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November 2009


Justice Center Opening

This just in from Cindy Van Cise:

Denver's marketing director, Steve Sander, had the honor of being the first inmate at the new Denver Justice Center on Friday through no fault of his own.
Sander was brought to the facility's Detention Center under the guise of a "tour" but soon learned that he was the object of a sting involving habitual parking offenders in Denver.
Sheriff Bill Lovingier, director of corrections, read Sander the charges and placed him in a double cell in housing unit 2F. Bail for Sander was set at $200 and was raised by his many visitors, including Mayor John Hickenlooper, chief of staff Roxane White, Cabinet members Dave Roberts, Erin Trapp and RD Sewald, in less than an hour, releasing Sander in time to celebrate his birthday Monday.
All bail proceeds go to benefit Denver's Road Home, which also will benefit from the Justice Center's April 9 opening gala, Justice for All. The gala will offer a special preview of the $334 million facility (that's the total for the courthouse and detention center) and will be open to the public. More info on this event to come.



Sam's Journey West

For the record, I have for a long time had a problem reconciling two known facts regarding Sam's journey West, to wit; Sam signed a petition asking the federal government to build a bridge over the Snake River, where one traveler had been swept away, and various property had been lost; and he voted in an Aspen election in 1861.

The petition was supposedly circulated circa 1589 among emigrants on the California Trail who traveled the Lander Cutoff through Wyoming. This route would have taken Sam beyond Colorado on his trip out. If this had been the case, he would have first gone to California in 1858 or '59, then back to Colorado by 1861, then back to California by 1862 where he supposedly hauled freight between Sacramento and Austin, Nevada.

Possible. But likely?

What's more, this would put the kabosh on Joe's tale of Sam walking into Denver, with bare feet, when the town was just a few cabins on Cherry Creek — which would seem to date the tale at 1859 at the latest. If Sam had gone to Colorado before continuing on his way to California, the Lander Road seems an unlikely route, and too late to sign the petition.

CAlifornia Trail

But what if the petition was circulated on the way out, before the wagons had reached the cutoff? Sam may have signed because this was the intended route of his wagon train, but then later continued on his own to Cherry Creek after hearing of the discovery of gold.

I don't know if this can be determined one way or the other, but it would seem to make the chronology clearer — Sam detoured for two years before continuing on to the coast.



Leadville Mining News

Simon's Big Stud

Rocky Mountain News, Jan. 6, 1882

Mr. Simon Blonger, manager of the Robert E. Lee mine, and a general favorite of those who know him, has been presented with a $575 diamond stud by the men connected with the mine.

That's some rock, in 1882 dollars — something like $12,000 today... Nice bonus.

Simon Speaks

In May of 1882, massive quantities of ore are being shipped out of the Robert E. Lee, and 150 men are on the payroll. Of the property's prospects, Simon has this to say in the Rocky Mountain News:

"The Robert E. Lee is an immensely valuable property, and as yet a comparitively small amount of its vast riches has been taken out. The management are making preparations for an extensive display of their ores. Some immense specimens of horn silver will be exhibited that will be of great interest to a very large number of people who never seen [sic] this wonderful ore, that has so largely contributed to the welfare of Leadville and Colorado at large."

Niles Augusta

In April of 1883, Simon and Jeff Nally are working the Niles Augusta under a lease.

Buckeye State

In January of 1886, Edward Blonger, Marvin's son, is mentioned as one of the owners of the Buckeye State. The mine is "likely the best property in Sugar Loaf district."

Injury at the Blonger Shaft

Rocky Mountain News, Sept. 15, 1888

George Merlau, employed in the Blonger shaft on the New Pittsburg property, was severely injured at 5 o'clock this afternoon by a fall. Merlau was being hoisted to the top of the shaft, his foot being within a noose, and had proceeded on the journey, when the rope broke and he was precipitated to the bottom of the shaft. He was taken to the top and removed to St. Luke's hospital where he was suffering intensely into to-night. He is badly injured internally.

The article continues with curious news of the gambling situation in town. Mayor Irwin had just allowed the gambling houses to reopen, with the stipulation that the owners will be arrested on the first of each month and fined $200. What's more, "Tinhornism will not be tolerated."

And from Cripple Creek

Finally, in February of 1895, Sam is elected to the board of directors of the Free Gold Mining & Milling Co. This reference turned up two rare pieces of Blonger mining ephemera:

Free Gold ad

The ad above is from Overland Monthly magazine circa 1903 and ran for at least a few issues.

Cripple Creek Free Gold Mining & Milling Co. map

According to this map, the claim was located east of the Forest Queen, and judging from the satellite view, it was not a success — except perhaps for those selling shares. Compare the rather bucolic landscape on the right where the claim was located with the decimation of the landscape surrounding the now-extinct Forest Queen, where large-scale operations continue on Ironclad Hill.

Forest Queen - Free Gold



Norfleet Returns

We just heard from Amy Reading, who is writing a book about Frank Norfleet and Big Con culture.

Taken, twice, for a total of $45,000, Norfleet pursued Joe Furey and his gang across thousands of miles, at his own expense, just in time to help Col. Van Cise spring his trap on the Blonger gang.

