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Boxing Historian

Jake Kilrain, left, challenges champion John L. Sullivan in 1889

Last of the bare-knuckle
championship bouts:
Sullivan-Kilrain, 1889

By Christopher James Shelton
Historian for www.ringsideboxingshow.com


(Every person in the above photo is flagrantly violating the law – including the photographer. The unlikely conclusion to bare-knuckle fighting was a Purvis, Mississippi, courtroom with a single chair – a barber chair at that.  All other courtroom seats were overturned boxes.  The judge sat behind the counter of the barber shop as his judicial bench.  Judge Terrell ‘threw the book’ at Champion John L. Sullivan on August 17, 1889).


 (2/7/1882)  Heavyweight Champion Paddy Ryan vs. John L. Sullivan


(Location: Mississippi.  Bare-knuckle bout. Champion is listed at 6’2, 190 pounds – challenger is listed as 5’10, 175 pounds.. There is much newspaper media present – and most expect the bout to last roughly 25 minutes – 16 to18 fast paced rounds).


Round 1: Both stalk one another – Champion throws right to head – misses – challenger counters and lands with left to side of face. Both stalk – both step forward and exchange punches – back off. Each wants to position and gain momentum – stalk. Sullivan throws and lands right to face – Champion drops to ground.


Round 2: Challenger rushes Champion – lands awkward left to jaw – Champion clinches and shakes American – both wrestle and clinch – both fall, Champion twisting challenger and lands his weight on top of him.


Round 3: Both rush at one another – Sullivan the quicker and smarter – lands hard right to jaw – Champion immediately drops to ground.


Round 4: Boxers a bit more cautious – stalk and search for openings – both feign punches they do not throw. Challenger feints left – Champion attempts to block – Sullivan follows and lands clean right to Champion’s face – Ryan staggered and attempts to clinch – Sullivan pushes Champion backward into ropes, attempting to pin – both rough house with Ryan landing some sort of punch or elbow as Sullivan falls to ground.


Round 5: Aggressive round – brawl – both head hunting and landing punches. Little defense – both attempt to grab and punch – Champion smashes challenger to top of head – Sullivan drops to knees.


Round 6: Challenger aggressive – Champion is tired and tentative, attempting defense. Sullivan feints left – Champion attempts to block – challenger follows with hard right to head – Champion expects and blocks. Sullivan counters with a timed right that lands clean to exposed jaw – Champion falls to ground.


Round 7: Champion still dazed – challenger aggressive, tries to throw punches as Ryan backs – and backs – and backs – challenger chases and throws punches – lands some, misses most, Champion still in big trouble.. Ryan backs to ropes – attempts to defend himself and deflect damage – Sullivan throwing wild lefts and rights – a left lands low and Champion drops to ground – claims foul….  Ryan stands and illegally grabs challenger – both clinch and wrestle – exhausted Champion trips them both to ground and continues to wrestle – ref Fitzpatrick intervenes and separates.


Round 8: Irish Champion beaten and exhausted – attempts defense and backs – challenger chases, throws wild punches – most miss – pushes Ryan against ropes and lands right to jaw. Champion clinches American around head – with all his force, wrestles and pushes challenger back – Sullivan shakes loose – Ryan steps forward – challenger lands hard open hand right slap near left ear – Champion drops to ground.. Crowd is roaring – Ryan cannot rise – bout over – KNOCKOUT!.......  It is technically listed as ‘KO-9’ because the knockdown ends round eight – and Ryan had thirty seconds to rise. Round nine is ordered to begin – Champion cannot stand and fight – as this officially ends the bout.


Three of our principles for this changing of the guard bout are important players for the July 8th, 1889, heavyweight bare-knuckle bout Championship.  John L. Sullivan was a celebrity as the challenger in 1882 and the most famous man in America by 1889.  The other two players are the referee of the 1882 bout, John Fitzpatrick, and the Governor of Mississippi for both bouts, Robert Gadden Haynes Lowry.


The 1882 bout had been much resisted by the Southern States in which the principles were determined it take place.  The main camp would be New Orleans .  The pugilists and their backers would prepare for this illegal activity by promising Louisiana authorities that the fight itself would be in Mississippi .  Governor Lowry and the Mississippi legislation were determined otherwise.  A “John L. Sullivan law” was passed that would impose a jail sentence in addition to a fine for an illegal prizefight.  Sullivan was spooked and did not want to fight in that State.  Fitzpatrick was emphatic that its dense forests made it the ideal location. In the days leading to the 1882 bout, the location was changed several times.  The exact location of the Ryan/Sullivan bout is unclear today.  But it appears that despite Governor Lowry’s personal warning – and in defiance of State laws specifically forbidding their encounter – that the heavyweight Championship of 1882 was fought in Mississippi .  John L. Sullivan, now heavyweight Champion, would claim that he was not sure what State he fought the bout.  Sullivan said that he believes that he was still in Louisiana .  Governor Lowry could not prove the bout had taken place in his State but all the media reports insisted this was the case.


John L Sullivan

There are a couple of ironies of the Sullivan/Kilrain bare-knuckle bout: (1) the reputation of Sullivan as the last heavyweight Champion bare knuckle fighter.  (2) The reputation of bare knuckle fighting as an “anti boxing” brawl that placed much emphasis on savagery and little to none on defense.  As to the first misperception, the single individual who was the greatest influence on the acceptance of gloves for bouts was John L. Sullivan.  He was not the first to use gloves, but he was insistent that all of his title bouts following the 1882 victory over Ryan would be fought with gloves.  Champion Sullivan held the individual power and influence so that this changeover was a relatively smooth transition.


The individual who returned bare-knuckle bouts to America was an English pugilist named Charlie Mitchell.  The Englishman was not a brawler.  The official record of Mitchell versus Sullivan is slightly misleading.  Mitchell scored the only recorded gloved knockdown against Sullivan in 1883.  Mitchell fought Sullivan to a 39 round bare knuckle ‘Draw’ in France , 1888.  The 1st round knockdown was the result of a hyper aggressive Sullivan swinging wildly with a right that missed – momentum taking him off balance – with Mitchell landing a quick straight jab.  The ‘Draw’ was the result of both pugilists standing in a downpour rain for two hours (over the final 8 rounds) – neither moving from their spot as the Englishman taunted and teased – while an exhausted Champion Sullivan was unable to move.


A ‘Draw’ connotation is that of “a tie” and Charlie Mitchell with his gift for gab made the most of this misperception.  There was never a point in France , March, 1888, that Mitchell threatened Sullivan.  The Champion scored knockdowns in the first three rounds so Mitchell ran away the rest of the bout.  Even as Sullivan was exhausted late into the bout the English pugilist was unable to conquer his fear of the Champion – step forward and throw punches.


Brooklyn Daily Eagle:  “( London ) At this time (approximately 10th round) the rain began to fall heavily and the ground was soon swamped.  Sullivan was nearly breathless from chasing Mitchell, but both pegged away.  Little harm was done after the first four rounds, Mitchell continuing to keep out of harm’s way and Sullivan’s blows losing their force.  In the 32nd round Sullivan was attacked with ague.  Rain was falling in torrents.  The character of the ground may be imagined from the fact that it lasted twenty-seven minutes.  The 35th round lasted fifteen minutes… The 39th round lasted half an hour…..  The spectators voted the affair a farce and condemned Mitchell in most severe terms for his tricky methods and childish tactics.  It was quite evident to everyone present that had the fight been conducted under Queensbury rules (gloved), Mitchell would have stood no chance of winning, and it was only under the London rules (bare knuckle), which permitted him to make today’s display on how not to lose, that saved him from defeat at the hands of a man who was not as fit to fight as the experience and skill of his trainers should have made him…..  It is reported that Sullivan and Mitchell and thirteen other persons have been arrested.”




Only two pugilists offered Champion Sullivan anything resembling competition (former Colored heavyweight Champion, George Godfrey, denied the opportunity to battle) – both gloved bouts – and I believe one defeated him: Dominick McCaffrey and Patsy Cardiff.  Against McCaffrey, 1885, Sullivan scored two knockdowns, and was in control, but McCaffrey was still standing in the 7th round, the Pennsylvania pugilist had just gained the best of an exchange when his excited supporters poured into the ring and forced his disqualification.


