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The Famous Blonger Bros.


April 2008


The Way of the Transgressor is Hard

Here's an image we've seen before, but never got a scan until it appeared in Prendergast's article on Van Cise.

The Big Bust

Here members of the bunco gang languish while confined to the basement of the Universalist Church in Denver. DA Van Cise, architect of the arrests, did not dare send his prisoners to the county jail, where the police could not be trusted to keep the operation quiet as arrests continued. The date is August 24, 1922.

Busted LouThe Boodle Man

See any resemblance? Van Cise indicated Lou sat apart from the rest, contemplating, no doubt, the sudden end of his long career. This cartoon was published during the trial.



Blonger Day

April 22 again, anniversary of the day Scott figured out just who great-great-granduncle Lou really was. That was 2003, five years ago today.

Busy year.

Lou Blonger and Doc Holliday starred in the Swedish musical comedy Arizona. Written by Johan Ragnarsson, the play premiered in the college town of Skövde in southern Sweden — where, as it happens, our great-great-great-great-grandfather, Petter Lars Andersson, was born in 1743.

Johan Ragnarsson
is Doc Holliday

Doc Holliday
and Jonatan Streith
is Lou Blonger

Lou Blonger
in ATLAS2's world premiere production of


July saw the Blonger Convergance Tour, with Scott and Julie approaching Colorado from a previous engagement in California, Tami and I approaching from Illinois.

Scott finally met Jeff Smith while in California, and the rift between the Blonger and Soapy Smith gangs was finally healed in a moving ceremony.

Blonger-Smith Reunion

The Blonger and Smith reunion

Scott and Julie next came through Silver Reef, in southern Utah. Sam and Lou had a saloon there in 1878.

In Georgetown they determined the Cushman Block may be the home of the short-lived company of Blonger & Day, the Novelty Theatre.

If there was a bowling alley in the basement of this building, it's likely our joint.

Novelty Theatre

Colorado Miner Nov. 15, 1879

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.
[Missing text]
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.

Next, they stopped by the site of the Blonger shaft, on the outskirts of Leadville. The Blonger was the "original old Pittsburg claim on Fryer Hill, which in early days was regarded as the greatest silver mine in the west, containing rich silver cloride and lead carbonate at grass roots."

Near the site of the Blonger Mine, looking west toward Leadville

In Denver they met with Jack Davidson and saw the location of Lou's cherry orchard.

Lou Blonger's cherry orchard getaway

The also saw Larry Bohning and heard about the new Justice Center currently under construction. In cooperation with Larry, the Van Cise family and others, we're currently asking for your help in naming the jail after Lou's nemesis, Col. Philip Van Cise. Please sign the petition!

Meanwhile, Tami and I were apporoaching from the East, through Lawrence, Kansas, and Dodge City. Later this year we'd find evidence in Supreme Court testimony that indicates Sam lived in Dodge in 1885.

Next, we breezed through Cañon City, where Lou died behind bars in 1924. Here's the penitentiary, just a stome's throw from downtown.

Cañon City Penitentiary

Most interesting was our visit to Cripple Creek, the four of us, in search of the Forest Queen.

Here's what the Forest Queen and it's neighbors on Ironclad Hill looked like back in the day.

Forest Queen Mine, Teller County CO

Pictured are the WPH, the Norfolk, the Home, and the Forest Queen in the background, higher up the hill.

Below is pretty much the same view as it appears today.

Forest Queen Mine, Teller County CO

Back in town at the Cripple Creek Mining Museum, a written history of the mine turns up in a file folder, leading us straight to Jim Jackson, grandson of O.W. Jackson, another partner in the Forest Queen. Jim is overflowing with great stuff, including letters from Simon, Sam and Lou, photos and mine maps, articles, and more.

Cripple Creek claims


Forest Queen

We learned a great deal this year about Lou's partners, including Jackson, assistant DA at the time, and Robert Steele, who was DA, and would later sit on the state supreme court. Neil Dennison too, son of an Ohio governor, decorated veteran of the Civil War, also a lawyer/DA/judge and all-around scoundrel. And let's not forget J.W. McCullough, distiller of Kentucky's fabled Green River Whiskey.

Green River Whiskey

Lou reportedly sold J.W. a 1/8th interest in the Queen for twenty barrels of bourbon.

Coincidentally, the same day that Sam, Lou and the others filed on the Forest Queen, their Denver joint was shut down.

Shut Like Clams

Writer Merideth Hmura taught us a thing or two about Joe Blonger and the defunct Mountain View Ranch. Joe once owned a piece of land far up the Pecos River, near Cowles, New Mexico, which would later become part of the Mountain View dude ranch, a popular resort early in the twentieth century.

Mountain View Ranch

Joe's mysteriously short marriage to Carrie Viles was apparently meant to help Carrie legally dispose of the last parcel of that property — which Joe had sold to her years before.

