The Famous Blonger Bros.
Sorry to have been away awhile, but not for lack of subject matter. We have a lot to catch up on - including more about politics as usual in the early 1890s, and the 2007 Blonger Convergence Tour, just concluded, of California, Kansas, Iowa, Utah, and of course Colorado. Lots to discuss in the coming days.
City of Albuquerque
Albuquerque historian Mo Palmer just published her article on New Mexico's first balloon flight in the Albuqerque Tribune. She talks about our old friend aeronaut Park Van Tassell, aka "The Professor." You'll recall he was pistol-whipped by Lou while visiting the brothel of Lou's "woman."
Good work, Mo. Thanks for including the boys.
Recently we heard from Ellen Bishop, who is researching Billy Nuttall. You may recall Billy was proprietor of the No. 10 saloon when Hickok was shot. He was also in Leadville while Sam and Lou were there in 1879, and Albuquerque in 1882, where he was arrested for a con gone bad, along with Con Caddigan, another theater man and grifter who supposedly worked with Nuttall in Deadwood -- and who beat out Sam for the job of constable.
She is, by the way, interested in any information anyone might have on the subject. [ellenb7580 at aol.com]
According to her research, Nuttall was also involved in the founding of Rapid City, SD. Nutall was apparently well-liked by the Deadwood community and his endeavors supported. He committed suicide (in Denver, September 22, 1896, with laudanum, according to the Aspen Tribune). In 1878 he evidently founded Nuttallberg, outside of Deadwood.
Ellen is currently writing a piece on Nuttall, with lots of great new information on the man.
TRIP REPORT -- Blonger Convergence Tour
The 2007 Blonger Convergence Tour is ovah, and what a trip it was: many stops and much new information. This first report is from Scott; Craig will file his own in due time. Here's a summary of my trip, with wife Julie, thankfully a Blongerphile as well, along for the ride:
June 30: Palm Desert, Cal.
One of the last times the Blongers and Smiths crossed paths, back on Denver's Larimer Street in 1895, Lou was brandishing a shotgun behind a cigar counter in his gambling hall while a drunken Soapy threatened to tear the place up. Not long thereafter, Soapy skedaddled for Skagway and an unfortunate early exit. With Soapy out of the way, Lou quickly and quietly solidified his grip on the Denver underworld and ruled there for another 27 years.
Even given the 112-year interim, we might have been fretful about meeting Jeff Smith, Soapy's great-grandson, were it not for the aid he has give us over the past few years. While we have had little to offer him in the way of new facts on Soapy, Jeff has consistently fed us new information on the Blongers as he continues his research on the definitive Soapy Smith biography.
The first meeting between the two clans in well over a century occurred just where you would expect: at an Applebee's restaurant in Palm Desert, California.
I was there for a conference and Jeff graciously agreed to drive through the pass from his home in L.A. to visit with us. He brought along his son and two scrapbooks of photos and clippings. We found Jeff to be younger than we guessed and thoroughly engaging, afflicted with the same history bug that we have. The evening was not long enough and the table not large enough to share all the memories, but at least we were able to tell some of the stories that have waited so long to be told before it was time to pose for a ceremonial burying of the hatchet.
We wish Jeff the best of luck with the publication of his book. If you get a chance, check out Friends of Bad Man Soapy Smith.
The Blonger and Smith reunion
July 6: Silver Reef, Utah
The first stop Tour took us to Silver Reef, Utah, a ghost town (or nearly so) in the southwestern part of the state, just off Interstate 15 near Leeds. By Lou Blonger's account, he and brother Sam spent part of 1878 here during the silver boom, before departing for Salt Lake City and then Leadville.
Our sojourn here was brief but not unproductive. The history of the town is featured in a combined museum and art gallery that resides in the old Wells Fargo station, the only building remaining from the boom days. In a small adjoining building, a diorama gives a bird's-eye view of the streets, buildings, and mines as they appeared in the 1870s. We didn't find the Blonger name in any of the clippings that graced the walls of the museum, but that wasn't too surprising, given the boys' short stay.
Out back, we saw the remains of some buildings and mine workings, butted up against a low hogback ridge of white sandstone that gave the town its name. (Curiously, the ridge itself is named White Reef, not Silver Reef.) White/Silver Reef is allegedly the only place in the world where silver has been found in sandstone. I can see why the early miners scratched their heads; I'm not a geologist, but it seems odd to me.
The boom ran from 1878 to 1882, when up to 2,000 miners swelled the tiny settlement. By 1891 the town was practically deserted. Various efforts through the years to revive the mines failed. But fairly recently the area was turned over to a different purpose and civilization is now close too close. A mansion with a swimming pool sits just a couple of hundred feet from the museum and there are several similarly styled homes on the road up to the old town site.
We'll dig some for information on the brief Blonger stay here, but outside of a newspaper item or two there is likely no trace remaining.
Wells Fargo office at Silver Reef, Utah
White Reef, a low ridge of sandstone, is sandwiched between the
ruins of old Silver Reef and the Pine Valley Mountains.
July 7: Glenwood Springs, Colo.
So we were taking this short side trip off the Interstate, looking for a hotel we booked long ago for a vacation not taken, when we noticed a sign that said "Doc Holliday's Grove". Doc Holliday's grove of what, we asked ourselves. Was he a tree-hugger? Oh, Doc Holliday's GRAVE. Yeah, sure, we'll see that. Unfortunately, cemeteries in Colorado aren't as flat and accessible as those in Illinois. The sign pointing the way to the Pioneer Cemetery indicated it was "strenuous" half-mile hike and advised us to bring plenty of water. Lacking the courage, both liquid and otherwise, we left the struggle for another day.
