As Mike Goodpaster and I prepare our popular Old-Time Boxing Show podcast, via Grueling Truth network regarding longtime Canadian heavyweight champion, George Chuvalo it is nice to present a pugilist from their region who has toiled in obscurity for over a century. On May 20th, 1887, Montreal, Quebec, one of the bloodiest battles in boxing history transpired. In the 13th round, wearing pants and top coat, skintight leather gloves, tennis shoes footwear, Billy Hawkins landed a punch to the chin of Harry Gilmore that knocked the Canadian Lightweight Champion outside the ring until crashing through a window. This is the story of the ‘forgotten’ Canadian pugilist who threw and landed that devastating punch.
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Interview With Ryan McMahon
Ryan is 31 years old and resides in Elko New Market, Minnesota. He is the great-great-grandson of Billy Hawkins.
ME: “I don’t want to dwell on the negative aspects of Hawkins, but need to portray both sides of the family dispute. Could you tell me something about the family divide with regard to Billy Hawkins legacy?”
RYAN: “Oh sure. Well, half the family thinks he is the greatest thing that ever lived and the other half the family hates him.”
ME: “Why does the side of the family that hates Hawkins feel this way?”
RYAN: “They just think he was a terrible person. Not a family man at all. He had relationships all over. I don’t know this for sure – but its said that he left kids scattered throughout the country. They say he was just a no good person all around. He had the family home in Minnesota that he used as a Whorehouse. We have photos that are kind of wild from this time.”
ME: “I won’t present that stuff as fact. I only want to portray both viewpoints of the family. Any photos that you have I may or may not publish but I would like to see them. Plus, the family, for all its emotion, seem to lack knowledge of basic vital statistics – such as a birth date or death year. Would anyone in the family be able to tell me the name of Billy Hawkins’ manager?”
RYAN: “No. I am hoping you will be able to find out.”
ME: “Much of this is in Canada 120 years ago. I will see what I can do. Not knowing his manager tells me there is much more to be learned about Hawkins –so none of the personal life of Hawkins, via the family ancestors, can be presented by me as fact. But the family opinion is his ultimate legacy thus we can present the emotional divide as real…. So the family side that respects Hawkins feel that his accomplishment in winning the Canadian Lightweight Championship is such that it outweighs his personal indiscretions outside the ring?”
ME: “While the family side unforgiving of Hawkins behavior believe that he misbehaved as an individual within a larger family structure?”
ME: “I appreciate your mediating the family dispute by sort of playing middleman. I will mention the negative side of Hawkins but this is not an expose`. We are talking about a pugilist not a Pope.”
RYAN: “That’s right. And you can’t always be nice and win fights.”
BoxRec had Billy Hawkins listed as an American welterweight from Ohio. They listed his career from 1885-1893 with a record of 7-4-1. CyberBoxingZone has been working on a Billy Hawkins page since 2005. Their initial research (not published), lists him as a 150 pound pugilist who fought out of Ohio. There were entanglements with a better known pugilist (within America), Dal Hawkins. Researchers are not paid other than the satisfaction of contributing to our knowledge of history. With so many pugilists, and never enough researchers, it is understandable that many are undeveloped.
Following publication of my Hawkins story in CBZ, BoxRec “helped themselves” to my research to amend Hawkins’ profile. It was my intent to share, not hoard my work for public consumption but a “thanks” or heads-up they would be doing this would have been nice.
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Hawkins Early Bouts (1879-1885)
Billy Hawkins was born in Southern Mideast, Canada, 1858. At age 18, he pursued his show business ambition by landing work as a professional dancer. He learned minstrel for a couple years until he became ill. The cold was diagnosed by doctors as the life ending, tuberculosis. Instead of surrendering to the illness, Hawkins battled for his life with rigorous physical training. Billy Hawkins: “I was sick. The doctors said that I had consumption. At the advice of friends I took up boxing, and I believe that I added years to what would have been a brief life.”
Bout #1: versus Joseph Thompson, 1879. Location: Sherbrooke Township, Quebec, Canada. Hawkins: 135 pounds. Thompson: 160 pounds. Kid gloves. RESULT: Hawkins (W – KO, 11).
Bout #2: versus Joseph La Roch. Location: Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Hawkins: 135 pounds. La Roche: 155 pounds. RESULT: Hawkins (W – KO, ?).
Bout #3: versus Tom Welsh. Location: Montreal. RES
Bout #4: versus Frank Seacoat. Location: Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada. RESULT: Hawkins (W – ?, ?). At some point, Hawkins was recognized as the Champion of Manitoba, but I did not discover which bout earned this claim.
Bout #5: Billy Hawkins vs. Clem Austin
RESULT: Hawkins (W – KO, 4). A significant stepping stone bout in his pugilism career path. Austin is noted as the Middleweight Champion of the Northwest. Hawkins: 135 pounds. Austin: 160 pounds. Hawkins has thus far made his reputation by defeating larger opponents. Austin is the aggressor for the first 3 rounds. Hawkins defeated Austin with a surprising 4th round knockout. The victory would propel Hawkins toward his goal to fight for the Championship of Canada.