Patsy Cardiff probably received an unfair ‘Draw’ against Sullivan.  The story of the bout – controlled by the Champion – was that he injured his arm in the 1st round as this caused his poor showing.  The truth is that Sullivan was overweight, undertrained, outsmarted by a defensive pugilist with a hand speed advantage.  The bout was scheduled for six rounds, and with Cardiff’s confidence and dominance increasing, there might have been a new heavyweight Champion had it been scheduled for ten rounds instead.


Charlie Mitchell parlayed his misleading ‘Draw’ into a hero’s reception in Europe .  Mitchell’s gab spellbound Jake Kilrain into an almost hero worship.  England had always disliked Sullivan, eagerly awaited his downfall, then convinced them selves that Jake Kilrain’s skills – mixed with Mitchell’s ‘blueprint’ strategy would easily prevail.  Patsy Cardiff fought cautious – engaged and backed while landing four punches to every one received – while appearing unafraid of Sullivan’s reputation.  A pugilist cannot be taught not to be afraid of another pugilist.  Jake Kilrain, like so many other pugilists before him, was deep down afraid of the undefeated Champion.


Charlie Mitchell was the ‘brain’ who insisted that Jake Kilrain’s December, 1888, challenge to Sullivan as bare-knuckle.  Mitchell felt that Kilrain could not lose unless it was gloved.  The reason is to play off Sullivan’s age and infamous poor vice and training habits.  That the challenger could insist against Sullivan’s wishes on a bare-knuckle bout at all is a product of Sullivan’s lack of discipline.  For someone who had made hundreds of thousands of dollars off pugilism, the Champion was perpetually broke and this placed people with money in a power position.


London Sporting Life, December, 1888:  “Nearly all the sporting men at the clubs were of the opinion that Kilrain will win, and they think Sullivan is aware that he has no chance, but trusts to a tie or wrangle at the ring side to enable him to get out of the affair without coming to the scratch.”  The powerful periodical, Police Gazette, controlled by Richard K. Fox, has weighed in with their opinion by anointing Jake Kilrain as their ‘official’ heavyweight Champion.


The Brooklyn Daily Eagle has a different assessment:  “Kilrain is an ordinary man.  Jem Smith fought him to a draw after 104 rounds; Jack Ashton held him even during their encounter at Ridgewood Park , although the umpire gave Kilrain the decision, and leaving out those two events he is practically an unknown.  Sullivan, on the contrary, was a phenomenon.  Three years ago there were not five men in the United States who could stand before him four rounds and these did not attempt to fight him, but confined their attentions to getting out of his way.”


The instigator of the Southern law breaking for illegal bare knuckle fighting (both in 1882 and 1889) is John Fitzpatrick.  For a ‘referee’ he has a most unusual full time job as a powerful New Orleans public official.  The few sentences of biographical description offered here do little justice to this colorful character. Fitzpatrick and his two brothers were abandoned as children to the St. Mary’s Orphan Asylum in New Orleans .  Fitzpatrick had a desire to work hard within the system – the orphanage offering job skill training – as he mixed this with an undeniable political acumen as to rules and power.  Fitzpatrick worked as a newsboy and carpenter before landing a job as a legal clerk for an influential judge in 1872.  Fitzpatrick won election as a Sheriff in 1878 while simultaneously serving as a member of the State legislature. In 1882 – with his knowledge of the region and the powerful players – it was his mindset where an illegal prize fight might best take place in order to hide from law enforcement authority.  Fitzpatrick moved on as Commissioner of Public Works in 1884.  Most in New Orleans saw an opportunistic person who gravitated toward money and power.  Fitzpatrick viewed himself as a good person – good for New Orleans – mixing bribes and selfishness with overall acts for the public good.  He saw the drainage system of his city and the growth of railroads as the higher priority – and if this meant indiscretion in other areas – the public gained from the overall good.  He was an advocate for orphan’s rights and treatment – and this was clearly from a personal morality to do something positive – but many saw his “picking and choosing” when to be on the right or wrong side of an issue as unbecoming (though sadly expected) of a Louisiana public official.  Fitzpatrick won election as New Orleans Mayor in 1892 and battled impeachment proceedings in 1896.


The other Southern ‘player’, disrespecting his own State laws, was Mississippian, Charles W. Rich.  Fitzpatrick and Rich have some sort of political alliance. Rich appeared to control a powerful Louisiana public official while Fitzpatrick appeared to have an overwhelming political/financial clout in this neighboring State.  Rich claims ownership of 10,000-15,000 acres of dense forest surrounding Marion County .  This would play heavily into “the one area of the United States ” that most Americans believed was okay to break the law.



(5/26/1889) One Fighter Meets Another: Nellie Bly Interviews John L. Sullivan


Location: Belfast , New York …. Bly has had a brief, but dazzling career as a journalist.. She has written about the rights of Mexicans – and managed to get herself threatened and kicked out of the country permanently as a result. She fooled psychiatrists into believing she was insane in order to report conditions for women at mental asylums; allowed her self to be stripped nude while mentally and physically degraded in the process. She has spent the day at an employment agency in an unsuccessful bid to land work as a servant – writing about being viewed and treated as property by cold hearted agents and prospective clients. She has written about the pride in creating her first bent and folded box – earning approximately a penny – as she tells the story of these women who work long hours with little recognition or hope of a future. Her current assignment, playing herself instead of an actress, is a straightforward venture into a world thought unseemly for proper women, as she spends the day with the heavyweight Champion pugilist.


Bly: "I have often thought that the sparring instinct is inborn in everything – except women and flowers, of course. I have seen funny, little fighting roosters, without one feather’s sprout to crow about, fight like real men. And then the boys: it is quite funny how proud they are of their muscle, and how quiet the boy who hasn’t any. Almost as soon as a boy learns to walk he learns to jump into position of defense and double up his fist."  (Champion Sullivan is training at manager Muldoon’s home for his upcoming bare knuckle bout with Jake Kilrain as Bly is introduced): "In a few minutes Mr. Muldoon returned, followed by a man whom I never would have taken for the great and only Sullivan. He was a tall man with enormous shoulders, and wore dark trousers, a light chariot coat and vest and slippers. In his hand he held a cloth cap. He passed almost as he entered the room in a half-bashful way, and twisted his cap in a very boyish but not ungraceful manner. ‘Mr. Sullivan, I would like to shake hands with you,’ I said, and he took my hand with a firm, hearty grasp, and with a hand that felt small and soft. Mr. Muldoon excused himself, and I was left to interview the great John L."


Bly: Do you like prize fighting?


Sullivan: I don’t. Of course I did once, or rather, I was fond of traveling about and the excitement of the crowds, but this is my last fight.


Bly: Why?


Sullivan: Well, I am tired and I want to settle down. I am getting old…. (Sullivan continues) How did I start? Well, I had a match with a prize man who had never been defeated, and I was the winner (age 19). This got me a lot of notice.


Bly:  How much money have you made during your career as a prizefighter?


Sullivan:  I have made $500,000 or $600,000 in boxing.


Bly: How do you dress when you go to a prize ring?


Sullivan: I wear knee-breeches, stockings and shoes, and no shirt.


Bly: Why no shirt?


Sullivan: Because a man perspires so freely that if he wears a shirt he is liable to chill, and a chill is always fatal in a prize ring.


Bly:  What kind of shoes do you wear?


Sullivan:  Regular spike shoes.  They have three big spikes to prevent slipping.


Bly:  How will you fight Kilrain, with or without gloves?


Sullivan:  I will fight Kilrain according to the London Prize Ring rules.  That’s without gloves and allows wrestling and throwing a man down.  We get a rest every thirty seconds.


Bly: Your hands look very soft and small for a fighter.


Sullivan: Do they?…. ("I examined his hand, he watching me with an amused expression.  It looks a small hand to bear the record of so many knockout blows. The fingers were straight and shapely. The closely trimmed nails were a lovely oval and pink.") Feel my arm…. ("I tried to feel the muscle, but it was like a rock. With both my hands I tried to open it, but couldn’t.")


Bly: Do you hit a man on the face and neck and anywhere you can?


Sullivan: Certainly, any place above the belt that I get a chance.


Bly: Don’t you hate to hit a man so?


Sullivan: I don’t think about it.