Doc's spirit we had hoped to conjure
To ask him if he'd known a Blonger.
July 8: Georgetown, Colo.
Did Lou Blonger run a vaudeville theatre in Georgetown, Colorado, or is that simply wishful thinking on our part? The evidence so far is a brief article and a single advertisement that ran in the Colorado Miner on Nov. 15, 1879. Together they trumpeted the opening of the Novelty Theatre, promising to "open every evening with a choice, varied and refined vaudeville entertainment."
We don't know for certain that the Blonger mentioned in these articles is Lou or any brother, for that matter. But Lou and Sam were known to be in Leadville around this time, and Georgetown is only about 40 miles away as the crow flies. The venture does not seem to have been long-lasting. Later newspapers are mum on the theater, and it's certain Lou and Sam vacated the mountain area for good in 1880 or 1881.
Which building might have housed the Novelty Theatre? There a good prospect still operating in downtown Georgetown, serving up ice cream and fudge instead of bawdy entertainment. At the corner of 6th and Taos sits the old Cushman Block, built in 1872. For about a century it housed a theater on the second and third floors, until a particularly large snowstorm caused the roof to collapse.
Another possibility is the McClellan Opera House, kitty-corner from the Cushman, built in 1869 and destroyed by fire in 1892. Theaters frequently passed from one owner to another. It's possible either of these places could have been renamed the Novelty Theatre during Day & Blonger's abbreviated and apparently unsuccessful turn as impresarios.
The Cushman Block is a possible candidate for the Novelty Theatre
July 8: The Blonger Mine, Leadville, Colo.
We didn't hold out much hope of finding the actual Blonger Mine at the coordinates given by mindat.org: 39°15'04" N , 106°16'21" W. That spot is right in the middle of the Fryer Hill section that was well worked over in 1880s and is yards from some still-active mining operations. Despite that knowledge, we wanted to at least get close to where the Blongers, particularly Simon and Marvin, spent their days during the big silver boom. The coordinates indicate a spot a little out of town, midway between the Fifth and Seventh Streets, in an area called Stray Horse Ridge. Within a few hundred feet of this spot in all directions, millions of dollars of silver were extracted, though how much came from the Blonger Mine is unclear. The Matchless Mine of Baby Doe Tabor fame is just over the hill; we were running on fumes late that day and didn't have the energy to take the tour.
What we found, when we surmounted the small ridge, were numerous filled-in shafts, broken glass, rubble, and tailings in all directions, and just a few reminders of the workings that must have covered the hill back in its heyday. Unlike the situation in Phillipsburg, Montana, where the mines of Granite sat high and far above the town, here at Leadville Marvin and Simon were within easy walking distance of their workplace. In particular, I was surprised by how small Fryer Hill was: not a mountain but a knob, just 200 feet above the town and barely noticeable against the backdrop of truly awesome peaks that surround Leadville.
We're seeking an expert that will help us identify the exact spot of both the Blonger Mine and the Hibernian Lode (which may be the same claim) and perhaps gain some insight into the lives of the people who worked there.
Near the site of the Blonger Mine, looking west toward Leadville
Active workings to the southeast of the Blonger site
July 9: The Forest Queen Mine, Cripple Creek, Colo.
Up in the hills above Cripple Creek lies Lou and Sam's gold mine literally. But what of the Forest Queen? Through the years we've been able to put together a few facts, figures, and documents, but we've never been able to make sense of the whole picture: who owned it, how it worked, and how much money it made. We'd also pretty much given up hope of seeing the actual mine. We were warned a couple of years ago that the existing Forest Queen workings were in danger of being removed in favor of a larger mining operation.
Craig and I made this trip together, so I am sure he will add some thoughts in his own write-up. For me, it was a homecoming to a place long imagined. Armed with pictures, maps, and Google Earth, Cripple Creek looked pretty much as I envisioned, nestled in a valley facing Ironclad Hill to east. In recent years, after casino gambling was legalized, Cripple Creek has undergone a revival. The difference is, these aren't the mega-casinos of Las Vegas, the more manageable gambling hotels of Lake Tahoe, or even the riverboats of Elgin, Aurora, and Joliet. These are mini-casinos built into restored 1890s storefronts. The revenues appears to have transformed the old town. The place looked fresh and vibrant and was packed with tourists on a Monday, though in fairness, many of them were probably just handle-pullers.
No such entertainment for us. We lumbered up the side of the hill to search for the Forest Queen, or what was left of it. In contrast to Leadville, this hill was a lot steeper than I expected, and the claim was well up the slope from the road, about 200 feet higher in elevation if the topographic map is to be believed. Craig and I managed to walk up the incline and snap a few shots of the activity at the top, where we believe the Forest Queen workings used to be.
Looking up toward the Forest Queen Mine
Active mine operations near the Forest Queen, with Ironclad Hill in the distance
Afterward we visited the Cripple Creek District Museum and made a neat discovery with the help of Jan, the museum guide. Inside a folder on the Forest Queen Mine, we found a 20-page document that summarized the ownership and the output of the Forest Queen. The paper was written in 1981 by a descendant of O.W. Jackson, who, along with Sam and Lou, was one of the original partners in the mine. This descendant, who we believe is still living, used a box of his father's papers, reports, and certificates as research material, and that's why we'd really like to talk to him.