It appears that Hawkins utilized his professional dance training as a pugilist. Hawkins would place emphasis on his ring footwork. As many pugilists are ‘right handed’, as was Hawkins, he was also ‘right footed’. With gloved work, right handed pugilists extend the jab with their left arm. Hawkins appears to have used his right leg aggressively for both offense and defense. He would pivot onto his right foot forward while offensive and vice-versa for defense. At a time when foot work science was not emphasized this likely confused Hawkins’ opponents while it offered an advantage against larger pugilists.
Manitoba Heavyweight Championship
Billy Hawkins vs. Champion Ed McKeown
Location: Manitoba (?) East of Toronto. Hawkins: approximatel
Bout #7: versus Paul Patillo. Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada. RESULT: Hawkins (W – 3 rounds).
Bout #8: versus James Malony. Location: Toronto. RES
Bout #9: versus Johnny Cash. Location: ?? Cash is noted as the Middleweight Champion of New York. RESULT: Hawkins (Draw – 10 rounds).
Billy Hawkins held no title but he did have a reputation at this point. His name recognition could at least be sold in itself. His next opponent and bout would be one of the coldest weather bouts in boxing history. We have preserved film of pro football’s classic ‘Ice Bowl’, 1967, 2 time defending Champion, Green Bay Packers (COACH: Vince Lombardi – QUARTERBACK: Bart Starr) vs. Dallas Cowboys (COACH: Tom Landry – QUARTERBACK: Don Meredith), held in Wisconsin, December 31st, temperature (- 25 celsius, – 13 Fahrenheit, -40 wind chill), grimy padded players, ice smog midst throughout. Landry called the game conditions: “Brutal,” and said it should have been postponed. These were the similar Canadian weather conditions with the less attired, no electric heaters, that Billy Hawkins and Jack Moriarty engaged in their classic 1885 pugilist encounter.
Bout #10: Billy Hawkins vs. Jack Moriarty
Date: 3/14/1885. Location: Mon
The Manitoba Daily Free Press: “Both men were in the pink of condition, Hawkins having, perhaps, slightly the best form, although the more youthful Toronto man raised the confidence of his backers by his lithe and springy appearance. During the first 6 rounds a fine exhibition of skill was given and some hard hitting was indulged in by both men. Hawkins, however, having the best of the battle all through, but at the end of the 6th round it was anybodys (s.i.c.) fight. 2 more rounds were fought, and then it was plain to all that Hawkin’s (s.i.c.) must win. When time was called for the 9th round Moriarity (s.i.c.) failed to come to time and the umpire announced that he was sick.” Billy Hawkins: “From the 3rd (round) on I had him whipped to a groggy stage, but he stuck. I could not knock him out at that. For 7 rounds, I landed at will and rendered my right hand almost useless, but Jack stuck and only quit in the 10th when he could not see enough in the center of the ring.” The winner, Hawkins, probably received anywhere from $200 – $300. Of greater value, perhaps, is the publicity and name recognition that would earn him a showdown with Harry Gilmore for the Lightweight Championship of Canada.
Canadian Lightweight Championship (3/26/1885)
Billy Hawkins vs. Champion Harry Gilmore
Location: Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Opera House. It is a gloved bout with 6 three minute rounds. Crowd: 500 spectators. Champion Gilmore is the most famous and popular pugilist in Canada. Hawkins had built his career arc on larger pugilists, so that the smaller Champion would not have appeared imposing. RESULT: (Draw – 4 rounds). The Capital: “There is much dissatisfaction over the decision given at the sparring contest last evening. Gilmore is said to be a decidedly better sparrer than Billy Hawkins, yet the contest was declared a Draw.”
Canadian Lightweight Championship (5/20/1887)
Champion Harry Gilmore vs. Billy Hawkins
Location: Montreal. A downtown ballroom near the ‘Back River’. Crowd: 50 persons. Tickets: $10 (Only 30 paid fans).
Canadian law enforcement did its best to prevent this anticipated publicized bout. They publicly halted the confrontation once. An elegant downtown ballroom, at a cost of $250 for 90 minutes was selected. The carpet was removed which left a slick, wooded floor surface. Hawkins wore a sleeveless coat above the waist, along with tennis shoes.
Pre-bout: Hawkins prepared for this fight like no other. Physically, he was healthy and for at least two months had his skin ‘sanded’ daily. Gilmore Vital Stats: 129 ½ pounds – managed by George Fulljames – Hawkins Vital Stats: 140 pounds – managed by John P. Clow – Attire: “thin, skin tight leather” gloves – Weather:
Round 1: Both cautious – frequent misses with jabs. Hawkins throws punch – misses – Gilmore counters as he steps forward with hard left that lands to nose – blood spurts from Hawkins.
Round 2: Hawkins more aggressive – attempts to corner Gilmore into corner ropes. Gilmore spots opening with advancing foe as he counters with left to face.
Rounds 3-4: Hawkins continues to be aggressive – both sides exchange punches.
Hawkins lands a right at some point – Champion Gilmore falls to ground.
Round 5: Gilmore dominates throughout – lands many head blows. Round nears end – Hawkins lands a hard right to face – “Time” is called – dazed and confused Gilmore unable to locate his corner chair without assistance.
Rounds 7-8: The pace has slowed a bit. Champion Gilmore methodically gains advantage as he concentrates his jabs to his foe’s eyes. It is effective as Hawkins’ eyes are swelled with damaged vision.
