The Grafters Club

The Blacklist


Ed Burns ("Big Ed")


AKA: Jim Burns

Burns was notorious throughout the West as a killer and con man, fond of the top and bottom scam where rubes were encouraged to bet that the top and bottom faces of any given throw of three dice would add up to twenty-one — a sure thing, until mis-marked dice were introduced to the game. He was also fond of the gold brick scam.

He was run out of Leadville in 1879 for his association with claim jumpers and con men.

(Georgetown) Colorado Miner, November 22, 1879

Lynch Law in Leadville
At two o'clock on Tuesday morning, two men were taken from the Leadville jail, by the vigilantes, and unceremoniously hung in front of the jail building. One of the men was Ed. Frodsham, a lot jumper, who had been running things with a high hand for some time past. The other was Chas. Stewart, the man wounded by Bockhouse, the barber, in an attempt to rob the latter a few days ago; the partner of his crime Harry Clifford being killed by Bockhouse. The Sheriff and jailer were overpowered. Both wretches begged piteously for their lives, and Frodsham struggled furiously, but all in vain. Crime had flaunted its bloody banners in the city until men with a sense of justice in their bosoms rebelled, and to show that they meant business, the following card was pinned on the lifeless body of Frodsham:
"Lot theives, bunko steerers, footpads, thieves and chronic bondsmen, for the same and sympathizers of the above class of criminals. This is our commencement and this shall be your fate. We mean business. Let this be your last warning, particularly "Cooney" Adams, Conner, Collns Hogan, Ed. Burns, Ed. Champ, P. A. Kelley and a great many others, who are well known to this organization. We are seven hundred strong."

The brothers Blonger were in Leadville at the time. Would they care? Would they be afraid? Or part of the mob?

Interesting list of criminals: Lot theives (claim jumpers), bunko steerers, footpads, thieves and "chronic bondsmen". The latter would describe one of Lou's primary professions in Denver, bailing out grifters.

Later Burns and his gang of thugs and con men ran things with a high hand in Benson, near Tombstone.

Then Marshal Sam Blonger kicked Big Ed out of Albuquerque in February, 1882. Beside the threat Burns presented to the town's peace and tranquility, perhaps he represented a threat to whatever Sam and Lou might have had working on the side.

"Ed Burns, the notorious hold-up, was escorted to the train last night by Marshal Blonger, and sent on his way south with instructions never to show his theiving mug within the city again."

Ed later worked with Soapy Smith in Denver, perhaps in competition with the Blonger Bros. and their cohorts, till Smith fled town for the Klondike.

(Cripple Creek) Morning Times, February 15, 1896

Big Jim Burns, Gold-Brick Swindler, Visits Cripple Creek and Sleeps In Jail
"Big" Ed Burns, one of the most notorious characters in the West was arrested last night by Officers Clark and Reynolds. Burns is known all over the United States, and has been known to turn a bunco trick in St. Louis and Chicago on the same day. He will do anything from robbing a coop to a gold rick swindle. He was in Leadville in the early days and was mixed up in a killing in Chicago. He has been chased out of all the larger cities in the West but strange as it may seem has only done about eight years all told. He usually has a gang of men around him that are as desperate am himself and the community where they stop suffer greatly - from the depredations inflicted by these men.
In 1889 a man was shot and killed in the Palace theatre in Denver, which was then run by Bat Masterson. Burns and some of his men were in the house at the time and before the victim of the unknown assassin had breathed his last, Burns had robbed him of a large diamond stud. He escaped the officers and left the country and was never punished for the offense. He has been arrested for robbing hen roosts and selling brass bricks for solid gold.
The brick scheme was worked by him more successfully than his other games as he invariably caught his man at night and sold him the bricks under the shades of darkness. His appearance helped him on his scheme no little and when he was making a "front," would resemble a man of considerable means. He is about six feet one inch tall, has a rather good-looking face. His stomach is enourmous and he weighs about 210 pounds. When he "lines up" for a front he wears a silk hat, a long Prince Albert coat, patent leather shoes and on his shirt front a cluster of diamonds. He also wears a very large diamond ring on his right little finger and carries a heavy gold headed cane in the same hand.
When dressed thus, he is ready to sell gold bricks. When working this he stops at the best hotel in the city and becomes acquainted with all the promiment men stopping there. He picks out a man who he thinks is the easiest worked, and in confidence tells him about some gold bricks which he owns. He don't want to sell them, O no, but would like to borrow some money on them. The man would look at them and that night they would take the bricks in a grip and go out of the city limits to be away from prying eyes. Here they would open the grip, take out the bricks and with a file scrape the edges into a paper and take these to the city to have them tested. Of course the filings would be gold and the next night the money would be loaned. When the time expired for the bricks to be redeemed the man who held them took them to the mint or a jeweler to be sold, where he found their spurious nature. In the meantime Burns would be swelling around another part of the country on the money gained in this way.
Where Burns has been for the past three years no one seems to know. He arrived yesterday morning and slept in jail last night. He arrived alone but his men are supposed to be on the way and they will be "landed" as soon as they arrive. The charge of vagrancy is placed against him and he will be given hours to leave. He says he came in from Pueblo, but it is thought he came from Oklahoma.