Runyan Recalls Dempsey When He Rode Train Rod To Fill Fighting Dates

Damon Runyon

Tampa Tribune/December 26, 1925

I traversed historic ground today. ‘Twas out here that Mr. William Harrison Dempsey, the Manassa Mauler, heavyweight champion of the world, first attracted attention as one of vast pugilistic potentialities. 

Over the very road I now travel Mr. Dempsey passed in his early youth, mayhap, clinging like a caterpillar to the brake beams of this very train, or flattened on the deck or roof thereof, for in those days Mr. Dempsey abhorred commercialism in any form. I believe I should not mention this circumstance, however. I am informed that Mr. Dempsey dislikes references to his peripatetic youth. 

Though once he proudly made much of his talent, a rider of the rods, now he feels that his social position is such that he should cancel his past. Well. I presume the Astors don’t care to be reminded of the fact that their chief ancestor was a fur peddler. 

Raised in Utah

Mr. William Harrison Dempsey began his pugilistic career around the town of Montrose, Colo., but his parents moved to Salt Lake City before he had progressed far in the manly art of scrambling ears. Thus it was in Utah that he did much of his early fighting, and it was out of Utah there came the first rumors of his prowess. 

Old Billy Roche, the famous referee, drifted into Utah along in 1916, and refereed a couple of bouts in which Mr. William Harrison Dempsey was a participant, and on returning east Old Bill remarked to me one day, “There’s a young guy out in Utah named Jack Dempsey that ought to be champion of the world if the right fellow gets hold of him. He can fight.” 

Mr. William Harrison Dempsey at that time was a gangling youth of twenty-one, weighting 167 pounds. He fought several bouts around Salt Lake City, losing one four-rounder to Jack Downey and fighting another four-round draw with this same Jack Downey. Mr. William Harrison Dempsey wasn’t much of a fighter then, just a strong, rough, willing young man. 

He fought the Boston Bear Cat in Ogden, stopping him in a round, the Boston Bear Cat being a slambang individual of color, who was expected to knock Mr. Dempsey cock-eyed. He fought George Christian, another negro, in Provo, clipping him in a round. 

Went to East

It was out of Utah that Mr. Dempsey journeyed to New York with the fat Mr. Jack Price, one of the first of his many managers, and fought Wild Burt Kenny, Andre Anderson and John Lester Johnson; also signing a business contract with Mr. John the Razor, whose moans over Mr. Dempsey’s subsequent hurried departure are historic. 

It was in Utah, in Murray, just out of Salt Lake City to be exact, after his return from New York, that Mr. Dempsey was knocked over by Mr. Jim Flynn, the venerable fighting fireman of Pueblo, Colorado, in what some folks aid was a fake. I have been told that Mr. Dempsey was paid $300 cash money for that performance, and that he insisted on getting it in advance. 

Wasn’t Trusting

Old Billy Roche is said to have paid over the money to Mr. Dempsey, Roche being the referee, and Mr. Dempsey carried the dough in his trunks when he entered the ring. I gather that Mr. Dempsey was not a trusting nature even then. His manager at that time was the ubiquitious Mr. Fred Windy Winson, afterwards manager of Senor Don Fuentes, the Mexican jumping bean. 

Following this incident, Mr. Dempsey and Mr. Wilson moved with some celerity to San Francisco, where Mr. Dempsey fell into the hands of Mr. John Joseph Leo McKernan, otherwise Mr. Jack Kearns. The rest, I believe, is history. 

Mr. Dempsey didn’t do right by the home folks in Utah in that affair with Mr. Jim Flynn, if the story of it is true, but no doubt he has since repented. 

The next time he got a crack at Mr. Flynn he knocked Mr. Flynn stiff in one smack.

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