Notes: Hawkins suffers from a broken nose that bleeds profusely. But the bout is close to a stoppage due to Hawkins’ impaired vision. A pocket knife is produced to cut open his eyelids. It is painful and unsuccessful. A razor is produced. It is slit over his eyelids. Blood spurts like a fountain, but it has produced the desired results as Hawkins can see again.
Rounds 9-10: Hawkins slowly regains advantage with his harder blows to chest and ribs.
Round 11: Round nears end – Hawkins lands hard right to neck. Champion Gilmore is in serious trouble as “Time” is called.
Round 13: Hawkins lands hard punch (probably right) that lands to face – Gilmore knocked outside the ring and through a window.
A SPECTACULAR punch with glass EXPLOSION that temporarily brings the bout to a halt… The fans must have been delighted with the violence while they simultaneously recoiled at the sight of the Champion. Glass fragments must be removed from his back as blood spurts in all directions… Hawkins bleeds from face – eyes swelled shut. Gilmore’s back is a bloody mess from the sharp broken glass impaled into his skin.
Round 14: Champion Gilmore lands hard punch to the broken nose of Hawkins – blood spurts grotesquely upward and all directions.
Round 20: Fairly even fight – both pugilists display: “a sickening appearance as they face each other, but Hawkins physiognomy is decidedly the worst of the two.”… This is a ‘rest’ round as both exhausted pugilists need to regather their strength.
Round 21: Champion Gilmore appears to dominate as he appears energized with lefts, rights but they lack power. Gilmore appears depleted once again as the round ends.
Rounds 22-25: Hawkins is dominating with several body shots. Gilmore is falling to the floor repeatedly.
There may be as many as 8 knockdowns during these four rounds. Most of these knockdowns are intentional as Gilmore rests and attempts to avoid additional punishment.
Round 26: Champion Gilmore lightly spars with caution.
Hawkins steps forward with punch (probably right) that lands to chin – Gilmore drops to ground. A ’10’ count is offered – Champion fails to rise – ref waves hands – bout over – KNOCKOUT!
Billy Hawkins, the new Lightweight Champion of Canada, performs his favorite European tap dance, influenced and altered by American minstrel shows. Hawkins steps over to Gilmore with a wide smile as he shakes hands: “Harry, you are the best little man I ever fought, but I am still your father in the ring.”
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Interview With Rosie Cummings (Part 1-2)
Rosie Cummins is 91 years old, with 7 grandchildren and 6 great grandchildren. She has lived in Hibbing, Minnesota her entire life. I thought she did a terrific job, with understandable difficulty, in attempting to recall details from 70+ years ago. We struggled with a birth date or death year and other such vital stats. The process of rehashing names and events from decades prior left us both exhausted. Our interview sessions began in early December, 2009, and concluded on Valentine’s Day. She was excited by a 2 week holiday vacation to be with her family in Alberquerque, New Mexico.
ME: “I understand that you have met Billy Hawkins?”
ROSIE: “I met him once. He was small. But he was also older.”
ME: “Did you know that Hawkins was famous when you met him?”
ROSIE: “Oh yes. I knew that he was Champion years before.”
ME: “Could you tell me anything at all about your one meeting?”
ROSIE: “He was very friendly. Sort of a joker. He liked to kid people. You couldn’t help but like him.”
ME: “Is there anything else that you remember upon your meeting?”
ROSIE: “He seemed healthy. He was no slouch. He had lots of pep.”
ME: “Do you remember anything in particular that Hawkins said or talked about?”
ROSIE: “No, it was too long ago. He joked and told stories. We all gathered to listen. They were all entertaining. He was an entertainer of sorts anyway.”
ME: “Do you remember personal characteristics such as the countenance of Billy Hawkins chin or the color of his eyes?”
ROSIE: “I am 91 years old. How am I supposed to remember something like that?”
ME: (laughs) “No one expects you to remember anything. If you remember something – great – and if not – oh well.”
ME: “Could you tell me where Billy Hawkins was born or spent his youth?”
ROSIE: “He grew up in both places. Here and Canada.”
ME: “By here, I assume that you mean the St. Louis County, Minnesota, region. Could you tell which part of Canada?”
ROSIE: “Ottawa. That’s all I know. I know that he lived in Ottawa when he was young.”
ME: “Could you tell me anything about Billy Hawkins inside the ring?”
ROSIE: “That he was an entertainer. A clog dancer. Back then you had to put on sort of a show for the audience.”
ME: “Indeed. Pugilists sang – told jokes – played musical instruments. Something like Vaudeville. Then the show would conclude with a boxing bout.”
ROSIE: “He would tell stories and jokes and then entertain them with his clog dances. He was quite a dancer from what I understand.”
ME: “What is clog dancing?”
ROSIE: “Clogging has been around a long time. I see the young kids doing it on television today.”
ME: “That’s good. The illustration of Billy Hawkins that I found dancing held racial overtones with its minstrel appearance.”
ROSIE: “Clogging is a popular dance that’s been around a long time. You don’t know what clogging is?”
ME: (laughs) “I don’t. But I will find out.” (As Rosie states it is a European form of tap dancing – sort of jumping up and down with the feet as percussion/rhythm – as it was a consistent part of the Billy Hawkins show repertoire). “You own an actual pair of Billy Hawkins shoes?”
ROSIE: “It was a present from him to me and my husband.”
ME: “Could you describe the shoes?”
ROSIE: “They are dancing shoes. Like the kind they wear for ballet. They have delicate, soft laces.”
