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December 2007


Esteemed Visitor

Today we heard from fellow Mike Belonger descendant Bobbie Fredericks. Welcome to the gang!


The trove of new articles Scott recently dug up reveal a few new incidents of great interest. Perhaps the most important new finds revolve around Sam's arrest in 1895. Two arrests, actually. Taken together, these events epitomize the Blonger's world in the 1890s, including the fix in action, and whatever battle lines may have been drawn between the Smith, Chase and Blonger gangs — something that up till now has been an utter mystery. In fact, it was only recently that we confirmed the actual delineation of a "Blonger Gang" at all in the early days. Good stuff. Let's start with S.W. Wolcott.

The Wolcott Incident

Denver, late in 1895. Soapy is nowhere to be found, and his brother Bascomb is still in jail for assaulting bartender Johnny Hughes. Ed Chase is noted as the don of the gambling halls and policy shops, and bunko operations as well. Sam and Lou are running their saloon at 1644 Larimer, they are both active in the political machinations of the Tenderloin, Lou is becoming known as a bunko fixer, and is reportedly heavily into the policy shop business.

November 11th, the Rocky Mountain News reports that twenty-one indictments have been handed down against the California Gang, a troupe of "pickpockets" hailing from the Golden State. Though the gang is likely composed of both men and women, it is the women who get the press. They made their living by luring marks into hotel rooms where cash could be appropriated in any number of ways — theft, robbery, blackmail. Reportedly arrested in connection with these "numerous robberies and thefts" was saloon man Sam Blonger. Lou posted his $1000 bail.

In actuality, Sam stood accused of cashing a $600 check, won in a poker game from one S.W. Wolcott. The RMN's misstatement was perhaps understandable considering that the Blongers were the California girls' ready bail bondsmen and seeming protectors. But why does this seem familiar? Oh yeah...

On November 18, 1895, Bascomb Smith wrote a morose letter to Soapy from the county jail. What was it he said?

The Grand Jury found a bill agent [against] Sam Blonger for obtaning Stolen goods. It was about a check I got him to get the money out for me when you had the Joint over Solmons Pawn Shop. The check was for Six Hundard dollars. Sopose you rember it. ["Rev." John] Bowers and ["Prof." W.H.] Jackson won it so they want me for a witness. What would you do if you was around?

Sam, taking a check from Bascomb, who got it from Jackson and Bowers, who took it from Wolcott. It's starting to fall into place.

Word of the indictments, meanwhile, hit the street in nothing flat, and the California girls made their own way to Judge Johnson's court to pony up their bonds. May Bigelow led the way. She would have a hearing Dec. 10. Violet Tarpy would have hers on Nov. 23, as would Sam.

On Nov. 27, a long article titled "WAKE UP, WHITFORD" — Greeley Whitford, the current DA — in the Post wonders what has happened to these cases. Curiously, the article conflates Lou with Sam (not that it matters).

Is the district attorney's office guilty of negligence?
There is a possibility that Lou Blonger, the Larimer street saloon-keeper and protector of the infamous California gang, may escape scot-free from the fingers of the law.

Evidently Whitford agreed to a motion to quash the trial altogether, to be heard Nov. 30. Here it's probably germaine to note that the one-time DA Steele — and one-time Assistant DA Jackson, and one-time Assistant DA Dennison — were, and remained, Lou and Sam's partners in the Forest Queen mine.

The Wolcott case was held over to Dec. 20. Meanwhile...

The Farragher Incident

On Dec. 9th, 1895, Chief Goulding issued warrants for Seventeenth street hustlers James Thornton, Ed Campbell, Frank Lester, "Big Al" Hoftes and "Rev." W.H. Jackson for swindling an Englishman the Post identified as "Walter Farazarger," lately of Ouray. The article stated that although Farazarger was not to be found, he would reappear at the proper time to identify the guilty parties.

The same day, the Rocky Mountain News wondered if "Faragarger" had been spirited away again by the con men, or had been persuaded by the police to drop the charges.

