earp posse's stay in Albuquerque, which means that Sam was in Denver, too, and that Lou was back in New Mexico, babysitting Wyatt and Doc.

And most curious? A few years ago, Chuck Hornung bought a used book, one volume of the younger Otero's autobiography. Inside was a carbon copy of a typed letter to a friend of the Governor. In it, Otero describes how he helped his father by seeing to the needs of Earp and his men during their Albuquerque visit. He also mentions that Earp and his men were "watched over" by Blonger and Perfecto Armijo, the county sheriff. This letter constitutes are sole direct link to Earp and Holliday.

But if Miguel was in Denver, battling with Rice and Baggs to retrieve his father's money, how could he be running errands for Wyatt Earp in New Mexico?

Earp scholars are interested in the letter because Otero describes the argument that led Holliday and Earp to part company. Holliday supposedly chides Wyatt about his Jewish girlfriend, suggesting he's become a "jew-boy," a comment said, perhaps, in jest, but taken seriously by Earp.

Kid Duff

Kid Duff was indeed Lou's big store manager, a veteran of Missouri's Webb City gang, and Colorado Springs. At the time of his arrest in 1922, Duff was described as a man of property and influence in Denver. He killed himself after his release from prison.

It's worth noting that author Matt Braun endows the story of Lou Blomger with the one major element missing from the factual record — a cold-blooded killer, Slats Drago, the enforcer, feared by lawman and outlaw alike. Now, for all we know, Lou was indeed a muderer. He may have ordered killings, perpetrated by others. We don't know. We have yet to find specific allegations, or evidence that implicates Lou in any murder. But how could a man wield such power over government and the criminal community with no threat of violence? Maybe the evidence is forthcoming, or maybe he just got away with it...



Mattie Silks IX

Mattie and Cort marry in a Tenderloin ceremony of legendary proportions. Gambler Cliff Sparks is best man. Lou drags the mayor and chief of police along, against their better judgement.

Not long after, Cort goes to Murphy's Exchange — called The Slaughterhouse — for a drink. It's Sunday night, business is slow. The only other member of the California gang around tonight is Cliff Sparks, and he's glad to have somebody to drink with. Murphy himself is behind the bar tonight.

In bursts Jim Jordan, his scalp bleeding. He'd been at the Missouri Club, got into an argument with Tom Cady about the Soap gang. and Cady bashed Jordan on the head with his cane. After waking up in the street, Jordan had Cady arrested.

But Soapy won't leave it at that. He appears to the Slaughterhouse door — with Cady and two gunslingers. Smith's gun is already drawn and cocked. He isn't after Cort, just Jordan, but Cort is feeling feisty.

Soapy tells Cort to back off; Cady pulls a sword from his cane and makes for Jordan. Jordan goes for his gun, but Smith fires and Jordan drops.

Cort pulls his Colt and hits Soapy in the shoulder, one of the gunslingers shoots Cort in the chest. As he goes down, he gets off another shot, hitting Smith in the thigh. Meanwhile, Cliff Sparks and Smith's other gunmen trade shots, both are hit, and both fall dead in their tracks.

Cady turns to leave, assuming Jordan is dead, but he's not. He rises on his elbow and shoots Cady in the back of the head. Finally joining the fray, Murphy shotguns the first gunslinger as he moves to finish off Cort.

Jeff Smith was ready for this one:

Looking forward to see if Braun uses the killing of gambler Cliff Sparks in Murphy's Exchange. Soapy and Cort were on opposite sides and both were arrested in connection with the shooting.

On the evening of October 11, 1892 at the Missouri Club, Tom "Troublesome Tom" Cady was involved in an intense argument with noted killer, Jeff "The Black Prince" Argyle, the manager of the club. Jim "Gambler" Jordan who also went by the name, Henry Gilmore, became engaged into the quarrel and was struck by Cady. Cady was arrested and Jordan went over to Murphy's Exchange where he met up with gambler Corteze D. Thomson, known as "Cort" to his friends. Working behind the bar were partners John Murphy and Martin H. Watrous.