ME: “I understand that you once held a title belt of Billy Hawkins?”
ROSIE: “My nephew, Clement, gave it to me to show off. I displayed that belt in Geary’s Jewelry Store at the front window.”
ME: “Can you offer me a time frame – 1940’s, 1950’s, 1960’s?”
ROSIE: “No, this would have been during the 1970’s or 1980’s. Then the family took it back.”
ME: “That’s what I understand. The title belt is now missing.”
ROSIE: “I was told that the belt is at a Seattle Museum.”
ME: “I am not sure about that. I was told that the family member who took the belt from you claimed he gave it to the International Boxing Hall of Fame.”
ROSIE: “No. As far as I know it is at a museum in Seattle.”
ME: “Could you tell me what the belt looked like?”
ROSIE: “Let’s see. The center was like a big shield with his name on it. It was metal with lighted, smaller stones. It also listed the names of opponents that he fought. The belt was heavier than it looked. It was made of steel and that weighed it down.”
ME: “Is there anything else that you remember about this belt?”
ROSIE: “I believe it said that he was the Champion of the Western Hemisphere.”
ME: “You had mentioned a pugilist that Hawkins often talked about. You could not remember the name. Could you offer a hint of what the name sounded like from memory.”
ROSIE: “Nope, I cannot. Chris, can I tell you something?”
ROSIE: “I don’t want to think about boxing any more. I want to think about my vacation.” (we both laugh)
ME: “I understand. Okay, no more boxing questions. So tell me how your family celebrates the Holidays?”
ROSIE: “I teach the family how to make real Raviolis. I wrap them and make them special. Everyone enjoys them so much.”
ME: “You are making me hungry. What else does your family do for Christmas?”
ROSIE: “The Raviolis are the big thing. I show the others how to do them.”
ME: “Food sounds like a major part of the festivities. I would imagine in an Italian descent home that makes for some great cooking.”
ROSIE: “What are you doing for the holidays, Chris?”
ME: “Writing and research. That’s about it.”
ROSIE: “You don’t have family?”
ME: “Who is asking the questions here? I think we have mixed up our roles.” (we both laugh)
ROSIE: “I am sorry if it is personal.”
ME: “No – I ask you lots of questions. I mostly have Facebook and this means I have holiday friends in Italy and France and Turkey and Egypt. It is as if the world is one big family now.”
ROSIE: “You have a nice Christmas, Chris.”
ME: “Merry Christmas to you and your family, Rosie. Since I wouldn’t have met you if not for Billy Hawkins – then I guess I should wish he and Annie a belated Merry Christmas, too.”
ROSIE: “Annie (the wife) was a truly great lady. I hope she is remembered in your article most of all. She was the one who always put everyone else first and kept the family together.”
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Montana Lightweight Championship (6/10/1888)
Billy Hawkins vs. Jimmie Bates
Location: Beaverhead County – near Lavell… Crowd: 150 patrons… Tickets: $12.50…
Pre-Bout: An anticipated bout that had been publicly announced for Idaho to fool law enforcement. There was the usual underground of communication and railroad that landed the bout at the ranch… BATES VITAL STATS: 5’7, 146 pounds – assisted by Jack Lawrence and Jerry Slattery… HAWKINS VITAL STATS: 5’8, 144 pounds – assisted by Ed McKeon and Shiperly… ATTIRE: Skin gloves with fingers exposed – nearly bare knuckle but fought under gloved rules. Black pants with spiked shoes… WEATHER: Warm and beautiful. BETTING: Bates appeared “a bit fleshy” so the gambling slightly favored Hawkins…
Round 3: Pugilists continue a slow pace – Hawkins hands often down at sides with occasional feints – Bates backs when he feels threatened. Hawkins steps forward with hard right to neck – misses – momentum takes him forward and off balance – Bates seizes opportunity with illegal punch that lands to back. Both continue to stalk one another – feints along with light sparring.
Round 4: Both pugilists smile – Hawkins appears to enjoy the competition. Bates steps forward with a “vicious right hander” that lands to top of head. Hawkins responds with a smile and wink – then charges forward as he pushes Bates back to ropes – Bates slips away unscathed.
Round 5: Both pugilists are smiling and amiably chatting – Hawkins does most of the talking – Bates responds with civility. There is more witticism than actual fighting as the deadly slow pace continues. Round nears end – Bates steps forward – Hawkins quicker with short right that lands to chin – follows with a flurry of body punches – Bates backs with his left jab attempting to poke at face of his charging foe. “Time” is called to put a halt to the first real offensive action of the bout.
NOTES: Hawkins corner men order their pugilist to start fighting and to be more aggressive.
Round 6: Hawkins steps forward and lands hard left to body – pugilists clinch – separate. Both have gloved hands down to side – Bates steps forward with left that lands to neck – then backs toward ropes – Hawkins follows. Bates feints punch – Hawkins backs – Bates aggressively steps forward – pugilists lightly spar and stalk.
Hawkins steps forward with right that lands to side of head – Bates falls to grassy ground. Crowd is excited – referee count is slow. More than 10 seconds have lapsed. Bates is dazed as he struggles to his feet. Hawkins backs and smiles as he announces: “Get up Jimmie. I will not hurt you.” With that – Bates was allowed to recover and then the bout resumed.
