Firpo vs Harry Wills (1924)

Discussion in 'Classic Boxing Forum' started by Longhhorn71, Apr 30, 2019.



  1. BitPlayerVesti

    BitPlayerVesti Will research for food Full Member

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    I've seen both ages listed. Is there something definitive saying he would have been 35 at this point?
     
  2. Jason Thomas

    Jason Thomas New Member Full Member

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    The United States census has him born in 1889.

    That is the best evidence. The age of 32 in 1924 seems to come from a newspaper report, which I don't think is nearly as reliable.
     
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  3. BitPlayerVesti

    BitPlayerVesti Will research for food Full Member

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    I don't know much on Wills's life.

    Was his wife named Sarah?

    Edit: There's actually ones for Harry Wills born in Louisiana with a wife named Sarah that put Harry as born in 1889 and 1892, but both put Sarah as black, so I guess neither will be him.

    Edit 2: Wait his wife was apparently named Sarah
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    Last edited: May 14, 2019
  4. BitPlayerVesti

    BitPlayerVesti Will research for food Full Member

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    I'm not really familar with going through these records, but with there being black men born in Louisiana named Harry C Wills, and married to Sarah Wills on documents with 1889, 1892 and other, and the birth year is often put down as estimated. It makes me think it's not known. But feel free to correct me if I'm wrong, as this really isn't familar stuff to me.
     
  5. Jason Thomas

    Jason Thomas New Member Full Member

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    If you go to "Find a Grave" on the internet, you can find a photo of Harry Wills' grave.

    The gravestone clearly shows the dates 1889 to 1958 for Harry C Wills (this is clearly referring to this boxer known as The Black Panther)

    His wife is Sarah Ann and her life dates are apparently 1886 to 1960 (this is harder to read than Harry's dates)

    As for the census, I have found entries from 1910 & 1930 & 1940, all claiming a birth year of 1889. There is no doubt this refers to the boxer Harry Wills as he was living in New York in 1930 and 1940. I think this very strong evidence. I see no reason to question this birth year.

    For me, there seems no good reason for Wills to exaggerate his age, while he might have a reason during his career to shave off a few years when talking to reporters, or a reporter might just mishear him when he gave his age.

    addition--I see someone else found the Find-a-Grave info and photo.

    and Wills was born in New Orleans, so the records should be better than if he was born out on a farm in the back country. Interestingly, no one doubts Jack Johnson's birth year. Why so different with Wills?

    My conclusion would be that there is no solid reason to doubt the 1889 birth date.
     
    Last edited: May 14, 2019
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  6. BitPlayerVesti

    BitPlayerVesti Will research for food Full Member

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    I'm not suggesting he was lying or exaggerating, I just think he might have never known. But I'm open to being convinced.

    Here's some of the other documents, I've just been looking on
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    There's a WW1 draft registration for Harry Coleman Wills, born in New Orleans in Jan 20 1892, from New York
    A passport application from 1917 New York, from Harry C Wills, born in Louisiana in Jan 20 1892 and with his spouse as Sarah
    Harry Colman Wills born in 1892 (estimated), born in Louisiana, marrying Sarah Perkins born 1887 (estimated) in Manhattan in 1916.

    There's other ones from ships some of which give different dates like 1891 and 1893, but seem to be the same person.
     
  7. klompton2

    klompton2 Boxing Junkie Full Member

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    Gotta love people whining about Wills hitting Firpo on the break or rabbit punching while defending Dempsey's performance against Firpo which featured all of the above and of course numerous knockdowns accomplished by standing over the fallen fighter and hitting him when he got up. The hand wringing over the fact that Wills dominated Firpo easily and Dempsey went life and death with him is comical. Sure Wills win wasnt as exciting as Dempsey's but he didnt have anywhere near the trouble Dempsey had either and certainly didnt foul anywhere near as much or as egregiously as Dempsey did.
     
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  8. Jason Thomas

    Jason Thomas New Member Full Member

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    I just went to the 1910 census, and a Harry Wills was listed as being born in Jefferson County, Louisiana, (I haven't been there, but I think this is part of New Orleans) in 1889 and was 21 years old at the time of this census.

    The man known as The Brown Panther has a gravestone listing his life dates as 1889 to 1958.

    Frankly, I don't think anyone will ever find evidence to prove this birth year is inaccurate.

    As for guys named Harry Wills, there were 1738 listed in the census, and 378 named Harry C. Wills. How many had wives named Sarah? Well, that wasn't a very unusual name.

    Now to be honest, I can't say for certain that the man listed as being born in 1889 is our Harry Wills, but the gravestone is definitely our Harry Wills. Now if the 1892 guy is our Harry, why is he born on January 20 if his gravestone lists his birthday as May 15?

    Now what obviously could happen is that Harry didn't know when he was born, but later did some personal research and found out from the county records or perhaps church records exactly when he was born. Just a guess. The 1910 census argues against this though.

