June 11, 2016

A glimpse of the Denver underworld, October 1895: Part 2

"Big Mitt"
Friendly poker scam


art two:
A glimpse of the Denver underworld, October 1895

A previous days expose’ published in the Rocky Mountain News (October 17, 1895) about Denver's bunco activities also uncovered a clear affiliation between the criminals and Denver's police and detective departments revealing that the two main bunco gangs under control of "Big Ed" Chase and Lou Blonger were working the streets unmolested by the police, according to the newspaper. What was probably meant to be a one day article turned into a scandal of epic proportions.

Following is a condensed version of the Rocky Mountain News article published on October 18, 1895, an addendum to the previous day's publication on the bunco gangs of Denver. Text in bold are important names.


Latest Schemes of Denver Bunco Steerers.

Steerers Called In.
     Owning to the disclosers of the News concerning the bunco operations carried on by men employed by Ed Chase and Lou Blonger all the steerers working under these two bosses were ordered to discontinue work yesterday morning. The steerers were unable on this account to do any harm to the strangers who are in the city during the early part of the day. Detectives De Lue and Finch were detailed by Chief Goulding to see to it that no tricks were turned by the fraternity on Seventeenth street and last evening the detectives reported that they did not find any of the bunco men about. The bunco bosses expect to put their men upon the streets again before the week has passed and the steerers, although they did not appear upon the streets yesterday were quietly at work as an opportunity equal to the present one of fleecing “suckers” will not be overlooked.
     “I have given my men positive orders,” said Chief Goulding yesterday, “to arrest all bunco men found at work. We won’t have them around. They’re no good and they’ll do up a sucker every time they get a chance.”
     It seems that the officers ordered to arrest the bunco men have played the chief for a “sucker,” for it is a notorious fact that the gangs of steerers employed by Chase and Blonger have not been called to account for the tricks they have turned during the week.  These men, whose names were given in yesterday’s News have not been molested by the police, while “grafters” of the cheap variety have been dragged into the chief’s office and threatened with prosecution for vagrancy unless they at once leave town. This “grand stand play” has not the stamp of sincerity upon its face. While these poor unfortunates are driven from the city courtesies are being extended the gambling and bunco fraternities that would not be tolerated in any other city in the United States, especially at festival times.
“Rubes and Jays.”

     To the victims of bunco steerers. Female pickpockets and gambling games the police have given the name of “Rubes” and “jays,” signifying innocent and credulous persons from the country districts. “He’s a regular Rube,” is an expression often heard at headquarters after some victim made penniless by the duplicity of “grafters” has told his story. Little sympathy is shown this class of complainants.
     The man who played the “Soapy” Smith game on Seventeenth street Wednesday did not show himself yesterday in the capacity of a swindler. Speaking of this man Chief Goulding said yesterday that when he heard that the new fakir was repeating the old “soap” game he ordered his men to run him off the street. The stranger, however, sold his little packages all day and did not quit work until 6 o’clock in the evening. For about eight hours the police and detectives had the opportunity to benefit the populace by taking the swindlers into custody, but they failed to avail themselves of it.
     Yesterday there were a number of gambling games in operation in different shops on lower Seventeenth street. There were the “wheels of fortune” and other small games which did not bring any large sums to their owners. The nickel-in-the-slot machine was to be seen in nearly every saloon and cigar stand in the city.
Lost His Roll.

     About 8 o’clock yesterday morning a man of mystery called at police headquarters and reported to Captain Duggan that $40 had been stolen from him. Without taking the trouble to ask the man’s name Duggan told him to go to the detectives.
     After repeating his story to the sleuths he was accompanied to Noonan and Walker’s saloon at the corner of Eighteenth and Market streets by Detective Gardner.
There is a mystery surrounding Detective Gardner. It is a possibility that this is Robert Gardner, husband of Soapy's sister Emmie Lou. It would certainly explain any alliance with the bunco men.
The stranger claimed that he entered the saloon at an early hour in the morning with several friends and went to sleep upon the floor. When he awoke, he said his “roll” was gone. There was no evidence that anyone connected with the saloon had taken the money and inquiry developed the fact that the “Rube,” as the detectives called him, had visited several resorts of a questionable character.
I have to appreciate the journalism of the era for labeling saloons as “resorts of a questionable character.”
     Detective Gardner, too, failed to get the name of the “Rube,” and the latter will probably never have the satisfaction of seeing the thieves who stole his money brought to justice.
     A case reported to the detectives about noon indicates that pickpockets are busy in the crowds that daily flock to the principal streets to see the parades. The complaint concerning the light-fingered fraternity was made by Mrs. J. W. Bramey of 342 South Thirteenth Street. She was standing at the corner of Sixteenth and Champa streets about 10 o’clock when her gold watch attached to a long chain was snatched from her. As the woman was in the midst of a crowd she was unable to see the thief.
One would believe that with such scalding testimony of police alliance with the bunco gangs, that they would decide that their positions, within the city and social standings, even their very jobs, were in danger and not worth protecting the criminals, but the pay was too good to pass up. This alliance continued for another 35 years, until the Blonger empire was finally toppled in 1929.

"Smith was not strong physically or of commanding appearance but he was always a leading personality in a mining camp and many a man breathed easier when the word came that ‘Soapy’ Smith died here with his boots on and a cigar in his mouth. "
—Henry “Yank Fewclothes” Edwards
Alias Soapy Smith, p. 592.


1776: The Continental Congress forms a committee to draft a Declaration of Independence from Britain.
1865: More than 400 ex-Confederate soldiers under General Joseph Shelby march into Austin, Texas where 40 of them break into the state treasury. Nineteen volunteer guards storm the building to thwart the robbery. One robber is killed and $17,000 is stolen.
1865: 2,000 Sioux Indians are forced to march from Fort Laramie, Idaho Territory to Fort Kearney, Nebraska.
1867: Indians kill a soldier of the 7th Cavalry escorting the mail near Big Timbers, Kansas.
1878: The outlaw Sam Bass shoots it out with Texas Rangers led by June Peak, in Denton County but Bass is able to escape unhurt. Six weeks later eighteen-year-old Soapy Smith witnesses Bass' death in Round Rock, Texas.
1879: Royal Gorge War in Canon City, Colorado, continues since March 25, 1879. Violence between the rival railroads of the Rio Grande of Colorado and the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe of Kansas, over ownership and use of the Royal Gorge pass. Bat Masterson and 65 men are hired to defend the Kansas line. Private mercenaries of the Rio Grande fail in their attacks until after 3 p.m. when Masterson’s fortification is surrounded. Masterson and his men are allowed to leave unharmed. Two are killed and two wounded during the fighting.
1880: Jeanette Rankin, the first woman elected to the U.S. Congress, is born.
1882: Soapy Smith purchases a street vendors license in Salt Lake City, Utah, to hawk his prize package soap.
1885: Dick Glass, a black Creek Indian outlaw is shot and killed by Deputy U. S. Marshal Sam Sixkiller near Post Oak in Oklahoma Territory.
1889: The Washington (D.C.) Business High School opens. It is the first school devoted to business in the U.S.
1895: Charles Duryea receives the first U.S. patent granted to an American inventor for a gasoline-driven automobile.
1899: Outlaw Tom “Black Jack” Ketchum, and two men are caught on the run after a botched robbery in the Twin Mountains, New Mexico Territory. Ketchum will eventually hang for his crimes on April 26, 1901 at Clayton, New Mexico Territory.

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