NOTES: Hawkins was later asked why he was not aggressive while he allowed his knocked out opponent to continue. Hawkins explained that he thought $12.50 was a lot of money and that the fans deserved a longer show.
Round 7: Hawkins continues his strangely kind behavior – round begins slow – Hawkins backers slightly confused until Hawkins announces: “I want to give Jimmie a chance to recover.” The round begins to turn into a bout again as Bates backs – Hawkins aggressively steps forward and lands hard left to body – Bates knocked backward into the corner ropes wooden post. Bates aggressively retaliates as he steps forward with punches – Hawkins backs – Bates follows – Hawkins stops as he times and lands right to eye – Bates clinches. Pugilists separate – blood drizzles from Bates eye as he stops to wipe the blood off with his arm.
Round 8: Slow pace throughout – light sparring – action picks up as the round nears end. Hawkins steps forward with right that lands to cheek – Bates attempts to counter with left – Hawkins quicker with straight left jab that lands to nose. Blood steadily drips from Bates face onto his chest.
Round 9: Pugilists smile at one another as Hawkins continues his friendly banter. Some minimal action occurs – Hawkins attempts to be aggressive – Bates defensive as he deflects and backs. Pace slows – both stalk and lightly spar. Hawkins feints left – feints left – feints left – steps forward with hard right that lands to wrist and lower waist…. Evan Morgan, an important Montanan figure associated for pulling off this illegal bout, steps into the ring as he claims the bout over due to an illegal punch by Hawkins…. Bout halts – others enter the ring – ref Flowers denies any disqualification and orders the bout to continue with the round over.
Round 10: Pugilists energized and lively – Hawkins feints left as he attempts to set up his right – extends left to stomach that falls short – Bates counters with left jab that grazes foe’s nose – Hawkins counters with quick hard right that lands to mouth – blood spurts and flows. Bates’ face is swollen – dazed and groggy – as he spits blood to the ground…. The round slows in pace a bit – Bates steps forward with right, left combo that land to face – Hawkins counters with aggression – both pugilists furiously exchange punches – action brings pugilists close together – Hawkins lands illegal knee to groin…. Evan Morgan enters the ring again to announce that the bout is over with Hawkins disqualification – ref Flowers orders Morgan out of the ring and for the pugilists to continue – warns Hawkins about the knee. ALL HECK HAS BROKE LOOSE – backers and corner men yell at one another as they clutch the ropes – it appears they will enter the ring – ref Flowers calls a halt to the bout. Bates is noticeably fatigued and grateful for this rest – shouting from both sides continues – ref Flowers refuses the calls for disqualification. “Time” is called as the hectic round comes to an end.
Round 11: Hawkins jokes and teases Bates as the round begins: “It’s too bad that I’m getting so old, Jimmie. If I was as young as you I’d be alright.” Both throw a couple punches – bout returns to slow paced stalking and searching for openings. Hawkins feints left as he steps forward and throws right that lands to ribs – Bates slightly covers – Hawkins continues forward aggressively as his knee collides with foe’s leg – Bates trips and falls to ground (no knockdown).
Bates groggily rises – Hawkins continues aggression as he steps forward with right that lands to head – Bates falls over flat to ground.… Evan Morgan enters the ring for the 3rd time to insist the previous trip was illegal and that Hawkins should have been disqualified. Ref Flowers agrees – waves bout over – declares Bates the winner.… Several people enter the ring as general mayhem erupts. Hawkins realizes that the young referee has declared him the loser – suddenly loses his composure. Hawkins chases and attacks Bates – throws and lands several punches on the dazed and confused younger pugilist – corner men grab Bates and pull him away to safety.
Post-Bout: Confusion reigns as both sides agree that the conclusion result is unsatisfactory. Hawkins is heavily criticized for fooling around inside the ring rather than finishing off his defeated opponent. Bates backers are happy not to lose any money but disdainful towards their own pugilist. All gambling bets are declared off. Hawkins interpreted this action as proof that he did not lose, so therefore he was the new Montana Lightweight Champion. Bates received the larger purse money though Hawkins received a higher than previously agreed upon losers share. Montana journalists asked Hawkins why he attacked Bates viciously after the bout was over. Billy Hawkins: “For the fun of it.”
Chicago Daily Tribune (March, 1889): “(Helena, Montana) At the Cardiff-Donaldson exhibition here it was announced from the stage that Billy Hawkins, lightweight Champion of Canada and Montana, would challenge either Myer or McAuliffe for $2500 a side and the Championship of America…. Hawkins went to St. Paul last July to meet Alf Kennedy, backer of Myer, to arrange a match, but the latter refused to make one unless the fight should go the same as the money.” 1889 would be the decisive year for the 31 year old, Hawkins, with regard to a unified lightweight Championship title. Jack McAuliffe continued to hold the title with Billy Myer set as the #1 contender. Hawkins publicly challenged both. It appears that Myer was willing to fight, but unclear as to why a scheduled San Francisco bout never occurred. Myer had publicly commented that the money situation had not been resolved. Hawkins never settled on a skilled manager to guide his career. The lack of an aggressive agent prevented Hawkins the high profile confrontation that he desperately wanted and needed. Hawkins managerial representation was often the promoter of whichever city he happened to call home for the moment. There seems to be no doubt that Hawkins was as worthy, or even more so, than some of the opponents that McCauliffe battled in his title defenses. The history of boxing Championships, and perhaps the least reported, involve the persistence and aggressive tactics by a manager/pugilist as they team to entice a reluctant title holder into the ring.
