Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Pelham Was the Scene of Illegal Prize Fights During the Early Days of the "Sweet Science" of Boxing

I have written extensively of the early days of baseball, tennis and golf during the latter decades of the 1800s in Pelham.  I have not, however, written as much about the early days of the "Sweet Science" of boxing in the Town of Pelham.  

By the 1880s, the population of the area near Pelham Bridge and on nearby City Island within the Town of Pelham had grown so much that the area began to attract sports betting on local prize fights.  Indeed, by 1884 a tiny community that included a hotel had sprung up around Pelham Bridge. In a shed behind the hotel men would gather to watch prize fights. These prize fights, however, were illegal in Westchester County and soon caught the attention of local authorities.

I previously have written about the February 20, 1884 prize fight between James Murray and Thomas Henry.  The Westchester County Sheriff raided the fight and arrested both fighters who were still wearing their ring dress just as the fight ended.  See Wed., Mar. 23, 2005:  Prize Fighting At Pelham Bridge in 1884.  I also have written about the prize fight between Joe Gleacher and Joe Kerwin held in the spring of 1902.  Gleacher was found in Mt. Vernon after the fight and was arrested, although Kerwin apparently escaped to Philadelphia before his arrest.  See Tue., Oct. 04, 2005:  Front Page of the May 12, 1902 Issue of The Pelham Republican.  

In today's Historic Pelham Blog posting, I have collected additional early references to prize fights and prize fight training in the Town of Pelham.  Each transcription is followed by a citation to its source.  The first item is an additional, more extensive, account of the prize fight between James Murray and Thomas Henry at Pelham Bridge on February 20, 1884.  It gives a true sense of what such a brutal sport was like at Pelham Bridge in the 1880s.  

A Bare-Knuckled Prize Fight, Circa 1880s

The Contest Between Murray and Henry at Pelham Bridge.
A Fair-and-Square Encounter Between Two Good Men-Arrest of the Pugilists.

The long-pending prize fight with gloves, arranged at the POLICE GAZETTE office, between Jim Murray, of New York and Tom Henry, of Manchester, Eng., was decided at an early hour on Feb. 20, at Blizzard's Hotel, Pelham, New York.

By 5 A.M. the ring had been erected in the driving shed of the hotel, and the crowd swarmed round the inclosure.  Delegation after delegation arrived in all kinds of vehicles, and many tramped in, the coaches having broken down.  

At 6:30 A.M. the pugilists were ordered to prepare for the mill.  The rain was pouring in torrents and the crowd, who had been standing shivering ince 5 A.M., were eager to see the pugilists enter the ring.

Murray quickly pulled on his blue drawers and white hose, whil Mike Cleary, assisted by Bob Farrell, laced Henry's fighting-shoes.  

Luke Welsh, Barney Aaron and Mike Henry helped to dress Murray.

At 6:55 A.M., the pugilists, wrapped in blankets, entered the ring.  Both were loudly cheered.  Murray occupied the southwest and Henry the northwest corner.  

Shortly after the pugilists were seated offers of $100 even were laid on Murray.  Gus Kenny, of Washington square, made four bets of $50 even on Murray.  Mike Cleary backed Henry.  It was with great difficulty the ring was cleared, and it was all John Flood, Tom McAlpine, Frank Stevenson and Ed. Haggerty could do to clear it.

Bob Farrell, cousin of Joe Coburn, and Mike Cleary then stepped into the inclosure to handle Henry.  Andy Hanley, of Philadelphia, was his umpire.  Barney Aaron, the retired light-weight champion, hero of many a hard fought battle, had been secured to second Murray with Mike Costello.

Luke Welsh was bottle-holder for Murray, while Johnny Roach, of the Fourth ward, who trained Paddy Ryan to fight Sullivan, was umpire for Murray.  Billy Bennett, the noted Sixth avenue sporting man, was time-keeper.