For one thing, the paper includes a few quotes from letters written by Simon Blonger, who was working on the Forest Queen in both 1893 and 1895, which was news to us. Even more surprising, Joe Blonger was there also, on the payroll in February 1895. Simon summarized the status of the mine in its early days in a letter to O.W. Jackson on April 1, 1895:
We quit work on the 28th having expended the four hundred dollars agreed upon. We sunk the shaft 33 feet and drove the west drift on the 80 foot level 10 feet. In the shaft the ore looks about the same as the samples sent down.
The lessors have started in another place about 100 feet west of where they were working. I don't think they will strike the Pride of Cripple Creek vein where they are working.
The paper also reveals who inherited the stock in the Auraria Mining Company (which the group of Forest Queen owners formed in 1901) after Sam and Lou died. Sam's stock went first to his widow, Virginia Blonger, and when she died in 1950, to Clara A. Keister, her niece. The chain of ownership ends with a mystery heir that we hope to reveal soon.
Lou's stock passed to his wife, Cora, then to her second husband, William J. MacAuley, then to his unmarried sister, Isabelle F. MacAuley, and finally to her unmarried niece (who would also be Cora's niece), Edna A. Reading, who died in 1995.
One last item: a newspaper clipping (unfortunately undated) cited in the paper indicated that Lou Blonger, perhaps in 1895, traded his 1/4 interest in the Forest Queen to J.W. McCulloch for 20 barrels of Green River Kentucky Whiskey, "The Whiskey Without a Headache." Much more to come on the Forest Queen.
July 10: Old Friends, Lakewood & Denver, Colo.
We've wondered for a long time exactly how extensive Lou Blonger's holdings were in Lakewood, the site of his famous cherry orchard. On July 10, we met for the first time in person with "Friend of Blonger" Jack Davidson, who has provided much important information over the last four years. Just recently Jack took it upon himself to scour the books of the Jefferson County Assessor's Office to determine what Lou owned, when he bought it, and when he sold it.
The biggest surprise to me was that Lou's holdings were fairly small: just 60 acres centered around his house at 1290 Kipling. His first purchase came in 1911 (book 177), a 20-acre plot marked A on the accompanying map. In 1914 (book 185) he added the adjacent 20 acres (B) along Kipling Street, which includes the site of the house (inside the larger red circle). On Feb. 4, 1918, he added 10 acres to the north (C), and finally on Aug. 7, 1920, he completed the L-shaped parcel with another 10 acres (D), extending the area all the way to Colfax Avenue.
We visited the area in December, 2005, and photographed many spots, including a reservoir near Colfax (solid red circle) that was used for irrigation. But somehow we garbled the address of the Lou's house, which still exists, and took photos of the wrong place. Here's the right one. Note on the map the proximity of Lou's house to the former interurban railroad tracks (red line), making it easy for travel from his out-of-town hideaway directly to Larimer Street.
Lou Blonger's cherry-orchard getaway
Lou signed over the title to the entire 60-acre estate to his wife, Cora Blonger, on Oct. 18, 1923, not coincidentally the same day he was sent to prison. He died there six months later. Cora sold the estate on Sept. 30, 1925, to R. D. Charlton, who later that day sold it to the American National Company. We're not sure what can be made of that transaction, other than the coincidence that Lou's "offices" were above the American National Bank. Whatever the circumstances, Lou's substantial holdings provided his long-suffering wife a tidy nest-egg, allowing her to live her later years at the swanky Cosmopolitan Hotel.
The parcel was flipped yet again in 1926, sold to the Bennett and Myers Investment Company. After two acres were sold on the side in 1928, the remainder was platted as the Lakewood Heights subdivision in 1937 and 1938. The cherries couldn't have lasted much longer.
Thanks to Jack, our most loyal correspondent, for digging up this information. I have a feeling we'll be seeing more on this topic soon.
After our Lakewood visit, it was off to Denver to say hello to Judge Larry Bohning, a Blonger aficionado from way back because of his interest in the history of the First Universalist Church of Denver. You'll recall that it was at the former Universalist building on Colfax Avenue that District Attorney Philip Van Cise (a church member) detained the Blonger gang during the 1922 roundup.
Denver is building a new law and justice center, and while some of the buildings are already spoken for, the new detention center still needs a name. Apparently not that many people want to be memorialized with a jail. Guess who Larry wants to name it after? He sought our help, and as Bluto said in Animal House, "We're just the guys to do it!" You'll be hearing more on this topic in the days to come as well.
July 12: Mt. Olivet Cemetery, Wheat Ridge, Colo.
This was our third trip to the Denver area since catching Blongermania in 2003, but the first time we've been able to slide by Mt. Olivet Cemetery to visit the neglected members of Simon Blonger's clan. His wife, Emily, rests there, alongside the couple's son, Fred, and a son-in-law, Jacob Sandhofer. Simon died many years later in Seattle.
The first Catholic Cemetery in the Denver diocese, Mt. Olivet must have been in the distant boondocks when the Blongers were buried there. Now it is a well-kept, windswept oasis among Denver's northwestern suburbs, with a beautiful view of the mountains to the west.
Emily Blonger, née O'Neill, was born in Shullsburg, Wis., and migrated to Colorado sometime after her husband became a mine superintendent in Leadville. She died in 1894 and her son died in 1901 at the age of 24.
