Tracy Callis (chief historian of Cyber Boxing Zone): “Elliott was an agile, strong, tough and aggressive boxer who was tricky and used unfair tactics; He had great ability, but never trained seriously; because of his unrestrained anger, he was twice arrested and sentenced to jail for armed robbery and assault and battery with intent to kill. Jimmy always seemed to turn up at the wrong place at the wrong time; On March 1, 1883, he was shot by gambler Jere Dunn in a Chicago saloon and died shortly afterwards; He is buried in Calvary Cemetery.”
The genesis for this story was my 10th year anniversary clean from speed drugs, crystal meth or cocaine. I had been encouraged by my therapists (I have two and a psychiatrist) to do something celebratory and leave my hometown of Phoenix, Arizona while reflecting over the ten years. I had shared my anniversary ‘publicly’ at Phoenix Shanti group with HIV+/AIDS guys out of prison less than two weeks with one shivering HIV+ soul off speed drugs for one day. It seemed necessary to write a special boxing story and knew it would involve my former mentor, Tracy Callis. He encouraged me not to hoard my history research and share with others. His favorite two researchers became Sergei Yurchenko of Moscow and I. He said we were the only boxing researchers who detached ourselves with relentless pursuit for truth – a certain irony, or maybe not – that we are both highly emotional, temperamental guys.
“Hi Chris, It has been very cold, windy and rainy around Virginia this year. We are eagerly awaiting spring time and warmer weather. Mr. Elliott, huh? He’s a real rascal, huh? Go ahead and quote me if you like. Thank you!!! Let me know when you have your article up and running. I’d like to read it. Take care, TC.” Tracy Callis is a Southern, Christian gentleman and former Virginian football athlete who attempts fairness with historical truth. The reality is too many pugilists and too few researchers. Those few boxing historians who make a few bucks stomp on anyone else – so long as Sergei and I live in abject poverty – they are fine letting us worry whether Irish lightweight’s Packey McFarland’s only ‘official’ loss was justifiable as proof. Several years ago, Tracy received news that his namesake son was dead at aged 40. Never quite recovering from that shock, his grandson, Sean, died at aged 13 last year. There are moments when Sergei and I cannot take boxing and must quit for weeks to visit a museum or re-discover culture. We always rebound. But the death of his son and grandson was too much for one lifetime. I have briefly researched and minimally published about 19th century Irish pugilist, James Elliott. But I liked Tracy’s words for Cyber Boxing Zone’s site and thought it’s the best story for my 10th year celebration. I have written increasingly positive boxing stories over the past couple of years. It’s time for a return to negative violence. And yes, crazy as that sounds, it makes me sentimental. I am to visit Tijuana, Mexico for a week of reflection while researching James Elliott’s life and death.
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Jimmy Elliott, born in Ireland, circa 1845, moved to New York City as a child. He must have been a tough boy living a violent teenaged lifestyle. He was apparently proficient and experienced at Rough-and-Tumble fighting by the aged of 15. It was a popular illegal sport in the New York City region during the 1850’s and 60’s. William Poole, murdered in 1855, was its most famous fighter. It was usually an impromptu or hastily arranged battle between two combatants. It was a circular battle ground without ropes. There were no rules so you could kick, punch, eye gouge, choke, pull hair or scratch a foe. There was only one continuous round until a fighter surrendered. A big teenaged boy such as James Elliott probably stepped forward with a single hard punch and then used his strength, weight, size to overpower someone. For an experienced Rough-and Tumble fighter such as William Poole, a smarter average-sized guy was to utilize quickness. Poole would semi-circle without striking while encouraging his foe to aggressively lurch forward. Poole would seize an opening and strike with a wrestling hold around the neck or wrap his legs. Both would fall to ground with Poole strangling or disabling his opponent. A battle rarely lasted more than a couple minutes. For Elliott to fight several of these at 14 or 15 years old would suggest a tough son-of-a-bitch who picked up a few dollars with straightforward bets or one of the older spectators sponsoring him.
The Champions of the American Prize Ring (1881 – published by Richard K. Fox): “Elliott is 35 years of age. He was brought up in New York, and from a boy figured in rough and tumbles. His first fight was with Nobby Clark. It took place at the Palisades, New Jersey, May 25, 1861. Clark won after fighting 34 rounds, lasting one hour.” Some historians, I am not sure this is the best label with their research so sloppy, list the Elliott-Clark bout as the first ‘featherweight’ championship boxing bout. Without knowing anything about either pugilist – they are merely Wikipedia names to copy – list both men at 126 pounds. It is possible that Clark, a much smaller man, was in the vicinity of the weight, but not Elliott. Tracy Callis lists Elliott at 23 years-old which would have made him a strapping, muscled larger man at approximately 180+ pounds. I believe Elliott was closer to 16 years old. It would make him a boy not a man, but unlikely his weight would have been below 170 pounds. Sacramento Daily Union (6/9/1863): “At the time (Elliott) could not have been over 17 years of age.” It would make sense that a smaller, older, experienced pugilist could embarrass and easily defeat a much taller, young boy used to street scraps and Rough-and-Tumble fights.
On June 6th, 1862, James Elliott battled an experienced Hen Winkle at Bull’s Ferry for $500. Tracy Callis: “This bout was held near Weehawken, New Jersey; The crowd broke into the ring and the fight was stopped.” Various reports list the violent bout as 2 hours and 15 minutes over 95-99 rounds. Elliott, Hinkle and their seconds were all arrested. The Champions of the American Prize Ring (1881): “Had the friends of Winkle allowed the bout to continue, Elliott would have won.” There are contemporary newspaper accounts listing both Elliott and Winkle as victor. The prevailing verdict years after the bout was an unfair Draw for which Elliott was dominant.
James Elliott, according to an 1880 Police Gazette profile, fought Big Bailey in a November, 1862 bout near Boston, Massachusetts. Tracy Callis lists the date as November 16th with a 4-round victory for Elliott. The only problem is that various sources list Elliott’s first three opponents as Clark, Hinkle and Dunne. There was no journalist at the illegal Elliott/Bailey prizefight – so the actual date and what occurred is a bit confusing.
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I have my 2015 Tijuana room for $13 a night which includes daily maid service and 24-hours security. I sleep on the ground in USA so how nice to have a Queen-sized bed for a week. There is television with HBO and something called ‘Edge’ with regular channels in Spanish and English. If I become hungry, can step outside, and purchase steak tacos (w/ everything) for $1.50 apiece. While waiting for my tacos there is usually a local singer playing guitar.
Tijuana has my fondest memories in life. I lived in the USA border city of San Ysidro and attended San Ysidro Adult School. I was the only person to speak English, but everyone was kind. After six months, they certified me for typing speed and computer training. Every other day, I would walk into Mexico and eat or maybe visit Catedral de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe, where I felt protected spiritually. Sporting gambling is legal in Tijuana so I could visit there free and view whatever was happening on their many televisions. I was the only person who always won, because I don’t gamble. Sometimes, I would visit a sports bar, Adelita’s Club, which has legal prostitutes. I would buy a $3 beer and pack of Marlboro Lights for $1.50 while all the ladies knew to approach and receive one. It was fairly innocent while expenses for Mexico visits were always under $10. USA Border Patrol was naturally suspicious, “What were you doing in Mexico?” – ME: “Attending Catholic church.” – BORDER PATROL: “What were you doing in church?” – ME: “Praying.”
On May 13th, 1863, near the same New Jersey location as Elliott/Clark, James Elliott battled the much slimmer James Dunne of Brooklyn. There had been hype and excitement for two weeks leading to the bout. The prize was $600, $300 a side, with a $50 private wager between the two men. Although only 18-years-old, Elliott had the advantage of strength and experience. The Irish born Dunne was a 21 years-old novice, 6’0 height, but weighed 20+ pounds less.
New York Herald (5/15/1863): “Both sides were present in equally present numbers, any difference in favor of Elliott, who, as a New Yorker, quite generally united the sports from that city in his favor. The ‘City of Churches’ was exceedingly well represented. It would have pained the pious heart of Brother Chittenden, and made our material friend, Brother Beecher, turn pale to have scanned their fellow sinners congregated about the ring. Have all their expectations been in vain? Let Chittenden formulate a proclamation; let Beecher preach a sermon.” And of course, amongst the 500 spectators, were several police officers to observe and enjoy the illegal prize-fight before arresting one of the pugilists.
Jimmy Elliott was seconded by Barney Aaron and Jim Carroll. James Dunne was seconded by Kit Burns and Phil Clare. The referee was Mike ‘Thunderbolt’ Norton (aka/ Crow Morton). New York Herald: “(James Elliott) looked the very picture of physical perfection. Long, heavy layers of muscle; his arms and shoulders were devoid of all superfluous flesh, and the skin was hard and good…. (James Dunne) presented nothing like the size of his opponent. He was much slimmer but very solid and appeared in excellent condition.”