Bly: When you see that you have hurt him – don’t you feel sorry?


Sullivan: I never feel sorry until the fight is over.


Bly: How do you feel when you get hit?


Sullivan: I only want to hit back.


(At the conclusion of the interview, Bly was invited to eat with the guys. She ate before her arrival – but out of social grace accepts).. "And then the carriage came to take me to the train, and after I bade them all good-by I shook hands with John L. Sullivan and wished him success in the coming fight."


Governor Lowry had been through this ordeal once before with this Champion.  Despite comprehension that he would be violating the law, with jail and a fine specifically enacted for him, Sullivan went ahead and fought illegally in Mississippi previous. Lowry was born in South Carolina ,  1831.  He studied law in Arkansas and was admitted to the bar at age 23.  The Civil War erupted.  Lowry served with the 6th Mississippi Infantry, Rankin County, elected as Major.  At the Battle of Shiloh, he was on the wrong end of a slaughter, with 310 of 425 soldiers killed.  Lowry was shot twice during the conflict, both in the arm and chest.  In Tennessee , Brigadier General, John Adams was shot and killed.  Lowry would assume command of the Brigade.  Lowry, as a Confederate Brigadier General, surrendered in North Carolina and was briefly imprisoned.  He was paroled in May, 1865, as he continued with his law practice in Mississippi .  Simultaneous, Lowry was elected to serve in the State senate.  The father of eleven kids, he was elected as Mississippi Governor in late 1881.  One of the first major acts of defiance that he faced was “the Boston Strongboy” and the 1882 bare knuckle Championship bout.  Lowry was especially irked that someone would travel from the East Coast into his region specifically to break the law.


Telegrams have been sent to the participants. John L. Sullivan received his personally, not to travel to Mississippi in order to fight Kilrain.  Lowry did not understand how Sullivan could publicly boast to all about committing an illegal act in his own State ( Massachusetts ), the State that he trained ( New York ), the State where he would plot his ultimate illegal destination ( Louisiana ) and be treated as a hero rather than a criminal.  Lowry is aware that his threats meant nothing before and mean nothing now.


This is not entirely true.  John L. Sullivan is spooked by Lowry, and the threats have sunk in to a certain degree.  It was not enough to stop the bout, or ultimately pay heed to the consequences warned by this former Confederate Brigadier General, but it was enough to make the Champion restlessly concerned.  Lowry is aware that he will be defied again, and on the day of July 8th, 1882, has 1000 Mississippi State troops searching in an unsuccessful attempt to locate and stop this illegal bout.



ROUND 1:  Challenger aggressive with left thrown to Champion’s jaw – partially lands as Sullivan bobs head – Champion counters with straight right to head – misses – Champion’s momentum stumbles forward toward challenger – Kilrain grabs Sullivan and throws him hard to ground…  10 second round – Champion emotionally stunned and embarrassed.


ROUND 3:  Pugilists rush one another – Champion lands right to throat – Kilrain clinches.  Pugilists separate – mutual feints – clinch – wrestle – Champion lands low blow with right to crotch region.  Two furiously wrestle – Kilrain lands several illegal low blows – Champion attempts to grab Kilrain around neck to choke – Kilrain outwrestles Sullivan and throws him violently to ground.


ROUND 4:  Kilrain punches and backs – punches and backs.  Sullivan has smiled through about 5 to 6 minutes of this but eventually becomes annoyed.  Charlie Mitchell shouts of words of encouragement to Kilrain while simultaneously disparaging Sullivan.  Champion stops at one point as Kilrain backs and shouts: “WHY DON’T YOU FIGHT??”  Kilrain sticks to plan – clearly appears to be the better boxer.  Champion had wanted to project confidence and intimidation – round goes on and on – Kilrain jumps forward with two punches and backs. Sullivan stalks forward as he hopes to pin his man in corner ropes – Mitchell gabs and gabs and gabs aloud.  Kilrain cautious as he backs – Champion is angry as he stops to place hands on hip – turns to Charlie Mitchell and smacks hands hard together:  “I WISH THAT I HAD YOU IN HERE INSTEAD!!”   Round is recorded at 921 seconds – more than 15 minutes – over 20% of the eventual entire bout (including pauses and breaks).

John L. Sullivan1.jpg


ROUND 5:  Pugilists clinch – Kilrain exhausted and unable to complete wrestle hold and throw maneuver.  Pugilists wearily separate and pause – Kilrain taunts Sullivan – Charlie Mitchell taunts Sullivan – Champion shouts to the ref and all that the challenger is not fighting.  Both cautious to advance – Champion shoots straight right to chest – lands light because of distance – Kilrain steps forward to clinch and pound away on Sullivan’s ribs.  Pugilists separate – Kirain throws left to head which lands to neck – Champion attempts to grab around neck to pound top of head – Kilrain grabs and clinches hard.  Pugilists separate and Kilrain quickly backs – Champion follows and lands right to head – Kilrain clinches. Both wrestle in clinch – separate – Kilrain lands right to throat – Kilrain lands right to nose which draws blood – Champion counters with hard right that lands to neck – challenger knocked to ground.


ROUND 7:  Kilrain backs and refuses to engage – crowd boos – Champion shouts at challenger to fight.  Kilrain steps forward and lands right to neck – Kilrain follows with left to jaw that grazes – pugilists clinch and pound away at one another – Kilrain lands right to eye which draws blood.  Pugilists break from clinch – Kilrain backs – Champion stalks forward – Kilrain intentionally falls to ground.


NOTES:  If there was a point system in place the challenger would likely be winning.  Kilrain has clearly inflicted more physical damage and his game plan has almost exceeded expectations.  Sullivan’s eye is slightly swelled – providing a target for challenger – nose bleeds a bit – and his foot hurts more than he wishes his opponent to know.   Kilrain stomped Sullivan’s foot at some point with spiked shoe – which drew blood and swelling.  It hurts the Champion quite a bit but Sullivan disguises the discomfort because he believes that if Kilrain grasped the severity of injury he would only stomp that same foot again.  With all of that said it appears that the tide is slightly turning toward the Champion.  Kilrain’s conditioning and attempts at tiring Sullivan have met some success but at a tremendous cost because the challenger is already greatly fatigued.


ROUND 8:  Kilrain steps forward with punch that lands to ribs – quickly backs.  Champion chases – challenger backs – Champion chases – challenger circular backs. Ref Fitzpatrick orders Kilrain to fight.  Challenger immediately steps forward with a right punch that lands to jaw – grabs and clinches Sullivan.  Kilrain lands short right to ribs – Champion angered – pugilists separate.  Champion steps forward with hard right to face – challenger evades as the punch grazes – Champion follows with a punch that lands to ribs – Kilrain dazed and wounded.  The winded challenger groggily backs to ropes frightened.  Champion aggressively chases as he lands hard straight right to jaw – awkwardness of punch lessens impact – Kilrain still knocked to ground… 65 second round… Corner men enter ring to lift and carry Kilrain to his area.  Champion smiles at the damage he has wrought – confidence immense – feels Kilrain will be knocked out sooner than later.


ROUND 9:  Kilrain steps forward to clinch – Champion wrestles free and shoves the challenger backward – mutual feints as both look for opening – Champion steps forward and lands right to side of head – Kilrain knocked to ground… 25 second round.


ROUND 10:  Kilrain steps forward to clinch – Champion pushes challenger off him and backward.  Kilrain steps forward to grab Sullivan around the neck – Champion grabs and pushes challenger backward – Kilrain loses balance and falls down… 20 second round.


ROUND 11:  Champion aggressively steps forward to grab challenger – Kilrain slips free from hold – Sullivan loses balance in exchange as he stumbles toward ropes – Kilrain grabs Champion from behind and attempts an intentional hard illegal right to crotch.  The awkward maneuver is unsuccessful as Kilrain loses balance himself as he falls to ground… 10 second round.


ROUND 13:  Pugilists sweat profusely – both disheveled – challenger appears sad eyed – Champion steps forward as he lands (likely) left punch to abdomen – Champion follows with a hard right that lands to heart (a sickening sound heard by spectators).  Challenger slightly backs – Sullivan attempts to copy his two punch combo – Kilrain defuses as he steps forward to clinch.  Pugilists wrestle in clinch – Kilrain lands short body punch before he wraps his arm around Sullivan’s neck.  Champion lands a hard short (likely) right punch to face – Kilrain loses choke hold as his arms involuntarily flail while falling to the ground… 20 second round…  Challenger’s body sort of quivers a bit – perhaps nerve or muscle spasms – while he lay flat on the ground.