The diminutive retired farmer spent more than two years tracking down the gang — who worked under Lou's protection when in Denver — personally apprehending one member at a time, acting as a lawman when necessary, other times posing as a sucker and always packing heat.

We look forward to reading it soon. Good luck Amy!


Alias Soapy Smith

Speaking of literature, Jeff Smith's book on Soapy is finally out. Scott has his copy and I'll be getting it soon. More to come...


Sam's Journey West

I take it back... On re-reading our materials about the Lander Cutoff, it appears that the petition was initiated in 1859 — seeming to indicate Sam traveled at this time, and not in 1858 — and that those who signed it had already traveled the road. This puts us back at square one. Did Sam go to California, then back to Colorado, then back to California? Apparently...

Thirteen thousand emigrants travelled the road the present year; over nine thousand - all the males of the trains - signed papers of which the following are copies:
"We, the undersigned, emigrants to California and Oregon, having just passed with our wagons and stock over the new government road, from the South Pass to Fort Hall, (called Lander's cut-off,) do hereby state that the road is abundantly furnished with good grass, water, and fuel; there is no alkali and no desert as upon the old road, and while upon it our stock improved and rapidly recovered from sickness and lameness. We were much surprised at the great amount of labor that had been done in cutting out the timber and bridging and grading the road, and in all respect it more than met our expectations, especially those of us who have heretofore travelled the other routes. But we would most respectfully suggest that a bridge should be erected, as soon as possible, over Green river, the fording of which is dangerous and the cause of much trouble to the emigration, and in one instance the loss of life. We have been treated kindly, and in every case when the circumstances required it aided and assisted on our way by the Wagon Road Expedition; and we have likewise recieved (sic) the kindest treatment from the Indians; and we advise the overland emigration to California and Oregon to take this road as the shortest and best adapted for the comforts of the traveller and the preservation of stock, especially if the government, in view of the many advantage: of this route, should cause Green river to be bridged."
Signed by Ferguson Chappell and over nine thousand others.



To Be Clear

The Armstrong account states:

Sam Belonger, when a boy of 18, walked barefoot with a wagon train across the ground where Denver, Colorado now stands. There were only two cabins then.

As Sam was born in March of 1839, he would have arrived in Denver in 1857 (before the discovery of gold at Cherry Creek) or 1858.

In 1858, it would cetainly be possible for Sam to encounter a nascent Denver City. By late in 1859, he would have found a boomtown.

The account tries to add weight to the first point with an even taller tale:

At one time, about six miles east of where Denver's capitol-building now stands, Sam Belonger and Buffalo Bill Cody, while on a scouting trip, were chased and surrounded by a war party of eight Indians. Their only chance to survive the fight was to shoot their horses and use the bodies for breastworks. Both Uncle Sam and Buffalo Bill, being dead shots with rifles, killed all eight Indians and escaped.

Further, one of Sam's obits says this:

He left Hastings in 1858 with an ox team and crossed the plains and mountains to Sacramento, Cal.

That's three votes for 1858. But only two votes for Denver, and one against; if Sam went from Minnesota to California he would have had to detour to Denver on the way West to be there in 1859, continuing on later that year or early the next to California, backtracking through Wyoming to take the Lander Road.

Maybe it's more prudent to accept the more obvious interpretation: that he went to California, then returned east to Colorado in the next year or two, as Denver grew into a bustling boomtown. We do know that in 1861 "S. Blonger" voted in Central City. Sam is the only reasonable candidate, and we therefore state with some certainty that Sam was indeed in Colorado by 1861.

On the other hand — Sam signed a petition submitted to Congress in February of 1861:

...the reports and maps of F. W. Lander, superintendent of the Fort Kearney, South Pass, and Honey Lake wagon road, upon his operations during the years 1859 and 1860...
Thirteen thousand emigrants travelled the road the present year...
...having just passed with our wagons and stock over the new government road, from the South Pass to Fort Hall, (called Lander's cut-off)...

This would seem to certify that Sam traveled the Lander Road to California in 1859 or 1860. His train consisted of seven wagons, seventeen people, and 129 head of stock. His residence is listed as Minnesota, and the train's destination is listed as California.

The Armstrong account continues:

In 1860 and 1861 he was engaged in "freighting" and in driving a stage coach over the mountains between Sacramento and Austin, Nev.

These dates are clearly wrong — Austin wasn't founded until 1862. To haul freight in Nevada in 1862 or '63 (or, at least, to take possession of a tract of land near Sacramento in 1865, as he did), Sam would then have to cross the Rockies east a second time. And he surely did. The real story behind these journeys shouldn't even need to be a tall one...


  • Would Sam's train detour to Cherry Creek in 1859, only to later backtrack to central Wyoming to take the Lander route?
  • Did Sam leave Minnesota with the same train that took the Lander Road?

Any answer would go a long way toward determining the veracity of Armstrong's claim, that Sam visited Denver by early 1859. He surely visited by 1861. At any rate the current evidence seems to frown on an earlier visit.

More evidence!


November 2009



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