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Old 03-13-2012, 04:16 PM   #1
Cmoyle
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Default Joe Gans vs. Dave Holly on Bainbridge Island - July 23, 1906 (Part 1)

I only recently discovered that Joe Gans fought on the island I grew up on and submitted the following article for a small local sports paper in Kitsap County in the state of Washington. I thought it might be of interest to some:
"World Champion Joe Gans Fought on Bainbridge Island!
Have you ever heard of Joe Gans, a.k.a. “The Old Master?” No? Well, Gans was the first African-American world boxing champion and the Sugar Ray Leonard of his day. He reigned as the lightweight champion of the world from 1902-1908. Nat Fleischer, the founder and long-time editor of The Ring magazine, ranked Gans as the greatest lightweight in the history of boxing.

I know an individual who is writing a book about Gans and I just about fell off my chair when I received an email from him asking me to help him confirm the location of one of Gans’ fights in this area in 1906. I wasn’t aware that Gans had fought in the Pacific Northwest. But, what really surprised me was this party wanted to confirm that Gans fought across Puget Sound from Seattle at Pleasant Beach in Kitsap County! Pleasant Beach is located on Bainbridge Island. I grew up on Bainbridge. How on earth could I have lived on the island all those years and never heard anything about professional boxing there, let alone a contest involving someone like legendary boxer Joe Gans?

I consulted an on-line website that lists the records of boxers throughout history and found they had a bout listed for Joe Gans versus Dave Holly on July 23, 1906. They listed the location of the fight as Pleasant Beach, Seattle, Washington. I then sent an email message to my friend and local boxing historian John Ochs to see if he knew anything about the fight taking place on Bainbridge. John has on-line access to microfilm copies of old Seattle Times newspapers and he confirmed the fight took place at Pleasant Beach in Kitsap County on July 23, 1906. The Times said the fight was a “stinker” because Holly held the champion throughout the contest.

So, it was true, world champion Joe Gans fought Dave Holly on Bainbridge Island! I’m still trying to wrap my mind around it. A fight of that level of importance in boxing history took place on Bainbridge Island and I had never heard a word about it. Why isn’t there some kind of marker at the site on the island to commemorate the event? Why hasn’t there been more made of this over the years and how did it come to be held on Bainbridge Island of all places?

On one hand, the fact that the fight didn’t take place in Seattle wasn’t all that surprising because like a lot of other places in the country in 1906 prizefighting was illegal there. In fact, as it turned out there was a state law against it at the time. Persons having anything to do with a prizefight could be found guilty of a misdemeanor and fined as much as $50 to $1,000 and imprisoned for as little as thirty days to a full year. It was laws against prizefighting throughout the country that prompted so many contests to be held on barges or ships outside of cities jurisdictions or in the woods, barns and many other undisclosed locations. So called “sneak” fights took place all over the country in this manner in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Seattle’s Occidental Club was anxious to see an important fight staged in the area and when they couldn’t obtain permission to hold the Gans-Holly fight in Seattle they turned to Pleasant Beach. For whatever reason, the authorities in Kitsap County were allowing professional fights to take place within their county.

Over the next couple of weeks, I spent some time learning more about island history from its former museum curator and longtime historian, Jerry Elfendahl. Jerry quickly assured me that he and others had long been aware of the fact that professional fights had taken place on the island and that champion Joe Gans fought there in 1906. In fact, Jerry told me he used to have a photo of Gans hanging on a wall in the museum. He correctly pointed out that had I bothered to pick up a couple of books written concerning the island’s history over the years I would have learned of this much sooner.

Of course, Jerry was right. I purchased three books written about Bainbridge Island history and two of them specifically referred to the Joe Gans fight. But, as a bit of a boxing historian myself I have to say I’m a little taken back by the fact that the event received no more than a sentence or two in those books. One of the two books even misspells Holly’s last name. And, after checking with a number of other former islanders of the male population I determined that they were just as surprised as I was to learn that not only did professional boxing take place there at one time but a world champion fought there. So, in my own defense, it’s not exactly as though the island has done as much as they could to keep this part of its history alive over the past century.