The headstones of Emily Blonger, son Fred, and son-in-law Jacob Sandhofer
Notes on a Trip
We passed though Green River, Utah, on our way to Arches National Park (beautiful!). No Blongers there, but the ghost of John Wesley Powell was with us as we crossed the river. With the Ozark Mountain Daredevils providing background music, I explained my "very similar yearning to Mr. Powell" only to find that there was a museum honoring the pride of Illinois Wesleyan University on the opposite bank. Note to museum administration: Your staff should be aware that visitors from his hometown are proud of John Wesley Powell and are surprised by blank stares when they mention they're from Bloomington.
Scott muses on Powell's great journey at Green River, Utah
Also noted: Julie's Las Vegas face-to-face with Hugh Grant (wax), our near-miss with Karl Rove at the Nordic Lodge in Twin Lakes, Colo. (that would have been interesting), and a walk-by with Greta Van Susteren in O'Hare Airport.
BETA TEAM REPORT -- Blonger Convergence Tour
Though this was not primarily a research trip, we all still managed to unearth some good "color," as usual. My wife and I started off on the day after the 4th of July (July 5th), mutts and all, and headed for Lawrence, Kansas.
According to wikipedia, Lawrence was an early hotbed of anti-slavery activity. During the Civil War, Qhantrill's men killed some hundred fifty local men or more, and nearly burned it to the ground.
The significance? Author Matt Braun had the young Mattie Silks looking for work in Lawrence, and finding it as a waitress in a restaurant owned by one Lou Blomger. Years later, her old benefactor Lou would set Mattie up in the swankiest brothel in Denver.
Passed through Dodge. Beat my wife to saying "Let's get out of Dodge."
Fake Front Street
We still have no documentation of a Blonger Bros. visit to Dodge, as has been reported by numerous sources, including one of Lou's obituaries.
ROAMED MINING CAMPS.
The next stopping point in the long itinerary of the Blonger brothers was Dodge City, Kans., where they settled in the palmy days of the then wide-open frontier town. For a time they operated a theater and took companies on tours over the Western country.
Author Robert K. DeArment, among others, places Sam and Lou in town that summer of 1878, along with the Earps, and Holliday, Luke Short, and his subject, Bat Masterson. But the paper trail hasn't surfaced.
Scott Lake in west central Kansas. Very nice.
I expected Cañon City Penitentiary, where Lou died six months into his seven-to-ten-year sentence, to be more like the other three prisons we happened to see on our trip isolated. Instead, you'll find it right on the edge of town downtown, actually on N. 1st St., packed in against a sheer rock wall.
It doesn't appear old in the way I expected.
Denver Post, Oct. 18, 1923
BROKEN BY AGE AND SORROW, LOU BLONGER LEAVES FOR PEN WHERE HE EXPECTS LIFE TO END
Seventy-Four-Year-Old Bunco Convict Weeps as He Bids Farewell to Jail Attaches Embraces Religion of His Childhood.
Broken and bent, tottering under his seventy-four years and his sorrow, Lou Blonger, convicted bunco man, left the county jail Thursday morning for Canon City to being serving a term of seven to ten years in the penitentiary, imposed on him by Judge George F. Dunklee.
Tears streamed down his wrinkled cheeks as he said good-by to jail attaches. To them he expressed the opinion that in going to the penitentiary he was going to his death. Disease has ravished his broken body and his years have taken toll of his strength.
Blonger said as he left the county jail Thursday that the grave will rob the law of its full measure of satisfaction.
No more pitiable figure ever has left the jail for the penitentiary, according to veteran attaches. Aroused at 6:30 o'clock Thursday morning, Blonger got out of bed reluctantly. He dressed, and those who passed in the corridor before his cell heard his sobs and beheld tears trickling down his wrinkled face.
Ready for the journey, Blonger took breakfast. Granted the liberty of the jail during his last few minutes there, he passed among the guards, bidding them goodby and good luck.
The sorrow which was on the man was evident. He cried like a child about to be separated from its mother.
UNABLE TO REPLY TO FAREWELLS.
As he reached the jail office Warden Thomas Clennan shook his hand and said goodby. Harry Livingston, captain of the guards, also shook his hand. To these farewells Blonger could not reply. A wave of the hand was his only acknowledgment. He could not speak.
When the iron doors of the jail clanged behind him Blonger was placed in an automobile of a friend. His physician and Harry Radetsky accompanied him. In this machine he was driven to the penitentiary.
Complying with a request made by Blonger Wednesday, his wife and his friends were not at the jail to bid him goodby. Many friends of Blonger called Wednesday at the jail. His wife was one of the last of the visitors. She left the jail, promising to return early Thursday morning to say goodby. Blonger pleaded with her not to come again, saying, according to jail attaches, that he would rather never see her again than have her come Thursday. Going away under such circumstances, he is said to have told her, would be unbearable.
More to come.
Blonger Convergence Tour
Next it was up to a familiar town, Buena Vista. As a young man I worked on a ranch just south of here, near the silver cliffs of Mt. Princeton. A small cabin north of town, at Sagewood Cabins, would be home for a few days.
Pictures of our front yard.
Soon we were on our way to Cripple Creek with Scott and Julie.
As Scott said, it's a pretty little town, but in truth, the entire main street appears to be one long line of tiny casinos, like J.P. McGills (if that is your name).
Here's what the Forest Queen and it's neighbors looked like back in the day.
Pictured are the WPH, the Norfolk, the Home and the Queen in the background, higher up the hill.
Below is pretty much the same view as it appears today.