Among the celebrities round the ring were:  Mark Moore, Supervisor Snyder, J.H. Campbell, Bob Smith, Dan O'Brien, Denny Sullivan, John Leary, Tom McCabe, Billy Bennett, John Flood, Tom Draper, Ed. Haggerty, Dennis McAuley, J. Cusick, Billy Edwards, Arthur Mullen, George Fulljames, Frank Stevenson, Sam Feiter, Lew Merigold, Gus Kenny, and a host of prominent club men.

Matt Moore entered the ring about 7 A.M., and stated that he had come from New York to act as referee, and that he was going to decide the contest on the merits of the pugilists, the seconds advanced to the center of the ring, all crossed hands and then retired.  Time was then called and both men faced each other.  The position of Henry was very fine, his left hand being a little advanced from his body, while his right lay across his breast.  That of Murray was low, his left hand being near his thigh, with his right very little higher up, leaving his fae and body much exposed, he seemingly not caring for blows as long as he can deliver hard ones himself.  He appears defiant of punishment as long as he can get at his opponent.  After a minute's sparring Henry led with his left mawley, but he was short, and then he thew in his right, which landed on Murray's left ear.  The latter then rushed in, and left and right deliveries followed in rapid succession, until they were in each other's arms, when the referee ordered them to break away; then there was some sparring and feinting, when Murray led and was short.  This Henry took advantage of, and delivered a heavy right-hander on Murray's left ear.  The men then fought rapidly left and right until they came to a clinch, when the referee ordered them to break away.  Coming close together agin, they both delivered right-handers at each other's heads and made rapid exchanges all over the limited space they had to fight in, until they clinched again and were ordered once more to break away.  Getting together again,, Henry planted a hard left hander on Murray's stomach, for which favor he received a hot right-hander on his left ear.  Then rapid exchangesfollowed right and left, until they came to a clinch.  Again they were ordered to break away, but in an instant they were at close quarters again, and Henry delivered a sever right-hander on the left side of Murray's head; then blow for blow followed, until the men were again in each other's arms.  They were made to break away, and, after a few more left and righ-handers, Henry planted his right heavily on Murray's mount, which knocked him down.  Just as the three minutes were up, when his seconds, in defiance of the rules, ran and picked him up.

ROUND 2. - The men responded quickly to the call of time, and after a little sparring for an opening Murray let fly with his left, but this was short, and Henry, being more steady, got in a damaging right hander, which landed on Murray's left ear.  Then there were several exchanges, left and right, at the head until the men were in each other's arms, when they were ordered to break away.  The men seemed now to be well warmed up for their work, and they rushed at each other in the gamest manner, delivering left and right-handers at each other's heads, but many of these were wasted by being too high.  The men soon fought to a close, and were ordered to break away, which they did promptly only to get a breath and go at it again.  Two gamer fellows never faced each other in a prize ring, and they seemed to be about equally matched in every way.  Coming together again, Henry landed his right hand heavily on Murray's neck, and in an instant they were delivering left and right handers all around the ring, Murray driving Henry before him until they clinched at the ropes.  Breaking away, they had a short breathing spell, when Murray, seeing an opening, let fly and caught Henry a stinger on the mouth.  For this favor, however,, he got a heavy right-hander, and then they drew toward each other and were delivering half-arm hits when they were ordered to their corners.  

ROUND 3. - When the men came to the scratch they both looked the worse for the liberties they had been taking with each other.  Henry was the first to make play with a right-hander on the left side of Murray's jaw.  The latter replied with a right-hander, but his blow went over the Englishman's head.  Then there were some strong give-and-take left and right deliveries, each getting in four times with the right on the left side of the head of his opponent at long range, then, getting closer, they pegged away left and right until they got to a lcinch, when they were ordered to break away.  Coming again like game-cocks, Henry planted a heavy left-hander on Murray's stomach, which made him wince, but Henry in return got a right-hander on the left side of his head and another right hander on his ribs, when again the men came to a clinch and fought half-arm at each other's head until ordered to break away.  Coming together again, Henry put in a hard right-hander on Murray's mouth and nose, which turned on the tap, but for which liberty Murray got in two hard facers.  Murray had the best of this round, and seemingly was gaining strength.

