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The Famous Blonger Bros.


September 2007



According to Google Books, the book Trains, published in 1954, tells how Lou "met a bedazzled tourist and sold him the gold on the Capitol Building dome."


Imagine That

Here's another interesting tidbit from Jeff Smith. Lou, standing innocently in front of his joint at 1744 Larimer, in December, witnesses the bombing of a patrol wagon.

Rocky Mountain News, December 17, 1893

As the Police Patrol Wagon Was Moving Down Larimer Street Last Night, Some Dastard Threw Dynamite Under It—The Explosion was Fortunately Harmless, but it Created Intense Excitement—No Clue to the Perpetrator of the Outrage, Which is Supposed to Have Been Committed by Friends of Some Vagrants Under Arrest.
Last evening, about 9 o'clock, an outrageous attempt was made to blow up the police patrol wagon on Larimer street, between Seventeenth and Eighteenth streets. Three policemen, a prisoner and a News reporter narrowly escaped death. Just what the explosion was is not known, but it is supposed a small quantity of dynamite or giant powder was used. The act is attributed to some vagrant friends of men arrested during the day by the police and the sheriff's office. During the day over forty hobos were arrested and are now in jail. The police believe that some reckless friends of those placed in jail made the attempt to kill the police officers in order to intimidate the authorities. The explosion at once collected a great crowd, and the culprit escaped. There is no clue to his identity.
The Police wagon, about 9 o'clock, was called to Twentieth and Larimer streets by Officer Morrison, who had placed Louis Keppel under arrest. From Twentieth street the wagon drove down Larimer. In it was Officer Charles Clark, guarding the prisoner, Officer Carl Baker and a News reporter. Just as the wagon passed the Silver Moon restaurant, 1747 Larimer street, the explosion took place directly under the wheels. It is supposed that the cartridge was thrown from the sidewalk. The patrol wagon was nearly lifted from the asphalt pavement, and those inside were greatly jarred. The horses were badly frightened, but Driver Baker at once brought them to a standstill, and Officers Swanson and McIntosh, who happened to be near by and heard the explosion, rushed to the scene and attempted to find the dynamiter. Being Saturday night the street was crowded and it was impossible to obtain any information. No one could be found who had seen the cartridge thrown. Great excitement prevailed, and various theories as to the outrage were advanced. But nothing tangible could be discovered. Bits of brown paper were found on the pavement, but the paper was so trampled in the mud that powder marks were not discoverable. Several of the bystanders narrowly escaped injury.
During the day the Police and sheriff's officers raided a number of the dives and thieves' resorts in the lower part of town and both the county and the city jails are packed. These raids caused some hard feeling among the disorderly elements and threats of all kinds against the police were heard. That any outrage would be attempted no one imagined, but now the attempted murder is charged to some of the friends of the vagrants in jail.
Lew Blonger was standing but a few feet away in front of his place of business when the patrol wagon drove up and the outrage occurred. He states that there was quite a crowd of disorderly dressed men standing in front of the Silver Moon restaurant but he did not see the man who threw the cartridge.
The deed is not attributed to anarchists, as the police are sure there is no organization of the kind in the city. It was purely an attempt to kill a few police officers and intimidate the authorities.



A. R. Gibson

Bill Butler is researching Gibson, to wit, from our timeline:

Joe Blonger and A. R. Gibson make a trip into the mountains northeast of Santa Fe to look at several promising mineral prospects.

Bill is researching one of Gibson's undertakings, Sunmount Sanitarium. Gibson was, according to Butler, president of American Consolidated Copper Company, and mayor of Santa Fe.

Bill says:

Based on the evidence I have, I'm leaning toward the inference that Gibson was a swindler, although he may have been a kind of spectacular maniac, forever getting involved in too ambitious schemes.

Say it ain't so, Joe!


Tractor Patent

From the Annual report of the Commissioner of Patents for the year 1919.

Tractor patent

Look out, John Deere.



Neil Dennison

We just heard from Robert Dennison Frenkel, great-great-great grandson of none other than Col. William Neil Dennison. Faithful readers will recall that the Col. was one of the Blonger's partners in the Forest Queen, along with O. W. Jackson, Robert Steele, and Green River Whiskey's J. W. McCulloch.

Dennison, a decorated cavalryman, deputy Denver's DA in 1895, when Bascomb Smith was in the Denver jailhouse, and the Blonger Bros. were just getting their bunko kingdom in order. He later became a Denver judge.