Now as to why Pleasant Beach would be chosen as the site of a bout of this level of significance, Jerry was again kind enough to further my education. There was a wealthy community on the island in the late 1800s and early 1900s. A lumber and shipping merchant named Captain William Renton relocated to Blakely Harbor on the island in 1863 and opened the very successful Blakely Mill Company. By the late 1880s the island boasted of hosting the largest sawmill in the world. And, it was also the home of the Hall Brothers Shipyard. At one time Port Blakely was described as one of the busiest and thriving towns on the Pacific Coast. United States President Rutherford Hayes even toured the area in 1891.

By the end of the nineteenth century, Port Blakely had its own post office, company store, livery stable, 75-room hotel and a jail. According to Jerry, the mill paid its employees in gold at one time and the monthly paydays attracted all sorts of peddlers and salesmen to the bustling port.

(Concluded in part 2)
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Old 03-13-2012, 04:17 PM   #2
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Default Re: Joe Gans vs. Dave Holly on Bainbridge Island - July 23, 1906 (Part 1)

"Sometime around the year 1900, an enterprising man named Malcolm McDonald decided to turn some beach property at the south end of the island into a resort for Port Blakely workers and others from nearby locales. He purchased a small resort on the eastern shore that consisted of a saloon, dance hall and three-pin bowling alley and then added a hotel and saltwater swimming pool. Behind the hotel there was a large pavilion and 30 acres of picnic grounds. McDonald also built a boardwalk between the resort and Port Blakely. There was nothing else like the resort on Puget Sound at the time and it came to be known as the Coney Island of the West Coast.



In the summertime the resort attracted visitors by boat from Port Orchard, Seattle, Tacoma and other areas on the sound and hosted county conventions. It also served as the site for the original Kitsap County Fair. The fact that a number of prizefights had already been staged at the pavilion and it was only a short 35-minute steamship ride from Seattle made it a natural alternative to Seattle for the site of the Gans-Holly fight.



The Seattle Times provided a fair amount of pre-fight coverage and said it would be the “classiest boxing contest ever pulled off in or near Seattle.” They noted that it would mark the first time that a bona fide champion ever performed in this part of the country.



But, while I found a number of newspaper articles referred to the contest as a championship bout, the July 22 edition of the Times said the men would not box at the lightweight limit. That means that the lightweight title wouldn’t have been at stake. And, that makes sense because Gans was angling for a very lucrative fight against a top contender named “Battling” Nelson at the time so he wouldn’t have wanted to risk losing his title to Holly. So, while the contest at Pleasant Beach was not really a championship contest and loses some of its historical significance as a result, it was nonetheless exciting for me to learn that an official bout involving a reigning world champion actually took place on the island.



Gans spent more than a week training for the bout at the Pleasant Beach resort and entertained the summertime visitors with various exercises and sparring sessions with both local toughs and professionals of various weights who fancied an opportunity to put on the gloves with a world champion.



As mentioned earlier, the fight itself was apparently a dull and listless affair. The champion was named the victor after twenty rounds of fighting and Holly was ridiculed for his holding and wrestling tactics. Fights were often of a much longer duration in those days. According to the Times report of the bout the next day, Gans closed the challengers left eye in the eighteenth round and won by a wide margin. Both men agreed to weigh in below 135 pounds at six o’clock on the evening of the fight and the official limit for a lightweight title bout at the time was 133 pounds. It’s said that Gans came in at 133 ½ pounds while his opponent looked a pound heavier. That’s how the champion ensured his title wouldn’t be at stake.



Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the coverage of the event by the Times was their account of the riotous behavior of the fans and the failure on the part of the events management to effectively control the crowd. Two steamers were lined up to transport men from Seattle to Pleasant Beach but there were no policemen on-hand at Pier 2 to oversee the process and help maintain order. The Times described a scene where fans “fought and jammed their way through the doors of the warehouse until passengers unloading from the opposite direction found it impossible to wiggle their way through the crowd.” And, there was apparently a frantic rush to board one of the steamers before the crowd was made aware of the fact that there was a second steamer at the end of the pier available to transport them as well.



Once the large contingency of fans reached Pleasant Beach it became clear that the pavilion was too small to accommodate everyone. The Seattle Star said as many as 500 people were unable to get inside the pavilion to witness the fight. A number of fans who failed to secure a ticket disgustedly returned to Seattle. But, many others remained and attempted to fight their way into the little venue. And, things really got out of hand when a large group of men from the nearby Port Blakely Mill arrived on foot and discovered that were unable to gain access to the fight.