As soon as word reached Jefferson "Soapy" Smith that Cady had been arrested, he rushed down to the city jail and posted bail for his friend. Smith and Cady made an entrance into Murphy's Exchange whether coincidental is unknown. Some claimed that as Smith and Cady passed close by Jordan, Cady made a flourishing move with his cane towards Jordan who in turn pulled out a gun and began firing.

John Murphy testified that as the two men passed each other Jordan offered to buy a round of drinks, then added, "I was at Croft's place when you had the trouble with Argyle, and I am sorry for you." Cady shouted back, "You're a ______liar" and struck Jordan, a second time that night, with his cane. Pistols were quickly drawn out by both sides. Cady shouted for Soapy to shoot. At the same instant Murphy grabbed Cady and held him from shooting his revolver. Two shots rang out and Clifton Sparks fell to the floor. He died moments later where he lay. Murphy claimed everyone had their pistols out, but could, or would, not say who had fired the fatal shots.

Murphy's partner, Martin Watrous, testified that Cady had struck Jordan and when guns were being drawn Watrous took a hold of Jordan and threw him to the ground to prevent him from pulling his weapon. Jordan screamed, "Let me go, or we'll both be killed." Jordan broke away and was able to fire his pistol once.

As Clifton Sparks lay dying on the saloon floor Murphy went to his side. Seeing there was nothing he could do for the man, he said, "Cliff, old man, they're off at sheep head, and you're the last." Cliff whispered, "I'm last" and died. Bill Crooks kneeled down over his friend and wept.

It has been written that as Crooks weeped over his friend's death he placed his head down to the dead mans chest, as if listening for any sign of a heart beat. With no one being the wiser, Crooks removed Cliff's diamond stick pin with his teeth.

Tom Cady, Jim Jordan, John Murphy and Cort Thomson were all arrested. Soapy escaped arrest by exiting the saloon when the shooting had stopped. He turned himself in the following day. No one could agree on an accurate account of the shooting. Some were pointing at Jeff as the shooter. Soapy's gambling club and saloon, The Tivoli Club, was ordered closed, but for some unknown reason, Murphy's Exchange was allowed to continue operating.

Cady and Jordan were tried on murder charges and acquitted. Soapy was also charged with the murder and it took his attorney, Judge Belford, nearly two months to convince Judge Burns to find his client not guilt. The shooting of Clifton Sparks was never resolved.

-Jeff Smith

We've heard that story about the stickpin before. Some tell a similar tale of Big Ed Burns.



Mattie Silks X

So Cort Thomson is shot through the lung, Soapy Smith in the shoulder and thigh, and another five men are dead. After a few dicey moments, Cort is on the mend, and soon Mattie sends him off to find her a "cow plantation" to buy, both as an investment, and as an incentive for the troublesome Cort to spend less time in Denver.

But the incident at Murphy's Exchange has had far-reaching effects. Jarred by the grisly scene in the Tenderloin, the general public is in a mood to reform. The newspapers, more interested in a big story that sells papers than reform itself, jump on the bandwagon with all their weight. Then the preachers, then the Governor, and finally the pols.

The situation is potentially fatal to the current order. Lou controls the Tenderloin, and the Tenderloin controls Denver, as he has said, but Case reminds him — the maxim only holds when the two parties are butting heads as usual. Lou's vote is a swing vote. One third votes Republican, or thereabouts, and one third votes Democrat. The other third votes the way Lou tells it to, and so goes Denver.

But if the reformists find a candidate whose appeal crosses party lines, in the service of a popular cause, Lou loses his grip. Case is already acting cocky. Lou calls in Mattie and tells her the fight will cost money; he needs 50% now from the all whorehouses, not 25%. She objects. Slats and Jack Ready take a fighting stance. Sam attacks Ready, but Ready downs him. Meanwhile, Mattie has drawn a gun, and she backs out with Ready, telling Lou she wants out...