Hawkins permanently settled in St. Louis County, Minnesota, to live by 1890. (‘Hibbing’ would be named and founded 3 years later). On June 7th, in Des Moines, Iowa, Hawkins fought a 10 round sparring contest with fellow Minnesotan, Jack Tousely. They wore 4 ounce gloves. Hawkins weighed 135 pounds while his middleweight opponent was roughly at 155. Hawkins generally preferred to play the aggressor, but was instead defensive for the first couple of rounds. Round 3, featured a couple Hawkins feints, followed by a hard right that landed to neck, as Tousely fell to the ground. The middleweight arose with difficulty. Hawkins pounced and scored 2 more knockdowns in the 3rd round. The Saint Paul Daily Globe: “Tousely was virtually carried to his corner by his seconds. The latter claimed an injured hand, and asked for a doctor, but none responded, and the referee called ‘time’ for the 4th round. Tousely then staggered to the ropes at the front of the stage, and in broken sentences gave up the fight.” Tousely did not want to anger paying spectators, and neither did Hawkins, so they lightly sparred for the final rounds. Tousely insisted that Hawkins promise not to hurt him additionally. Hawkins complied.
Billy Hawkins vs. Ed Gorman
July 27th, 1891, is one of the most interesting ’bouts’ of Billy Hawkins career because the 54th round Chicago knockout loss versus Ed Gorman likely did not occur. Several American newspapers published a story that does not seem unrealistic: a stalking, offensive Hawkins gaining the upper hand in early rounds until the smaller, defensive Gorman had tired his foe. Controversy had arisen of this reported bout due to Hawkins himself. This alone raised ‘doubts’ but is not enough to discredit the newspaper published reports. For the purposes of this article, I have decided to discount the bout for the following reasons: (A) Chicago Daily Tribune, August, 1891: “Billy Hawkins, the lightweight Champion of Canada, writes from Sudbury, Ontario, that it was not he who was beaten by Ed Gorman in this city recently.” Billy Hawkins via Toronto Daily Mail: “I don’t know this alleged, Hawkins, and am still undefeated. I was in Superior, Wisconsin, at the time, which can be easily proven.” (B) Chicago is a boxing city. It is difficult to believe their newspapers would neither attend or reference this bout. There is no suggestion that Hawkins ever fought in Chicago either before or after this supposed bout versus Gorman. (C) The American national newspaper coverage portrays the pugilist styles accurately, but there is sparsity about the overall bout. There is no coverage from the 11th to 52nd round. It is difficult, but not impossible, to believe that there were 53 gloved rounds at three minutes apiece. Often, these 20+ rounds held 1 or 2 minute rounds but there is no mention of this. (D) There is a great line by former New York Yankees baseball manager, Billy Martin, about the relationship of his star athlete, Reggie Jackson, and team owner, George Steinbrenner: “They are made for each other. One is a born liar while the other is convicted.” Hawkins had motivation to lie. His public claim that he remained undefeated was a selling point in a hopeful confrontation with undefeated Champion Jack McAuliffe. Hawkins was not undefeated, with at least two provable losses (McKeown/Bates), so this claim was a lie. Hawkins mixed this intentional deception with the same statements involving his Gorman whereabouts. Still, while Hawkins may be a ‘born liar’, his opponent, Ed Gorman, remains ‘convicted’. An arrest for burning down his own tavern a year later brought an indignant published editorial. New York Times (12/5/1892): “(Columbus, Ohio) Pugilist Gorman Arrested…. A Man Of Unsavory Reputation Held For Arson…. (Edward) Gorman appeared at the fire about 4 o’clock this morning and feigned surprise, but the officers took him to prison. On his person was found a $15,000 policy of the St. Paul Fire and Marine Insurance Company…. Gorman has figured in several disgraceful affairs since he came here from Buffalo about a year ago. He had hardly arrived when a Buffalo officer came in with a requisition for him, the charge being that he had obtained a diamond ring by false pretenses connected with a ‘fake fight’. He has figured in several fakes here.” I believe this leaves sufficient room for doubt, which is not proof that a Hawkins/Gorman bout never occurred, only that Hawkins claims have merit beyond only his word.
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Interview With Bunny Cummings
Bunny is 62 years old and has lived in Hibbing, Minnesota her entire life. She is the great granddaughter of Billy Hawkins.
ME: “Could you tell me where Hawkins was born or where he spent his youth?”
BUNNY: “It was in Canada. But I’m not sure where other than that.”
ME: “How come no one in the family knows the death year for Billy Hawkins?”
BUNNY: “That’s because nobody in the family liked him. There was no one at the funeral. The family had no money so he was buried in a simple box as a pauper.”
ME: “I understand that much of the family did not approve of the way that Hawkins treated his wife and kids?”
BUNNY: “No, he was a terrible person. He only cared about himself and no one else. He left his wife, Annie, with several kids during the war, while he is out boxing. My father called Billy a gigolo, a philanderer.”
ME: “When you say that Hawkins was ignoring his family during the war. Do you mean the Spanish-American war of the late 1890’s?”
BUNNY: “Whichever war was going on at the time.”
ME: “Could you tell me anything else about Billy Hawkins?”
BUNNY: “That he trained young boxers. I have a newspaper in a frame that talks about him training pupils.”