Robert says his family has historical documents regarding Neil and his father, Ohio Governor William Dennison Jr. They are trying to match the documents to the person, and Neil's entry in the Grafters Club was useful in sorting things out.

Glad we could help.



Mountain View Ranch

Merideth Hmura writes to say she will be visiting Cowles, NM soon, and talking with folks there about old Joe Blonger, whose land patent there became part of the Mountain View Ranch. Taking pictures too. The land is owned by the Forest Service now and the ranch is gone. Merideth has written on the history of the place, Mountain View Ranch: 1915-45. The dude ranch was run by the son of Joe's only wife, Carrie Viles.



The Van Cise Project

Our campaign to name Denver's new jail after the Colonel is shaping up. More soon.


The Blonger Ponies

Scott found a few more Google references in turf sheets to Sam's horses, and an interesting citation in the book The Italian Americans, by Luciano J. Iorizzo, Salvatore Mondello, 1980.


My guess is that Lou is NOT an Italian American. But with regard to what Italian American is he mentioned? Capone? Why bring up Lou?


Not The First

Scott also found that we were not, in fact, the first to connect Lou to Albuquerque... According to New Mexico in the Nineteenth Century: A Pictorial History by Andrew K. Gregg, 1987:

Lou Blonger, Denver's crime king of the early 1900s, was a deputy marshal of Albuquerque in 1882.



Joe at the Little Big Horn

I decided to let the folks at have a crack at the Armstrong account. Joe's tale of his trip to the Little Bighorn the day after Custer's death has long been a jewel among the unverified claims in the account. Let's see what they had to say. First, my entry:

In 1962, a young student in Wisconsin submitted an essay to a statewide competition. Mary Virginia Armstrong's essay recounted family lore shared by her great-uncle Gene, who was in turn repeating stories told back in the 1920s by Gene's uncle Joe Blonger on visits to his childhood home. Joe Blonger is my g-g-g-uncle.
Joe — an older brother of Denver con man Lou Blonger — was, demonstrably, a veteran of the Union Army and a prospector for many years in New Mexico.
Joe also claimed to have spent years prospecting in the Black Hills. The facts as we know them do not contradict this claim. We have reason to believe that he was in Salt Lake City in 1873, but we have not been able to document his whereabouts in the six years thereafter.
Joe made many claims about his time in the wilderness, but most notable was his claim to have been at Little Big Horn the day following the battle, and his subsequent conversations with Sioux and Cheyenne children about the events of the day.
My questions to this learned forum: Is Joe's account consistent in the particulars with what we now know of the battle? Was he full of baloney? Or is it accurate enough for a story told, supposedly, by an old prospector in 1927?
The relevant excerpt from Joe's account:
"Joe tried to enlist to go with General Custer into the battle that proved to be his last. If there had been enough horses and mules for all who wanted to go, Joe, with many other white men would have been killed along with Custer and his regular soldiers of the Seventh Cavalry."
"Uncle Joe Belonger was on the Little Big Horn battle ground the day after General Custer's last fight. A great deal of controversy has been going on all these years about which Indians killed Custer and his men. Some claim it was the Sioux under Sitting Bull; others declare that it was the Cheyennes. The truth is that not one white soldier escaped to tell the story; and both Sioux and Cheyennes were so frightened at what they had done that they all scattered and ran. The few who did talk told so many different stories that no white man could believe anything they said."
"To get the truth, that historians have been guessing at ever since that fatal day - June 25th 1876 - Joe Belonger questioned at least a hundred Sioux and Cheyenne children who had watched the battle in wide-eyed wonder. Those Indian children, every one of them, were Joe's friends, pals, and admirers."
"It is a well-known psychological fact that if a grown-up person likes children, is kind to them, and treats them fairly and honestly, those children will tell that person the truth."
"Those Indian children, every one, liked and trusted the gentle and friendly Joe Belonger. So, when Joe asked those Sioux and Cheyenne children to tell him all about Long Hair's big fight, they declared to the last child, in their earnest, childish ways, that while the Sioux under Sitting Bull had planned, intended, and were waiting ready to massacre Custer's whole outfit, it happened — because of an unexpected move on the part of General Custer — that a large war-party of Northern Cheyennes, led by the Ogalalla chief, Crazy Horse, happened to be closer to Custer than Sitting Bull and his ten-thousand warriors, so, the Cheyennes, who had made no plans whatever to kill Custer, found themselves with a chance to wipe out Custer's command — which they did to the last white soldier in approximately thirty minutes. The only human being to escape that death-charge of Crazy Horse and his war party of Cheyennes, was one friendly Crow scout called Curly."
"The older Indian children went deeper, by tapping their foreheads and declaring to Joe Belonger, that they felt sure the white pony-soldiers must have all been crazy when, watching wide-eyed and speechless, those children saw Custer's small command of less than 300 men, climb down from horse-back and attack the Cheyenne camp, on foot, that held at least 2000 warriors ... and worse yet, when there were at least 10,000 Sioux braves under Sitting Bull close by, ready and waiting to charge into the fight."
"According to earnest words from those eye-witnesses, Indian children who had no reason to lie, Long Hair and his small handful of soldiers might well have been considered as already dead the minute they dismounted and attacked hostile warriors numbering, all told, close to 15,000."
"So it was, in spite of all official reports, that the soft-spoken, unassuming Joe Belonger learned the real truth about who killed Custer. "
"Joe, who kept his own counsel, told no one, except certain close relatives, the facts about Custer's death. This is the first public report. Today, as this piece is being typed in 1962, Gene Swinbank, of Shullsburg, Wisconsin, is the only person living who heard Joe Belonger tell how he learned the real truth about General Custer and the Little Big Horn tragedy."
Thanks much. If you can shoot this story down, please do. We're researching Joe and his brothers and are interested in debunking any claims that require it.

