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Thursday, January 21, 2016

"The Fixer"

As the eighth of 13 children, Louis Herbert Belonger, was born in Swanton, Vermont on May 13, 1849.  His father was Simon Peter Belonger, who at the time of Lou's birth worked locally as a stonemason, and was of French Canadian descent.  His mother, Judith Kennedy was from Nenagh, Ireland and had been originally raised in an orphanage in that country.  When Lou was around 5 years old, the family made their way to Shullsburg, Wisconsin in search of wealth in lead mining. His mother died when Lou was just 10 years old.   Like many immigrants, their last name was changed and shortened from Belonger to Blonger, and this is the name the family carried, hereafter.

Lou, with his brothers Mike and Joe, mustered into the Union Army in 1864, just a few days before his fifteenth birthday, serving with Company B of the 142nd Regiment of Illinois.  Due to his tender age, he was assigned to play the fife, which helped keep the time of marching soldiers. 

 Lou had a knee injury and later in life, endured problems with varicose veins and leg ulcers.  He was hospitalized at White Station, Tennessee and spent the remaining 100 days of his enlistment, at the Marine Hospital in Chicago.   

When the Civil War ended, Lou had taken residence in Mount Carroll, Illinois, with a friend named William Livingston.  His brother Sam, who was ten years older, joined him.  (Sam had avoided the war and spent that time prospecting, or driving freight through Nevada and California).  When Sam came to Illinois, he fell in love with Livingston's sister, Ella, and they were eventually married.  During the courtship, Sam sent Lou to High school, and later sent him to Chicago to study business.

The later made their way west, with visions of striking it rich, they moved from one mining camp to another.  Lou was known for his silver tongue, and began to perfect his con games by working in saloons, gambling and prospecting.  They stayed in Deadwood, Silver City and San Francisco.  As they made their way around the West, Lou began to run a number of rackets.

Image source: pinterest
My research indicates that they may have met up with some of the most famous Westerners like the Earp Brothers, Bat Masterson and Doc Holliday.  I am not sure of the validity, but I read that they may have "provided protection" for the famous Earp Vendetta Ride.

Image: filforn.com
In the 1880's the Blonger Brothers had settled in Denver, Colorado. They became quite wealthy through investments in mining.  Here, they purchased two Saloons on Larimer and Stout Streets and promoted gambling, prostitution and a variety of con games - preying on hopeful miners.  They competed against a notorious group called the "Soapy Smith Gang", whose proprietor was another con-artist and crime boss of the Old West.  Eventually a decade passed and the Soapy Smith Gang was driven out, leaving the Blonger Brothers as the new king pins.  

Image source: pinterest
They established betting houses (one known as "the big store" where most likely the money was central) for horse racing bets and also installed machines that spat out ticker tape that looked like a legitimate stock exchange system. By using a variety of cons, they convinced unwary customers (usually visitors to the city or tourists) to lay their money down and in return they would be guaranteed winnings on horse races or stock profits.  They hired men to run gambling tables, scam people of money with shell tricks, to sell opium and he also hired professional pick pockets to prey on visitors.  Everyone who operated in the city, were "encouraged" to share their profits.

Image source: blongerbros.com
As their power grew, they influenced politics and elections were staged so that their racket was protected and gang members would not be arrested or prosecuted.  By 1920, Lou even had installed a private telephone line that was connected directly to the Chief of Police, and had "an in" with the Mayor.   His operation was to be called the "Million Dollar Bunco Ring".  Lou became known as "The Fixer". 

Around 1904, Lou had hired Adolph W. "Kid" Duff as his right hand man, and manager, who basically oversaw his operations.     

Image source: blongerbros.com
Lou's power continued until 1922 when District Attorney Philip S. Van Cise usurped the corrupt politicians and developed a "secret force” of local citizens.  His effort was funded by private donations, and Van Cise and authorized men finally arrested 33 Lou Blonger and "Kid” Duff.

Image(s) source: blongerbros.com
What followed was a highly publicized trial.  Lou and most of his gang members were convicted and sentenced to prison at Cañon City, Colorado.  Lou Blonger and "Kid” Duff received sentences for 7 to 10 years. Five months after going to prison, Blonger died on April 20, 1924 - he was 74 years old. Duff, got out on bond and committed suicide.
Image source: blongerbros.com