Miner Walter Farragher had saved for years for a trip back to the old country, but while passing through Denver he allegedly fell into the clutches of an unsavory crowd. In no time, they were putting him on a train to Kansas City, after magnanimously returning $140 of his $1,100. A conductor convinced him to go back to Denver and make some noise, and so the Chief was compelled to act.

The next day, Dec. 10 1895, the RMN began an article thusly:

Police Compelled to Perform a Painful Duty.
Requested to Call at Police Headquarters, Where They Are Treated Deferentially—No Sweat Box or Humiliating Imprisonment Where the Glad Hand Is Always Extended to the Seventeenth Street Swindlers—Every Courtesy Extended to the Steerers Who Called at the City Hall.

The Big Mitt, previously unnoted here, refers to the practice of roping a mark into a poker game, then introducing a stacked deck at a critical moment. Simple, yet effective, this short con appears to have been a long-time favorite of Sam and Lou, avid poker men.

The article states that two bunko gangs were operating in Denver at the time, and that according to some of the wanted men, their gang was taking the fall so that Farragher would not find the real culprits in a line up. The insinuation, of course, was that the police were complicit.

Det. Salsbury had obtained a "blanket warrant" for several men in connection with the case, and most of them dutifully headed downtown, where their bail was paid by "Lou Blonger, one of the boss bunco men of the city, and Ed. Gaylord." Jack Allen reportedly had the freedom of the Captain's room prior to his release, rather than the lockup. The bonds themselves, usually available for press inspection, were mysteriously missing.

Chief of Detectives Farrington, who would normally be handling the investigation, was uninvolved — Chief Goulding, to whom the complaint had been made, wanted to handle matters himself. Goulding, you may recall, was himself assaulted by Jeff and Bascomb Smith that fateful night back in April when Bascomb laid into Johnny Hughes.

War of the Bunko Gangs

Dec. 11th, the Post had more. "BUNCO MEN IN COURT," the headline shouted, "THE USUAL FARCE WILL PROBABLY BE THE RESULT."

Clarifying remarks made the day before, the Post describes the arrestees, Tom Campbell, "Buck" White, Joseph Thornton, J. Jackson, Sylvester Kline, F. Heffner and J. Long, as members of Ed Chase's gang. Chase's partner in the lottery business, Ed Gaylord, was bondsman to all the men on trial.

The Chase-Gaylord gang is dead sore on the Blonger crowd, and the soreness is intensified now that they have been arrested for an offense from the proceeds of which they have made nothing.

The detectives have been in league with the bunko men before, the Post contends, and the tradition continues. The fire and police board could be counted on to resist calls to crack down, as illustrated by some affair involving $55, California gang member Viola Tarpie, Chief Detective Farrington and our old friend Detective DeLue.

Dec. 12th, and Sam is in jail again, at Chief Goulding's behest, for refusing to give up what he knows about the Farragher incident. Bail is $5000 this time, the arraignment scheduled for Dec. 17 in the court of Judge Howze. Sam waited a few minutes in the hospital ward before Lou came to his rescue.

According to the RMN, "Soon after the the trick turned, the Blonger brothers were called upon to find the guilty parties," but Sam was silent, hence his arrest. The RMN asserted that the Chase gang had squeeled, and their clout won out over that wielded by Sam and Lou. Chief Goulding's private detective agency(!) was said to be making little headway in the case. In an aside, the RMN added: "Blonger refuses to 'give away' the men who have trusted in him. Would that we had a few more officials, we say 'more' out of consideration for the mayor, who resembled Blonger in this respect."

Meanwhile, the promised confrontation between Farragher and his supposed assailants was postponed until the 21st.

Come the 14th, and W. H. Carson is in jail over the Farragher incident, at $3000 bail. Also arrested was Owen Snider. Carson's attorney, fellow Forest Queen owner Neil Dennison and former assistant district attorney, successfully argues to Justice Cowell that the charge is in fact a misdeanor, not a felony, with a maximum fine of $100 or thirty days. Lou was ready with bail, but a new felony warrant was issued and Carson re-arrested. Lou posted the $2500 bail.