Carrie Viles

Granite, Montana, 1907, Marvin was nearly crushed between two 50-foot lengths of smokestack pipe. Initially reported dead, he lived another twenty years.

In 1893, Lou watched from in front of his joint as a patrol wagon was bombed by parties unknown.

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.

This year we finally found out something tangible regarding the Blonger Bros. storied saloon, the Elite. Remembered as "Denver's flashiest saloon" in the Armstrong account, the Elite was next to the Equitable Building, at 1626 Stout St., in 1896. There must be photos...

Denver Evening Post, October 6, 1896

Will Be Opened by the Blongers This Evening.
Sam and Lewis Blonger open their magnificent palace saloon at 1628 Stout street, next to the Equitable Building, this evening. It is a veritable palace of luxury—mahogany fixtures and frescoed ceilings at a cost of $8,000—marble floors and an elegant cafe in the rear part of the saloon. In this cafe a fine merchants' lunch will be served from 10 a. m. to 2 p. m. and this will be one of the features of which the genial proprietors will make a specialty. The interior of the new saloon is without doubt one that will be a feast for the eyes of anyone who loves the beautiful. The marble floor will glisten with splendor this evening, and in the language of one of the proprietors, "There isn't an old thing in the house."
This evening the gentlemen in charge will make a special effort to make friends for their new palace—not that they will not always do this, for it is a fact pretty generally known among the boys that Sam and Lew are built on just such plans and specifications. Mat Murray, formerly of the Arcade, Mr. Lockney and Mr. Kelley will be the bartenders in charge, and every one of them is well known in the city as genial, gentlemanly fellows.

And this:

...Nowadays men drink like gentlemen and it is little wonder that when they drink they insist on surroundings befitting them. There are gentlemen in Denver who realize this truth. They are the Messrs. Blonger Brothers. They have constructed a temple—a palace—at 1624 Stout street for the accommodation of gentlemen who, for infirmities and for good fellowship, now and then indulge a cup that braces up and cheers. They have named this veritable place The Elite. There is nothing like it anywhere. There is nothing equal to it in richness of material or design or price in any other Western city. It must be seen to be appreciated...

After his arrest, Lou stated publicly he definitely would not support the man that arrested him in the upcoming election.

Blonger Won't Back Van Cise

In late January of 2008, we announced the opening of the Wild West History Association website. The organization is the merger of the Western Outlaw Lawman History Association (WOLA) and the National Outlaw Lawman Association (NOLA). Scott and I are the new webmasters for WWHA.

In February, reporter Allen Prendergast wrote a smashing article in support of the Van Cise project to name Denver's new jail. The piece ran in the Colorado alternative Westword, and does a fantastic job with the Colonel's story — and mentions this site.

In 1913, Lou sold some hay to Buffalo Bill's Wild West and Pawnee Bill's Far East. The show was in receivership, having been attached by Bonfils and Tammen of the Post. The receipt was signed by Dewey Bailey, who would be mayor nine years later at the time of Lou's arrest. Tammen and Bailey were both known to be old friends of Lou by the 1920s.

Finally, we found out more about Sam and his horses, notably Uncle Jack, King Lion, Comanche Boy, Brown Dick and Sorrel Dan, the last two of which he apparently sold to fellow sport Johnny Behan in 1883.

More yet to come...



Gangs of Denver

Perhaps most importantly, this year we learned a great deal about the situation on the ground in Denver during the 1890's, a critical period in Lou's rise to power.

Most of what we know about 1889, with Lou finally back in town, are matters of the heart. Both Sam and Lou divorced their first wives, Ella and Emma, respectively, and married their second, Sadie and Nola, the pretty young clog dancer.

In March, Sam and Lou are implicated in the voting fraud trial of Mayor Wolfe Londoner, the only Denver mayor to have had the pleasure.

In April, Peter Anderson is bilked of $275 in Blonger's saloon, most likely this place at 1728 Larimer.

1728 Larimer

Chief Farley ran the Swede out of town.

In 1889, the boys have a joint at 1744 Larimer. The joint was closed for bunko games. One article indicates the Blongers owned the Tourists Club at 1734 Larimer, though by next year it's listed at 1740.

May 15, Denver gambling house men, including "S. E. Blonger," are called to pay a $50 fine. The policy shop men are called in too, and fined $10, but Chase is not mentioned in either list (except BD Chase).

Jeff Smith tells us that in 1891 Sunday closings were instituted, and saloons open on Sunday were heavily fined. Then hours of operation were limited, then location. In the spring the Rocky Mountain News demanded the gambling houses start paying more money for city repairs, etc. Fines were instituted.

Boulder Daily Camera, Sept. 26, 1891

Closed by the Police.
DENVER, Sept. 25.—The police board to-day ordered the gambling house of Blonger Bros., 1744 Larimer street, closed. The place is said to be a bunco joint, and the board wishes it understood it is after that sort of thing.