And excerpts from their responses:

That is only a old wise tail. First the Indian would had kill any whites. That would had shown up the day after Custer was Kill. Plus children doesn't always tell the truth.

Well the part about Custer getting killed is certainly true enough; but all the rest is pretty much a largish pile of male cow manure. All of the numbers are wrong, and the fact is that Mr. Bull's camp circle was the first to be fired upon.
Nice family story, though.

This looks to be another tale for your book of tall tales.

Every adventure tale must have at least a few kernels of truth, else it would be relegated to the dustbin without further consideration. Anyone with a modicum of knowledge of whatever sphere he would like to have been in, should be able to spin a yarn that will withstand superficial scrutiny. Sometimes just getting the names right is enough to sustain a fiction until closely perused by a more knowledgeable audience.
Did I ever tell you about my great grandpappy who....................................

And some thought the Indians' oral history was a stretch!!!!!!!!!!

You are very gracious, cjohnson, and I thank you for sticking your neck out to tell us that tale. Few people have been so brave!
In Old Joe's defense, it's quite possible that Mary Virginia Armstrong changed the story a bit to make her essay more interesting. In any event, as Gordie said, it makes a great family story. Just please make sure future generations know that it is suspect. I get heartbreaking e-mails from people who are very sure their great-grandfather would not have lied about his heroic exploits. I try to explain the truth gently, but it's difficult to burst someone's bubble.

To be fair to the gentleman, while the "I would have enlisted if ..." part, the "on the battlefield the day after" part, the "ambush" part, and the "10,000 warriors" part may all be the standard hogwash, he's got a glimmer of truth in the suggestion that it was the Cheyennes (plus Crazy Horse) who played the decisive part in the battle. (One thinks of the old adage "the Cheyennes did the fighting, the Sioux got the glory, the Crows got the land" ...) Most theorists now would agree that Lame White Man was key -- an idea that probably wasn't common currency in 1927. So maybe we're looking at a case where the teller of the tale did genuinely hear first-hand accounts from Indians at some point after the battle ... but the rest of the story underwent the usual embroidery over the years?

Agreed on the part of the Cheyenne & CH playing a major part in Custer's end. Like most "stories" there has to be a bit of truth in them. It's just how much they have been embellished and changed that we need to be concerned with.

It is most likely that Joe Blonger visit the Cheyenne's camp days after the battle itself. It. is also other whites visit the Indians camp to after battle was fought. But not a day just after the battle was fought.
Custer did attacked the Cheyenne camp. It was the Cheyenne that repulse Custer and his troops away from the village. But Crazy Horse was south of the village joining the warriors that had chase Reno and his troops aways. Crazy Horse did play a part in defeating Custer. He was the one that block Custer northern movement and split Custer command in two. Which had cause Custer and his troops to be wipe out.

So, it appears Joe had some knowledge of the day's events beyond the story commonly told in his day — but how can we say more?




Appearing now at the Grafters Club, two new short films by Jeff "Soapy" Smith, The Shooting of Soapy Smith, and Alias Soapy Smith.


September 2007



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