ROUND 4. - Murray came up with a cheerful grin, and his backers were still willing to bet odds on his winning the fight.  The men, after a little sparring for an opening, made play, Henry at the victualing department, where he planted a hard one with his right, getting away from Murray's right at the head.  Fierce left and right-hand fighting then took place until they tumbled into each other's arms and were ordered to break away.  This order they obeyed, but only for a moment, when they were again busy at half-arm work at each others' heads at the ropes.  The fighting that followed anogher break was as game as any seen by any men.  They fought left and right all over the ring, and had to be separated twice by the call of the referee.  The round ended by Murray planting a heavy right-hander on Henry's jaw, and the latter fell just as the time was up for the end of the round.

ROUND 5 AND LAST. - When the men came to the scratch they appeared very exhausted, but were eager to get at each other, and there was no time wasted in getting to work.  Murray appeared the more gay, and he lled off with a right-hander on the left side of Henry's head.  For this favor he got one of the same sort on his left ear, and then the men soon got to close quarters, where hit for hit, left and right, was the order, until they got too close and were ordered to break away by the referee.  Coming together again, a few exchanges took place, when, after Murray had delivered a swinging right-hander on Henry's left ear, the latter swung in his right, which landed on the point of Murray's chin, and he fell as if hit with a club.  He lay on his back deaf to the call of time, and Henry was then declared the winner of the fight.  Murray was oblivious for two or three minutes, and when he came to his senses he was terribly chagrined at the unlooked-for result.  The fight lasted just 22 minutes.

When Murray was picked up and brought out into the air he revived, and when told he had lost he struck at one of his attendants and almost cried, saying:  'I'm not whipped yet.'

Both men were taken to their rooms, and Frank Stevenson, of New York, kept watch over them.  Sheriff Horton, of White Plains, with his deputies arrived, pushed open the door, and, advancing toward Murray, who sat on the edge of the bed, still wearing his ring costume, he said:

'I am Sheriff of this county.  You are my prisoner.'

'Ah, now, none of yer kiddin',' snarled out Murray.  

'Get on your clothes and be quick about it,' said the Sheriff.

'What are ye goin' to do wid me?' Murray asked.

'I amd going to take you to White Plains,' the Sheriff said.

To Deputy Duffy the Sheriff shouted:  'Arrest the other man!'  Henry was in a room across the hall, to which Duffy was denied admission.  

'Break that door down!' said the Sheriff.

Deputy Duffy smashed the door to smithereens in short order, and, advancing to Henry, snapped a pair of handcuffs on his wrists.  The Sheriff was informed that the mob had gathered ouside the hotel, and threats had been made to rescue the prisoners as soon as they appeared in charge of the officers.  Leaving his prisoners with his deputies, Sheriff Horton went down stairs, and facing the crowd, which numbered about fifty, he said:

'I have arrested the principals in a prize fight here this morning.  I have arrested them by virtue of the authority vested in me as Sheriff of Westchester County, and now I command you to immediately disperse.  I am going to take my prisoners to White Plains, and I give you men fair warning that I shall not be interefered with.  I shall shoot the first man that raises a hand against me.  I have come prepared, and I want you to understand that I am not to be intimidated by any of your threats.'  This had the desired effect and the mob hurried to Bartow station, where they expected the Sheriff would take a train, but he outwitted them.  He took his prisoners to New Rochelle, thence to New York and to White Plains, arriving there at half-past twelve o'clock.  Murray and Henry were arraigned before Justice Long and committed to the White Plains jail.