The ring was so hastily constructed that ropes hung loose with too many crowded onto the scene. Several spectators hovered over ropes with their feet inside the ring unable to maneuver if any action turned toward them. The 1st round was fairly even with Jimmy Elliott landing a hard punch to eye while James Dunne countered with a punch to head. They clinched and wrestled to ground. The 2nd round had Elliott wisely aim with another punch to same eye which drew first blood. The 3rd round had Elliott aiming at the same eye while Dunne successful countered with body punches. Elliott switched to the body while Dunne did likewise to face; knocking down the larger man. By the 6th round, Elliott had nearly closed his opponent’s eye. The lankier man remained feisty knocking down Elliott against the ropes. The 7th round continued to be amazing for Dunne. Elliott landed two hard punches; including his increasingly famous sledgehammer blow on top of head. Dunne wouldn’t fall and instead countered with a body blow that sent Elliott to ground. The 8th round produced fierce exchange of punches but once again Dunne scored the knockdown.
It should be noted that both of James Dunne’s seconds were experienced sporting men and had viewed Elliott prizefight prior. They obviously produced a strategy which was formidable. Elliott, nor his seconds, had seen Dunne prizefight and figured they didn’t need a strategy. Physical strength and experience would surely prevail. The 9th round finally had Elliott scoring a knockdown. Probably due to the closed eye, Elliott held a 5-2 gambling advantage. The 10th round featured Elliott scoring another knockdown. The 11th round displayed a dirtier Dunne grabbing Elliott around the head and punching until the heavier man went down.
The 12th and final round began with an aggressive Dunne landing once-again to Elliott’s sore ribs. They positioned themselves for ground advantage. Dunne landed a punch to nose, but tripped over the loosened ropes. Dunne was tangled in the ropes though perhaps not clearly down so Elliott charged and pounded away. It remained unclear whether Dunne was down with cries of “foul” when Elliott landed two more punches. The referee stopped the bout and awarded a disqualification victory to Dunne. The bout was timed at 35 minutes. Tracy Callis: “(Dunne’s) gang broke into the ring and forced the referee to disqualify Elliott; In the aftermath of the fight, Elliott was arrested and jailed at the Trenton, NJ State Prison.” As a post-bout assessment, Elliott had prize-fought four times with Police Gazette and others stating he should have three victories for his effort instead of one.
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I have developed a 2015 relationship with Tijuana family business next to taco stand. This is where I can obtain soda pop, razors, deodorant or whatever and always be greeted with a smile. American Coca Cola uses glucose-fructose corn syrup while Mexican Coca Cola uses natural cane sugar. With limited time, I must skip a visit to Plaza Rio or Playa. The former has the science observatory and amusement park, but it is better to be with someone than alone. The latter has the beach. As a Phoenix, Arizona desert kid any ocean breeze is appreciated. It’s a $24 trip (including tip) back and forth by taxi. James Elliott was familiar with beaches since he prize-fought on islands. I could sit on the beach sand and think about my pugilist. Both Plaza Rio and Playa are quiet and beautiful with friendly locals.
When a person enters Chicago’s Club of Tijuana the hero of this establishment is quickly revealed by an alarming giant-sized portrait: “Alphonse Gabriel Capone (1899 – 1947)”. I suppose the Chicago mobster has a cult appeal to some Americans but rarely to such reverence that he is beyond ‘Al’ onto Alphonse. I order a salty margarita with crushed ice. An old Floyd Mayweather Jr. boxing bout plays on muted television. Pink Floyd songs blast aloud (“Another Brick In The Wall – Part 2” and “Wish You Were Here”) during my visit. It feels like fate to be here. There are legal prostitutes dancing and sitting on stools. Men in small groups order beer. The atmosphere is subdued. I am impressed, as usual, viewing Mayweather who couldn’t be more different than James Elliott. Mayweather slowly backs, shuffles feet with patience and encourages his foe to step forward. Mayweather rarely throws punches or wastes energy – just enough combinations to win every round – while his opponent never lands clean shots. It’s a reminder that boxing’s history roots are from thousands of years ago via Olympia champions such as Onomastos, Tisander, Euthymos and Demokrates, but not bare-knuckle. Chicago’s welcomes the historian boxing writer of violent pugilist, Jimmy Elliott, who was murdered in Chicago. It’s a damned good margarita!
New York Clipper (6/11/1864): “Although politicians, sporting men and even judges in this city worked like beavers affecting the release of Jimmy Elliott, it has all turned out as naught…. When his case was called up at Burgen Court House to receive sentence, having unfortunately pleaded guilty when first arrested, the Judge sentenced him to two years imprisonment and a fine of $200, thereby giving him the full extent of the law. There were two indictments hanging over him, for his fights with Hen Winkle and Jim Dunn(e)…. We look upon Elliott’s sentence as not only severe, but unjust, as for the last 15 or 20 years prizefights, and what is worse, murderous duals, have been fought in the State of New Jersey, and not a thing has been done to them for it. Elliott appears to be made the scapegoat for all these offenses…. It must be a sorry consolation for his persecutors that they are not doing their victim half the injury as his poor mother and sisters, who were mainly dependent on their son for support.”
A post-note worth mentioning is the crossroads fate of James Dunne versus Jimmy Elliott. Dunne only fought once following his Elliott battle which was an impressive victory over Californian, Bill Davis. For the rest of his life ‘prize-fighting’ followed him around as a badge of courageous manliness. By the 1880’s, a Police Gazetteprofile of Dunne, “A Famous Celebrity,” mentioned wherever he walked people shouted, “Hey champ!” Turning to hand-ball instead, he continued to parlay the respect of prizefighting into Brooklyn political office and a highly esteemed job as county coroner. The same ‘prizefighting’ label stigmatized James Elliott throughout his lifetime. Charisma and intelligence were not part of Elliott’s social character. Dunne displayed himself better as respected member of the community. Elliott appeared an unnatural giant – sounded like a thug – looked like a monster – so perhaps could never truly be viewed as human. While Elliott remained in prison, the American Civil War concluded and President Lincoln was assassinated.
Tracy Callis: “(June 4, 1865) Elliot was released from the Trenton, NJ State Prison…. Elliott challenged Joe Coburn to fight for the title; Coburn refused and Elliott claimed the Heavyweight Championship of America.” At some point, circa 1866, James Elliott joined a militant Irish organization which attacked British forts in Canada as revenge for treatment of his homeland, Ireland. Elliott proudly viewed himself as Irish-Catholic and felt with others within the organization that Irish-Protestants were traitors. They were led by a future Brigadier General in the American army, Thomas William Sweeney – who had one arm amputated from battle – while the other arm and one leg were severely damaged from American war battles. The Fenian army embarrassed the Canadian militia by easily overwhelming them. United States President, Andrew Johnson, declared the Irish militants in violation of USA-England neutrality laws and ordered Generals Ulysses S. Grant and George Meade to successfully disarm Elliott and the others.
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I visit Catedral de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe for 2015 Easter mass. It is standing room only. A long line of locals openly wait their turn for confession. Tijuana has sort of concrete blocks for individuals to sit outside the cathedral. I never participate in Communion so it allows me an opportunity to sit on a concrete block and people watch as locals exit. American Catholic church always feels like people bragging about themselves which I don’t like. Mexican-Catholicism feels pure in a way which I need. I do feel ‘blessed’ to be writing this Catholic story.
Primicia de los muertos,
Sabemos port u gracia
Que estas resucitado;
La muerte en ti manda.
Rey vencedor, apiadate
De la miseria humana
Y da a tus fletes parte
En tu victoria santa.
James Elliott viewed himself as a good Catholic. He placed his mother and sister first – his Irish-Catholic patriotism second – making money third – and everyone and everything else fourth. That’s a good Catholic!!! It would have been better if he had not beaten other guys, murdered Brits in Canada or committed armed robbery, but I only said he was a good Catholic – not a perfect one.
There are moments in life not caught by contemporary newspapers or boxing historians but is part of the story. James Elliott may have been a big bully with fellow men – but was still a Mama’s Boy at heart. He was still some little kid, regardless of age and size, who knew he had greatest mom ever – and how much it sucks they lived in such constant monetary need for daily sustenance. As the only male in an apparent home without a father the teenaged James Elliott knew there would be a hug, kiss, scolding and hot meal waiting from his mother. He also knew at some point that he was supposed to place money in her hands. $50 was great – that was making it – but he slipped her whatever if that’s all he had. Mrs. Elliott was always appreciative. She loved her son so much. He was the misunderstood giant amongst wolves. It was always those 5 foot nothing GAMBLERS that would be the death of her son; those immoral cowards without courage unless carrying a revolver. The Elliott’s were a Catholic family with morals – in a world of fake Christians – but God and love and hard work always wins. James Elliott would apologize and give his mom what money he could and promise more. Then he would quietly enjoy a real meal cooked by a doting mother.
On May 10th, 1867, James Elliott battled Bill Davis at Point and Pelee Island which was 57 miles from Cleveland. Davis was 5’11, 170 pounds from the San Francisco region. He was well known as a prizefighter with some high profile bouts which includes this one. It was a fairly civilized prizefight amongst the 200 spectators with little gambling.
ROUND 1: James Elliott lands grazing left to ribs – Bill Davis counters which lands to neck. There is sparring for more than a minute as each study the other for an advantage. Elliott lands with left to right side of face and on mouth – Davis counters with punch to jaw – Elliott scores knockdown with punch to right ear…. First blood scores for Elliot. 2 ½ minutes round.
ROUND 2: Elliott jabs to chest – lands to mouth. There is a brief exchange of heavy punches which favors Elliott – opens an old wound Davis had suffered battling Mike McCoole. Elliott scores knockdown with punch under ear. 1 minute round…. London rules provide a round to be over by elbow, legs, shoulder or hands touching the ground. A round could be seconds or hours. The final 5 rounds cover 7 ½ minutes.