The hill is being stripped from the top down. No messy shafts or drilling. Below you can see how it looked a few years ago.
It rains, it pours...
Scott has struck up a conversation with James Jackson, an heir to the Forest Queen and author of a brief history of the mine. More on that later.
Joe and Carrie Viles
We've also heard from Merideth Hmura, who has written a book about Mountain View Ranch in New Mexico, once owned by George Viles, son of Joe Blonger's wife Carrie Viles. She informs us Joe had a piece of land in Cowles, NM. Again, more to come.
War of the Fixers?
The saporaceously-named Mr. Smith makes yet another great find, a letter to Soapy from W.R. Phelps, sent from Victor (near Cripple Creek), asking Soapy to remit the bond money put up by Phelps when Soapy and brother Bascomb were arrested for assaulting Johnny Hughes of the Arcade in 1895.
It is recalled that the Smith brothers, drunk that night, having already beat on the chief of police, stumbled into the Blongers' place, looking for trouble, only to be dissuaded by a cop looking out for their well-being. According to the scuttlebut, Lou was hiding behind the bar with a shotgun, and this anecdote has always served to fuel speculation of a rivalry between the Smiths and the Blongers. Within months, in fact, Soapy would leave Denver, feeling the heat, and the Blongers would begin their reign over the bunko trade, taking it to new heights, even as Bascomb continued to languish in jail.
Another letter, recently come to light, put a twist on things. Bascomb, writing to Soapy, mentions a warrant out for Sam, issued in connection with a con pulled by two of Soapy's men. The implication was that the Blongers and the Soap gang worked together at some point, at least, to some extent.
Then, very recently, an article surfaced stating Soapy was partnering with the Blongers at 1744 Larimer though this may be best understood to describe some working relationship besides an actual partnership. Perhaps the Blongers were paying Soapy and Boodle Hall, perhaps Soapy's men were bringing suckers to the Blonger joint for skinning. Maybe both. But again, no evident antipathy.
But most interesting to us about this new letter is, of all things, the envelope. Notice:
Col. Jeff Smith, care of Lou Blonger, Larimer Street. This was while Soapy was laying low. His associate obviously knew he could get a note to Soapy through Lou.
Our natural inclination to suspect a rivalry between the factions is being sorely tested.
I may rely too heavily on Lou the gangster. Soapy was one, obviously. He was always surrounded by a coterie of con men, and he apparently directed their actions.
In contrast, the Blongers always ran saloons and gambling houses, and have not usually been described as being in the company of a gang. They may have had their minions, their gang, we don't really know, or perhaps they facilitated the work of other gangs, who brought suckers to the tables (likely), or otherwise used the building to make the sting, the Blongers taking their cut.
One might even make the case that the famed Wolves of Seventeenth Street were as much Duff's gang as Lou's. As "manager," Duff gave them their marching orders. He reportedly took home as good or nearly as good as Lou. Lou's duties were those of fixer, not gang leader, giving his blessing to new recruits and keepin the law on a tight leash. His hands were clean to the extent that he never got near an actual con in his later years.
Nevertheless, one could be forgiven for thinking the Denver bunko "franchise" might be worth fighting for. The industry was evidently in the hands of Chase and Smith in the early 1890s, and by the late 90s, Lou is undisputed king, and remains so for over twenty-five years.
Why was it all so bloodless? We're talking about a lot of money here. What's more, by the 1920s the pols in Denver appear to have been falling all over themselves in deference to Lou. Why? Are the stories just exagerrated? Was Lou that respected? Liked? Or did he just have the goods on everybody at City Hall and elsewhere. This has been the central question since the beginning. How and why was the man so powerful?
A Pointless Gesture.
Smiths & Blongers bury what hatchet?
Blonger Convergence Tour cont.
After Cripple Creek and our stay near Buena Vista, we moved on to Turquoise Lake, near Leadville. Beautiful.
A sealed pit mine just behind our camp.
Of course, we too went by the Blonger shaft, just a stone's throw from the edge of town. It's on Fryer Hill, near Stray Horse Gulch.
Leadville Democrat, January 1, 1881
The Blonger shaft of the Big Pittsburg company was started during the fall by John H. Dunn & Co. The shaft is 425 feet deep and shipments of iron from a very good body exposed in the drift have been made.
It was primarily a lead mine, and a producer. Was it a shaft dug on the Big Pittsburg claim, or just underwritten by the company?
Later we drove through Georgetown and Nederland, where Lou mined tungsten in the 'teens. Picturesque, actually nestled as they are in the mountains.
Scott was wondering if this might be the building in Georgetown that housed Blonger & Day's Novelty Theater.
Looking up "Novelty Theatre" in the Colorado's Historic Newspaper Collection, we find the place run by Mr. Stahl in 1878 and most of 1879. It is covered well in the press, and appears to be having a good run. A reference in one article refers also to the McClellan Opera House, so we know that's not it.
By November of 1879, Day & Blonger are advertising the place, but there seems to be little press.
Colorado Miner Nov. 15, 1879
THE NOVELTY THEATRE.
This place of amusements, under the proprietorship of Messrs. Day and Blonger, with Mr. Lascell as Director of Amusements, has been running to good houses all the week, and will undoubtedly be crowded to-night, as a fine bill is to be presented.
Rip Van Winkle is now in rehearsal.
The performances of the Laischelle Family, as champion gymnasts, gave great satisfaction, and were loudly applauded.
New attractions next week. Look out for them.