On the 16th the RMN finds Farragher sequestered in a hotel room by Chief Goulding. He expresses fear of the gang, and states he'd be happy with half his money back.

Finally, on the 21st, Sam is cleared. Farragher is nowhere to be found, and Goulding is forced to admit that Farragher could not connect Sam to the incident. Sam's trial in connection with the Wolcott incident is postponed until Jan. 7, 1896.

That day it was back to court for Sam, over that $600 check written by Mr. Wolcott. As the Post said, "Wolcott got into a poker game with Blonger with the usual result." Or did he? Curiously, an article written the day of the trial insists Sam, not Bowers and Jackson, won the check from Wolcott at poker, and that the incident took place back in January of 1894, not Nov. of '95. The case has obviously been languishing for a while. This article the next day shed more light on things.

Denver Evening Post, January 8, 1896

For the second time within a fortnight Samuel H. Blonger, the well-known saloon keeper, has issued victorious after an interesting seance with the district attorney's office. After several continuances he yesterday, through his counsel, Messrs. Ward & Welkey, managed to force his trial on the charge of receiving a stolen check. The history of the case is interesting. The check which was made payable to S. H. Wolcott of Catskill, New Mexico, was given on the Colorado National Bank by the Union Stockyards company. Its amount was $600, and represented a sale of cattle which Wolcott had made.
The Catskill cattle man was unfortunate in not being able to suddenly vanish from Denver before losing his check. Unfortunately, on the morning of January 31, 1894, Wolcott made the acquaintance of the "Rev." Joe Bowers of bunco fame. "Joe" steered the New Mexican to Jeff Smith's gambling house, where Wolcott was quickly fleeced out of his $600 check. The same day Bascomb Smith, on behalf of his brother Jeff, visited Blonger's saloon at 1644 Larimer street, and requested Mr. Blonger to cash the check. As he did not transact business with the Colorado National Mr. Blonger declined. He, however, directed Smith to Edward E. Quentin, then cashier of the State National Bank, who, he said, had previously collected gambling debts for him (Jeff Smith). Smith called on Quentin, who accomodated him, and after having ok'd the check presented it at the bank and received face value.
After deducting $20 for his courtesy, Mr. Blonger alleges that Cashier Quentin advanced the balance, $580, to Bascomb Smith.
Blonger was in no manner connected with the transaction, and at no time had Wolcott's check in his possession, yet, during yesterday's trial, Quentin testified that Blonger had guaranteed the paper. The latter never heard of Wolcott's check after Mr. Quentin had it cashed until six months later, when Wolcott's partner began to make inquiries about it of Cashier Quentin.
His recent indictment on such a very flimsy charge was a great surprise to Mr. Blonger. He urged a speedy trial, confident of acquittal, but was obliged to submit to two continuances. When the case was called yesterday before Judge Johnson, the absence of District Attoney Whitford was noticeable; he did not care, evidently, to prosecute. The trial was brief and farcical. At the completion of the state's testimony the court ordered the jury to return a verdict of not guilty and Mr. Blonger was discharged. He was not even compelled to make the least defense personally, nor were any witnesses examined on his behalf.

So what did Bascomb say again?

The Grand Jury found a bill agent [against] Sam Blonger for obtaning Stolen goods. It was about a check I got him to get the money out for me when you had the Joint over Solmons Pawn Shop. The check was for Six Hundard dollars. Sopose you rember it. ["Rev." John] Bowers and ["Prof." W.H.] Jackson won it so they want me for a witness. What would you do if you was around?

By golly, that squares with the article above. But what was that about "so they want me for a witness?"

The same day, the 8th of January, a Post article took a swing at the district attorney, Greeley Whitford. Sources were claiming that Whitford visited Bascomb Smith, three months into a one-year sentence for the Hughes assault, and tried to induce him to testify against Sam.