ROUND 15:  Kilrain quickly backs – Sullivan aggressively stalks forward – both pause to land body jabs – neither reaches intended target of blows.  Champion lands punch to face – Kilrain counters and lands right to ribs.  Kilrain backs – Sullivan stalks forward with attempt to pin the challenger into corner ropes.  Champion feints – Kilrain nervously attempts to block ‘invisible’ punches – Sullivan stands but does not feint as he searches for opening – a tired Kilrain drops hands to side.  Champion steps forward with hard right to head – Kilrain raises hands as punch misses – challenger utilizes opening to escape and flee.  Crowd angrily boos as they yell at Kilrain to fight.  Frustrated Sullivan mocks Kilrain:  “YOU’RE A CHAMPION, EH?  CHAMPION OF WHAT??”  Sullivan steps forward with hard right to head – misses – Kilrain counters with light upper jab that lands to chest – challenger quickly backs away.  Champion stalks forward – Kilrain stops to engage – Sullivan quickly lands two left jabs to body – challenger wounded and winded – Sullivan follows with hard right that lands clean to exposed jaw – Kilrain drops dead to ground.  Several seconds pass before Kilrain moves at all – finally rolls over to side.  Challenger’s corner men step inside ring and grab ahold of their pugilist and drag him back to corner… 120 second round.


NOTES:  Sullivan believes he has scored a knockout, but ref Fitzpatrick places Kilrain on time instead.  The Champion’s swelled eye continues to close and he simply tries to ignore the pain of an injured foot.  Charlie Mitchell sees victory in sight with the prospect of the challenger battling a one eyed man.  But Kilrain himself is in doubly trouble.  There are no obvious physical marks but the blows to chest and heart have left him winded and bruised – and now sort of afraid.  I believe that both Sullivan and Kilrain would be satisfied with a knockout ruling – but the ref orders the bout to continue – while Kilrain’s corner men refuse any other consideration than their pugilist stepping out for the following round.


ROUND 17:  A delay as Champion angered and refuses to fight.  Sullivan shouts to ref Fitzpatrick that Kilrain has grabbed dirt between rounds which he intends to throw into his eyes.  The referee looks at the challenger’s hands and orders them washed.  An annoyed Charlie Mitchell complains that if his pugilist must wash hands then the Champion should have to follow suit.  Ref Fitzpatrick orders Sullivan to wash his hands, too.


Pugilists finally resume action with a clinch – Sullivan executes wrestling hold as he lifts Kilrain into the air and throws the challenger hard to ground.  Champion completes maneuver by intentionally falling down atop Kilrain.  Sullivan adds a leg kick to his opponent before rising to his feet.  Kilrain lay on ground motionless.  Challenger’s corner men step inside the ring and drag their pugilist back to corner.


ROUND 18:  Champion is angered – shakes his injured foot from the discomfort - remains angered as he reminds himself of being spiked. Sullivan shouts at Kilrain to fight - pugilists pause to engage – Champion steps forward and lands powerhouse right to chest – Kilrain knocked backward onto ground.


ROUND 19:  Champion stalks forward – Kilrain eccentrically steps forward and backward – Sullivan pauses to feint – Kilrain appears confused as he suddenly lurches forward to grab Champion by wrist and pull.  Champion frees hand as he steps back and shouts:  “WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH YOU??  DO YOU WANT TO WRESTLE, FIGHT OR RACE?”  Kilrain slowly backs – Champion surges forward with hard right punch that lands to ribs – Kilrain attempts weak left jab counter – Sullivan lands another hard right to ribs – Kilrain knocked to ground… 19 second round…  Kilrain rises to feet – falls down.  Kilrain rises again and walks back to his corner.


ROUND 20:  Kilrain backs and backs – crowd fervently boos challenger.  Champion stalks forward – halts and yells at Kilrain to fight.  Kilrain bends over and touches hand to ground.  Crowd boos… 15 second round.


ROUND 21:  Kilrain steps forward to clinch hard and hold – Champion places hand on challenger’s face and pushes hard – clinch quickly broken – Kilrain intentionally falls to ground… 10 second round.


ROUND 22:  Champion aggressively charges forward with right to head – wild punch badly misses – Kilrain falls to ground intentionally anyway… 5 second round.


ROUND 23:  Champion aggressively steps forward with right that lands to ribs – Kilrain counters with right to eye that only grazes – challenger steps back and intentionally falls to ground… 5 second round.


NOTES:  Kilrain is in serious trouble so the strategy of he and Mitchell has altered.  For the moment it is to be a one move exchange – allow Sullivan to throw punch and attempt to evade – counter with punch to close Champion’s damaged eye.  After a one-on-one exchange an exhausted Kilrain is to touch ground and end the round.  Sullivan is both frustrated and confident but believes he has this tired pugilist ready to surrender. The Champion wants Kilrain to pause or engage so that he can pound away – literally/psychologically with left jab punches to the heart.


ROUND 24:  Kilrain quickly backs – Sullivan charges forward with a right punch that lands to side of head.  Champion follows with left to body that instead lands to elbow – Kilrain intentionally falls to ground… 5 second round…  Champion shakes hand in pain – the left to elbow causing more damage and pain to himself than his opponent.


NOTES:  There was a swelled eye and injured spiked foot, but Sullivan claimed after the bout that this injury to his left hand was potentially the most problematic.  The Champion appears to continue utilizing the left.  I gather it was a painful ordeal.  Had it been a gloved bout, the left jab would have been a key weapon.  The left hand is still vital in a bare knuckle bout, but the frequency that it would be employed, at least in this bout with Kilrain already in much trouble, would be less.


ROUND 26:  Kilrain still attempts quick one exchange rounds – allows Sullivan to charge and throw a single punch – anticipates and perfectly times the Champion – steps forward to momentarily grab and hold Sullivan with a wrestler throw to ground.


ROUND 27:  Champion is humbled and embarrassed at ease of which he was thrown to the ground in the previous round.  Sullivan decides to pause and not play into Kilrain strategy by aggressively charging forward.  Kilrain stands in place – Sullivan stands in place – neither will step forward to engage.  Pugilists vaguely close – sort of feint – both search for opening to seize.  Kilrain finally steps forward with a hard left that lands to jaw – Sullivan holds for clinch.  Pugilists separate – stalk one another and feint.  Suddenly, both pugilists charge one another and engage in offensive fisticuffs for 20 seconds – Kilrain backs from this action and intentionally falls to ground.


ROUND 28:  An angry Sullivan aggressively steps forward – Kilrain anticipates with punch that lands to chest - Champion is reckless with wild right to jaw that is badly off mark – Kilrain counters with jab to damaged eye – Champion slightly staggers but only wishes to charge forward with offensive aggression.  Kilrain quickly backs – Champion slows to survey and stalk. Kilrain cautiously backs – Sullivan attempts to slowly close the ring and trap his opponent into the corner ropes. Champion appears to have foe trapped as planned – Kilrain watches for opening or Sullivan to throw punch.  Champion feints with slight frustration of how to contain his quarry.  Sullivan charges forward and grabs Kilrain and pins him to ropes – throws and lands right to jaw while he holds and pins with left – Kilrain slips free from grasp – backs away and then touches knee to ground… 65 second round.


ROUND 30:  Champion aggressively steps forward and throws right to head – misses – Kilrain falls to ground anyway… 4 second round.


ROUND 32:  Kilrain circles backward – Sullivan stands in place and yells at the challenger to fight. Crowd boos Kilrain.  Challenger touches knee to ground – crowd boos louder. Champion is exasperated and wants the ref to disqualify Kilrain. Ref Fitzpatrick refuses – states the round is over – and the bout will continue.


NOTES:  The intentional kneel downs are no longer a strategy tactic.  Kilrain no longer wishes to continue. His corner men will not hear of surrender and physically push him out for the next round.


ROUND 33:  Kilrain backs – Sullivan charges forward and throws a right to head – Kilrain anticipates and easily avoids.  Crowd boos as Kilrain falls to ground.