The Times reported that the walls of the pavilion had many large openings for the purpose of ventilation. Determined to see the fight, the men from the mill and many others who found themselves outside, used the holes in the walls to scale the building. Some men gained access to the roof where they proceeded to tear cedar shakes off the structure so they could peer down into the ring while debris rained down on those below. Others tried to force themselves into the openings in the wall behind a section of a gallery. Finally, a number of men in that gallery began to pull them through the openings and toss them down on the crowd below one at a time. Men in the lower section were on their feet, yelling at those above and fighting to get out of the way.



While a preliminary bout was underway, men were being pulled through holes in the wall and thrown to the floor below as fast as new heads appeared. But, the men outside were undeterred and at some point the leaders of that group suggested that they tear open the building and they began to pull the boards of the wall on the south end of the structure apart. The Seattle Star said this took place during the second round of the main event. As they began to peel away the large boards, the crowd inside stood up to watch and when the third board was torn away it loosened the support for a section of the gallery and a bank of seats collapsed, burying a crowd at that end of the facility and causing the boxers to pause for a few moments.



Remarkably, only one man suffered any injury. The mob outside continued its efforts to tear the wall apart until a makeshift stand comprised of some 200 – 300 men was able to view the action from behind the building. The Times reporter indicated that at no time during any of this chaos was there any action taken on the part of those managing the affair to gain control over the unruly crowd. The main event went on and given the state of the men in attendance it’s not hard to imagine what might have happened had someone tried to cancel it.



The organization that backed the event had planned to try and lure other nationally known fighters to Pleasant Beach in the near future. But, the combination of the poor performance by Gans and Holly and the mismanagement of both the transportation of the fans and their behavior dampened their enthusiasm.



And, when Seattle’s Chief of Police Wappenstein came out the next day and announced his intention to drive anyone making a living off the sport out of the city talks about any future fights quickly ended. Wappenstein maintained that it didn’t matter if the fight was staged across the sound. Simply staging it as close to the city as it was and allowing fighters to train within the city limits brought many “crooks and thugs” to the area. “If the sheriff of Kitsap County, who is unlawfully permitting prize fights in his county, wants them there, let him take them further inward where the access to Seattle will not be so easy. If he won’t do that there is a way to demand of the governor that the sheriff be ordered to enforce the law,” he said.



Wappenstein wrote Governor Mead and when the Governor received the letter he announced his intention to call the attention of every sheriff in the state to the anti-prize fight law. Four days after the fight, the Kitsap County Herald published the following under a story titled ‘Prize Fights in Our County’:



“We have a judge and sheriff of this county who are sworn to uphold the law and punish violators. The prize fights and disgraceful affairs which have taken place at Pleasant Beach lately do not speak well for our county. The way Seattle papers and authorities score our authorities is enough to make us shudder at the very idea. The city of Seattle has not the reputation of being exactly a saintly place and its officers, we presume, have not always had a reputation for honesty and integrity, and when they, even, object to us for not enforcing the law we naturally look around and ask ourselves, “Who is running this county anyway.



Crime should not go unpunished in Kitsap County any more than any other place. If the authorities in King County will not permit prize fights and accompanying evils, it is a pity that the officers of our county will tolerate having this made a dumping ground for such proceedings.”



Ultimately, the fights promoter, Bill Daily, announced that he had no plans to stage any further fights there or anywhere else in Kitsap County.



The fight reportedly drew a crowd of as many as 2,500 fans, with delegations arriving from not only Seattle but Everett, Yakima, Portland and Vancouver as well. Gans reportedly pocketed $1,500 for his work, while the loser netted $750.



Gans went on to defeat “Battling” Nelson in September of 1906 in a famous 42-round fight held in Goldfield, Nevada that really put the famous boxing promoter “Tex” Rickard on the map. Nelson eventually avenged that defeat with a 17-round knockout over Gans in July of 1908 and then knocked him out a second time two months later. But, many people believe that Gans was already ill by that time. He passed away in August of 1910 from tuberculosis at only thirty-five years of age. Ironically, his Pleasant Beach opponent, Dave Holly, passed away almost two years later, on July 25, 1912 at age thirty-one from a dog bite that resulted in an infection."
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Old 03-13-2012, 04:36 PM   #3
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Default Re: Joe Gans vs. Dave Holly on Bainbridge Island - July 23, 1906 (Part 1)