By March of 1880, the place is up for sale. It had a bowling alley in the basement, apparently, so that could be the clue that breaks it.
Marvin's Close Call
Found this new item in the databases a few days ago.
Anaconda (Mont.) Standard, August 20, 1907
What was at first reported as a fatal accident happened in Granite this afternoon. Later accounts indicate that while serious in its nature, the accident may not result as at first stated. M. E. Blonger, one of the oldest employees of the Bi-Metallic company, was caught between two sections of an iron smokestack which was being loaded on trucks and severely crushed about the abdomen. Each section of the stack was 50 feet in length, and one section was lying on the ground while the other was being placed on a truck. In some manner the section which was partly loaded slipped from the wagon, one end dropped to the ground and the whole length of the section came down with sufficient momentum to roll will great force against the section which was already on the ground. Unfortunately Mr. Blonger was caught between the two. Word was telephoned to town for a physician, and Dr. Power responded. Shortly after his arrival in Granite he called up Dr. Patterson, and the two attended the patient. Upon returning here Dr. Power stated that it is impossible to foretell the result in an accident of this nature, but at present indications are that Mr. Blonger will probably recover, although severely and dangerously injured.
Marvin did live another 20 years, in fact. I wonder what the lingering effects of such an injury would be.
We just heard from the grandson of the Bunko Trail jury's foreman, Arthur Armstrong, who resisted attempts at bribery and was, as Scott said, "one of the good guys, a respectable citizen who was not about to knuckle under to the con men." Apparently, Mr. Armstrong, his father, uncle and aunt were all under police protection during the trial, and at one point a man with a thompson in a violin case was picked up in the neighborhood.
Great to hear from you, Stuart.
Marion Parker, whom we've heard from before, writes with more info on "Sox" Byland, a member of the Blonger gang.
...I believe the Walter Byland we are looking for is Walter Francis Byland whose birthdate was June 29, 1882. He was living in Dallas, Texas, when he registered for the draft for WWI. He died March 28, 1935 in El Paso County, Texas. I believe his brother was Arthur Sidney Byland who was born January 4, 1876 and died in June 1946.
I believe this is the Arthur Byland that is on the 1880 Caddo Parish, Louisiana census. His parents are Richard and Amanda Byland. Richard was born in Indiana in 1851. Amanda was born abt 1875 in Louisiana. They also have a daughter, Mordella, who was born in Louisiana about 1878. I am not sure if Amanda was the mother of Arthur, since Mordella is listed before Arthur on the census.
Like Running a Marathon
A successful research trip always sparks new lines of inquiry, but a two-week vacation also ends with a harsh return to reality and a desk full of work, the kind that you have to do to eat. Blonger blog updates will trickle out as they can. First up:
News from the Forest Queen
As I mentioned in a post a few days ago, our brief trip to Cripple Creek yielded an important find: a brief history of the mine's ownership and production written by Jim Jackson, grandson of one of the original owners, O. W. Jackson. I've been in touch with Mr. Jackson and he gave us permission to post his wonderful document here at BlongerBros.com. Mr. Jackson is no longer an owner Auraria Mining Company was dissolved after his father passed away but he's kept his father's original documentation.
Using these bits and pieces of history, Mr. Jackson sculpted a timeline showing how the Forest Queen passed from one owner to the next and how Auraria Mining Company was formed to assume ownership. Interestingly, the mine stayed in the hands of just a few people until the company was sold off. And who were those people?
The Blongers, of course. Sam and Lou both had shares in their wives' names. In fact, Nola owned all of the couple's stock for many years. And we already know about Neil Dennison, the dissipating Denver D.A. and son of the former governor of Ohio, whose wife was left to dance just to feed her kids after he went west to find his fortune.
Then there was Robert W. Steele, also a Denver D.A. And O.W. Jackson, an assistant D.A. under Steele. In 1901, Steele became a Colorado supreme court justice, and Jackson became court stenographer.
Coming in soon a few years after the discovery, J. W. McCulloch, whiskey magnate from Kentucky. We have no idea whether he really got his shares in exchange for 20 barrels of Green River Whiskey, "The Whiskey Without a Headache." We do know that Lou was still an owner after McCulloch came on board.
Green River Whiskey bottles, 1892
Then there was Ethelbert Ward, who was Lou's personal attorney during the 1923 trial. Lou was a mover and shaker.
There's so much to discuss in this document that I can't begin to summarize it, but here's an interesting tidbit from Jim Jackson:
The existence of the vein of ore, discovered underground brought with it a second problem. In the mining law, a vein of ore belongs to the owner of the apex, i.e., it is assumed that the vein will be discovered where it is closest to the surface and the owner of that part is allowed to follow the vein wherever it goes. This Forest Queen vein sloped upward and it wasn't clear where the apex would be. O. W. Jackson and the Blongers were worried that they "... were guilty of trespass in taking the ore and are jointly and severally individually liable for the net value of all of the ore taken." Talk of incorporation begins.
In early 1906 the Auraria Mining Company was created. The name Auraria may be derived from the Latin AURUM for gold or it may follow the name of one of the two settlements later to become Denver, or it may have some other source. The corporation was authorized 54,000 shares of stock that were intended to represent a three-quarter interest in the Forest Queen; however, for some reason or another, the 1/4 interest of McCulloch, Harris and Mills did not join.
We'll have more in the days to come.