ROUND 3: “Elliott gave Davis a fearful blow to the pit of stomach, doubling him up, and wringing from him a cry of pain.” Davis did not fall directly from this blow, but briefly backed and defended until falling down intentionally. ‘Foul’ calls for disqualification by Elliott’s group are ignored by referee.
ROUND 4: Heavy exchange of punches – Elliott lands hard left to ride side of face which turns Davis around: “Following with a heavy blow with his right on the back of Davis’ neck, felling him like an ox.” 30 seconds round.
ROUND 6: Elliott burrows forward ignoring weak punches thrown at him: “Knocked Davis clear off his legs by a powerful blow on the face.”
ROUND 8: Elliott is ready on time – Davis shaky and unable to fight after 30 seconds. The fight continues despite a technical violation. Elliott continues to dominate while landing a heavy blow to side. Davis drops intentionally to avoid another punch. This time the referee disqualifies him.
Chicago Tribune (5/11/1867): “The condition of Elliott was superb showing perfect training; that of Davis was quite indifferent, showing too much flesh on the breast and shoulders.”
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I visit Hong Kong Club in 2015 Tijuana which begins with frisking for weapons and imposed $5 beer or bottled water. Hong Kong has ‘almost’ nude lesbian show. You cannot actually see nudity because the women are covered with soap suds. If a guy sits too close he will be overwhelmed in soap. At some point there is the Tijuana local who knows-it-all so a damp towel hits me to face. I wipe myself off best as possible. A guy can never be too clean. Women have decent hygiene but there’s no such thing as a guy who couldn’t use another bath. U.F.C. caged fighting plays muted throughout on the twenty or so televisions for the multiple-layered establishment. This sort of caged fighting, more than boxing, has resemblance of its history roots from Olympia’s pankration, and the Grecian champion Theagenes or James Elliott’s prizefights. There is wrestling, punching and kicking much as 2500 years ago – except there weren’t timed rounds, gloves or kicking during Elliott’s 1860’s and 70’s bare-knuckle fights-to-the-finish.
Studying Hong Kong while the Irish band, Cranberries, blasts aloud (“Zombie” and “Dreams”) – it might be a group of 3-4 guys – but there is a frequent dynamic: the sadder-than-sad, sad-sack ‘nice’ guy paired with the loud-mouthed asshole. Perhaps James Elliott was too much for a likewise counterpart. Somewhat decent or normal guys could enjoy the trouble-making pugilist. Every asshole needs their decent friend; while every decent friend needs their asshole. The famed Elliott was going to be the center of attention for any room which he entered. There’s always a quieter, introverted guy attracted to such human havoc.
On November 12th, 1868, James Elliott battled Charles Gallagher for what would be a one-sided victory but with personal conduct detrimental to his pugilist reputation. Gallagher was a 6’1, 170 pounds Canadian pugilist whose only previous recorded bout was a 45th round knockout loss to Bill Davis. New York Clipper(11/21/1868): “The off-hand match alluded to in our last impression as having been made between Charley Gallagher and Jimmy Elliott, in Cleveland, Ohio, for the sum of $300 a side, was brought to a termination at Peach Island, about seven miles distant from Detroit, Michigan, early on Thursday afternoon, 12th past, and resulted in the unjust award of the victory to Elliott, after one of the most disgraceful engagements which has ever been our province to record, the latter having committed a number of palpable fouls…. Elliott was born at Athlone, Ireland, September 12th, 1844…. His career has not been a successful one, and includes defeats by Nobby Clark and Jim Dunn(e), a Draw with Hen Winkle and a victory over Bill Davis last year, though much of the credit which otherwise would have attached to the last named triumph was taken away by the assertion, and general belief, that the latter was ‘fixed’ beforehand…. After an hour’s journey the chosen island was reached, when a landing was speedily affected, and with a similar alacrity a ring was pitched on a suitable piece of turf, nearly a mile distant from the landing…. At about half-past one o’clock Elliott made his appearance, and was received with cheers. He had for attendants Dan Barron and Tom Allen. Gallagher followed in a few minutes, having for esquires Johnny Mackey and Denny Monohan…. Elliott gained the first blood from a blow on the mouth in the 1st round, and appears to have had the best of the hitting all through, though his blows lacked that effect visible after the deliverance of those of Gallagher. It was evident from the first that Elliott’s superior science and knowledge gave him great advantage over his opponent, but not withstanding this he adopted the cowardly practice of dropping as soon as an effectual hit had been landed.”
It is difficult to be sympathetic to the New York Clipper’s outrage. The newspaper had no problem participating in illegal activity and encouraging the sort of violence that made prizefighting a crime. If law enforcement appeared on the scene James Elliott and Charley Gallagher would be arrested; not the New York Clipper journalist. It would have been better to arrest the journalist and spectators instead of the pugilists and their seconds because it would have deterred illegal activity better. As to the stunt of punching and falling it was against the rules but rarely enforced. Yankee Sullivan and others made a career from such behavior.
The other accusations by the New York Clipper are more substantial. They accused James Elliott of possibly having a weapon or something in his hand during the 14thround. They reported Gallagher accusing Elliott of gouging his eyes during the 16th round. The New York Clipper offered these as unproven allegations – which might be true – and then reported they saw for themselves Elliott gouging Gallagher to the eyes during the 17th round. Following the 17th round, Gallagher complained to the officials about misconduct when Elliott approached and sucker-punched him. During a prizefight – a fight broke out as they wrestled, choked and exchanged punches. If Gallagher had been eye-gouged during the 17th round but instead of falling to ground stepped over complaining to officials (each has their own referee and there is an umpire) then Elliott would be within the rules to hit his unaware opponent. It is not very nice – perhaps downright nasty behavior – but within the rules. If Gallagher touched the ground following an eye-gouge then he would have been allowed 30 seconds of reprieve from Elliott touching him. New York Clipper, “Finally after they had been at it for an hour and seventeen minutes Gallagher refused to continue the mill, in which he did right, and Johnny Mackey elevated the sponge for him…. The conduct of Elliott was most shameful, and reflects less credit upon him than did even previous affairs in which he has figured conspicuously.”
For the New York Clipper it was quite a turnaround from their previous editorial position. After his first three bouts they argued he was a good boy providing for Ma and his sisters in the innocent (but illegal) sport of prizefighting. Now, altering their opinion of his first three bouts, they contended Elliott was a poor pugilist who never should have been allowed to continue prizefighting. Whatever their outrage, neither the spectators nor any employee of the New York Clipper was injured by the illegal event. The same could not be said for the pugilists being used by everyone. New York Clipper: “Elliott’s right eye was closed, while Charley is bleeding from the nose, which is somewhat swollen, and has a slight cut in the cheek.”
Tracy Callis: “(December 12, 1870) Elliott was arrested and convicted of highway robbery and assault with intent to kill; He was sentenced to 16 years and 10 months at the Eastern Penitentiary at Philadelphia, Pa.” I should leave Tracy’s words alone because untangling the truth shall make me feel like a battered pugilist. James Elliott and ‘roughs’ assaulted and robbed at gun point a one-time famous Black minstrel singer, Hughey Doberty. When police arrived on the scene, Elliott seriously injured an officer. Some reports stated that he killed the officer, but this would have followed him around. Along with a dispute with one of Philadelphia’s politicians, Billy McMullin, Elliott had the book thrown at him with a sentence of 19 years according to some reports, or Tracy wrote 16 years, but it wouldn’t make much difference since New Yorkers in high places would eventually reduce the sentence and expedite his release. Still, James Elliott lost important years of his youth, ages 24-33, imprisoned while performing deserved hard labor.
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There is a 2015 Adelita’s Club legal prostitute named Aleksandra dancing to, “I’m in love with the coco coco; I’m in love with the coco coco,” which the elderly Tijuana disc jockey enjoyed so much he sang it over and over throughout the week. Gangsta rap-music sensibility of the 21st century is not much different than a portion of the 19th century Irish experience living in America. The gun which O.C. Genasis flashes in his 2014 music video is not remarkably different than James Elliott and other of his likewise thugs, flashing their guns. The pro-cocaine song is everything which I am against – ten years away from such garbage – but it’s catchy as I buy Aleksandra a drink and mimic: “Baking soda – I got baking soda.” She laughs and becomes excited fooling with i-Phone to show me videos of other great ‘gangsta’ songs.
The legal prostitutes of Tijuana are great comparison with my Irish pugilist. The ladies and James Elliott are branded outcasts. Yet, the guys who patronize either, an illegal prizefight or prostitution, regardless of century are allowed to hide behind lies and fake morals. A 19th century prizefighter was similar to a prostitute. James Elliott was ‘branded’ an outcast not to be respected. Some prostitutes and prizefighters can hide – and live a certain way at one time in life – then alter their appearance for duality with their existence. God gave James Elliott ‘the Scarlet Letter’ which never allowed him to hide. Elliott didn’t enjoy fighting for money: he turned ‘tricks’ when he fought Hen Winkler, James Dunne, Bill Davis and Charley Gallagher.