Interesting. In 1892 Davis Waite was elected governor, as a Populist, on a reform platform. His tenure would mark a tumultuous time for Denver's vice district. We'll see where Braun takes it.

And Sammy — say it ain't so...



Deadwood Outlaws

Once again I have asked for a cursory genealogical search of Deadwood archives for the name Blonger, this time of the good folks at

They promptly replied that they could find no reference other than the already-known dead letter addressed to Kittie Blonger, from 1893. Thanks, deadwoodoutlaws, we appreciate the effort. We may have to face facts someday. Sam and Lou were said to have spent time there — maybe it was just a quick visit, or maybe just someone's assumption. Joe said he was there in 1876, but who knows? If any of them were there, they didn't make much of an impression.

On the other hand, it appears Kate Blonger was there, and if not for an unclaimed letter, we wouldn't know it...


Mattie Silks XI

Lou sends Sam around to collect Harvey Tannen, publisher of the Denver Tribune. Tannen, a slight man, complies, but is unmoved when Lou orders him to use his paper's influence to defuse the reform movement. Even Lou's threats against Tannen's children fail to motivate him — Lou sems to be losing his grip on Denver.

Van Cise himself asked Harry Tammen why Lou's name had been withheld from the Denver Post coverage of the bunko gang arrests for so long.

"Yes, that was done by my orders, because Lou Blonger was one of my best friends. I hated like hell to use his name, but the story became so big we couldn't possibly hold it out any longer."

And then, of Lou and Tammen's business partner, Fred Bonfils, he said:

"You know, son, Lou taught me the most valuable thing I ever knew. He taught me how to catch a sucker." A moment later he added: "I caught one." He jerked his thumb toward Bonfils's office and finished: "I've still got him."

Scott reports that Lou Blomger also appears in Matt Braun's The Spoilers and Bloodstorm, as well as Shadowkillers, The Judas Tree and Deadwood as previously mentioned.


Bill Nuttall

Having mentioned that the Blonger Bros. may have associated with Deadwood's Bill Nuttall, the researcher at included some info on his movements. We know the Blonger's were Nuttall's fellow citizens in Leadville in 1879, and then Albuquerque in 1882, where Nuttall was busted in a bunko game about the time Sam and Lou moved on.

Billy Nuttall was more of a theatrical entrepreneur while in Deadwood with his love of the Bella Union theatre. His wife "Kate" "Kitty/Kitte" worked at the Gem and Langrishe theatres until his departure in early 1879. He left with many, many, many other Black Hillers following the next big strike. Leadville, CO became a Deadwood suburb with many old friends doing what they had before just in a new location. Mrs. Nuttall and the children Katie E., Lizzie, Mary and Sarah joined him in Leadville August 1879.

It appears that Nutall ventured to the same haunts in Idaho as Jack Langrishe as we find him in Spokane Falls, ID in 1888.

Here is a list of Nuttall's "travels" until his death in 1896. He is buried in Florence, Colorado at the Union Highland Cemetery.

Perhaps the Blongers may have taken the same routes.

Good Luck

Still running the Comique at Leadville
Nuttall, William
Aug 28 1879

Reported to be in Wood River now
Subject Nuttall, William
May 26 1882

Escaped from jail in Albuquerque, cut shackles
Nuttall, Billy
Dec 27 1882

[By 1888 Nuttall is in Washington state, then South Dakota]

As note, we found nothing for Con Caddigan



Mattie Silks XII

Closing in on the end here...

Now Denver's politicos are wondering how to proceed in this climate of reform. Fielding a slate of candidates acceptable to Republican and Democrat alike is out of the question. But perhaps both sides could back a single candidate, a man with a clean slate, no skeletons in the closet. Such a man, if supported by both parties, could make the Tenderloin's swing vote irrelevant, be elected district attorney of Denver, and put an end to Boss Blomger's stranglehold on the city. It could work...