NOTES:  I think this fight probably should have been stopped at this point.  My opinion is that ref Fitzpatrick erred in continuing this bout.  The challenger is no longer fighting – intentionally falling to ground and must be physically manhandled by his own people or he would surrender.  Ref Fitzpatrick orders the bout to continue.  If the bout had ended after 15 rounds – as Kilrain hoped – or 33 rounds – as Kilrain hoped – they would have probably all found them selves arrested anyway but the savagery of a knuckle bout would not have been as pronounced.  The continuation of this bout had further legal consequences for Sullivan as he was charged with a felonious assault based on a future round. 


ROUND 35:  Both pugilists tired – clinch.  Pugilists separate – Champion throws right to face – misses – Kilrain counters with awkward light left jab that lands to chest – Sullivan grabs Kilrain and forces him to ground.  Champion adds his full weight on Kilrain’s midsection as he leans atop him.


ROUND 36:  Kilrain backs – Sullivan stands in place in center ring as he refuses to chase. The Champion shouts mocking words at Kilrain’s unwillingness to fight.  Kilrain stands in place.  Sullivan disgustedly looks at the ref for disqualification.  Champion finally steps forward – Kilrain lurches ahead and lands two quick punches and then falls down.  Crowd boos….  Champion has gone from mad to exasperation to out-of-control enraged at both Kilrain and ref Fitzsimmons.  


ROUND 37:  Kilrain does not want to continue.  His corner must physically shove him out for this round.  Kilrain quickly backs in a circular way.  Champion stands in place incredulous and unwilling to chase.  Sullivan finally half heartedly steps forward and stalks.  Kilrain ends round as he touches knee to ground.  Crowd boos and boos.


ROUND 38:  Kilrain backs – Champion will not chase – crowd boos and boos.  Ref Fitzpatrick orders Kilrain to fight.  Challenger obeys and aggressively charges with two punch combo to jaw and chest – Champion counters with a right that lands to head – Kilrain backs and backs. Champion steps forward – Kilrain touches knee to ground.


ROUND 39:  For the 4th consecutive round, Kilrain touches ground without benefit of having been struck. Crowd boos while Champion is enraged to the point of having any control over his emotions or behavior.


ROUND 40:  Champion aggressively steps forward and lands punch to heart – sort of feints with hands forward to set up next punch.  Kilrain falls to ground instead. Champion feels out of control frustration while crowd shouts and curses and boos.


Round 41:  Kilrain steps forward with a light punch that lands to ribs – impact lessened as he attempts to punch and back simultaneous.  Champion aggressively stalks forward with a hard right that lands to ribs – challenger is knocked to the ground.


NOTES:  The official representative of the Police Gazette – the periodical that anointed Kilrain as their ‘official’ heavyweight Champion – has seen enough as he leaves the bout for the long trip home.



ROUND 42:  Kilrain steps forward – pugilists exchange punches – clinch. Angry Sullivan psychologically loses control.  Champion grabs hold of Kilrain in clinch and wrestles him to ground – then sits on the challenger’s head.  As he rises the ref warns the Champion that he could face disqualification.


ROUND 44: Kilrain backs – Champion stalks forward and then steps away.  Sullivan bends down and begins vomiting and vomiting onto the ground.  Kilrain asks the ref to disqualify the Champion for being unable to continue as a round is in progress.  Ref Fitzpatrick refuses and allows Sullivan to finish vomiting and then continue.  Kilrain shouts hopefully to Sullivan that he would agree to a ‘Draw’ decision and they could all home. The Champion angrily scoffs and refuses.  Ref Fitzpatrick orders Sullivan to continue – Champion charges at Kilrain, but loses his balance and stumbles flat onto his face.


ROUND 45:  Champion charges and grabs Kilrain in clinch – both wrestle a moment until they are on ground… 10 second round…  Sullivan rises and knees Kilrain to head – a cheap and deliberate foul.  Shocked crowd turns on the Champion and fervently boos him.  Crowd furious at both pugilists and besides curses and threats they are now hurling objects at all three figures inside the ring. Ref Fitzpatrick regains control fairly quick under the circumstances.


NOTES:  The deliberate illegal act of kneeing someone to the head was viewed as a criminal assault by Mississippi police in attendance.  They could have arrested Sullivan on the spot – or arrested both pugilists for violating Governor Lowry’s warrant.  Mississippi police – instead of arresting anyone or halting illegal activity – are enjoying the bout them selves and have placed bets like so many others.  Mississippi Judge Terrell would ultimately have to weigh so many citizens openly and casually involved in an illegal activity.  The pugilist’s corner men, the referee, media, Mississippi police, the entire crowd (and the railroad that brought them) comprised mostly from those who travelled from other States to Mississippi as accomplices to a criminal act.  Judge Terrell is cognizant that New York and Massachusetts and Maryland law enforcement were enablers to illegal activity as they witnessed and encouraged criminal behavior as long as it took place elsewhere.  Judge Terrell ultimately decided the two most responsible for this mass defiance of law were the pugilists. They had been specifically and individually warned of the legal consequences and without them there would be no fight. Of the two pugilists, though Kilrain would later admit they were both equally responsible, Judge Terrell believes the #1 factor for all this blatantly disrespectful criminal conduct in Mississippi is Champion John L. Sullivan.


ROUND 47:  Pugilists heavily fatigued – July sun blazes with high humidity – Kilrain backs and stands in place – Sullivan stalks forward – Kilrain intentionally falls to ground.  Frustrated Champion illegally falls atop Kilrain – and perhaps realizing himself that he is close to disqualification – rolls quickly off the challenger.


ROUND 48:  Kilrain backs – Champion steps forward with feints – Kilrain falls to ground untouched.


ROUND 49:  Kilrain backs a bit and then plants feet – Champion steps and land hard right to chest – Kilrain knocked backyard onto the ground.


ROUND 50:  Kilrain charges forward and lands blows to face and chest – quickly backs – then intentionally falls down.


ROUND 52:  Champion perhaps plays a bit of possum – appears exceptionally fatigued and injured – hopes to lure Kilrain forward.  Challenger bites at bait – steps forward – Sullivan lurches forward with hard right that lands to neck – Kilrain knocked to ground.


ROUND 54:  Kilrain backs and circles – Champion stalks forward.  Kilrain rushes to his corner men and begs them to allow him to quit – Sullivan grabs challenger from behind and forces him to the ground.  Champion shoves Kilrain’s face into the grass with his hands and force of body.  Sullivan loses hold and rises to feet.


ROUND 55:  Kilrain does not want to continue – his corner men refuse his pleas to quit.  Challenger stands in place with gloves down and refuses to defend himself.  Ref Fitzpatrick orders Kilrain to fight – Champion stands in center ring with hands on hips and an expression of bemusement.  Sullivan mocks the challenger and laughs aloud.  Kilrain places knee to ground.


NOTES:  The crowd is beginning to lean towards this bout being halted.  This is unusual because fight crowds do not like quitters and they prefer a knockout.  But the crowd believes that the Champion will ultimately prevail so that any additional violence is unnecessary.  Sullivan began the bout a 2-1 betting favorite.  Bets are now 11-1.  One group of the crowd does not want this to bout to end: the gamblers.


ROUND 57:  Pugilists wearily clinch – Kilrain lands light left to Champion’s body and then places knee to ground.


ROUND 58:  Champion is virtually a one eyed fighter with the other swelled and closed.  Kilrain is too fatigued to take advantage of the situation.  Kilrain lurches forward with weak jab to Sullivan’s ‘good eye’ – misses – loses balance and falls down.  The disgusted, tired and angry one eyed Champion falls with his full weight onto Kilrain’s head.  The challenger’s ribs are bruised – winded and pained from blows to the heart – and now his neck is wrenched.


ROUNDS 59-62:  Both pugilists are exhausted and committing illegal acts.  Kilrain tries to throw illegal punch and then fall down. Champion responds by landing his full weight onto the challenger.


ROUND 63:  Kilrain backs – Champion steps forward with punch to head – challenger anticipates and easily evades.  Kilrain sort of curiously places hand to nose – Sullivan takes advantage of still foe and lands hard right to chest – Kilrain knocked backward to ground.  The challenger lay still on the ground hoping ref Fitzpatrick would wave the bout over.  The ref refuses.  A depressed and emotional Kilrain cries as he rises to his feet and returns to his corner.


