AMATEUR PUGILIST (c. 1884)
The above boxing pose was taken in Leadville circa 1884. At this time Billy Irwin was 15 years old. The identity of the other pugilist, at left, is unknown. Perhaps he was an adversary or merely another aspiring pugilist.
Leadville in 1884 was the second largest city in Colorado and Colorado had only been a state for 8 years. Leadville and Colorado were truly located in the heart of the “Wild West” being surrounded by territories yet to become states: Idaho Territory (State in 1890), Montana Territory (State in 1889), Wyoming Territory
(State in 1890), Utah Territory (State in 1896), Arizona Territory (State in 1912), Oklahoma Territory (State in 1907) and North and South Dakota Territories (States in 1889).
In the early 1880s Leadville’s citizenry truly reflected its “Wild West” character. Frank and Jesse James are said to have had a mining claim near Leadville at Half Moon Gulch. Bob and Charlie Ford, James gang members, also had mining claims in the area. Buffalo Bill had been up to Leadville a number of times while visiting his close friend J. B Omohundro (Texas Jack). Likewise, Bat Masterson had been to Leadville from Denver many times as a promoter of boxing matches and horse races. Doc Holliday, and a number of his enemies from the Tombstone gang, had relocated to Leadville shortly after the gunfight at the O. K. Corral in 1881. Holliday was a Faro dealer at the Monarch Saloon. It was at the Monarch Saloon that Holliday ran afoul of Monarch bartender, Billy Allen, giving rise to Holliday’s last gunfight. John and James Younger with remnants of their gang were reported to be in Leadville at this time. The famous trail blazer and scout, Kit Carson, owned and operated a stage line in Leadville in the 1880’s. Irish “Molly Maguires”, who had escaped arrest, prosecution and hanging in eastern Pennsylvania (coal mine labor wars), were in Leadville aplenty. They were followed to Colorado by Pinkertons always undercover and in the spying mode. Teamsters, muleshinners, civil war vets, Indian fighters and most every other type of wild western character were there
in Leadville aplenty. Thus, Leadville of the 1880s was as wild a western town, or even more so, than most any other town in the West.
As Colorado’s second largest city and possible candidate for its capital, Leadville’s new found mineral wealth attracted many people out to make their fortunes and their living in the mines. Three dollar a day miner working 10-12 hours shifts by six days a week needed some form of entertainment. This they found in saloons: playing cards, gambling, drinking in excess and betting on impromptu boxing matches. These all male saloon crowds appreciated a rockem-sockem saloon brawl oftentimes pitting the champion of one faction against the other.
A ring-savvy boxer with talented fists could insert himself into a saloon and, for money, challenge any of its patrons. This was known as a “pick up bout.” After the challenge a makeshift ring was set up with a rope or clothesline after the chairs and tables were cleared away. If gloves were available they were usually light ones…4 oz. or 6 oz. gloves. For the boxer that won the match a hat was passed around and the money collected was split with the saloon keeper. In time a successful saloon brawler could make a name for himself, develop a clientele of followers and if lucky he may even attract monetary backers (gamblers) for future bouts.
Leadville’s Irish district, roughly East 4th, 5th and 6th street had more than its fair share of saloons
where these impromptu bouts could take place: Mike Keefe’s Saloon on East 6th Street. Kavanaugh’s…McNally’s…Macready’s…Murphy’s and Shea’s to name but a few. James Duffy’s Saloon, also on the East side, was called the “Little Globe Theater” because, like the real Globe Theater of Leadville, it featured matches on a fairly regular basis.
But saloons and clandestine bouts outside of the city limits were not the only venues for Leadville’s boxing matches. In Leadville there were a number of “Halls” and “Theaters” where boxing matches could take place. Matches in these “theaters” were largely tolerated by the city fathers because they were purported to be “tournaments” or” exhibitions” of the manly art of self-defense. Supposedly at such matches there was no blood and no knockouts (with emphasis on supposedly). Turner’s Hall, Knights of Labor Hall, Zoo Theater, National Theater and the Globe Theater were some of the more notable places. Frank Cole’s New Moon Saloon, south of the city limits, was known to sponsor matches. Soda Springs, not far from Leadville’s city limits, also promoted boxing matches. Another “Hall” worth mentioning is the Old City Hall located at 132-34 East 6th Street.
Some of the “movers and shakers” of Leadville boxing matches of the 1880s were: Bat Masterson of Denver, Ned Foster, Mike Goldsmith and Mannie Hyman to mention a few. The Zoo Theater’s general manager was Al Smith with W. J. Berkley as his assistant. As a point of clarification, it is to be noted that in February 1883: Mike Goldsmith’s license for the Globe Theater was transferred by the City Council to Ned Foster who renamed it the Zoo Theater. Soon afterwards Goldsmith remodeled the building at 210 Harrison avenue which he opened in the Spring as the National Theater.
The following is a verbatim article (undated and too faded to display) but it is most probably from the Leadville Daily Herald (1883) which gives a good description of weekly boxing matches at the Globe Theater:
Sunday’s Match at the Globe—Matches on the Tapis.
On Sunday afternoon the Globe was filled by a crowd-eager to see the boxing of a number of men anxious to win a medal put up by Manager Goldsmith. The medal was a very handsome one worth $125, and a credit alike to its donor and manufacturers, W. W. Frisheim and Irving Hauser. The stage was cleared for action soon after the curtain rose and six judges were selected from the audience to see fair play. Ned Foster was elected timekeeper and Bryan Campbell referee. All these precautions were taken that the management might make good its promise of having a perfectly square match. The contestants were as follows: Ed Smith, weight 160 pounds; W. Calderwood, 158 pounds; P. Flynn, 143 pounds; Bobby Gaylor 135 Pounds; M. Rooney, 135 pounds; W. Kennedy, 131 pounds; T. Griffith, 116 pounds.
The men were paired off and the fun began. Marquis of Queensbury rules governed the fighting. Calderwood and Smith first faced each other. In the first and second rounds, Calderwood seemed to be getting the best of it, and in the next two there was heavy work done without much advantage to either side. Smith then got a vigorous crack on the nose which drew claret and loss of wind soon used him up.
Flynn and Gaylor next showed up. They made an even looking pair, but Bobby’s superior skill as a boxer was soon evident. Their first round was a little too lively for comfort, so they made the second somewhat easier. The third round was heavy again, Flynn getting knocked down. The men were tired out in this, and Flynn threw up the sponge when time was called. Griffiths and Rooney then stepped out. Rooney’s heavier weight told greatly in his favor, and he dropped it on his smaller antagonist when they fell in such a way as to use up Griffith’s badly. Rooney won in two rounds but Griffiths won the sympathy of the audience by being game throughout.
There will be matches next Sunday evening and on the following Sunday afternoon to decide the ownership of the medal. On the last-named day, the victors in previous matches will go for each other.
Next Sunday afternoon the Globe, under the Management for the day of John G. Morgan, will be the scene of a grand wrestling match; the finest ever seen in Leadville. Homer Lane and John Cudihee are already in training for it. A glove fight between Billy Linn and John Westley is announced for an early day.
As of this writing no documentation has been found linking Billy Irwin to any events of the preceding paragraphs. However, in Essay 2 of this booklet, there is pictorial documentation that Billy Irwin (circa 1879) was truly training in Leadville to be a boxer. There is also pictorial documentation, found in this essay, that Billy Irwin (circa 1884) was, by then, participating in Leadville boxing matches. This pictorial documentation strongly suggests that Billy Irwin did indeed participate in Leadville’s “Wild Western” boxing history of the 1880s.