A Tale of Two Fists–The Life Story of Jack Dempsey

Damon Runyon

The News Scimitar/May 20, 1919

A Ten-to-One Shot



Most of the sporting element of Nevada must have gone there from Missouri. They all wanted to be shown. As I have narrated, Jack Dempsey paused at Tonopah in his journey to Goldfield for his fight with Johnny Sudenberg, and worked out with “Slick” Merrill, to prove to promoter Jake Goodfriend that he was a worthy opponent for the Goldfield champ.

When he reached Goldfield, there was a further demand for demonstration of his ability from the natives. So Dempsey took on a chap named Kid Harrison in his training quarters, and stiffened the Kid in a few punches.

You may judge what the Goldfieldians thought of Dempsey’s work when I tell you that they promptly made Johnny Sudenberg a 10-to-1 favorite over him. They had a mighty lofty opinion of Johnny in those days.

It was justified, in a measure. Sudenberg had won quite a number of fights. He was a terrific hitter, and some folks had an idea that he was a coming champ. They thought the big, awkward Dempsey would be just  “set up” for him.

Jack’s only friends were Jack Gill, his new manager, and Roy Moore, the little fighter he had met in Reno, and who had come on the Goldfield looking for a match for himself.

The battle with Sudenberg is remembered by Jack to this day as one of the toughest he had ever had. It was a veritable knock down and drag out. Sudenberg was a game fellow and a willing mixer, and he had the confidence of a man fighting a supposed “sucker.” They waded into each other with their gloved hands swinging like flails, and there was mighty little science to the affair.

Bang!—and down would go Jack; wham!—down would go Suenberg.

“He knocked me down seven times the first round, three times, the second round, twice the next round, and once in the next,” says Jack. “I was just naturally bouncing up and down off the floor like a rubber ball. I don’t know yet why I didn’t stay down one of those times.

“Finally Johnny got sort ‘’ weary knocking me down, and then I commenced knocking him down. I knocked him down so often I lost count, but I guess I evened up his knocdowns. Anyway, the referee called it a draw.”

Later Dempsey and Sudenber fought at Tonopah, and it was an engagement similar to the Goldfield affair. Jack will always remember Sudenberg for his rough-and-ready ways. It is his impression that Johnny finally went into the army.

Dempsey was supposed to get $150 for the Goldfield fuss, but after it was over Roy Moore hunted him up and told him that his manager, Jack Gill, was so elated over Jack’s showing that he was doing a bit of entertaining around town.

“With my dough,” says Jack. “When I found Jack he didn’t have more than $10 left, and I had to borrow money to send him back to Reno. But he was a good guy at that.”

Moore and Dempsey decided to stick around Goldfield a while, and they went to “baching” in a little cabin. Moore was the cook and Dempsey the housekeeper.

“We had great times together,” says Jack. “We bought a dog and had everything homelike. Moore got a fight with a bird named Douglass while we were there. Roy knocked him out in the third round, but they had to let Douglass rest up a couple of times in between so’s to keep the fight from ending sooner.”

Eventually the pair drifted back to Reno with their dog. Having no business on hand, they planned a fishing trip. They had their dog with them and were headed up the railroad tracks one day when Moore thought of some stuff they might require in their piscatorial pursuits.

“You hold the mutt, Jack,” he said, “and I’ll go back and get that junk.”

He left Dempsey standing there on the railroad right-of-way, and that’s the last he saw of Jack for many a day to come. A freight train came buzzing along The “ham-ga-sam” of the wheels hitting the rail joints awoke old memories in Jack’s mind. Nostalgia seized him with great violence.

When Roy Moore returned to the spot he found only a yowling, sad-eyed dog gazing wistfully into the dim distance, where, between the two tapes of gleaming steel there rose a faint dust marking the trail of a fast disappearing train. And beneath a box car in that train rode our hero, J. Dempsey.

A couple of years later Jack went to St. Paul to box Billy Miske, and one of the first men he encountered was Roy Moore.

“Dammit,” said Roy, “if I’d been able to catch that train I’d be your manager right now.”

From Reno Dempsey went right back to the old folks at home—to wit, Salt Lake City. Again he shoved his feet under the family board, and was glad to have them there, too. Jack always relished home cooking after a long spell on the road.

It appears that Jack was never regarding in the light of a prodigal at home. He could go and come as he pleased, and he was always welcome. Old Man Dempsey would listen to his tales of fistic adventure and nod his head approvingly. He was glad to hear his boy was coming on.

Johnny Sudenberg was around Salt Lake when Jack got home and they knocked about quite a bit together. There was little or no commerce in the fistic marts, so they both got jobs on a steam shovel which was doing some excavating for a new building—Jack thinks it was the capitol.

This was healthful and not unrenumerative labor, and Jack and Johnny stood it for quite one week. Then they quit and went to Bingham, Utah, where Jack got a job in one of the copper mines as a mucker. Johnny seems to fade out of our story about this period.

Jack always liked the mines and he stuck to the mucking job for several months. Then the fight game began opening up in Salt Lake and he returned to that city, where he got a match with a chap from Idaho called Two-Round Gilligan.

“Gilligan was just after beating Young Peter Jackson,” says Jack. “He was a big farmer, and there was a fellow with him named Boston Bear Cat. He was a dinge—a colored fellow, you know—and I guess he grabbed his name from Sam Langford. You remember they used to call Sam the Boston Bear Cat.

“Well, I licked Gilligan in two rounds and then this Boston Bear Cat said he’d fight me. He was a big, stout fellow, weighing about 220 pounds, and he’d licked quite a few folks, but I said I’d take him on.

“We arranged the match for Ogden, and Boston Bear Cat was around there for some time before it came off, telling the people what he was going to do to me. He made it so stroong that he had a lot of them betting their money on him.

“I guess he thought he was going to knock me for a goal all right, because he made me fight him on the basis of winner take all. The all in this case was about $75. He was so darned cocksure about everything that he had me a little nervous until we got in the ring, and then he says to me, “White boy, well just box.”

“We will, will we?” I says, and then I let go. I had my hands taped up good and strong, and when I hit him in the body they’d sink right in, like he was made of dough. And I didn’t pull any punches. I knocked him out in the first round—the Boston Bear Cat.

(Source: Chronicling America, http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn98069867/1919-05-20/ed-1/seq-21/#date1=1789&sort=relevance&rows=20&words=DAMON+Damon+RUNYON+Runyon&searchType=basic&sequence=0&index=14&state=&date2=1922&proxtext=by+Damon+Runyon&y=18&x=18&dateFilterType=yearRange&page=3)

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