There were probably several brutal fist-fights and violent encounters for James Elliott while imprisoned under deplorable conditions for the prime decade of his life. Elliott was released from prison by December of 1878 for good-behavior with support of New York politicians and those with power. The main reason for early release was his continued fame as a prizefighter. New York’s sporting world wanted a fighter to compete against John J. Dwyer for the American heavyweight championship and Elliott was willing. His former boxing foe, James Dunne of Brooklyn, was prominent in Elliott’s release and agreed to be his financial backer for the fight.
Montreal Gazette (12/19/1878): “During the past two years, there have been no important prize-fights between the champion heavyweights in America. The (1876) fight in Kentucky between Joe Goss and Tom Allen was the last, but after developments showing that it was a prearranged affair, it is not generally regarded as a square mill…. (James Elliott) is well known throughout the country. His physical prowess has been demonstrated in the arms on several occasions. He looks as if he was built for fighting. In his stockings he stands over 6 feet in height and weighs 200 pounds, his long arms give him an immense reach; his muscles are fair and tough as iron, and his ponderous fists can deal much like the fall of the trip hammer…. Johnny Dwyer is a prominent politician and pugilist. He stands nearly 6 feet in height and weighs 180 pounds.”
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There is a charming 20’ish local 2015 Tijuana man who daily tries to steer me from favorite taco stand to their small diner. He is humorous and makes me smile, “You don’t like me?” But I have my sentimental place for pork tacos (w/ everything) at 3/$1.20. I have developed a rapport with a couple waitresses as a decent tipper so they wrap terrific guacamole salsa which I can use later. Amero, “You have a girlfriend over there?” It’s the guacamole salsa plus I trust their food quality. Amero, “We have guacamole salsa,” and takes me to their stove. It is two elderly, local women doing all the cooking. I admire running a family business and following their dreams. I tell Amero, “You are making me feel bad. You seem like a nice guy and they seem like good women whom I believe can cook. But I have my taco place and don’t want to change.” Amero, “You will try us once, Christopher? C’mon.” Meanwhile, the other place views Amero wooing me and become furious, “Don’t listen to them. We take care of you.”
Adelita’s Club signs abound advertising the upcoming “fight-of-the-century” between undefeated 38 years-old American, Floyd Mayweather Jr. (47-0-0) versus 36 years-old, Filipino, Manny Pacquiao (57-5-2) for the undisputed Welterweight championship. I have fond memories for great bouts in this city which loves boxing. The best Adelita’s Club boxing bouts involved undefeated Julio Cesar Chavez during the early 1990’s. Adelita’s doesn’t have a cover charge so pay-per-view bouts could be enjoyed for a $3 beer. When the main event begins, the music would halt and women stopped dancing and/or legal prostitution. All that mattered was the boxing bout. Tijuana treated Chavez bouts with wild-eyed national pride. The 1992 bout between Chavez and flashy Puerto Rican, (the late) Hector ‘Macho’ Camacho’ had locals frenzied. After each Chavez victory the celebration would begin throughout Tijuana with taxi drivers, police officers or regular guys on the street: “VIVA MEXICO! VIVA MEXICO!” USA is charging $100 to see “Pac-man” vs. “Money”, or at least $30 per person just to enter a club showing the bout before buying drinks and food. Mexico has supported boxing through recent decline in popularity while USA has increasingly turned toward U.F.C. caged fights. Mexico is sponsoring the Las Vegas, Nevada bout so shall be the only nation in the world whose citizens can view the bout free at home. I would do anything to see the championship battle at Adelita’s Club for a beer while shouting with everyone else. Mexican men love quieter, modest, blue-collar, non-flashy boxers. Tijuana locals will be passionately cheering for Pacquiao.
On May 8th, 1879, 33 years-old, James Elliott battled with 31 years-old, Canadian turned New Yorker, John J. Dwyer in the fight-of-the-year. Tom Allen had been the last heavyweight truly appreciated as heavyweight Champion. Americans did not respect English pugilist, Joe Goss, who never fought to legitimize his championship claim. James Elliott had been a famed prizefighter for more than a decade. John J. Dwyer had built a reputation as a skilled Brooklyn gloved boxer who won a two-hour, 125-rounds bare-knuckle bout over Hugh Reilly a decade prior. It began as a Rough-and-Tumble encounter to settle a dispute until both men were persuaded to illegally bare-knuckle without ropes inside a room.
Tracy Callis: “(Johnny) Dwyer claimed the Heavyweight Championship of America during 1879-1880; He was a skillful boxer and a hard hitter, especially with his right hand; In addition, he moved well and was tough and courageous with good boxing ‘savvy’. John was a man of very decent character, not like that of many others in the fighting profession during his time; His physique was magnificent, his mental view of life was mature and, to him, pugilism was something that he pursued because he excelled at it.”
Tracy Callis does not exaggerate the man’s character. If I was a ‘normal’ boxing historian this story would be about John J. Dwyer, a good guy underrated, instead of James Elliott. Most boxing historians hero-worship a pugilist and then glamorize some love-fest story about him at the expense of truth and the boxer’s opponent’s. I am not that sort of historian.
But I can admire or be repulsed by various boxers along the journey of a history story. John J. Dwyer enjoyed wrestling and was a vocal advocate for gloved boxing in his beloved, Brooklyn. Dwyer viewed gloved boxing as a legitimate sport which should be legalized throughout the nation. Dwyer did not feel the same of bare-knuckle prizefighting. He felt bare-knuckle was debase to the meaning of sports itself. But he carried the ‘good guy’ role to his own temperamental extreme. There were two New York based Irish bare-knuckle pugilists whom he thought were loud-mouth jerks and bullies: Paddy Ryan and James Elliott. Almost like a fictional costumed superhero of the 20th century, Dwyer felt if no one else would confront and expose bullies then he would do it himself. It was great for American sporting fans; they wanted a bare-knuckle heavyweight championship prizefight.
Despite his pretensions toward morality Johnny Dwyer accepted an illegal prize-fight versus Jimmy Elliott in Long Point, Canada with each pugilist waging $1000. Neither man wagered their own money. They have backers. There is plenty of gambling for those at the event or not. There was more than enough interest to attract a huge crowd, but avoiding law enforcement was the priority. Dwyer is listed as 5’9, 165 pounds whose seconds were brothers Aaron and Mike Costello. Elliott is listed as 6’0, 180 pounds whose seconds are Joe Goss and Phil Clare. The makeshift, grassy sloped ring is uneven.
The referee gathers both pugilists in the center of ring, “Are you ready?” with both affirming: “Then look out now. Time!” Elliott steps forward and lands the first punch – a left which lands to face – Dwyer counters with a punch to face. After some clinches and feeling each other out the round concludes with Dwyer’s wrestling throw of Elliott to ground.
By the 5th round, which is barely five minutes of combat, Johnny Dwyer is easily dominating the bout. Jimmy Elliott is confused and begins to back against ropes. Dwyer openly mocks his opponent’s cowardice before charging forward with hard punches. Elliott desperately clinches and tries to bull forward. Dwyer continues to land short punches while being held. Elliott bites Dwyer on the neck. An incredulous Dwyer shrieks and breaks free. Dwyer asks the referee for disqualification foul which is denied.
John J. Dwyer is bruised but in better condition. James Elliott has a swollen left eye; blood pours from his nose and cheek. Elliott’s desperate strategy is reduced to clinches and utilizing his body weight or landing a single punch before taking an intentional knee to ground. By the 7th round, Elliott adds to his disreputable reputation by bulling Dwyer backward onto the ropes with a clinch. The spectators are shocked to witness Elliott poke his fingers into Dwyer’s eyes. The referee either did not witness or desire giving Elliott the disqualification he seemed to be seeking. The bout continues.
The 8th round concludes with Johnny Dwyer’s punch to face knocking Jimmy Elliott out. The latter could not make 30 seconds “time” to begin the 9th round. Incredibly, with an enraged Dwyer’s consent, the referee allowed Elliott additional time to recover. Elliott refuses to openly quit and his seconds won’t throw in the sponge of defeat.
The 9th round has Johnny Dwyer battering the bleeding Jimmy Elliott around the ring. A wobbled Elliott is unable to block the punches or defend himself. Elliott clinches while trying to gouge his fingers into Dwyer’s eyes. They both madly wrestle. Elliott bites Dwyer again – this time on the breast. They continue to madly wrestle within a clinch. The referee finally steps in and separates the pugilists. For the first time, he warns Elliott of disqualification if he continues to bite.
Joe Goss illegally enters ring to argue with the referee. Goss complains that Dwyer is acting like a baby while his fighter, Elliott, has done nothing wrong. By now, the spectators have become a frenzied mob. The seconds of both sides begin yelling at each other. The crowd yells at everyone involved. The referee successfully quells the situation from becoming a riot.
By the 12th round, Jimmy Elliott is beaten to a pulp. Johnny Dwyer has a couple punches blocked before breaking through Elliott’s final, feeble attempt at defense. Dwyer begins pummeling with head and body punches. Elliott once again clinches and attempts to wrestle and bull forward. Elliott uses whatever strength remains to muster and slam Dwyer hard to ground. As was common with bare-knuckle bouts, Elliott falls atop Dwyer with full weight.
John J. Dwyer is able to wiggle free and rise to feet. James Elliott rolls onto his back and lay still. He cannot make the 30 seconds “time” but is not disqualified. Elliott is finally able to sit and attempts rising to feet. Instead, he falls unconscious onto his back. Goss and Clare throw in the sponge conceding defeat. The violent bare-knuckle encounter is over within thirteen minutes.
