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History: Boxing Banned in Wyoming 113 Years Ago

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The Sport of Boxing has been around for centuries. Early carvings in Sumerian date back to the third and second millennia B.C. show men boxing. In 688 B.C. boxing was established as an Olympic Game. Later, it evolved into 16-18 century prize fights, that were very popular in England and later in the United States.

Nearly all boxing matches today are run under the Marquess of Queensberry Rules, which were drafted London in 1865, and named because the 9th Marquess of Queensberry publicly endorsed the code, these rules were also the first to mandate the use of boxing gloves.

When Wyoming was a very young state, boxing was one of the entertainments that drew large crowds of people and were a part of many events in the ‘Wild West.’ Wyatt Earp, famous lawman, refereed several boxing matches, and was the referee in a fight between Bob Fitzsimmons who was at the time heavyweight champion, and Tom Sharkey in San Francisco. Not everyone was thrilled with his decision on the fight.

The Rawlins Republican, December 4, 1896, had this about the fight – San Francisco, Dec. 2 – Bob Fitzsimmons was tonight robbed of a victory which he had clearly earned by punching Tom Sharkey into insensibility. Fitzsimmons finished without a mark on his body and did not receive a single fair punch from the sailor in the entire contest. As Sharkey rolled over on his back, Wyatt Earp, the referee, announced that Fitzsimmons had struck him foul with his knee and that the decision should go to Sharkey. The decision was received with hoots and jeer, and Earp disappeared just in time to avoid rough handling. Fitzsimmons put up a clean, hard fight and though he was fouled repeatedly and wrestled all over the ring, he never murmured.

While boxing was popular in the early days of Wyoming, not everyone was in favor of it, or of the promoters that made money off the matches.

In June of 1911 that lead to this degree by Governor Carey. The Sheridan Post, June 20, 1911 – No Prize Fighting – The Omaha Bee, commenting upon Governor Carey’s action with reference to boxing matches within Wyoming, says: “If pugilists’ and professional prize ring promoters carry out their determination of setting up in business in Wyoming, they will have to knock out Governor Carey first. The governor is as much determined to prevent prize fighting as they are to have it. Last winter he vetoed bill passed by the legislature legalizing fist bouts, and his action was solar plexus blow to the fraternity, which had counted on breaking down all legal barriers and getting into Wyoming, as they have done in Nevada.

Evidently, while the pugilists “took the count” in this match with the governor, they did not leave off trying for return engagement. Of late they have been holding “boxing matches” in different counties in disregard of the law. Now the governor comes back with another stiff uppercut in the form of an order to law officers to make wholesale arrests and prosecutions, if necessary to stop prize fighting. “Governor Carey will win in the end, and by so doing will perform valuable service not only for Wyoming, but for the country at large, which needs all the help of this kind it can get in completely wiping out prize fighting. Perhaps even Nevada will fall into line, inspired by Wyoming’s chief executive. Wyoming is one of the new, potentially great western states that is not inviting the lawless elements as means of promoting its development, and it will in the years acknowledge its debt to Governor Carey for what he has done.

And again, from The Sheridan Post August 18, 1911 – Nothing DoingWhen Governor Carey called attention to the state laws forbidding prize fights, boxing matches or whatever name such entertainments traveled under, and asked the peace officers throughout the state to see that the laws were obeyed, his action was followed by a general acquiescence and a ready and willing obedience. A number of such contests, then advertised, were declared off and the state at large settled down to behave itself as it should. Lately, however, a restlessness has become evident in Cheyenne among the sports and an attempt was made to pull off a fight on the military reservation at Fort Russell, between a soldier and a boxer from Denver.

All arrangements had been completed and the fans were impatiently awaiting the day and hour for the sport, when Colonel Williams, in command at the post, put his foot down on the whole proceedings and there is nothing doing. The colonel says, that while it may be possible to hold such entertainments on the military reservation in spite of the existence of state law against them, he would not countenance anything against the laws of the state and would not only stand with the governor in the matter but would use all the power at his command to enforce the laws of the state wherein the reservation is located.

The action of Colonel Williams is opportune, because the fight fans of Sheridan have had in contemplation some such move as was attempted at Fort Russell. If the officers at Fort Mackenzie have the situation to deal with, they will doubtless take the same stand. Prize fighting or its synonym, boxing is off the boards in Wyoming.

And, of course, boxing had it’s supporters as well.

Cheyenne State Leader, March 29, 1912 –Boxing Not As Dangerous As Football. More Men Killed on Football, baseball or cycle Fields than in Boxing. Funny how some people become horrified when a boxer is hurt, but how indifferent they are when men, are killed on the football, baseball or cycle fields, or when they are killed by downs on the automobile racetracks and in airships, etc. In France It has been recorded the past year or two that the deaths from auto accidents and flights in the air have been enormous, running up into the hundreds, but the moment the first accident happened in a boxing match, which is one death in the sport since introduced into that country, there is at once a howl about the roughness of it.

However, the jury that investigated the affair found that the man died not from the effects of a boxing match, but from heart trouble that bad been brought on by over exertion. It is hard sometimes to guard against men in that condition, even though they are examined by doctors. Compared to other sports, boxing is mild and not half as dangerous, as record a will prove.

Boxing was a popular entertainment and a way to exercise on many of the frontier army posts, and a boxing instructor held that boxers made good soldiers during WW1. In an article in the Cheyenne State Leader, November 8, 1918 – Benny Leonard, Holder of World’s Lightweight Title, and U.S. Army Boxing instructor, talked about how boxers can become good at learning to use a bayonet, which was a favored weapon in WW1. This is a portion of the article.

I have taught boxing to 40,000 soldiers in training at Camp Upton, (Yaphank, NY) most of them men who never saw a boxing glove, let alone pulling one on. They learned how to jab with the left, counter with the right, step out of a clinch, hit and get away and some other tricks of the Marquis of Queensberry art believe me, it didn’t take long to get them acquainted with these tricks. In just eleven months there were 40,000 more boys who could use their fists as a result of having taken military training at Yaphank. It is generally admitted that the man who knows a few boxing tricks becomes a great bayonet fighter. Using the bayonet then comes naturally to the fighting man. A lot of my pupils are giving good accounts of themselves in trodding the Huns back to Berlin. I refer to the 77th division, the first out from camp Upton. Its record in France speaks for itself.

While a popular sport at one time, 113 years ago this month, it was banned in Wyoming.

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