In February of 1892, Sam and Lou were arrested at their Tourists Club for swindling C.I. Tolly out of $100 and threatening him when he refused to pay.

On March 4, Lou and W.H. Gibson located the Forest Queen on Ironclad Hill, outside of Cripple Creek. On April 7, Sam and Lou Blonger, along with W. Neil Denison, John E. Phillips, W. H. Gibson, and M. McNallay, filed on the Forest Queen Lode.

Forest Queen

Head frame and structures.
Robert J Jackson and Alice Givin facing camera and unknown facing away.

Photo by J.O. Jackson

This same day, Blonger brothers' gambling house at 1744 Larimer street was closed by the fire and police board. Not long after, the brothers open a saloon on Market street between Sixteenth and Seventeenth streets.

In March of 1893, the special officers who had been assigned to the city's gambling houses, paid $85 a month by the owners, were removed. Over in Creede, Soapy Smith and his many associates are in control of Creede.

In June, Sam and Sadie end a nasty divorce suit. Sam has been beating her visciously. In December, Jesse Wheat sues Sam for breach of promise, and Lou witnesses the dynamiting of a patrol car as he stand in front of his place at 1744 Larimer.

November 11, "The sheriff had two or three deputies around at Blonger's on Larimer street looking for easy snaps and there were a few excursions out by some of Jeff Smith's people, but they came back unaccompanied."

November 18, Ben Perry is arrested at 17th and Lawrence for selling property he didn't own. His last arrest concerned a gold watch and diamonds stolen from Lew Blonger, who followed him to Pueblo and had an exciting chase.

Perry once tapped the telegraph into Bannigan's poolroom, above a Blonger saloon on Larimer, and "won" $2600. This was pre-"wire con," when the taps were real. It was the eventual defeat of this tactic by Western Union that inspired con men to create their own betting parlors, where they could control the fate of every bet and every race.

In 1894, Sam marries the widow of a dead fireman, Virginia Pierrepont.

On occasion, Soapy's men use the Blonger joints to trim their suckers at poker, or to assist in cashing ill-gotten checks. The Blongers have bunko gangs of their own, as does Ed Chase.

Lou is said to have owned twelve policy shops, but didn't seem to mind Ed Chase hogging the spotlight. In March Chief Veatch had the Colorado Policy Association raided, and Chase was arrested. Soapy Smith foot the $1000 bail.

Also in March, the Governor sent the militia into downtown Denver to forcibly install his appointees to the police board, declaring war on the "gang," including Soapy Smith and Ed Chase. The miltia faced down an army of thugs, mugs, gamblers and drunks, standing alongside many of the city's policemen and firemen. The men were armed, and the building packed with dynamite. Smith was conspicuously at the helm. The gang won the battle, but lost the war in court and the new men took their place on the board.

The Siege of City Hall

In April, all the Denver gambling houses were closed in a general crackdown by police.

In May, Ed Chase was arrested as boss of the city's policy racket, but it was later noted that these charges of gambling were often very difficult to prosecute successfully, particularly after steps are taken to operate more surreptitiously, with the adoption of peepholes and the like.

In August, Lou accompanied Denver city detectives to Colorado Springs, seeking custody of a former El Paso county "special deputy." He had confessed to complicity in the tar-and-feathering of Adjutant General T. J. Tarsney, commander of the state militia at the Battle of Bull Hill, a clash between striking miners and their employers, assisted by the sheriff's department and a small army of special deputies. The Forest Queen was in the shadow of Bull Hill, and the Blongers were likely involved in efforts to break the strike. Many of the special deputies were unemployed policemen and firemen from Denver, as well as a wide assortment of sports and ne'er-do-wells eager to mix it up with the union men.

This same month, the RMN suggested the Blongers and Smiths work together.

Rocky Mountain News "Local Brevity," August 5, 1894

Chief [of Detectives Leonard] De Lue arrested Tom Cady, Morris Brannick, Louis Cohen and Billy Daly, members of the "Soapy" Smith-Blonger bunco-steering brigade. They intended working the picnics with the shell game, but De Lue's moral crusade interfered. He says he intends to drive the bunco steerers out of the city.

In 1895, a campaign was launched against the Blonger resorts by the Mercury, a weekly paper devoted to the upbuilding of the populist party and the official organ of Governor Waite.

April 21, Soapy and Bascomb Smith made a commotion at 1644 Larimer Street after roughing up the chief of police down the street. Lou was reportedly behind the cigar counter with a double-barreled shotgun. Bascomb Smith was arrested for assaulting bartender Johnny Hughes, and ended up serving a year.