ME: “Could you tell me the name and date of the newspaper?”
BUNNY: “No, it has been cut out. It has a date on it of 1877.”
ME: “This was handwritten later?”
ME: “Could you tell me something about his wife, Annie?”
BUNNY: “Just that she was a great lady and a real character.”
ME: “Could you describe her character in some way?”
BUNNY: “No. I can only tell you that she was a real character. She lived to be 101 years old. Her daughter lived with her in the end.”
ME: “Could you tell me about the Hawkins children?”
BUNNY: “Billy adopted so many kids. He would just bring them home and then leave.”
ME: “Rosie has offered several names. Could you tell me the names of any Hawkins children and something about their personality?”
BUNNY: “There’s Fern. She was married and a real character. Just a lot of fun. She moved to California to live with her daughter.”
ME: “Okay, there is Fern. Anyone else?”
BUNNY: “Nora. Her husband died young. She wasn’t a mingler. She was very quiet.”
ME: “Okay, we have Fern and Nora. Anyone else?”
BUNNY: “Eleanor. She was special. She was a poet. A writer. She lived with us for years.”
ME: “Billy Hawkins had a large Minnesota hotel or bedding Inn. Could you tell me something about it?”
BUNNY: “It was called the Sailors And Soldiers home. It was a large home that had extra rooms. If you were coming to Hibbing it was a place that you could stay overnight. It was located 20 miles North of Hibbing.”
ME: “That would be near the Canadian border?”
BUNNY: “Yes. It would be near Ottawa.”
ME: “You seem to have mixed feelings about Hawkins. On the one hand he was the Canadian Lightweight Champion of the late 1880’s. On the other hand he was not the best family person. How should Billy Hawkins be remembered?”
BUNNY: “That he was a great athlete. He was also a skilled craftsman. He made furniture. He could create beautiful log homes. He should be remembered as a talented person.”
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The Toronto Daily Mail, September, 1891: “(Montreal) Billy Hawkins, of Ottawa, was challenged by an unknown, of this city, to fight to a finish or a number of rounds, but instead of accepting the challenge he has agreed to meet Dick Guthrie.” The puzzle pieces of these random reports seem to confirm that Hawkins youth was either spent in Winnipeg or Ottawa and that his fame was strongest in Montreal. These particular reports suggest that Hawkins was attempting to earn money with his celebrity fame, but was taking another non-step in the direction of a title confrontation with Jack McCauliffe. The Toronto Daily Mail, October, 1891: “(Montreal) Billy Hawkins, the Champion lightweight of Canada, arrived in town tonight, and is in great shape for his contest with Dick Guthrie…. Hawkins will fight at 140 pounds, while Guthrie will tip the scales at about 153. The former is endeavoring to get on a match with the unknown.”
The Saturday Budget, January, 1892: “(Ottawa, Ontario) Billy Hawkins left last night for West Superior and he will then go to New Orleans and endeavor to get a match with anyone of his weight or failing in this he will challenge California Mitchell.” New Orleans was the boxing hot spot of the moment. Unfortunately, it was likely too late. Billy Myer, Andy Bowen (who tragically died from a bout in 1894), Jimmy Carroll, Austin Gibbons and the undefeated Mike Daly were all considered above Hawkins in the contention ‘pecking order’, 1889-91, following Champion McAuliffe. The time for Hawkins to aggressively pursue McAuliffe was 1888, aged 30. By 1892, aged 34, Hawkins most publicized American bout remained the Gorman knockout loss (that likely did not occur). Fate, luck, location, a great manager, personal habits and behavior all play a role upon winning a boxing championship. Mostly: “You cannot win it if you are not in it.” Hawkins could not effect a strategy so that his reputation would force a title showdown. Hawkins talent inside the ring might have been title worthy caliber. He was as deserving as those pugilists listed above and clearly more deserving than others. But outside-the-ring forces prevented any title opportunity.
The battle of August 7th, 1892, versus Jack Nolan, in Des Moines, Iowa, offers a reminder of the power that Hawkins still possessed. The main event at the Des Moines Grand Opera House featured a heavier Hawkins at 146 pounds while his opponent weighed in at 140. The first 3 rounds have little action, and with Hawkins as the ‘celebrity pugilist’, spectator abuse is aimed in his direction. Boos become increasingly hostile as Nolan steps forward while Hawkins backs. Nolan appreciates the crowd support as he sneers: “F*** you, Hawkins. You are afraid to fight.”
ROUND 4: Better exchanges – increased offensive action. Nolan lands light left tap to shoulder and back steps – Hawkins feints with left as he steps forward.
Nolan feints – Hawkins attempts to block non punch as he continues forward with a short right that lands to jaw – maximum impact – Nolan stumbles a moment until he drops dead to ground. The referee counts ’10’ – KNOCKOUT! Winnipeg Free Press via The Des Moines Leader: “It was a terrible pass Hawkins made, enough to have felled a bull. Long training and many fights coupled with a natural ability to hit a hard blow made the audience almost tremble when they saw the full force of Hawkins blow landed on Nolan’s jaw. He staggered for a moment and fell to the floor on his right side. He was dazed and unable to rise. At the end of the ten seconds time he lay stunned, and the fight and the purse went to Hawkins.”