ROUND 64:  Kilrain backs – Champion steps forward – Kilrain intentionally falls to ground.  Crowd loses their slight sympathy for the challenger as they invoke venom in the way of boos, curses and threats.  They also believe that the bout should be halted.


ROUND 66:  Kilrain surprisingly steps forward with punch to face (most likely eye) – misses – Champions feints and then follows with awkward punch that lightly grazes foe – Kilrain falls to ground.


ROUND 67:  Kilrain backs – Champion aggressively stalks forward and lands hard left to ribs – challenger knocked down and through the ropes.


NOTES:  There is definitely a callousness and selfishness on the part of Kilrain’s corner men.  They should be ashamed of them selves.  But I am sure that Charlie Mitchell still believes this bout can be saved with a ‘Draw’ decision.  Mitchell sees a one eyed Champion with a limp, completely exhausted, much like his own ‘Draw’ bout with Sullivan.  Mitchell likely orders Kilrain to simply stay away and remain on his feet.  The Champion will stop stepping forward at a certain point --  then both pugilists just stand in place for however long it takes – until Sullivan or the ref decide to declare a ‘Draw’.  As an added hope for Mitchell is the prospect that the Champion might do something really vicious and stupid and find himself disqualified.  Charlie Mitchell is thinking about everything except his pugilist.


The other corner with Muldoon has a more ‘old timed’ break with people massaging and watering and shouting words of encouragement to their pugilist.  But John L. Sullivan mostly strategizes himself and largely improvises based on his extensive experience with how to react in a given situation.  Probably the greatest assistance that Muldoon could provide is too calm his pugilist when he suffers from rage.


ROUND 68:  Kilrain backs in circle – Champion too tired to chase. Kilrain stays away – Challenger slowly stalks forward.  More than a minute has elapsed without an attempt of engagement or a single punch thrown.  Sullivan, badly winded, finally reaches and methodically corners foe as he lands hard left to body – Kilrain falls – Champion follows with legal right uppercut to jaw – Kilrain knocked down and in serious trouble.


ROUND 69:  Kilrain steps forward numbly on wobbled legs – no protection or attempt to maneuver – Champion tees off on easy target with a hard right to head – Kilrain knocked to ground.


ROUND 70:  Kilrain steps forward and lurches at Sullivan – both grab and clinch.  Champion furiously holds challenger with left and pounds to body with right – Kilrain sort of slowly oozes to ground....  Champion turns his head. Challenger desperately leaps forward and grabs Sullivan around legs.  Kilrain attempts to tackle and pull Sullivan to ground – but the Champion shrugs himself loose and yells at the challenger.


ROUND 71:  Challenger weak and seriously wounded – feints once as he slowly backs – Champion stalks forward until he catches up to the frightened and weary foe – Sullivan lands hard right to ribs – Kilrain knocked backward onto the ground.


ROUND 72: Pugilits exhausted – Kilrain slowly backs – Champion stalks forward with tired arm punches that have little power as he lightly lands.  Challenger struggles to back away from slap punches – intentionally falls to ground.


ROUND 73:  Kilrain backs in circles – Champion too tired to walk – challenger needs break more and touches knee to ground.


ROUND 74:  Kilrain steps forward as he musters a final attack with a weak right that lands to body – then collapses to ground.


ROUND 75:  Kilrain slowly backs – Champion musters the energy he had preserving as he charges forward and lands hard left to body – follows with his famed right to jaw – challenger knocked to ground.


Corner men step inside ring and drag their pugilist to his area and tell him it is over.  Kilrain no longer knows who he is or what is happening – a total state of delirium – insists that he can still win and wishes to continue.  A corner man throws the surrender towel inside the ring.  Charlie Mitchell wishes Kilrain “good luck” as he leaves him stranded alone to await his legal fate.  Ref Fitzpatrick declares the bout over as the Champion has prevailed through a technical knockout.


NOTES:  It is awhile before Kilrain is cognizant of his surroundings.  It was Parson Davies, Mike Donovan (a talented pugilist who helped train Kilrain) and John Murphy who would lift Kilrain from the ring and place him onto a board.  When Kilrain comprehends that he has been abandoned by the man he most respected and was most loyal, Charlie Mitchell, he understandably wails with pained tears.


Post bout comments from both Mitchell and Kilrain state that Sullivan was the winner in a fair contest.  But Mitchell is so determined to give the Champion little credit for the victory, that he indirectly places the blame of the loss on himself.  As the strategist for the challenger, Mitchell did not properly appreciate the difference between a chilly downpour in France and the sun/humidity of Mississippi in July.  Kilrain expended much energy in the 4th round and that neither he nor Mitchell comprehended ‘dehydration’ until it was too late.





Champion Ryan  vs.  John L. Sullivan:      (2-5)


Champion Sullivan  vs.  Jake Kilrain          (17-0) --  6th & 34th round not included above.


Brooklyn Daily Eagle (7/8/1888 – evening):  “( Cincinnati )… The Western Union had refused to let the way station wires be used for press news, the only thing for the reporters to do was to go to New Orleans to telegraph.  To do this they would have to wait for the fight to conclude and then for the special train to return to the Crescent City , as trains are rare on the railroad.  Now the special train was under the control of the backers and managers of the pugilists, and it was their object above all things to avoid the authorities, who were in dead earnest to capture the fighters….  In order to save themselves from the wrath of the raging Governor of Mississippi, who had ordered out the State troops, the managers of the pugilists engaged all the rolling stock of the little Northeastern Railroad and towed it with them to the ring side, leaving the Governor and his infantry, cavalry and artillery to follow on foot.  The Governor has not been heard from since.  The troops are sixty miles away from the ring and the walking is very bad.”


Governor Lowry knows that Champion Sullivan is in Nashville , Tennessee , July 11th, due to the railroad schedule.  Governor Lowry sends telegram to Nashville ’s Chief of Police:  “Arrest John L. Sullivan and his fighting party and deliver to sheriff here and I will pay you $1000: charge, crime of prize fighting.”  Nashville ’s Chief of Police, Clack, enters the train compartment accompanied by seven members of law enforcement.  They confront Muldoon and Mike Murphy.  The Champion lay asleep with his back turned.  Clack: “Gentlemen, I am sorry to disturb you, but I am Chief of Police for Nashville , and you must go with me.”  Mike Murphy refuses for all three.  He states that they will not consent to arrest without a written warrant for him to read.  Chief of Police and Murphy have a time consuming back and forth exchange.  Murphy wants this verbal delay until the train disembarks.  Clack realizes that time is dwindling.  People are gathering outside Sullivan’s cart and the railroad itself.  Clack orders an officer to inform the railroad that it is not to leave.  A railroad representative appears to tell Clack that they are governed by Federal law – the State of Tennessee has no legal jurisdiction – so the train is leaving on schedule.  Clack responds that anything inside Tennessee territory is subject to State jurisdiction.  Clack adds that he wants no battle with Federal law so the railroad can separate the Sullivan cart from the train and be on their way.  The railroad decides to delay as the crowd and commotion grows.


Chief of Police orders Murphy and Muldoon to awaken Sullivan.  Clack believes he is awake and playing possum anyway.  Murphy/Muldoon refuses as they state that the Champion does not like to be awakened unless it is important.  Clack steps over to physically nudge Sullivan.  The Champion groggily and grouchily inquires as to who is bothering him.  Clack:  “I am sorry, but I am here to arrest you on the charge of prize fighting.”  The Champion tells the Nashville Chief of Police to get the hell away from him as he is trying to sleep.  Clack:  “I intend to arrest you.”  Sullivan tells him no.  Chief of Police tells the Champion that he does not have a choice.  Sullivan orders the guys around him to physically attack the law enforcement officers.  Muldoon and Murphy and the others do not move.  Nashville officers pull out guns as Clack tells them to use if attacked.  Champion Sullivan barks at the Chief of Police:  “NO, I WILL NOT HIT ANYBODY, BUT I’LL BE GODDAMMED IF I WILL GO WITH YOU!!”