Rocky Mountain News, April 22, 1895

While this was going on at the city hall, however, the two Smiths were not idle. Officer Kimmel met the chief and Detective Connors with them at Nineteenth and Larimer. From here he followed them down to Eighteenth, thinking that in case the Smiths gave any trouble he would be on hand to help. After Goulding and Connors left the Smiths the latter went into Blonger's place on Larimer near Seventeenth. Here they said they were looking for trouble, and became quite noisy. Officer Kimmel went into the place and told the Smiths that the noise must stop at once or there would be two arrests. This settled the Smiths to some extent, and they retired from the place, muttering maudlin apologies to the officer. They next stopped at the Arcade. Here they had a quarrel with John Hughes and Charlie Lorge, battering them both over the heads with their revolvers. Hughes received one cut over the nose that will probably mark him for life, while Lorge is said to have had serious injuries inflicted on his head. Just after this little fracas Officer Kimmel went into the place and asked what was up. He was assured that nothing was wrong, and left.

The nature of the Smith tirade is unknown, but Soapy stayed low following the incident, traveling, and trying to mount a defense. Perhaps it was a show of force that backfired, or something more trivial. Letters were sent to Soapy in care of Lou during this interval, suggesting weakly that there was no enmity between them.

October 17, the Rocky Mountain News described the Chase and Blonger gangs, their influence over municipal officials, some of the current gang members, and their methods.

November 1, gambling was declared open again after the City Hall War and the Crackdown of 1894. On the 11th the RMN insinuates Lou's men may have been paying voters at the polls simply to help Lou win his bets on Webb for sheriff.

On November 15 Sam was arrested, along with May Bigelow of the notorious California Gang — female pickpockets and blackmailers. Lou was their ever-ready bail bondsman.

Sam stands accused of obtaining stolen goods. Smith's men Bowers and Jackson had fleeced S.W. Wolcott of a $600 check, which went to Bascomb, who took it to Sam, who directed him to a cooperative bank teller for cashing — and took twenty for his trouble.

November 18, Bascomb Smith wrote a letter to his brother, Soapy Smith, from the county jail, mentioning Sam's predicament and that the DA was pressuring him to testify against Sam.

December 9, Walter Farragher lost over $1000 to some Denver con men. The next day a number of Ed Chase's men, including former Smith man Jackson, were arrested in connection with the incident, but they claim they are in custody to make the guilty party impossible to identify — because the Blonger gang was actually responsible, and the city detectives were assisting Lou. Farragher was in hiding.

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.

December 12, Ed Chase flexed his muscle and Sam was arrested again, this time to pressure him into ratting out the perpetrators of the Farragher swindle.

Come the 14th, and W. H. Carson was 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 argued to Justice Cowell that the charge was 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.

December 21, Farragher had skipped town, and the case against Sam fell apart.

Early in 1896, Soapy Smith left Colorado for good, permanently ceding control of the Denver underworld to the Blonger gang.

January 27, Sam went to court over the Wolcott swindle. Despite Bascomb's testimony, solicited by the DA in return for his freedom and a job on the force, the charges are easily overcome. Bascomb then accused the DA of welching.

Denver Evening Post, Feb. 22, 1896

President Webber of the fire and police board has given imperative orders to Sam Blonger that no more bunco steering will be tolerated in the city. No more policy shops will be allowed to run, and those operated by Edward Chase will be closed at once.

Oct 6, 1897, the Elite Saloon, replete with "mahogany fixtures and frescoed ceilings at a cost of $8,000, marble floors and an elegant cafe in the rear part of the saloon."

Rocky Mountain News, October 25, 1896

...Nowadays men drink like gentlemen and it is little wonder that when they drink they insist on surroundings befitting them. There are gentlemen in Denver who realize this truth. They are the Messrs. Blonger Brothers. They have constructed a temple—a palace—at 1624 Stout street for the accommodation of gentlemen who, for infirmities and for good fellowship, now and then indulge a cup that braces up and cheers. They have named this veritable place The Elite. There is nothing like it anywhere. There is nothing equal to it in richness of material or design or price in any other Western city. It must be seen to be appreciated...

Mar 3, 1898, the Elite Saloon is in default, and is sold for $3100

The next relevant news doesn't come till 1901, when Lou is arrested for swindling an English tourist. What happened in the intervening years? By 1910 he has the clout to avoid prosecution in the fall of the Millionaires Club in Council Bluffs. A U.S. District Attorney and a U.S. Marshal reportedly sat in on the proceedings to discourage Lou's implication during the trial. With few exceptions, Lou seems to have found new influence in the new century, managing to keep well below the public radar for many years prior to his arrest in 1922.

At least that's how it looks on Blonger Day, 2008


P.S. What the hell happened to Chase, anyway? Did Sam and Chase take their recent legal troubles as an opportunity to retire from the bunko biz? Legal gambling in Denver was over for good by this time. Maybe the pressure was too much.

April 2008



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