    I just used a
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    search.com search for Harry Wills and found he was born on May 15, 1889.
     
    Last edited: May 14, 2019
  9. Rainer

    Rainer Member Full Member

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    Granted that Wills was past his prime ,but he looks distinctly underwhelming to me, slow and mauling. I think he would have been meat for Dempsey.
     
  10. BitPlayerVesti

    BitPlayerVesti Will research for food Full Member

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    We're not just talking two Harry C Wills born in New Orleans, both of who moved to New York and married a Sarah who was born in Virginia.

    Sarah's birth year is also inconsistent,
    The 1940 census says she was born in 1889 in Virginia
    The marrige record says she was born in 1887 (estimated) in Virginia
    (though both of the above say Sarah is black too, there's pictures of her and she's white
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    )
    The grave says she was born in 1886
    A New York ship record from 1929 has Harry Wills (born 1893 in New Orleans) and Sarah Wills (born 1894 in Virginia)
    A New York ship record from 1925 has Harry Wills (born 1892 in New Orleans) and Sarah Wills (born 1892 in Virginia)


    If you look through the list of records it looks more likely these are the same people, there's not enough similar ones for you to expect anything like two different but so similar people (for the records).

    It's possibly he guessed earlier and later found out, but I don't think that sort of speculation counts for much.
     
    Last edited: May 15, 2019
  11. Jason Thomas

    Jason Thomas New Member Full Member

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    Well, there were 43 men named Harry Wills living in New York City in 1940 according to the US Census.

    Nine of them had birthdays which COULD make them our Harry Wills--1 born in 1886, 1 in 1887, 1 in 1888, 5 in 1889, and 1 in 1891. None were born in 1892.

    The problem is that Harry Wills is not an unusual name and neither is Sarah, plus are these various search places all that accurate? I have no way of judging that. I used the government site for the census info.

    I guess it boils down to what is the point? The most anyone could prove here would be that we have no idea when he was born, but then he could also be older rather than younger.

    But to do that we have to either ignore his gravestone, or assume that it is not actually his grave, which seems very unlikely as he was a famous man when he died. But the grave dates do jive with the 1910 census report of a Harry Wills being born in New Orleans in 1889, pretty strong evidence in my judgment.

    What interests me is why this is a big issue. I have never heard anyone question Jack Johnson as being born in 1878. Why aren't people plowing through passport records and ship records to see if there is a Jack Johnson who COULD be our Jack Johnson but is listed as being born either later or earlier. My conclusion is the reason is Dempsey and trying to prop him up in contrast to Wills. If Wills is so much older than Dempsey it minimizes losing to say Sharkey when 37. What really does that loss prove? Making him younger is a way of putting him down which has been a rather strenuous effort over the years, not least by Dempsey himself who never got in the ring with Wills but talked plenty about how Wills would have been an easy victim if Dempsey would have been willing to fight him.

    Anyway, I still think the best evidence is that Wills was born in New Orleans in 1889, but if better evidence pops up, I'd be interested.

    Just on why Wills and his wife might have checked their birth dates--social security.
     
  12. klompton2

    klompton2 Boxing Junkie Full Member

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    Harry Wills' age was given differently almost every time it was recorded. Ive seen it on official documents as 1892, 1892, 1891, 1890, 1889, and 1886. This isnt uncommon for African Americans at the time. Langford, Tiger Flowers, etc all have conflicting birth dates. Official record keeping for and by African Americans was spotty at best. Will's family said he was born in 1889. Regardless if the implication is that Wills wasnt THAT much older than Dempsey it should be remembered that while Wills was 3-6 years older than Jack he also had nearly double the amount of fights as Dempsey and WAY more rounds under his belt. Its not the age its the mileage and Wills had a lot of mileage on his ticker by 1924, being past 30 with 13 years of fighting under his belt, and around 100 recorded fights (and we know that not all of his fights are recorded on his official record). Even so he took on a man who was heavier, taller, younger and fresher, a guy who had dropped Dempsey three times and taken him life and death despite Dempsey getting to use his own set of rules and rendered, and rendered him impotent. Its a double standard.
     
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  13. BitPlayerVesti

    BitPlayerVesti Will research for food Full Member

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    For the record I don't think his age matters in evaluating him, fighters all hit their prime at different ages and for differebt lengths anyway, and Wills was clearly past his at this point.
     
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  14. Chuck1052

    Chuck1052 Well-Known Member Full Member

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    Based on the footage, it seemed that Luis Firpo was trying to clinch or throw rabbit punches while Harry Wills was trying to punch whenever possible.

    - Chuck Johnston
     
  15. klompton2

    klompton2 Boxing Junkie Full Member

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    Sarah, Harry's wife, was mixed or mulatto. She was not white.
     
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