If ever the words ‘Heavyweight Champion’ were reluctantly applied to a man it was John J. Dwyer. He remained recognized as champion regardless of his personal feelings. He knew it was bestowed by Brooklynites with respect and affection. Dwyer felt he degraded his own values by fighting James Elliott bare-knuckle and continued to enjoy the attention he received as a gloved boxer. According to his friends, post-death, Dwyer suffered from lingering injury due to a “fall” from his bout with Elliott. Dwyer never fought again while friends said his physical condition was never the same.
In 1880, James Elliott’s financial backer for early prison release and Dwyer fight, James Dunne, read a nasty newspaper diatribe by Judge Samuel D. Morris: “Dunne is a professional prizefighter, and has been engaged in some of the most brutal and disgusting scenes ever witnessed. He is a ballot box stuffer. He is a violator of law, and his hand is raised against the peace and good order of society.” Dunne responded by approaching Judge Morris at a restaurant and demanding an apology. When he was ignored, Dunne punched the judge off his chair onto his knees, punched him again onto the ground and then kicked him twice. He was not arrested that day, but was eventually indicted for assault although Brooklyn political connections protected him.
On July 2, 1881, while attempting to board a Washington D.C. train, President Garfield was shot twice in a successful assassination attempt. His death would linger until September 19th. Chester Arthur became the third New York politician – following Martin Van Buren and Millard Fillmore – to be United States President.
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I tip my 2015 Tijuana maid $1 daily – a guy who throws me out of my room for an hour – because I respect his job and the benefit of mutual cooperation. One day, I am too early returning with nine pork tacos (w/ everything) from favorite place. He needs to clean and I need to eat. He is intelligent and pulls chair in front of table and tells me in Spanish to enjoy American television while eating. I love these tacos with guacamole salsa while “Mike and Molly”, “The Middle” and “Two-And-a-Half Men” – which I never view in USA – play on television. Most of the time, I stay away while he cleans so he can listen and view Spanish-language soap operas.
I am trying to research and write about John J. Dwyer’s death at a $1 an hour Tijuana internet store on Revolucion Street. A local guy sits next to me playing video war games which include anonymous others from throughout the world. Occasionally, he makes annoying sounds of congratulations to let me or the clerk know he is doing fantastic – as if anyone cares. Two American White women enter the store and pay their dollar. They sit on the other side of me. It briefly quiets the local to behave himself so the women seem to be a positive presence while I furiously write in long hand. AND THEN – as only Mexican men can do without reserve – begins serenading them with Spanish love songs. I am between craziness – AND WRITING ABOUT DEATH – but remind myself that a national visitor should never complain. I suppose his romantic singing is preferable to video game noises.
Brooklyn Standard Argus (3/8/1882): “Johnny DWYER Said to Be Dying About three weeks ago. John J. Dwyer, the pugilist, returned to this city from Florida, whither he had gone in search of health. When the champion came home he was in very poor condition. He was troubled with lung and bronchial disease. His symptoms became so serious that he was sent to St. Peter’s Hospital, Hicks street and Dean, where is now reported to be dying.” Boston Herald (3/11/1882): “John J. Dwyer, the noted Brooklyn pugilist, died yesterday of consumption.” Boston Herald (3/13/1882): “The funeral of John J. Dwyer, took place in Brooklyn, New York, yesterday afternoon.” A hundred carriages followed Dwyer’s remains to the Holy Cross Cemetery at Flatbush. Brooklyn Union-Argus (3/13/1882): “The floral tribute included a column surmounted by a white dove, holding in its beak a ring of blue immortelles, sent by (Police Gazette publisher) Richard K. Fox.”
Chicago Tribune (4/5/1882): “(New York – April 4th) Billy Madden today posted $250 with Harry Hill as a guarantee of his earnestness in offering to wager $1,000 that (John L.) Sullivan can whip James Elliott in four 3-minute rounds privately, no gate money, and but five witnesses for each side; Harry Hill to act as stakeholder and referee, and to select the battleground, and to be the only man to know where it is up to the moment of departure. Madden will also match Sullivan to fight any man in this country according to London rules for $500 a side within four weeks of the signing of the articles, Sullivan to wear gloves, and his opponent to fight with bare-knuckles; or Sullivan to fight Greenfield, Tug Wilson, or any English pugilist on the same terms eight weeks after signing the articles.”
Tracy Callis lists James Elliott as victor in four rounds over Dick Eagan on May 1st, 1882. Evening Gazette (Pittston, Pa – 7/6/1882): “Sullivan was to fight James Elliott who recently vanquished (Dick) Eagan, ‘the Troy Terror’ in a contest at Irving Hall shortly afterward he challenged Sullivan.” Tracy Callis: “Gloves were used in this fight.”
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I meet a 2015 Adelita’s Club legal prostitute named Ana who is 32-years-old who lives in Tijuana with her mom and kids. She takes an interest in my boxing stories. It is interesting to see my Italian artist-partner Federica’s boxing drawings with strobe lights flashing everywhere. Ana is working so at times must let her go. She wants to see my photograph with name on the internet. Okay. Nearly every day, I buy Ana a drink and we play with her i-phone. She gives me a small gift, “Which you can only get in Tijuana and not America.” It is a key chain which says ‘Tijuana’ with Mexican cowboy hat. I tell her she can be in the story. She is pleased, “Anajere is my full name.” Okay.
James Elliott was a rugged Irishman, but doesn’t appear to have a non-relative woman in his life. Perhaps, he was homosexual. Perhaps, he could only communicate with prostitutes. Elliott was a charmless, blunt man – an elephant walking through a China-dish shop. I am studying ‘oafs’ at Hong Kong, Chicago’s and Adelita’s clubs. An oaf is a male clod over six feet in height and two hundred pounds – who is not exactly the athlete type – but more the ‘shit kicker’ who cannot function in society. They are great at pounding beers and referencing women as ‘whores’ – and all the hate they direct at others appears perhaps aimed at themselves. But once a legal prostitute such as Ana gives someone like Elliott the time of day – he changes. He is still an oaf, clumsy while incapable of speech. But suddenly the anger dissipates and it is not so encompassing to drink “a few too many” and start a fistfight with some dude over nonsense.
Tracy Callis: “(John L.) Sullivan was a boxing immortal, the link between bare knuckles and glove fighting, and the first great American sports idol; He was powerful, quick, could hit with either hand but had exceptional strength with his right, and could take punishment; John L. could break a man’s jaw with one punch.” On July 4th, 1882, 36 years-old, James Elliott battled undefeated 23 years-old, heavyweight champion, John L. Sullivan in a gloved bout at Washington Park in New York City. There were 6,000 spectators with over 1,000 being women. At 50 cents per male the gate alone stood at nearly $2300. Such was the dominance of the new heavyweight gloved sensation that Elliott did not have to win, but merely survive four 3-minute rounds with a minute rest in-between. The American sporting community felt that only retired former bare-knuckle champion, 43 years-old, Tom Allen, could give Sullivan a decent bout. At least, the experienced Elliott was a large man with ‘name’ recognition.
I have written about John L. Sullivan and the bout before and prefer not to merely copy previous published work. I wrote the account by contemporary journalists who only have one witnessed viewing to get their story correct. For this story, I’ll allow Sullivan’s point-of-view although he was telling the story years after the bout. Either way, the stories are similar enough: James Elliott had his ass kicked and didn’t survive the four rounds. He stood to make at least $1,600 or more if he lasted – a fortune for him desperately needed – and wound up with $50 due to Sullivan’s mercy.
For a pugilist to defeat Sullivan or merely survive four rounds might not be different. I suppose the closest to a blue-print for either would be an experienced, quick gloved boxer with a reach advantage jab – defensive to avoid being hit or deflect punches – and a willingness to back and back and back in an attempt to fool a charging egocentric Sullivan into wearing himself down. A large guy stepping forward without defense (aka/ James Elliott) was exactly the sort of contest which Sullivan preferred.
John L. Sullivan: “On the 4th of July, 1882, I gave (what the New York Sun termed) a ‘picnic’ at Washington Park offering half the receipts to anybody I could not stop in four rounds, Marquis of Queensbury rules. The challenge was accepted by Jimmy Elliott, a boxer of high pretensions and good ring record. Both hard and soft gloves were offered to him, and he chose the former. He was seconded by Johnny Roche and I by Madden. Cleary, the noted Philadelphia pugilist, was accepted for referee. Elliott was taller and fully as heavy as I was. As soon as time was called I let go my left and landed on Elliott’s body; the latter countered and hard hitting followed. I then knocked him all over the ring, and sent him flying off his feet amid the yells of the crowd. The second round was far more desperate. I punished him terribly, landing with left and right on Elliott’s nose and neck until Madden begged me not to hit him again. In the third round Madden told me to finish him, but to be careful and not knock him out forever. He was knocked out in this round by just such another blow as I gave Paddy Ryan in Mississippi City the previous February. I then made Elliott a present of $50. Over 5,000 persons were present, and they appeared to have been well satisfied with the manner in which things were conducted; and so ended my ‘series of picnics’.”