Chief of Police steps forward and roughly places hand on the collar area of Sullivan to physically pull him off the sleeping area.  The Champion shoves Clack backward.  Four Tennessee law enforcement officers brawl with Sullivan for control.  An officer has placed a restraint on one hand.  Another officer has placed a restraint on the other hand.  The Champion is fighting five officers alone – the rest of Sullivan’s party stunned – both of his fighting hands are disabled by restraint.  So the Champion ‘volunteers’ his surrender to Nashville law enforcement.


Jake Kilrain is in Cincinnati as he hears of Sullivan’s arrest. He is aware that he will be arrested soon.  His initial reaction is to flee and hide.  Governor Lowry releases the following telegraph for publication: “I will pay $500 reward for the arrest of Kilrain and his party, Charles Mitchell and Pony Moore.”  Mitchell is in New York with an alias name.  The British pugilist now calls himself: “Reverend Edmund Edwards from Westminster , England .”


The New York Times is a minority opinion as they praise Governor Lowry in an editorial, surprised and impressed, that this Southern man intends to hold the most famous person in America accountable to Mississippi State law.  New York Times:  “Really, one of the most cheering pieces of news that have appeared for some time is the announcement that Sullivan and his backer (Johnson) have actually been arrested in Nashville .  Sullivan ‘doing time’ in the State prison of Mississippi , a resort presumed unfurnished with the comforts and luxuries to which he is addicted and accustomed.  After he had spent a few months in it, he would reach a new and wholesome sense of the inconvenience of law breaking.”  They add that Kilrain should not be similarly punished.  They believe that Kilrain has to little to show for the bout other than a beating so that a fine on top of that should be sufficient.


The Writ of Habeas Corpus filed by Sullivan’s lawyer is read by a judge who orders that Sullivan be released.  They state – agreeing with Sullivan’s argument – that he is done nothing wrong in the State of Tennessee and therefore they had no right to arrest him. Governor Lowry does not believe this is an actual legal determination but one more corrupt person in power who is a fan of the pugilist.


Both the Champion and Kilrain find themselves in Chicago within the next couple days.  Sullivan celebrates his freedom with a 24 hour ‘bender’.  He begins with champagne and soon switches to a powerful brew of whiskey.  He is at Tom Curly’s saloon.  Two pugilists enter the establishment, Peter Jackson, the Colored heavyweight Champion, and Sailor Brown.  Jackson had defeated Brown two days earlier in a short bout.  Sullivan speaks amiably with his fellow pugilists – parties and drinks with them – until he becomes an enraged at Brown in the midst of an argument.  The Champion lands a right to the nose of Sailor Brown as the pugilist is sent flying backward onto the ground.  Another burly pugilist, Professor Conley, steps forward in protest.  Owner Tom Curly enters the fray as he lands a punch to the jaw of Conley.


Jake Kilrain is frightened and broke as he continues to flee from arrest.  Kilrain meets up with a sympathetic Parson Davies.  The Chicago promoter/manager hands over $100 to the Baltimore pugilist.  Kilrain is grateful and unsure of his next move.


The Mississippi State delegation passes a resolution – even with Sullivan wiggling free in Nashville:  “We approve the vigorous acts of Governor Lowry to prevent the violation of our laws in the late brutal prize fight, and his efforts to arrest the criminals, and insist that our State shall not be made the theatre for the brutal sport of criminals and roughs from abroad.”


Governor Lowry is ever more determined that these two pugilist law breakers will face Mississippi justice.  The bounty for Kilrain is raised to $1000.  Lowry begins contact and negotiation with Governor Hill of New York that Champion Sullivan has flagrantly violated the law in an activity banned in New York itself.  Governor Hill promises cooperation with Lowry and Mississippi.


The chase for Kirain has a bit of cat-and-mouse quality to it until detectives decide to camp out in Maryland .  Sooner or later they believe the challenger pugilist will return home to his family.


On August 1st, 5000 New Yorkers are gathered outside as Sullivan, and his lawyer De Lancey Nicoll, work with Governor Hill on the terms in which the Champion will surrender.  Lawyer Nicoll:  “Sullivan had no intention when he entered into the engagement for fighting Kilrain to violate the laws of Mississippi .  The battleground was fixed in Louisiana , and was changed the night before the fight without his knowledge.” A reluctant Sullivan has been told that all he will face if found guilty is a stiff fine.  The Champion wants anything other to surrender himself.  But he signs his name that waives legal extradition formalities and is officially arrested.  The long railroad trip has Sullivan asleep as he passes the battleground for the bout.  The destination for this legal jurisdiction is tiny Purvis , Mississippi .


Most citizens of Mississippi had never heard of Purvis.  It is an area surrounded by little other than pine forest.  The region had been selected for the heavyweight Championship for this very reason.  The town had been named “Purves” until a deal had been met between New Orleans public official, Fitzpatrick, and railroad officials.  Fitzpatrick had battled his own angry constituency over spreading railroad tracks that displaced families. With Southern politics, and an ally in Charles W. Rich of Marion County , this Mississippi land could be uprooted without uproar.  The railroad misspelled the town name at its depot and refused to fix the mistake. Purves officially changed its name to the misspelled ‘Purvis’ because it was easier.  The major industries of Purvis include saw milling, lumbering and turpentine production.  The Mayor’s office and courtroom also substitute as a barber shop.  So the Purvis courtroom has only one chair – a barber chair – and it is used by the District Attorney, Neville, during legal proceedings.   (Others who would like to sit turn over flour barrels or boxes).  Behind the barbershop counter places a legal clerk and the presiding judge.  John L. Sullivan meets Judge Terrell for the first time, is informed that he has been charged with an assault against Kilrain and for engaging in a an illegal prizefight.  Champion Sullivan posts bond and is released.


The New York Times, while still wishing against hope that the heavyweight Champion receives a stiff Mississippi prison sentence, also questions whether they have been duped.  They editorialize that Sullivan/Kilrain are ultimately ‘pawns’ – that so many conspirators to this illegal prize fight (such as the railroad that transferred people and ignored Mississippi State troops orders to halt) – while consciously aware it would be the pugilists that would be most visible and vulnerable to arrest.


On August 13th, Jake Kilrain and his wife return to Baltimore .  Sgt. Toner has patiently waited and approached:  “How do you do, Jake?  The Marshal wants to see you.”  Kilrain is treated well by his jailers. He receives a nice meal from a nearby restaurant and is able to rest inside a special room at the jail instead of a cell.  Kilrain states that he never intended to become a fugitive, but was only waiting to see what punishment was meted out to Sullivan before his own surrender.  Kilrain agrees to extradition.


On that same day in Purvis is an enraged Judge Terrell.  Champion Sullivan and John Fitzpatrick are indicted for their participation in the illegal prizefight.  The Grand Jury takes the unusual precedent of an obscure law that allows them to remand the case away from Terrell and to the Justice of the Peace instead.  Judge Terrell calls the jurors – along with the Sheriff protecting them – and gives them a grilling for this action.  Terrell accepts the indictment but refuses the jurors legal maneuver from his courtroom.  He believes the jurors have been tampered with by Sullivan’s legal team and that the Sheriff is involved with accepting bribes as a middleman.  Two weeks earlier was a dispute that charged W.J. Conant, the Sheriff of Marion County, as involved in corruption and receiving bribes.  Terrell orders the jurors to retain the indictment alone – and if they continue to behave as if tampered – they will all be discharged from their duty.  If that happens, Judge Terrell insists, the Sheriff will be hit with a $1000 fine.


John Fitzpatrick is grabbed by Mississippi law enforcement in the woods outside of Purvis trying to flee back to New Orleans .  He is disheveled and not entirely clothed.  Fitzpatrick is returned to Judge Terrell with the news that had caused him to run.  Judge Terrell has decided that Fitzpatrick alone is responsible for this $22,000 involved in the prizefight – and if the money disappears – the New Orleans public official must come up with the money out of his own pocket.  John Fitzpatrick is stunned with incredulity – insists the prize money has already been distributed and that it had nothing to do with him. Judge Terrell insists that Fitzpatrick is that last person known to have control over these funds.  Paraphrasing Terrell: “Come up with this money one way or another. You are the one to be held accountable.”