A New Lou Review
Among the documents Mr. Jackson sent after our initial conversation was a newspaper article, undated but clearly written fairly soon after Lou's death in 1924, that sheds some new light on his early travels in the West and the discovery of the Forest Queen. The writer, Richard C. Markey, writing for what we believe was the Denver Evening News, obviously had some sources who were close to Lou and who knew the history of the Forest Queen quite well. The rendering of Lou's early life is somewhat less accurate, we believe, due to some conflation with Sam's story, as shown in this excerpt:
According to the story, Lou with a brother, Sam, left their home in Wisconsin in the '60's, in one way or another they crossed the country to Fort Kearney, Neb. The situation of the brothers became known to General Kearney, who was then in command at the fort.
Because of the active warfare being waged by the Indians in the West against travelers whom they considered were infringing on their preserves, General Kearney refused to allow the youths to continue their trip.
They remained at the fort for nearly six months, during which time their only shoes were worn from their feet. Then, when the opportune time arrived, they left the army garrison and started across country barefooted and with only meager provisions.
Their perilous journey was never discussed at length by either of the brothers. Indians in roving bands were active at the time against all travelers of the plains and many harrowing experiences must have been undergone by the boys.
They continued their journey to Salt Lake City, where, after a time, Lou got work as a rider for the Wells-Fargo Express Co. His duties in this position were to ride the stage coaches and guard the gold bullion carried from the flourishing western mining camps to the U.S. mint at San Francisco. He worked at this for a time, while his brother Sam worked in Nevada mines, which produced some of the gold which was shipped under Lou's protection.
This all sounds like Sam's trip West in 1858, as related in the Armstrong Account. It makes no sense for Lou, who we found attending high school in Mt. Carroll, Illinois, in 1869. He and Sam left home for good that year, but by that time, they could have taken the train to Salt Lake City.
The discovery of the Forest Queen is revealed for the first time:
In 1891 the Iron Clad Hill district, several miles east of Cripple Creek, was opened. It was while visiting there that Lou, with W. H. Gibson, left the gaming tables and hiked into the hills on a prospecting trip.
They staked out several claims, among them one which Lou named the Forest Queen….
Another of their claims was the Newport, which they sold shortly afterward to a group of Colorado capitalists for $8,000.
The Forest Queen they retained. A third Blonger brother, Simon, then superintendent of the Robert E. Lee mine at Leadville, visited the Forest Queen and, after digging around, declared that the vein was sure to be a producer.
And for the first time, Simon appears in Lou's story as something more than just a distant brother.
You'll want to read the whole article, of course. The closing paragraph brings a tear to the eye:
Lou, Sam and Simon are dead but the name of Lou will be remembered in Denver by at least those of the present generation and the Forest Queen will be his monument after that.
If the "present generation" did remember Lou, it certainly did not pass the knowledge down. Now the Forest Queen, as Lou knew it, is gone, too.
More on the wives
Jim Jackson's Forest Queen summary followed the ownership of Sam and Virginia Blonger's stock to his her niece, Clara Alice Keister. Turns out we had this information already, in Virginia's will, as supplied by Jack Davidson. Virginia Pierrepont was a widow when she married Sam in 1894, so we had no idea of her maiden name. It suddenly dawned on me that I might be able to deduce it from some of the other names on the will. Thrashing through ancestry.com data one night, I determined that Clara's maiden name was Liebermann and that her mother's name was also Clara. Like Virginia, this Clara was born in Illinois with parents from Pennsylvania. If I could find Clara and Virginia in the same family I might be able to determine that there were sisters. But what was their surname?
Then, an incredible break. A listing in the 1900 Denver census showed Gus Leverman ("son") and Clara A. Leverman ("g-daughter") at the top of one page. The listing at the bottom of the previous page, which included the head of household, was illegible. Luckily, some earlier transcriber, perhaps working with a better copy of the page, had determined the head of household was Lena Hall, and this fact was listed in the Web site's summary. And just like that, the 1870 census confirmed the relationship. Virginia Hall, age 8, and Clara Hall, age 3, lived in Chicago with father Franklin Hall and his wife Lena. Sam's third wife had a maiden name.
We also learned something about one of Lou's wives maybe. The new clipping from the Jackson collection stated:
They staked out several claims, among them one which Lou named the Forest Queen, in honor of his wife, who, prior to her marriage to him, was an actress and clog dancer. They were married at Tombstone, Ariz.
Van Cise wrote that Lou's second wife, Nola, was a dancer. But a clog dancer? Seriously? How Nola might be the "Forest Queen" is a head-scratcher. One item is clearly wrong: Lou and Nola were married in Denver, not Tombstone, though one supposed they could have met there.
Finally, Joe's (only) wife, Carrie Viles. We received a nice note from Merideth Hmura, who has written a history of a dude ranch run by Carrie Viles' son in Cowles, New Mexico. In Mountain View Ranch: 1915-45, I discovered among other things that I had miscalculated the location of that Joe's claim, the one that was posted in the Santa Fe New Mexican in 1892. I had determined that it was in the Tererro area along the Pecos River. In fact, it's further upstream, near the headwaters of the Pecos, at Cowles, N.M. And how about this? Joe's claim was part of the Mountain View Ranch.
Merideth's book is well presented and full of outstanding research. But despite her best efforts, she had not been able to crack the mystery of Joe Blonger. She knew Joe had married the widow Carrie Viles sometime after 1900, but since Carrie remarried Benjamin P. Hume on January 27, 1904, she guessed that Joe had died sometime in 1903. We don't know what happened to the couple, but since we know (from the marriage certificate) that Joe and Carrie married on April 10, 1902, we must assume they divorced sometime in 1902 or 1903.