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I am happy to see Tijuana alive in 2015 because it was once emotionally stricken with no spirit. Mother Teresa’s 1997 death overwhelmed the city. Automobile traffic did not move. People did not care. Catedral de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe, following her death, was not only standing room only but a crowd surrounded the church. Disconsolate Tijuana men stared at their feet while local Mexican women cried while wearing all-black with veils covering face. Somehow, a tiny Indian woman with little physical presence but tremendous psychological courage won the hearts of this eclectic, vibrant city. Only Mother Teresa, because no other celebrity with vaguest courage, would claim: “I love Tijuana. I love these people.” You couldn’t be homeless or migrant enough for her respect and encouragement. She funded a mission at Tijuana bus station knowing these were the people closest to her heart. I was in Tijuana when 1994 Presidential candidate, Luis Donaldo Colosio, was assassinated and the city barely cared. But Mother Teresa surpassed politics and perhaps religion. She would have been unhappy to see Tijuana ‘broken’ without hope. She would tell them, “You don’t need me. You only need yourselves.”
It would not be Tijuana without Paco, Norma Jane, Bubba and the other zebra-striped ponies scattered along Revolucion Street sidewalks. Tourists climb above them wearing Tijuana ‘vaquero’ hats for their photograph. The ponies never seem to care; neither liking nor disliking their high visibility. What the painted ponies do care about is eating farmer’s corn-cob husk for hours. They munch and munch and munch slow and methodical. They become friends after several days, “Que Paso, Paco? Como es mi amiga, Norma Jane?” They raise their heads and view me with quizzical eyes while continuing to munch delicious corn husk.
Tracy Callis: “(Captain Dalton) had fast hands, fast feet and outstanding overall movement; John J. Dwyer, the fighter, said Dalton was one of the most dangerous men with his hands in America; He fought mostly as a light heavyweight but often tangled with bigger men.” Police Gazette (9/20/1884): “(Captain Dalton) next met the late Jim Elliott in a hard-gloved fight, at the Park theatre, Chicago, in 1882, and was knocked out of time in 46 seconds. Billy Whelen, Dalton’s backer offered to match the Captain again but Elliott declined, stating that he had Dalton in his pocket, and would keep him there for the future.” Tracy Callis lists the bout’s date – a 1st round knockout for Elliott –as November 21st, 1882. At aged 37, it would be Elliott’s final bout. He was murdered 100 days later.
Evening Gazette (Pittson, Pa – 11/20/1882): “(John L.) Sullivan also sends on a copy of an agreement he has made to spar on December 9 with James Elliott, at either Chicago, Pittsburg or Milwaukee as may hereafter be settled. They are to fight under the Marquis of Queensbury rules, with small soft gloves, in a twenty-four-foot-ring, and if Sullivan fails to stop or knock out Elliott in four rounds Elliott is to have all the gate.”
The Sullivan/Elliott rematch set for Chicago did not occur. Harry Hill and a scumbag gambler named Jere Dunn were among those involved with the bout. Apparently, James Elliott later sat with Dunn in Chicago when the latter became verbally abusive. He called Elliott several names and variations on the word “coward”. Elliott understandably became enraged. When had Jere Dunn been willing to prizefight anyone? Elliott’s rage frightened Dunn, and from that moment, the latter intended to kill the Irish pugilist.
There’s a boxing-world axiom which applies to Jere Dunn, “The early worm catches the bird.” Dunn: “(James) Elliott fluked on a fight I had arranged for him and John L. Sullivan. I spoke my little piece about that matter and Elliott talked back. The things he was going to do to me for disputing his courage were numerous and they were also fierce.”
The New York based, Harry Hill held a reputation as a personally honest individual who harbored and protected criminals. I am not sure he understood the extant of Jere Dunn as a sociopath. There was blight on Dunn’s personal integrity which should not have been underestimated: he had committed previous murder! There had been a ward strike in New York City. Allegedly, law enforcement itself was involved in hiring Dunn as a hit-man to ‘whack’ a striker. The unarmed man he murdered was named “Logan” and after the killing Dunn fled. Eventually, he was coaxed back to New York City where he was convicted of manslaughter. He was sentenced to four years at Sing Sing but only served two years following an unexpected pardon. Dunn’s version was that Logan was a criminal with a gun and he killed him honorably as self-defense.
Jere Dunn’s plan to kill James Elliott was to encourage a war of words which would assist a self-defense legal motive. Dunn publicly branded Elliott a “coward” and “dunghill” for refusing to fight Sullivan with soft or hard gloves. A goaded Elliott publicly called Dunn, “a dirty dag, a liar and not a sporting man, but a hanger-on and pimp.” Dunn was successful in creating a public ‘buzz’ that one of them was going to kill the other. James Elliott had no intention to kill Dunn and hoped to rid him from their connected names. Sometime in the days or weeks ahead, he realized Dunn was setting him up to be murdered with a self-defense claim. Elliott briefly left Chicago for a theatrical tour, but soon returned.
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Local meteorologists predicted 2015 rain consistent throughout the night. For Tijuana it’s a minor story, but for San Diego it is nothing short of a miracle. The State of California – and no one else – ran out of energy years ago; they are currently out of water. Mexico has water – Tijuana has unlimited hot showers – the other 49 USA States have water which includes my hometown Arizona that has little annual rain. California is bordered by the PACIFIC OCEAN!!! It would be amusing if not so ridiculous listening to Governor Brown’s speech while reading U – T San Diego newspaper with Tijuana television playing American-English news. Apparently, Californians shall be fined heavily for excessive daily showers (more than 5 minutes) or watering their lawns more than once a week. There are California “lawn patrol” police with warning for the 1st offense and $500 fines after that. Governor Brown actually publicly announces that Californian home owners should get used to brown lawns with dead grass. These San Diego televised local ‘news’ fools almost convince that rain dumping on me in Tijuana at night is saving California somehow.
An attractive Adelita’s Club woman has approached me a couple times to buy her a drink. I politely decline. After a few days, I am used to her – and she is used to me – familiarity and cordiality increases until it would be nice to speak (no sex) and buy her a drink. Her name is Jessica, pronounced ‘Yessica’, whose family lives South of Mexico City. She is a 26 years-old mother who has been a legal prostitute for nearly a year. She prostitutes two weeks and then visits her family for two weeks. She is similar to most of the Tijuana legal prostitutes; just normal Catholic ladies who are moms without a guy in their life. USA society loves to negatively judge these Mexican women, but utterly indifferent to the ‘deadbeat’ guys who abandon children and don’t pay financial support. Jessica is sweet and professional, not interested in friendship but appreciates my softer heart and ability to communicate in Spanish. JESSICA: “Do you want to go to hotel?” – ME: “Ummmm.”
Instead of calling James Elliott public names in January of 1883, if Harry Hill and Jere Dunn sent $50 to his mom and a few bucks to his sister’s family perhaps Elliott would stand in front of John L. Sullivan and accept a pummeling. There were guys willing to spend honest money to see that. There could be money for everyone. Stiles and Riley didn’t need to have it spelled so plain. Maybe they were smarter – or at least amongst cowardly boxing creeps – not so openly salacious. There’s a lot of money to be made – so let everyone – especially the ones doing the fighting see some of it you greedy assholes!!!
The moments of calm for James Elliott were visiting his sister’s Brooklyn house. A simple meal followed by conversation with his brother-in-law over a smoke was peace he would rarely know. How wonderful to be loved and not judged. Maybe some guys are not worthy of love, but thank God for sisters who see what others don’t – or what’s not there – or what would be there if needed. Elliott could talk to his brother-in-law about life or not talk to him about anything and stare over a sunset. The sister gave the ‘boys’ their moment to converse; it’s a 19th century guy thing while she did woman’s work. It was important for her to have the big brother view functional family life and that it could be his too if he stopped being so angry and rebellious.
Harry Hill to a Chicago journalist, January, 1883: “Jimmy Elliott is a big bag of wind. He is a dirty cur and you can put that in the paper. He blows like an organ but he don’t mean fight now any more than he did when he got licked by little Billy Clark, a man half his size, on the Palisades. He’s a big bully and last night he had to pull in at Parson Davies’ saloon when a little song and dance man he had brow beaten went up to him on the advice of (Jere) Dunn. Elliott saw the artist had some friends with him and he took water.”
Allegedly, James Elliott read the remarks and along with friends meant to injure Harry Hill. The latter requested and received law enforcement protection. Elliott told the Chicago press, “As for (Jere) Dunn, I did not notice or speak to him when he came into Davies’ saloon on Sunday night, and as for fighting, I never saw a man in my life that I wouldn’t fight either with fists or weapons.” To be fair, while keeping me out of publishing trouble in 2015, Elliott continued his angry public rant using a derogatory term for Blacks more than once to describe the song and dance man, Tim Cronin, who approached him. Elliott: “Dunn was armed and wanted me to get into trouble with Cronin so as to kill me. I wouldn’t give him the chance and so he had gone around with (Harry) Hill back-capping me.”
The following day, Jere Dunn countered for the public record: “My associates are gentlemen. I have no affinity with prizefighters and other lawless characters. I saw Elliott’s statement. He is just what Harry Hill said he was – a big bag of wind. I care no more for him than a dog on the street…. If I knew I could whip (John L.) Sullivan or any man in the world I would not enter a prize ring. My ambition is to be a gentleman among gentlemen, and not a bully or a prizefighter.”