A separate assault charge against Smith was to be tried that same day, but a motion to continue prompted Bascomb's lawyer to accuse the DA of offering — on numerous occasions — to drop the charges against him, and even get him a job on the detective force, in exchange for the desired testimony.

[Sam] Blonger was an associate, to some extent, of Smith, and it was charged that the district attorney wanted Smith's evidence to secure a conviction of Blonger.

Bascomb had testified in the case, but his lawyer asserted that Bascomb had only spoken the truth on the stand, not the facts as dictated by Whitford. For the prosecution, Mr. Hayes stated that, although he was personally unacquainted with the charges, the DA had informed him that Bascomb had offered to cooperate, but only on certain conditions. Judge Johnson set the case for Jan. 27.

Bascomb, it seems, had been a good boy, but was denied his reward. Lots here to chaw on.




The Bunko Gangs of 1895

Let's pick this apart. First, Jeff Smith helps clear things up a bit regarding Soapy's whereabouts in 1895 and '96.

We know that Soapy jumped his bonds in the Hughes assault, not showing up in court 9/12/1895. During this time Soapy was all over the west, Chicago, Dallas, New Orleans, etc. At the end of January and start of February 1896 he returned to the city in an attempt to appease the courts and return to live in Denver. He traveled around Colorado some, waiting unsuccessfully for attorneys to fix the situation. By June of 1896 He traveled to Alaska for the first time. The remaining newspaper articles on Denver that I have deal with the gang who stayed in the city. I am certain that just as happened when Soapy went to Creede in 1892 members of the gang were positioned in Denver to keep things running until his return. I firmly believe Soapy did expect/hope to return to Denver. God knows what would have happened if he had! Perhaps the first gangland style war? It seems obvious now that a riff developed between the Smith and Blonger forces. As I go through my papers I will inform you of any new revelations.
"Knights of the Big Mitt." In Soapy's notebooks he referred to his back room poker game swindles at the Tivoli, the cigar store and the Silver Club as "Big Hand." For several months in the notebook he actually kept tabs of his daily take.

So it sounds like Soapy was out of town during this critical period, November 1895 through mid-January 1896. And yes, his return in 1896 may have presented some problems between Soapy and the Blongers. It remains to be seen how Ed Chase finally ceded the bunko scene to the Blongers.

But it's complicated. Let's try to put these events in perspective — at least as far as these articles allow.

In January of 1894, Rev. Bowers and Prof. Jackson, in Soapy's employ, take S.W. Wolcott for $600 in a crooked poker game at Soapy's place on Larimer. They give the check to Soapy's brother Bascomb, who tries to get Sam to cash it. Sam directs him instead to banker Quentin, who obliges. Sam gets $20 for his trouble.

The Wolcott case would languish for over a year.

A few weeks after the Wolcott incident, Governor Waite forcibly replaces Denver's fire and police board. Mass firings take place. In April, numerous gambling houses, including Smith's Tivoli and the Blonger Bros. place, are temporarily closed by police.

In January of 1895, the Blonger Bros. file on the Newport lode in Leadville, with partners O.W. Steele, former Denver DA, and Col. Neil Dennison, then an assistant DA, I believe. Both men are also partners in the Forest Queen.

In April, Soapy and Bascomb go on an unexplained rampage. At Jennie Rogers house, they attack saloonman Tom Sewall, an unnamed barkeep, and Chief Goulding.

Next they make their way to Blonger's place, but an alert beat cop dissuades them from confronting the brothers. Lou is reportedly hidden behind the bar with a shotgun.

Finally they go to the Arcade, where they batter Johnny Hughes and Charlie Lord. Eventually arrested for the Hughes assault, Soapy jumps bail in September, but Bascomb ends up with a year in the county jail.

Later, on November 15, 1895, Sam is finally arrested by DA Whitford in connection with the Wolcott case, and immediately released on bond.

November 18, Bascomb Smith writes a letter to brother Soapy. He notes that Assistant DA Dennison, a partner in the Forest Queen, has been dismissed and won't "have the pleasure" of prosecuting him.