What's even more interesting is the land transaction that turned Joe Blonger's land patent into the Mountain View Ranch. According to the notices announcing Joe's claim, the land, two 1/16 sections or 80 acres in all, was to be registered on April 20, 1892. Joe was no rancher, however, and on June 3, 1892, he sold the land (which Meredith says totaled 160 acres) on a contract for deed to Carrie Viles and her husband, Charles.
Joe, I think it is safe to assume, continued his mining lifestyle. We know that he was employed on Lou and Sam's mine, the Forest Queen, for periods during the 1890s. He was based in New Mexico, however, and at some point he returned to court the widow Viles. By this time Carrie owned only 20 acres, having sold the remainder in 1899. When they divorced soon thereafter, Carrie kept the land.
Why would Carrie marry Joe, a 54-year-old bachelor miner with a drinking problem? After all, it wasn't for his land she already had it. Merideth makes a guess:
Now comes the time in 1903 when Carrie wants to sell the house and land to Thomas Hanna, She can't because for some reason, she doesn't have clear title. There was a suit to quiet title. So Carrie goes to Joseph and they marry so that the land can be sold under Joseph's name.
Merideth has brought some fresh new information to a moribund line of research. We hope to learn more soon.
Col. J.W. McCulloch and the Whiskey Without a Headache
We've known for some time that J. W. McCulloch became a partner in the Forest Queen, but didn't have a clue he was a well-known Kentucky distiller. Likewise with the tale of one of the mine owners selling out for a case of whiskey the pieces suddenly fall into place.
The undated Denver[?] Daily News article acquired by Jim Jackson says this:
Some time after discovering the mine Lou had moved his saloon uptown, the first liquor establishment off Larimer st. His new place was located on Stout st., just west of the present site of the Equitable bldg.
While tending bar there one day he was visited by J. W. McCulloch of Owensboro, Ky., distiller of Green River whisky. During the course of conversation talk drifted to mining and continued on this line until Lou traded this distiller a one-fourth interest in the Forest Queen for 20 barrels of Green River.
As Blonger subsequently remarked to his patrons, "that should be wonderful whisky. It cost me enough."
McCulloch's one-fourth interest has paid to him and to his estate more than $200,000 and is today paying goodly dividends with no indication of immediate exhaustion.
In his account of the Forest Queen, Jim Jackson comments:
Presumably, it was in the latter half of 1895 that Lou Blonger traded his 1/4 interest in the Forest Queen to J. W. McCulloch for 20 barrels of Green River Kentucky Whiskey, "THE WHISKEY WITHOUT A HEADACHE." (undated newspaper story) Mr. McCulloch must have shared his interest quickly since, as indicated in Reference 11, a 15/240 interest was conveyed to R. E. Harris on December 28, 1895.
Evidently Lou Blonger did not divest himself of all of his interest in the Forest Queen for as we shall note in Reference 12, both L.H. Blonger and S.H. Blonger signed for what appears to be a 1/8 interest for each.
Which is to say McCulloch did indeed have a share in the mine, but Lou retained a share as well, which was eventually put in his wife Nola's hands.
Green River was a popular brand for many years, and they made prodigious use of the slogan "The Whiskey Without a Headache." McCulloch was apparently instrumental in the introduction of government bonding, the better to keep the rotgut off the market.
The medicinal value of this Kentucky bourbon was also widely touted, some advertisements proudly proclaiming Green River as the "Official Whiskey of the U.S. Navy, the Marine Hospital (precursor of the National Institutes of Health), and the Panama Canal Commission.
What's more, it was the whiskey that "Blots Out All Your Troubles." Too bad Green River is no more.
Today I conversed with Elijah Singley, a singular fan of the stuff. He was happy to hear about the connection between McCulloch and Lou.
Rules of Prospecting
From the Jackson account:
The rules for locating a gold mining claim, as best I can determine (but somewhat simplified) were;
1. make a discovery (or locate the outcropping of a vein)
2. dig a discovery shaft to prove the existance of ore of a commercial quality.
3. name the lode, and
4. file a LOCATION CERTIFICATE
It is incumbent on the locator to determine the size and direction of the vein which he has discovered and to lay out his claim to take full advantage of this knowledge. It is not required that the discovery shaft be in the center of the claim. The claim may be worked by the discoverers so long as they perform, at least, $100 worth of work on the property each year.
That last part sounds familiar. After years of trying to locate a worthwhile claim of his own, Joe Blonger was eventually more notable for performing that $100 worth of work on a variety of claims for various claim holders, assuring their possession of the claim for another year. He also often bore legal witness to the amount of work done that year on various claims.
It was a especially cool to find that both Simon and Joe worked on the Forest Queen, and for three dollars a day. Four brothers (et al) on the side of a mountain, digging up gold...
The Jackson account makes clear that for many years, the Forest Queen was mostly a hole in the ground being dug by hand. The supplies needed in the first years were of a simple nature.
||1 box candles
||1 ball twine
||1 ore bucket
||10 lbs powder
||100 ft fuse
||10 lbs powder
||10 lbs powder
||200 ft fuse
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Copyright Notice: Original material copyright 2003-12 Scott Johnson and Craig Johnson. Other copyrights may apply to materials found herein. Our primary goal is to reintroduce the Blonger Bros. to the lexicon of the Wild West. We therefore encourage the use of our research, provided due credit is given.