Champion Sullivan is acquitted by the Mississippi jury in a brief trial of assault and found guilty of misdemeanor prize fighting.  His lawyers suggest that the Champion admit his guilt, humble himself before this judge, while pleading ignorance of the law.  It is likely that a stiff fine will be imposed.  A worst case scenario, with the case receiving much attention and a possible ‘message’ by this judge would be 10 days in jail along with the fine.  His lawyers assure the Champion that this is unlikely.  Sullivan might receive 3 days in jail, but will more likely only pay a fine.


 (8/17/1889) Mississippi Judge Throws The Book At Champion Sullivan


John L. Sullivan stands convicted of having engaged in an illegal prize fight. There was testimony by law enforcement that Sullivan had acted with particular malice during the bout – intentionally landing his weight on a fallen foe with an attempt to kick him. Sullivan had been arrested and in front of judges numerous times. The punishment is Mississippi for such a crime is similar to other jurisdictions: 72 hours in jail and a small fine. Only once has a pugilist been sentenced to as much as six months and that was due to the death of an opponent.


The jury finds the Champion guilty of engaging in an illegal prize fight. They determine that he is not guilty of an assault against Kilrain.  Jury recommendation: "In view of the fact that this is his first conviction for the offense named in this State, and for other reasons, we respectfully recommend and request your Honor will impose no higher penalty than a fine of $1000 and that no imprisonment be inflicted."


Champion Sullivan speaks before sentencing: "No doubt I have done something wrong, but, as my counsel told you, I was ignorant of the law."


Judge Terrell eyes papers and announces: "STAND UP SULLIVAN!" There is a murmur amongst all by the tone and the lack of ‘Mister’ before stating the Champion’s name. "It seems to me that this prize fight at Richburg of which you stand convicted was a gross affront to the laws of the State, where the authorities personally forbade it. It seems to have been accomplished with systematic arrangement with a studied disregard and contempt for the law. They came from and through many States whose authority and civilization deterred them from any attempt at such public lawless conduct within their limits and they chose the State of Mississippi as the only fit ground for such combat, indicating their utter contempt for the sentiments of her people and the laws of her statute book." Judge Terrell’s eyes rise to look straight at Champion: “The sentence of the law is that as punishment for the offense for which you stand convicted, you shall suffer imprisonment for 12 months in the county jail.”

The Champion looks at both the judge and all with shock as he despondently slinks back to his seat.


Judge Terrell announces: “Stand up, Mr. Fitzpatrick!”  The New Orleans Commissioner of Public Works has been found guilty as an accessory to the illegal prize fight.  The Southern legend is that Fitzpatrick was hit with a $1000 fine – laughed aloud – and boastfully claimed: “I will pay it now, Boys,” as he pulled ten $100 bills from his wallet.  I believe that Terrell does have Fitzpatrick concerned – with the threat of a legal lien against his personal property and having witnessed the severity of punishment against the Champion.  Judge Terrell states that Fitzpatrick’s conduct was inappropriate and illegal – as he now stands convicted – but his offense is lesser than the two pugilists.  Judge Terrell states that the bout would have likely taken place with or without Fitzpatrick, so the punishment imposed will be a $200 fine.  I believe the future New Orleans Mayor was relieved, more than boastful, over this punishment.


The American public is outraged and angered over the severity of the punishment meted out by Judge Terrell.  They believe that he is a ‘backwoods’ judge from a ‘backwoods’ State who has overreacted to the behavior of the heavyweight Champion.  Most Americans believe that Sullivan has done nothing wrong and should never been charged with a crime.  Prize fighting might be ‘technically’ illegal, but it goes on all the time anyway, with consenting adults, and that no one is hurt by this sporting activity other than perhaps the pugilists engaged in their paid fisticuffs.  The Mississippi public is against their public officials.


An appeal is filed.  Champion Sullivan posts bond and is allowed to leave Mississippi .  Tremendous pressure and outrage is poured onto Governor Lowry to pardon or commute the sentence. Three weeks of vindictive negative publicity against Lowry, as even he surprised by the severity of the prison sentence, has him willing to compromise.  Lowry announces that if the Champion returns to Mississippi to serve his jail sentence then it will be commuted down to 20 days.  Champion Sullivan is advised by his legal team – and powerful financial backers – to turn down this offer.


Jake Kilrain has stated, though many disagree, that he and Sullivan are equally responsible for what happened on that day of the Championship bout. Despondent and depressed, the Baltimore pugilist accepts that he might be facing a six month jail sentence.  Mississippi acquit Kilrain of having participated in an illegal prize fight, but determine that he is guilty of an assault against John L. Sullivan.  Judge Terrell rules that Kilrain is most responsible, other than Sullivan, for the criminal behavior in Mississippi .  Jake Kilrain is sentenced to two months in jail along with a $200 fine.


The Mississippi legal system eventually proves to be as corrupt as Americans believe and hope.  The Mississippi Supreme Court accepts the assault acquittal against Sullivan but overturns the prize fighting conviction and prison sentence.  The Mississippi Supreme Court rules two fold: (1) Prize fighting is only illegal in a public arena while the bout took place on personal property. (2) Prize fighting must be between two pugilists – and with no legal proof that Sullivan fought Kilrain or anyone – that the Champion only fought against himself (which is not illegal).  Sullivan cannot be tried again on an assault charge but the door remains open to file again for his participation in an illegal prizefight.


Charles W. Rich, who owns the lands in which the illegal activity took place, then flexed his wallet to free Jake Kilrain.  There is some sort of obscure Mississippi law that allows a jailer from elsewhere to “sublet” a prisoner for a $1000 fee.  Rich applies to be Kilrain’s ‘jailer’ and to have him transferred for those two months. An additional ‘graft’ fee apparently gains the desired result.  New York Times:  “Rich signed a check for a good round sum, and throwing it before, invited the Commissioners to either accept or reject it, and to be in a hurry about making up their minds.  The check was accepted.  The amount of money it calls for is not yet known.  Rich refuses to say, and the Marion County commissioners are equally reticent.  Jake and Rich returned to this city last night to drink wine with friendly sports.”


Governor Lowry decides he is not through with Sullivan – Grand Jury indicts again – and this time compromise is made.  Champion Sullivan pleads guilty to a misdemeanor of participation in an illegal prizefight with a prearranged agreement of a $500 fine as punishment.


In the battle of Sullivan/Kilrain vs. Lowry/Terrell – both sides won and lost – so it might be viewed as a ‘Draw’.  John L. Sullivan had long learned that the law did not apply to him as both he and Kilrain wiggled away from legal incarceration.  But the heavyweight Champion had met his match with a persistently determined former Confederate Brigadier General that would not allow someone famous to blatantly disrespect his State.  Meanwhile, bare-knuckle bout prize fighting in America would forever cease, due to a small town judge who presided behind the counter of barber shop in Purvis , Mississippi.

Down goes Frazier! 'The Sunshine Showdown'
Death of an Irish pugilist
Sharkey-Corbett: A battle of unbeatens
200 years ago ... without gloves
The final interview of legend Al Fenn, manager of Zora Foley

Johnson vs. Jeffries, the 100th anniversary
Sonny Banks, who died fighting, would have been 70




Image by FlamingText.com

 Christopher James Shelton is a product of the American West Coast. He has lived in Los Angeles and San Ysidro, California, Tijuana , Mexico, and currently resides in Phoenix, Arizona. 

Shelton was the editor of CHEEERS Soundboard, the first solely written/produced mental health recovery center newsletter in America.  He has several credits as researcher/writer/interviewer for CyberBoxingZone including: “Scandal In San Francisco (1896).” “The Last Bareknuckle Championship Bout (1889)” and “The Art and Science of Daniel Mendoza.”

  His research discovery credits include 19th century pugilists George Godfrey, Professor Hadley, Tom Hyer, John L. Sullivan and Jake Kilrain.  Family interviews, mixed with historical research, include lightweights Jack Britton and Billy Hawkins. 

Shelton conducted the final interview with legendary Phoenix manager Al Fenn, and asked candid questions about George Foreman and H.I.V. with former heavyweight champion Tommy Morrison.  HIs favorite historical article, “124-year-old woman challenges John L. Sullivan for the title," recounts the life story of a feisty 19th-century female slave named Sylvie Dubois.

Contact Christopher Shelton


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