Shoot Clay! Wish I'd known you were interested. I covered this fight in my Dave Holly essay for the Colleen Ay**** book. I'd have been happy to share my research
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Old 03-13-2012, 04:56 PM   #4
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Default Re: Joe Gans vs. Dave Holly on Bainbridge Island - July 23, 1906 (Part 1)

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Old 03-13-2012, 05:03 PM   #5
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Default Re: Joe Gans vs. Dave Holly on Bainbridge Island - July 23, 1906 (Part 1)

I've heard of this John Ochs fellow before. Apparently he's big man on campus when it comes to boxing historians. Does he post anywhere? Have a blog? Anything online?
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Old 03-13-2012, 05:19 PM   #6
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Default Re: Joe Gans vs. Dave Holly on Bainbridge Island - July 23, 1906 (Part 1)

Surf, I see that you do mention the fight between the pair in that chapter, but like Boxrec had it noted as taking place in Seattle. I was clueless about the fight taking place in this area at all but what really shocked me was to find out it took place not in Seattle but at Pleasant Beach on Bainbridge Island. Bainbridge is a 30 minute ride across Puget Sound from Seattle and I, and many other people I know who grew up there that I spoke with recently had no knowledge of any professional fights taking place there, let alone one involving someone like the reigning lightweight champion. If you ever visited Bainbridge you'd understand why it would be hard to imagine a world champion fighting there. But, obviously Seattle wasn't an option at the time.

John Ochs doesn't have a blog or post on-line. He's spending a lot of his time right now working on a comprehensive book about boxing manager Jack Hurley and boxing during Hurley's day.
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Old 03-13-2012, 06:44 PM   #7
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Default Re: Joe Gans vs. Dave Holly on Bainbridge Island - July 23, 1906 (Part 1)

Hah! My parents lived there for years. I wonder where exactly the venue was.
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Old 03-13-2012, 07:52 PM   #8
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Default Re: Joe Gans vs. Dave Holly on Bainbridge Island - July 23, 1906 (Part 1)

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Originally Posted by Seamus View Post
Hah! My parents lived there for years. I wonder where exactly the venue was.
If you're interested you can pm me your email and I'll send you the article from The Times.
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Old 03-13-2012, 07:57 PM   #9
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Default Re: Joe Gans vs. Dave Holly on Bainbridge Island - July 23, 1906 (Part 1)

Sweet as a nut, nice read.

I wonder how the book will be.
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Old 03-14-2012, 01:02 PM   #10
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Default Re: Joe Gans vs. Dave Holly on Bainbridge Island - July 23, 1906 (Part 1)

Did you find any other local newspapers covering the bout other than the Seattle Daily Times and the Seattle Star?
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Old 03-14-2012, 01:54 PM   #11
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Default Re: Joe Gans vs. Dave Holly on Bainbridge Island - July 23, 1906 (Part 1)

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Did you find any other local newspapers covering the bout other than the Seattle Daily Times and the Seattle Star?
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer
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Old 03-14-2012, 05:43 PM   #12
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Default Re: Joe Gans vs. Dave Holly on Bainbridge Island - July 23, 1906 (Part 1)

There really wasn't much of value in the Seattle Post Intelligence though. By far and away the coverage by the Seattle Times was the most comprehensive. I also checked out the Bremerton News and an African-American Seattle newspaper from that period of time but neither had anything to speak of concerning the event.
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Old 03-15-2012, 02:16 AM   #13
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Default Re: Joe Gans vs. Dave Holly on Bainbridge Island - July 23, 1906 (Part 1)

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Originally Posted by Cmoyle View Post
Once the large contingency of fans reached Pleasant Beach it became clear that the pavilion was too small to accommodate everyone.

The organization that backed the event had planned to try and lure other nationally known fighters to Pleasant Beach in the near future. But, the combination of the poor performance by Gans and Holly and the mismanagement of both the transportation of the fans and their behavior dampened their enthusiasm.

Ultimately, the fights promoter, Bill Daily, announced that he had no plans to stage any further fights there or anywhere else in Kitsap County.
According to Daily, he had an agreement with Sheriff Pitts, on July 22, ie the day before the fight, that the bout was to be the last one in Pleasant Beach, no more boxing would be allowed.

He also claimed that the return $5 tickets exceeded 200, so the capacity of the building wasn't exceeded.
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