Enter "Paul Vandever," lawyer, devout Christian, upright citizen, Populist candidate. Lou's $50,000 campaign contribution is returned to him in shreds. The major parties run no candidates for the office, and Vandever wins handily against Lou's "Independent" candidate, his own lawyer. Before you know it, Lou's summons are going unanswered.

Not long after, Kid Duffy has suspicions about a mark he's working, but Lou tells him to proceed. Meanwhile, a strange group gathers at the DA's office — state rangers, the DA's staff, and prominent citizens. Now that Ed Case had agreed to turn state's evidence, Vendever was ready to arrest as many of Blomger's men as possible, on bunko charges. The ratag team was a necessity — the city cops or detectives couldn't be trusted. The DA's hole card was a private dick from Kansas City, the very man Duff and his crew had clipped only days before — with his complicity, as it turns out.

So, Duff turns state's evidence, Lou goes to jail, Mattie too, for a few days, and Denver comes clean. Even the bunko men flee.

The End

Everything gets a bit compressed here at the end. In book-time, this is around 1894, when Davis Waite, a Populist, was governor — Colorado's only third-party governor. Waite sent the militia into downtown Denver in an attempt to wrest control of city government from the vice lords. Interestingly, this is actually about the time Lou began to grow in power, following Soapy's departure. His hold on Denver would only grow for many years to come.

It is true that in 1894, the gambling joints were shut down, temporarily, and the vice district squeezed and restricted. By 1901, gambling would be permanantly outlawed. Bunko would be Lou's major crime during his last thirty years. Bunko had the distiction of being lucrative, as well as easy to hide from the public. Not from law enforcement, mind you, just the public, but that was enough, and many people made a lot of money.

Vandever — Philip Van Cise — would actually be elected in 1922. He became the Republican candidate after nominees beholden to a senator and the governor split the machine vote, giving reformer Van Cise the nomination.

As for Duff — it was actually young Blonger bookmaker Len Reamey who turned state's evidence. Duff killed himself on his release from prison. Lou, of course, died at Cañon City penitentary six months after his arrival.

A few parting thoughts.

In literature, Lou is invariably a fat pig, whale-like, bloated, greasy, gargantuan, blubbery — you get the picture. And it's usually intended to emphasize his evil nature.

I don't particularly want to talk about body issues, but seriously, I don't think he was that fat. People love to talk about his bulbous nose, too. To illustrate my point:

Fat Lou

The mugshot is Lou in 1923. The sketch is from Lou's trial in 1924. You can see how his nose, chin and jowls are magnified, his girth increased. His notorious ways seem to exagerrate his actual stature. Or maybe he put on weight in the county jail.

I would also point out that, while Lou may have been feared — he was certainly known as a man willing to administer a beating — it is equally true that he was known as an affable man, and generous. More to the point, he did appear to have a wide circle of loyal friends, many of whom were the foundation of his influence. It was an old boy network, and Lou was one of the old boys. In contrast, by the end of Braun's book, Lou Blomger is universally feared and reviled. And eating voraciously.

I'd also like to say I have a different impression of Sam. I have not imagined him to be an oaf, doing dirty work at Lou's direction, hoping above all to protect his smaller sibling. He was already a seasoned frontiersman by the time he took Lou west in the late 1860's. He was a competent lawman, detective, and editorialist, we are told. He was tight with his little brother, true. And Lou was the people person; Sam is often described as taciturn. I don't know, it's hard to say. I just never got the impression Sam was anything less than an imposing man.

As for Mattie, I think it's a foregone conclusion she was acquainted with Lou on some level. They both lived and worked in the same neighborhood for decades. But that's all we know at this point.



dniM reveN

Thought I'd give it a try and search Google for "Blonger" spelled backwards -- "regnolb". I was quite surprised to get a hit, but it turns out to be an OCR transcription of "Reynolds". Never mind.