After the announcement was made at the POLICE GAZETTE office that the Sheriff of New Rochelle [sic] had arrested Jimmy Murray and Tom Henry, Richard K. Fox at once sent a dispatch to the Sheriff, Stephen D. Horton, at New Rochelle, asking what disposition had been made of the prisoners.  The Sheriff replied that they had been sent to White Plains and committed in default of $1,000 bail.  Mr. Fox at once left for New Rochelle to furnish the required bonds.  It was the opinion of the majority of the sporting men who witnessed the hurricane battle at Blizzard's Hotel that if it had not been for the chance blow Henry delivered on his opponent's jaw in the fifth round, Murray would have won the fight."

Source:  A Good Fight - The Contest Between Murray and Henry at Pelham Bridge, The Police Gazette:  New York, Mar. 8, 1884, p. 7, cols. 1-2.  

"WHITE PLAINS.-Thomas Henry and James Murray, charged with being the principals in a prize-fight which took place at Pelham Bridge on Wednesday morning, were examined by Justice Long yesterday.  William Molloy, special Deputy Sheriff of New-Rochelle, testified that he saw the defendants boxing, but could not tell whether they wore hard or soft gloves.  He saw about fifty blows struck.  Benedict May gave similar testimony, and the examination was adjourned until to-morrow."

Source:  Westchester County, New-York Dailty Tribune, Feb. 2, 1884, p. 12, col. 4.  

"[Jack Dempsey] has been training at City Island for some time, engaged in a prize fight with Tom Henry at Far Rockaway, on Wednesday.  Henry it will be remembered is the man who fought and whipped Jimmy Murray at Pelham Bridge some [time] ago.  Murray is in Albany Penitentiary serving out his sentence, and Henry is out on bail and engaged in breaking the law.  The authorities will doubtless send him to keep Murray company, when the courts open in September."

Source:  New Rochelle Pioneer, Jul. 12, 1884.

"Three men, one of whom is a Negro, are staying at Bob Brown's hotel [which was located on City Island in the Town of Pelham], and it is rumored about that they are Tom Kean, Jack Dempsey, and 'Black Star,' pugilists training for prize fights."

Source:  New Rochelle Pioneer, Jun. 14, 1884.  

"Last Monday there was a prize fight near Pelham Bridge between Jack Quinn and Jack Buckley, two light weights, for $500 a side.  Buckley was knocked senseless in the twelfth round.  About one hundred persons witnessed the fight but the local police didn't 'catch on.'"

Source:  [Untitled], The Chronicle [Mt. Vernon, New York], Sep. 6, 1889, p. 2, col. 4.  

"Billy Dacey, the prominent light-weight pugilist, is training at Jack Elliott's Hotel, Pelham Bridge.  A well-known up-town sporting man is willing to back Billy in a fight to a finish,, against either Jack McAuliffe of Brooklyn, or Mike Daly of Bangor."

Source:  Pugilistic News, The National Police Gazette:  New York, Jan. 21, 1888, p.11, col. 1.  

Crowd of 200 Saw Joe Gleacher of this City Knocked Out.

A knockout fight was pulled off in a barn at North Pelham last night between Joe Gleacher of Mount Vernon and Joe Kerwin of Tuckahoe.

Sports from New York City, Mount Vernon and surrounding places were present to the number of 200 and witnessed one of the gamest fights that has been put up in this section for years.

During the earlier rounds Gleacher seemed to have the best of the battle.  And administered a hard pounding to his man.  In the eighteenth round Kerwin followed up an advantage with a blow on the jaw and knocked Gleacher down and out.

Both men were badly battered and what has lacking in science seemed to have been made up in force.  

The men fought at catch weights, and as there was bad blood between them it was agreed that it should be a fight to the finish.  

The authorities have taken the matter up and warrants are out for the principals and others."

Source:  Prize Fight at Pelham - Crowd of 200 Saw Joe Gleacher of this City Knocked Out, Daily Argus [Mt. Vernon, New York], Vol. XL, No. 3075, Apr. 15,, 1902, p. 1, col. 3.

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