an offering of rare items from the Jack Dempsey-Tommy Gibbons conteset!!
Shelby, Montana
July 4, 1923


vintage photos


Dempsey-Gibbons 10 vintage photos


vintage photos


Jack Dempsey-Tommy Gibbons in action


Jack Dempsey-Tommy Gibbons round 7




Dempsey-Gibbons souvenir medal


Dempsey-Gibbons souvenir mail bag




Jack Dempsey vs. Tommy Gibbons
how the fight was made and what went wrong

    In some ways, Dempsey's most demanding fight was the Tommy Gibbons title match at Shelby, Montana, on July 4, 1923. Granny Rice told how it came about.
    "Mike Collins, a fight manager of sorts out of St. Paul, had a string of fighters barnstorming through Montana that year, working any town where there were a few bucks to be made," recalled Granny. "Collins met Loy Molumby, head of Montana's American Legion, and in a short time they were cruising all over the state in a flimsy old airplane, shooting off horse pistols and calling for wine. In the course of their wanderings they ran into a man named Johnson, who, among other things, was mayor of Shelby and president of the local bank. With the talk flaring around fights and fighters, somebody had the glorious idea of staging a heavyweight championship fight right there in Shelby! It would cause a land boom, make it a city overnight. Collins called his pal, Eddie Kane, Gibbons manager back in St. Paul, and put the proposition to him.
    "Kane replied, 'Listen, Mike. You get Dempsey out there and Gibbons will fight him for nothing. All you got to do is pay Dempsey. What do you think of that?'
    "That they liked. Next they wired Jack Kearns, offering him $300,000 to defend the title against Gibbons at Shelby on July 4th. Kearns wired back: 'Send $100,000 now...$100,000 in a month, and $100,000 before Dempsey steps into the ring and it's a deal.'
    "The first hundred grand came easily enough and seeing they meant business Kearns and Dempsey headed West and set up training quarters at Great Falls, Montana, about 70 miles south of Shelby. Eddie Kane went direct to Shelby and set up Gibbons training camp there."
    Late in June, Granny boarded a Pullman in Chicago with a crowd of other writers and they were off by way of the Great Northern to the Wild West. Great Falls, they discovered, was a fair-sized town. Granny found Dempsey in high humor.
    "I recall it was June 24th, his 28th birthday," Granny said. "His dad was there and so was his cousin, Don Chafin, a raw-boned kid from West Virginia. The camp mascot was a cub timber wolf. Dempsey was giving himself daily facials with some sort of bear grease that had toughened his face to the general texture of a boar's hide. It was Jack's first title defense since he fought Carpentier, in 1921, but he looked to be in great shape. Even walking, he seemed to slither along, snakelike, his muscles glinting in the sun."
    Granny said he didn't know just what he expected from Shelby, the fight site, but he wasn't impressed. A town of perhaps 2,000, it was a little more than a crossroad in the middle of a desert. There were few houses and a building or two that passed for hotels. The Pullman cars shoved over on a siding served as press headquarters and living accommodations.
    Gibbons, meanwhile, was training hard. He was eager to get this crack at Dempsey. Most of the visiting sports writers felt he was heading for certain annihilation. Tommy's wife and two children were with him.
    Granny recollected: "Shortly before the fight, Hughey Fullerton spotted a Blackfoot brave in war regalia, including paints and eagle feathers. In broken Indian dialect, Hughey asked him, 'Who Big Chief like? Dempsey or Gibbons?' Big Chief replied, in perfect English: 'Sir, I happen to like Dempsey. Gibbons has the skill as a boxer. Dempsey has the power. Power usually prevails over skill."    
    As the fight drew nearer, the city fathers of Shelby began to feel the pinch. They were having a hard time scraping up the second $100,000, with still a third installment to come. Kearns was adamant.
    "You've got to pay us every cent, or you won't see Dempsey at all!" he warned. Mayor Johnson all but hocked his bank to come up with the second payment. Four days before the bell rang, Kearns' vacillations about the purse forced special trainloads from San Francisco and Chicago to cancel.
    The eve of the fight was the most harrowing in Shelby's history. In the span of six hours Kearns "officially" called off the fight seven times. Visiting scribes were going nuts trying to keep up-to-the-minute.
    At the last hour, Kearns again reversed his decision, decided to gamble on the gate receipts and declared the fight was on. Shelby's main street erupted into a madhouse. Everybody celebrated. Against a background of blaring bands, a snake dance down the center of town lasted clear through the night. Prohibition was supposed to be the order of the times, but that night in Shelby, Montana, everybody packed a bottle.
    "And looking down on it all from his little family shack on a bare hill sat Tommy Gibbons," Granny said. "I thought about him, a family man 34 years old, who was about to face Dempsey, the Killer, and for nary a thin dime! The fight was scaled at $50 ringside and the huge wooden bowl built for the match was erected to hold some 50,000 people. But the final paid ticket count was a trickle over 7,000 and so they opened up the gates and let in another 13,000 free! The fight was a financial bust. It broke all the banks in town."

John D. McCallum-The World Heavyweight Boxing Championship
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