Jere Dunn told friends later about his March 1st, 1883 activity: “I hitched up my little mare to my runabout in the morning, slipped my gun and a box of cartridges into my coat pocket and drove out into the country, where I satisfied myself that my weapon was in smooth running order and wouldn’t hang fire on me in case I should need it. Then I drove back to town, cleaned the pistol thoroughly, oiling it in every part before I reloaded. After that I went downtown to all my usual haunts.”
At eight o’clock on the evening of March 1st, an armed James Elliott sat at the Tivoli in Chicago with his friend, Fred Plaisted. There were approximately twenty people in the establishment with several women. Elliott and Plaisted ordered dinner from their Black waiter. An armed Jere Dunn entered the establishment walking immediately toward Elliott’s table. Elliott said, “What are you doing, Jere?” Dunn replied, “I am protecting myself. I am with you, you damned cur,” and shot Elliott –POW – with a mortal wound to the abdomen. Elliot arose to his feet cursing, “You dirty, cowardly cur.” Dunn fired again – POW!!
James Elliott lifted a chair or the table upward not striking Jere Dunn but sending him backward. Black waiters scattered while the women screamed. The wounded Elliott chased the retreating Dunn and caught him. They briefly grappled while trying to gain control of their weapons. Fred Plaisted attempted to separate the men, but they were too strong involved in such violence that he had to back away. Elliott pulled his gun and shot Dunn – POW – in the forehead. Elliott pulled Dunn atop him as they fell to ground while exchanging several bullets.
Officers Coughlin and Dennehy heard the first shot and ran toward the Tivoli establishment. They entered amidst chaos, screams and eight bullets – POW – POW –POW – POW – POW – POW – POW – POW!!! Officer Coughlin disarmed Dunn while pulling him off the dying pugilist. Officer Dennehy forcefully removed the gun from Elliott’s grasp. Both gunmen were seriously injured with Elliott unable to move while blood poured from his stomach. Fred Plaisted ran to his friend, “Are you hurt?” Elliott, with bullet wounds to the abdomen and arm, spoke his final recorded words, “Yes, I think I’m killed.” Elliott was placed on a streetcar – joined by Plaisted – and driven toward a hospital but expired within twenty minutes.
Hartford Weekly Times (3/8/1883): “The frightened whispers of the spectators and suppressed screams of the women, and above all the quick succession of pistol shots, combined to make a fearful scene. The death struggle was soon over. Elliott had received the mortal wounds and exhausted from the internal flow of his life’s blood he fell to the floor between the second and third tables in the front room. He was fighting even in death and dragged Dunn down with him.” Chicago Tribune (3/8/1883): “Elliott died as he had lived, penniless, and his relatives were always in poor circumstances.”
Jere Dunn also had to two bullet wounds: (1) a less serious wound to the arm. (2) A bullet to forehead that exited though the scalp by his ear. One of the officers asked the remorseless Dunn about his participation. Dunn replied, “Well, it is better to be in jail than dead.”
James Elliott had achieved something not all desire, but a portion of given population: Fame! He had been famous more than half of his short lifetime. As a teenager, his early bouts with Nobby Clark, Hen Winkle and James Dunne achieved fame as a prize-fighter, physical specimen and his ‘sledgehammer’ punch. Multiple arrests plagued his 20’s but kept his name in the newspaper. By 1878, despite having not fought in years, he remained one of the six most famous active prizefighters. His 1879 championship bare-knuckle bout with John J. Dwyer, at aged 30, was the American prizefight of the year. The spectacular ascending fame and popularity of John L. Sullivan rubbed off on Elliott during their July 4th, 1882 encounter. But nothing compared to the fame or infamy which Elliott achieved with his bloody murder. He had finally reached mainstream news. If an American sporting crowd could be cruel toward prizefighters for whom they promote, use and dismiss; it was nothing compared to ‘respectable’ people.
The dead body of James Elliott travelling from Chicago to New York became a ghoulish spectacle for thousands of people. His face had been covered due to respect for the victim but the disappointment of many. Finally, as the body travelled through Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania the cover was torn off by spectators. Everyone was in awe of the grisly sight of the dead giant ‘monster’ prizefighter with sunken eyes and ghastly scar across face. No one bothered to re-cover the dead face because it would be torn off again.
Chicago Tribune (3/8/1883): “On the way to New York thousands of persons requested permission to look at the face of the dead man, and at Pittsburg the covering over the head of the coffin was removed, and a large crowd was permitted to see the face.” New York Times headline (3/8/1883): “The Dead Pugilist’s Body; A Long Line Of Men Gazing At Elliott’s Face…. The arrival of the body of the murdered heavyweight pugilist, James Elliott, yesterday morning, has created great interest in sporting society in this City. When Elliott was fought to his death by (Jere) Dunn in a Chicago restaurant on the evening of March 1, the sporting gentleman of that city made no sign that they would have him decently buried there.”
Finally, the dead body reached New York City for James Elliott’s sister who had no money for a decent burial. The sister and mother shrieked and wept uncontrollably when they saw the uncovered face of their brother and son. The brother-in-law attempted to regain control of the situation. The dead face was re-covered. There was a small group called ‘polite’ women who attended funerals to retain dignity and make sure any life – no matter how notorious – was recognized with respect. The brother-in-law was quoted by journalists: “I was his friend and well-wisher.”
Since the Elliott family had no money Jack Stiles offered to assist with bills and pay for a simple funeral. Even this became a travesty as hundreds appeared to say “goodbye” to Jimmy which meant a party. Funerals were a time for food and alcohol amongst friends, well-wishers and strangers. James Elliott was a famous man so no one could believe both he and his family was broke. There would be no food or booze which disappointed many. John L. Sullivan sent a telegram expressing his condolences.
Paddy Ryan, who was never shy offering a whimsical or impolitic comment for the newspapermen said law enforcement received what they wanted all along: a murder. They could arrest James Elliott or Jere Dunn – whichever one did the killing – and be freed of Elliott or Dunn – whichever one did the dying. Either way, law enforcement would be rid of both of them.
New York Times (3/12/1883): “It was thieves’ day on the East Side yesterday, JAMES ELLIOTT, the murdered pugilist, bully, blackguard, and burglar was buried, and all the criminals in the City gathered to pay the last honors to his memory.”
After the burial, a benefit to raise money for James Elliott’s mother was arranged. This was common practice at the time and could help the pugilist or their kin if needed. New York Times (3/16/1883): “The lecture hall of Madison Square Garden was engaged for last evening by Mrs. William O’Brien, her object being to give a grand sparring entertainment for the benefit of the widowed mother of the murdered heavyweight pugilist, James Elliott. The attendance was not large.”
Sacramento Daily Union (3/19/1883): “(Chicago – March 17th) The Grand Jury has returned a true bill for murder against Jere Dunn for killing James Elliott, the pugilist.” While Dunn appeared to have critical injuries after Elliott shot him – with an infection worsening his condition – soon he would have a remarkable recovery. Dunn lied by claiming Elliott fired his weapon first, but the police had received contradictory stories amongst the scattered patrons and workers at the Tivoli that fateful night.
James Elliott’s mother wrote a letter to the New York Sun which was published on April 15th, 1883: “Dear Sir: You stated in your paper on the 16th of March that I received $50 from Harry Hill. Now I wish it understood that I did not receive any money from the exhibition, or from Harry Hill either, until last Saturday night, and I do not wish to accept blood money, I have sent Harry Hill his $50 today, as he was the means for having my son murdered. So Harry Hill can send that $50 to his friend Dunn, the murderer, in Chicago. Mrs. Elliott.”
On May 8th, 1883, Jere Dunn pled “not guilty” to Judge Smith. The Black waiters and Paddy Ryan were amongst the witnesses. Since Ryan was not there I assumed he could only testify that Elliott and Dunn had threatened one another. Dunn’s appearance drastically altered since the night he shot James Elliott. He had a haircut, better grooming while wearing a nice suit. The basic defense is that a habitual thug and bully intimidated a decent gentleman for no apparent reason.
Money poured in from throughout the nation for Jere Dunn’s defense. He wound up with terrific, highly-skilled and experienced Chicago attorneys. Since so many of these contributions were from strangers, merely reading lurid newspaper accounts, it is interesting why the story held such personal appeal. There are no accounts that truly defend Dunn’s conduct on that particular night. It was universally reported that he fired the first and fatal gunshot. It had all the making of a Wild West showdown. Perhaps initial reports of his head-wound evoked sympathy; Elliott simply got the worst of it. Perhaps people identified with the ‘victim’ confronting the ‘bully’ – maybe everyone knew someone like James Elliott in their life – and would have been justified killing their nemesis.
Jere Dunn’s secondary attorney was Col. Daniel W. Dunn – born in 1834 – Orange County, Vermont – who gained local fame by helping “Mrs. Clark” receive an acquittal; who plotted along with her boyfriend to successfully murder her husband. The last names of lawyer/client are the same but I don’t know if there is any relation. There is a connection both shared with the Union Army during America’s Civil War.
State prosecutor, L.L. Mills was brief in his opening statement merely reading to jurors the legal definition of murder.
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I visit Catedral de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe in 2015 again for a more intimate experience. There were many locals but no mass so quiet and peaceful. I promised in church, “As an historian, I’ll treat James Elliott with respect and fairness. His mother may not like everything I write about her son, but that doesn’t mean someone had the right to murder him.” I pray for various people close to my life but shall keep that private from this story.