The Joints

A new accounting of Blonger joints — gambling houses and saloons — in downtown Denver gives us a new total of eight. These are best dates we have:

  • 1889: Blonger Bros. at 1728 Larimer
  • 1891-92: Blonger Bros. gambling house at 1744 Larimer closed for bunko games
  • 1892: Blonger Bros. saloon on Market between Sixteenth and Seventeenth.
  • 1892: "Blonger boys" arrested for facilitating a swindle in their Tourists Club, 1740 Larimer Street
  • 1894: Club rooms at 1723 Larimer
  • 1894-96: Saloon at 1644 Larimer
  • 1896: Elite Saloon, "Denver's flashiest saloon," at 1626 Stout
  • 1898-1900: Walker & Blonger saloon at 1863 Larimer

Digging a little deeper, Scott has found some pics of Blonger buildings.

1889, the city directory lists Blonger Bros. at 1728 Larimer:


Here's the Duff Block on the left, 1744, and 1728. Where's 1740? First floor of 1742?

1728-40-44 Larimer

Detail from a Sanborn map, graciously provided by a friend in the Smith camp made it possible to put addresses to the photo. Here are floor plans for the block shown above.

1744 Larimer

1894, Club rooms at 1723 Larimer, maybe indicated by the arrow.

1723 Larimer

1898-00, Walker & Blonger saloon, 1863 Larimer.

1863 Larimer (right)


Samuel Walker ran a big saloon out of a two-story brick building at 2054-60 Larimer during the 1880s. In the 1889 city directory, with a business there, living at 1863 Larimer. Taking him back a bit further, he was in Denver at least by 1880. Born in Pennsylvania in 1843, making him six years older than Lou, he ran the Walker Hotel at 907 Halladay for many years before going into the saloon business.



Ghosts of Albuquerque

We just heard from Blake, who is trying to find out what kind of badge Milt Yarberry would have worn as marshal and constable of New Albuquerque. Yarberry was New Albuquerque's first marshal, arrested for murder in 1881 after shooting his second unarmed man. He was hung in 1883, about the time the Blongers left town.

Sam was fifth marshal, in 1882 (a few had very short terms as acting marshal).

Blake says he's an actor, and plans to do a ghost tour of Old Albuquerque. I sent him some links to help assure he remembers the Blonger boys.


Larimer Street

Speaking of Larimer Street — the buildings we've been talking about, the Blonger joints, are all gone now. Denver's Tenderloin district, Larimer Street and environs, is the very oldest part of town, and in the Sixties and Seventies the area was almost completely razed to make way for the modern downtown one finds there now. It's not hard to imagine that many Denverites were happy for the change:

1728 Larimer

But there were those who felt otherwise:

Your bulldozers rolling through my part of town,
The iron ball swings and knocks it all down.
You knocked down my hock shop, you knocked down my bar
and you black-topped it over to park all your cars.

And where will I go, And where can I stay?
You knocked down the skid row & hauled it away.
I'll flag a fast rattler and ride it on down, boys,
They're running the bums out of town.

Old Maxie the tailor is closing his doors,
There ain't nothing left in the second-hand stores;
You knocked down my pawn shop and the big Harbor Lights
And the old Chinese cafe that was open all night.

You ran out the hookers who worked on the street,
And you built a big club where the playboys can meet;
My bookie joint closed when your cops pulled a raid,
But you built a new hall for the stock market trade.

These little store keepers they don't stand a chance
With the big uptown bankers a-calling the dance,
With their suit-and-tie restaurants that's all owned by Greeks,
And the counterfeit hippies and their plastic boutiques.

Now I'm finding out there's just one kind of war -
It's the one going on 'tween the rich and the poor;
I don't know a lot about what you'd call class,
But the upper and middle can all kiss my ass.