Billy Hawkins vs. Charley Johnson
Date: 6/30/1893… Location: T
This would be the bout that destroyed the career and reputation of Billy Hawkins. It would be reminiscent of the infamous Duran/Leonard II “No Mas” bout of the late 20th century. There appears to be no dispute that Hawkins dominated throughout. There appears to be no dispute that Hawkins – in the midst of a round – pulled his gloves off and stepped outside the ring in a ‘quit’. The exact moment is in dispute, but it occurred no earlier than the 6th round.
Syracuse Evening Herald: “Johnson took (Hawkins) blows easily and only laughed. This evidently discouraged Hawkins, and in the 6th round he pulled off his gloves and got outside the ropes.” This report makes little sense, because no one disputes that Hawkins scored 2 knockdowns and was in no danger of being floored himself. The real controversy involves Hawkins perception of Johnson’s intentional clinches and roughhousing. Hawkins believed that Johnson was repeatedly fouling him and should have been disqualified. Angered at both Johnson and the referee, Hawkins suddenly ‘lost it’ as he pulled his gloves off mid round.
Billy Hawkins: “(Johnson) used foul tactics of the worst sort and in the 12th round my seconds made me quit the ring.” Hawkins changes the story a moment later as he insists that a friend, a famous minstrel performer/teacher, Jim Dalton, left his front row seat and entered the ring, grabbed Hawkins by the arm and pulled the pugilist out of the ring. Hawkins claims that Dalton unintentionally disqualified him due to concern over Johnson’s illegal tactics. There is no report that suggests a 3rd party entered the ring. The irreparable damage to Hawkins reputation was not that of a defeated pugilist, which the public could forgive, but of a ‘quitter’, and the accompanying cowardice label that this suggests. Syracuse Evening Herald (headline): “Got Mad And Quit”. Brooklyn Daily Eagle (headline): “Lightweight Pugilist Hawkins Proves Himself A Quitter”. This would end of any hope of a Hawkins title bout.
Billy Hawkins would continue to fight in Minnesota for years to come. It is tempting to write that the crowds were “smaller and smaller” but Hawkins had small crowds for his earlier famous bouts as well. It was the end of Billy Hawkins as a contender or a news maker. Within three years, he would briefly reside at the Oshkosh Mental Asylum in Northern Wisconsin. It is a beautiful area surrounded by beaches and wilderness. The only published reports suggest that Hawkins was incoherent and “punch drunk”. Whatever the mental illness this published report is likely untrue. Pugilists with this unfortunate condition tend to have a series of deteriorating episodes with increasing loss of physical and motor skills. This does not appear to be the case with Hawkins. It is worth noting that two of his losses, versus Jimmie Bates and Charley Johnson, provide similar unusual behavior. Hawkins scored a total of 4 knockdowns, while not being floored himself, and appeared to be dominating both bouts when his personal behavior seemed to deteriorate without satisfactory reason.
Hawkins was a creature of show business, and with his credentials as a title contender dissipated, a Billy Hawkins Show would have to provide viable entertainment for a fickle paying public. Winnipeg Free Press (2/14/1896): “A boxing entertainment, interspersed with singing, dancing and a wrestling match, will be given this evening in the Lyceum theatre. Among those who will take part are Billy Hawkins, Canada’s Champion lightweight; Jack O’Neill (s.i.c.), of New York, who has won over 25 matches; Andy Reedle, J.Ward, B. and W. Watson in science work; H. Lo Grenia, S. Swan, and W. Boughton in singing. The entertainment will conclude with a 6 round bout between Billy Hawkins and O’Neill.” The Canadian paper was naturally inclined to be friendly towards Hawkins so its following day review of the show is damning. Winnipeg Free Press (REVIEW): “Those who attended the athletic entertainment in the Lyceum last evening were disappointed in not seeing the programme (s.i.c.) given as advertised…. There was actually nothing done except dreary waits interspersed by listening to the explanations why the rest of the performers were not present. One had not come in from Grand Forks, another was on the dining car running out of the city and others were sick.” Much of the rise and fall of these pugilist exhibitions was the main event. It appears that Hawkins was the best aspect of this disaster show, but it was not enough to overcome all that had gone wrong prior. Winnipeg Free Press: “The 6 rounds between J. O’Neil of New York and Billy Hawkins was interesting, and showed up to the advantage some of the latter’s clever work. O’ Neil’s blows were light, Hawkins being too nimble for him, but the latter landed some sharp sounding ones upon O’Neil.”
Hawkins never officially retired from pugilism. At some point people would no longer pay to watch him fight. Hawkins never viewed himself as a pugilist in any traditional sense. He viewed himself as an entertainer and performer foremost. Hawkins viewed his career and life as an extension of show business. This seems funny for me to write, as everything about this pugilist is quirky and unusual, but Hawkins truly viewed himself a ‘dancer’ as much as a pugilist. It was all a show – a bit – an act – and the public pays its money and there is live entertainment. Show business performers never retire, and Billy Hawkins never retired, but at some point the public was no longer interested.
Hawkins appears to have spent the remainder of his years scheming and dreaming more than working. By 1911, aged 53, Hawkins held a final publicity burst and vision. He visited Harry Gilmore several times at his Chicago home. Hawkins recognized that Gilmore’s fame, linked with his most famous bout, promised at least one more payday. Perhaps, Hawkins felt, there could be a tour recreating the famous bout that so few had actually seen. Gilmore enjoyed Hawkin
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