He mentions that Sam is being prosecuted over Wolcott's check, and that Whitford is pressuring him to testify against Sam. He is conflicted and wonders what his brother would do...

DEP, 11/27/1895: DA Whitford seems to condone a motion to quash the charges against Sam in the Wolcott incident. The case is continued to Dec. 20.

Dec. 9, indictments were issued for Sylvester Kline, "Long and Shorty" Washburn, Jack Allen, Tom Campbell, Buck White, James Thornton, Frank Lester, "Rev." W.H. Jackson and "Big Al" Heffner for swindling Farragher out of $1,100.

Bail for Allen, Thornton, Campbell, Heffner and Jackson are said to have been paid by Lou, and by Ed Gaylord, associated with the Chase gang. Some complain they have been arrested to deflect suspicion from Blonger's men — though, apparently, some of those arrested worked for Lou — he reportedly paid somebody's bail. Who goes with whom? Is Rev./Prof. Jackson working with Chase? Lou? The absent Soapy?

Goulding is handling the case, fearful Chief Farrington can't be trusted. But compromised by whom?

Dec. 11 Kline, Campbell, White, Thornton, Jackson and Heffner are arraigned. Gaylord is their bondsman, and they express the notion that they are taking the heat for the Blonger boys, suggesting each of these was a Chase man. The Post declares that it was public outrage that led to the downfall of the California gang, and it will have to be the same for the bunko crowd, because the neither Chief Goulding, Farrington's city detectives, nor the police board will act without pressure.

Dec. 12 Sam is arrested by Chief Goulding in an effort to find the real culprits in the Farragher case. It is hoped he can be pressured into fingering the guilty bunks.

It is noted that Allen, Campbell, Lester, Heffner, Thornton, and Jackson have no evidence against them. Sam's arrest was, in a way, undetaken on their behalf, to root out the real culprits. Sam holds his ground.

Missing are White, Kirby, Washburn and Kline. According to the Post, these are the Blonger men, and the real culprits. The others are the fall guys.

Our story so far: White, Kirby, Washburn and/or Kline, working under Lou, take Farragher for $1,100. He makes a stink, and the papers start prodding, so Chief Goulding tells his men to round up all the bunks they can find. Allen, Campbell, Lester, Heffner, Thornton, and Jackson, working under Gaylord and Chase, are scooped up along with the others. Bails are paid by Lou and Gaylord.

The Chase men rat out the Blonger men, who skip bail. The police need a fall guy, but the perps are gone, and Farragher can't ID Chase's men. Goulding intercedes, on behalf of Chases' men, pulling rank on Detective Farrington. Sam is arrested to pressure either Sam or Lou into ratting out their guys. Sam hangs tough. Chief Goulding's private dicks — paid for by whom? — are said to be clueless.

Meanwhile, it is suggested that the Blonger men make efforts to induce Farragher to leave town. He is scared, and states that he'd be satisfied with half the money.

Dec. 14, Owen Snider and W.H. Carson, originally a partner in the Forest Queen mine, are busted in connection with the case. Lou bails.

Dec. 21, Sam's attorney manages to get the trial before the judge, and Goulding is forced to capitulate. Farragher can't ID anyone but Carson, who appeared to play no important role. Sam walks.

Finally, on Jan. 8, 1896, Sam is tried in connection with the Wolcott case. Bacomb testifies.

But again, Sam walks. DA Whitford doesn't even show, and Sam doesn't even offer a defense. He assisted Bascomb cash a check, no more.

The same day, another continuance is granted in yet another assault case against Bascomb, and in retaliation, Bascomb's lawyer accuses the DA of pressuring Bascomb to testify in Sam's case, reportedly in exchange for commuting his sentence in the Hughes case — and a position on the detective force.

A hearing on the matter is set for Jan. 27. We don't yet know the outcome.



Rogue's Forum

Jeff Smith has a new forum centering on the bad boys of the 1890s — right up our alley!


December 2007



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