Copyright ©1973, 2000 Bruce Phillips


Jack Kerouac

And let's not forget another famous character connected to Larimer, Jack Kerouac:

I got on that hot road, and off I went in a brand-new car driven by a Denver businessman of about thirty-five. He went seventy. I tingled all over; I counted minutes and subtracted miles. Just ahead, over the rolling wheatfields all golden beneath the distant snows of Estes, I'd be seeing old Denver at last. I pictured myself in a Denver bar that night, with all the gang, and in their eyes I would be strange and ragged and like the Prophet who has walked across the land to bring the dark Word, and the only Word I had was 'Wow!'....and before I knew it we were going over the wholesale fruitmarkets outside Denver; there were smokestacks, smoke, railyards, red-brick buildings, and the distant downtown graystone buildings, and here I was in Denver. He let me off at Larimer Street. I stumbled along with the most wicked grin of joy in the world, among the old bums and beat cowboys of Larimer Street.

Chapter 5: On the Road

The Larimer neighborhood was the boyhood home of Kerouac's companion, Neil Cassady (Dean Moriarty in the book).

Dean was the son of a wino, one of the most tottering bums of Larimer Street, and Dean had in fact been brought up generally on Larimer Street and thereabouts. He used to plead in court at the age of six to have his father set free. He used to beg in front of Larimer alleys and sneak the money back to his father, who waited among the broken bottles with an old buddy.

Chapter 6: On the Road



Larimer Street

Here's a Google-eye view of what the Tenderloin looks like today. the 1700 block of Larimer is center. 1728, 40 and 44 were on the right side of the street.

Downtown Denver



You Can Look It Up

Notorious Lives

We've been waiting a while for the debut of Great Lives from History: Notorious Lives, a three-volume Who's Who of crime and infamy intended for library reference desks. With an asking price of $252, Notorious Lives is a little rich for my blood, but I tracked down a copy at the Elmhurst Public Library and old friend Bob Pruter graciously e-mailed a scan of Lou Blonger's entry.

I was braced for disappointment, since Outlaw Tales of Colorado, the most recent offering to feature a chapter on Lou, did not include a single item of our research. But author Elizabeth D. Schafer proved me wrong: For the first time in print, I read that Lou was born in Swanton, Vermont, to Simon Peter and Judith Belonger, and that he did in fact complete military service as a musician in the 142nd Illinois Infantry - all items that clearly originated here on Schafer does a creditable job of summarizing Lou's life in ten paragraphs, and if some of her conclusions are a little iffy ("Chores often disrupted his schooling" - where did that come from?), she hits all the main points. Her biggest gaffe is manufacturing an unknown pronunciation of the surname, BLON-guhr, which is very odd considering that the correct pronunciation, BLON-jer, is displayed prominently on the title page of this site.

The editorial decision to leave out Web sites like this one as sources of "Further Reading" is unfortunate. But Schafer's decision to include as one of three "Further Reading" items a 2002 book called Players: Con Men, Hustlers, Gamblers, and Scam Artists is inexplicable, in that it does not contain a single reference to Lou Blonger (nor any other famous Western swindler), according to a "search inside" on Schafer also includes Outlaw Tales of Colorado, whose chapter on Lou contains no new information and is essentially a rehash of Forbes Parkhill's Wildest of the West.

So listen up, you folks from the future who have made your way to this post! If you want to read about Lou Blonger, there are only three real sources: Wildest of the West, Fighting the Underworld, and of course, this site, until and unless we publish our epic biography.


Hear, hear. And newspapers.

Regardless, it's pretty apparent we were of service here — the early family history, Lou's war record and pension request. She also has the chronology of Lou's ascent down just right. I imagine she made good use of our transcriptions.



Marvin and the Electric Alarm

Scott found this tidbit today. In Montana, 1894, brother Marvin witnessed the patent application for an electric alarm, for use in mines. It was intended to alert the engineer down in the shaft that the elevator was nearly down and required the "chairs" be extended underneath the elevator cage.

Alarm Patent


February 2007



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