Frederick Bonfils Con-Artist on the Great Plains

Bonfils building Guthrie Oklahoma

The Land Run of 1889 brought many opportunists to Guthrie; land seekers, town-lot speculators, Lawyers, merchants, bankers, capitalists. One of these opportunists was Frederick Bonfils, a Missouri born, West Point educated, land speculator, and Con-man. Bonfils built the first native stone building in Guthrie. The building designed by Joseph Foucart sits at 107 S. 2nd St. Bonfils operated his real estate company on the first floor and lived on the second.

Before and after Bonfils came to Guthrie he operated fraudulent lotteries in Kansas, Missouri, and Louisiana. He would recruit agents to sell tickets in their home towns, soon after the new agent returned home a winner would receive a cash prize from Bonfils and the sales would increase in that town. In 1892 Chicago police arrested Bonfils and L. A. Dumas with 30,000 “Bogus,” lottery tickets.

Taking advantage of the excitement over the 1889 opening of Oklahoma to settlement, Bonfils sold town lots in Oklahoma City; he sold 2,000 lots from $2 to $10 apiece. He failed to mention the Oklahoma City lots were in the panhandle of Texas not thirty miles south of Guthrie. He soon left town for opportunities in Denver.

Bonfils with his partner Harry H. Tammen purchased the Denver Post and went into “Yellow Journalism.” Bonfils would send his reporters to find out about business improprieties and the blackmail the owners to keep things out of the press. In 1922, Bonfils and Tammen shook down Sinclair oil and the Harding administration for $1,000,000 over the “Tea-Pot Dome” oil lease scandal.

In 1900, Attorney W.W. Anderson shot Bonfils twice and Tammen three times, over the case of “Man-eater” Alfred Packer, a prospector who killed and ate his partners in 1874. The post accused Anderson of stealing Packer’s life savings. Anderson stood trial three times but never convicted. The courts convicted Bonfils and Tammen of jury tampering.

Bonfils invested in real estate, mines, newspapers, and any scheme in which he could turn a profit. He died in Denver on February 2, 1933 a very rich man.