PRAYER FOR JAMES ELLIOTT (4/9/2015): “Gloria a Dios en el cielo, y en la tierra paz a los hombres que ama el Senor. Port u immense Gloria te alabamos, te bendecimos, te adoramos, te glorificamos, te damos gracias, Senor Dios, Rey celestial, Dios Padre Todopoderoso. Senor, Hijo unico, Jesucristo. Senor Dios, Cordero de Dios, Hijo del Padre; tu que quitas el pecado del mundo, attende nuestra suplica; tu que estas sentado a la derecha del Padre, ten piedad de nosotros; porque solo tu eres Santo, solo tu Senor, solo tu Altisimo, Jesucristo, con el Espiritu Santo en la Gloria de Dios Padre. Amen.”
Emery A. Storrs was the lead 1883 defense attorney for Jere Dunn. Storrs was a famous Chicago attorney, aged 48, at the peak of his profession. Storrs was surprised that prosecutor Mills did not utilize an opportunity to impugn his client. Storrs began his defense to jurors by recognizing the vast publicity the case had already received which had not been favorable to his client. He said that he trusted their intelligence and integrity would have them ignore any preconceived opinions. Storrs began his defense by stating Jere Dunn was a patriotic Union soldier, but struggled to mention anything positive Dunn had made of life since. He quickly switched to James Elliott by first tracing his criminal record. Storrs referred to Elliott as, “a thief, a midnight robber, and an assassin; a man with whom the decenter pugilists refused to associate.” Storrs said the physical presence of Elliott was of such grave threat that Dunn did not have to wait for Elliott to initiate violence and had the right to protect himself by using his revolver. “If you saw a panther on the street,” wondered Storrs, “Would you wait for it to attack before reacting?
F.A. Smith, a Tivoli customer, testified that he saw Jere Dunn raise his arm and open fire.
S.M. Whiteman, a Tivoli customer, testified that he saw Dunn enter and open fire on Elliott with two shots. “I would say,” said Whiteman, “That he took deliberate aim.”
Witnesses for the prosecution testified that Elliott raised a chair but instead of counter-attacking, initially attempted to flee the establishment.
Addison Davis, a Tivoli waiter, testified that he saw Dunn enter the establishment and heard a shot. He turned around to see Elliott raising a chair. He then saw Dunn fire two more shots. Dunn then retreated with Elliott chasing him. He saw them grapple on the ground. When they arose both were holding revolvers.
William Langdon, the Tivoli owner, testified that he spoke with Dunn on February 13th with the gambler calling Elliott a “coward”, “cur” and other names for not fighting John L. Sullivan. In a subsequent conversation Langdon quoted Dunn as saying, “If I ever meet Elliott again I will cook him.” Langdon also said that Dunn was afraid to be around Elliott without a gun.
Others witnesses at the Tivoli were in the back room when they heard gunshots. They stepped forward to see Dunn retreating with an unarmed Elliott advancing toward him.
Parson Davies, Elliott’s manager and backer, admitted that he told a gambler, M. McDonald, he was afraid Elliott would kill Dunn.
M. McDonald testified that he knew Elliott was armed shortly before the shooting.
William A. Pinkerton, the famous detective hired by defense, testified that his investigation revealed it was Elliott’s habit to carry a gun.
State prosecutor, Mills brought police officials from New York and Philadelphia to reveal Jere Dunn’s criminal conduct since his Civil War service.
Defense attorney, Storrs brought numerous witnesses to testify that James Elliott was a dangerous, violent man. He chose not to put Dunn on the stand to testify for his own behalf.
The Advertiser-Courier (Hermann, MO – 5/23/1883): “The jury in the Jere Dunn case for the killing of James Elliott, the pugilist, returned a verdict of not guilty on the 18th, and the prisoner was immediately discharged. The verdict was received with loud cheers by the crowd assembled on the street.”
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I am near the conclusion of my 2015 Tijuana stay. After a couple tequilas w/ Corona at Adelita’s Club an aggressive legal prostitute sits down without asking and practically hip-bumps me off seat: “Move over.” She is pretty but scary, “I am Maria. Buy me a drink?” – ME: “Hola, I’m Christopher. I cannot buy drinks. It is my final night and nearly out of money.” – MARIA: “Then you only have to buy me two drinks.” – ME: “Only two drinks? You are so generous. I’ll be panhandling for money returning to USA.” – MARIA (laughs – while rising to exit): “Okay. Be careful.”
You really learn in life by talking to people. I mentioned the upcoming ‘fight of the century’ between undefeated Mayweather Jr. and Pacquiao to Maria with advertisements everywhere to confirm Mexico was rooting for Pacquaio. Maria shook her head, “Nooo, Baby — it was (Juan Manuel) Marquez fighting Pacquiao and everyone wanted Marquez to knock him out.”
It is 4:00a.m. at Adelita’s Club, on my FINAL night (or morning) and need to leave Tijuana hotel in 30 minutes – take a $5 taxi to international border ($6 with tip) – and hope to move in line as fast as American Border Patrol allows – with Greyhound bus leaving San Diego for Calexico at 6:40a.m. – arriving at 8:45a.m. – with other passengers munching Jack N’ The Box while I know a great walking distance location for tasty menudo. I don’t want a return to USA, but have no choice with final moment of craziness standing and singing/shouting Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman,” which made the cut for ‘cool’ this week in Tijuana with several plays at Adelita’s Club. Roy Orbison is COOL!!! His music and vocal should be heard. After maybe a couple tequilas/Coronas too many – but only a couple – I see my friend, Anajere, hanging out with a couple female friends and approach her. ME: “I am leaving Mexico but finally have Tijuana spirit. (Singing and dancing) “I’m in love with the coco coco – I’m in love with the coco coco.” Ana rises and gives me hug and kiss, “Good luck with your boxing story.” – ME: “Good luck with your family and life.”
The 1883 murder acquittal must have devastated James Elliott’s mother and sister. The highly publicized trial cost Chicago $100,000. The sad irony for James Elliott was that his fame brought little money during his lifetime. But it was his fame and not Jere Dunn which brought so much attention to the murder. It generated jobs. It generated more money than a John L. Sullivan bout and all of Elliott’s prizefights combined. James Elliott was more valuable to society dead than alive.
Crime Pays! Murder is good! Just ask Mrs. Clark! If Jere Dunn could have contained himself after the acquittal and lived the gentleman life which he insisted was his true self; he could have killed two people and remained a respected member of any community. But two wasn’t enough so he killed another guy claiming self-defense. This was a Black man in Pennsylvania. While he continued to avoid incarceration or legal responsibility, the New York Times and his beloved Chicago no longer felt he was a victim. New York Times (1/4/1894): “Jere Dunn, gambler, man-killer, and perfumed vagrant, who glories in his record as a ‘bad man’.” He despised the permanent nickname in his beloved Chicago community, “the Killer”. Dunn could remain in the sports world but never be accepted as ‘gentleman’ by respected society.
Jere Dunn told a 3rd version in his later years about the murder of James Elliott. The versions to police and trial were self-defense. He later told another lie where he dramatically wrestled Elliott with guns. Dunn claimed an arm wrapped around Elliott’s neck and a leg wrapped around the pugilist which pinned him. Dunn held a gun to Elliott’s side. Elliott begged to live – Dunn cursed him – and fired into his side from close range.
Jere Dunn was a disturbed man who plotted the final years of his life to murder famed former lawman and sportswriter, Bat Masterson. Like a celebrity stalker, Dunn attempted to get close to Masterson. He publicly claimed the two were in a feud with both threatening to kill one another. Dunn was setting in motion a self-defense motive similar to Elliott. Bat Masterson was a brilliant, cautious man who kept Dunn far from his life. While Dunn plotted and fantasized it never turned into a final, spectacular “self-defense” murder.
Jere Dunn died of stomach cancer on June 27th, 1906. New York Times: “JERE DUNN DEAD; The Famous Old Gambler Had Killed Three Men.” The San Francisco Sunday Call: “Good And Bad In Jere Dunn” Chicago Tribune: “DEATH ENDS STORY OF ‘KILLER’ DUNN; FIGURE IN FAMOUS TRIAL; Shooting Of Prize Fighter Elliott.”
POSTNOTE: The 2015 “fight-of-the-century” was a predictable dud. Floyd Mayweather Jr. (48-0-0) bored the Las Vegas crowd rooting against him with 4-inch reach advantage and superb defensive boxing skills for a dull 12-round unanimous decision. Manny Pacquiao (57-6-2) landed the only punch which stunned (4th round), but was mostly hopeless developing a strategy. The Tijuana undercard boxer was AWFUL – who only avoided being knocked-out by losing every round via a 3-judge unanimous 10-round, 100-90 shutout. That’s what happens sometimes with boxing and sports. Adelita’s Club shut off televised boxing and the city moved on. James Elliott would hate Floyd Mayweather Jr. – both his skin color and attitude – but the controversial undefeated welterweight Champion did something which Elliott could respect: He made money!!
Tracy Callis concludes this story the way pugilists are ultimately remembered: “During his career, Elliott defeated such men as Bill Davis, Charley Gallagher, Dick Eagan and ‘Captain’ James Dalton.” Tracy lists James Elliott’s permanent record – despite unfair or fair victories – with a not particularly distinguished, but certainly violent, 5-4-1. It was a Catholic life!!!
(From my 3rd book: “American Slave Boxer: Sylvie Dubois,” which is $5.99 on Amazon.)