May 19, 2006
Two Fisted Expediency (Part Two)
Lemmon High School Boxing Team About 1939 (Click to Enlarge)
Note: John (Gene) Crowley appears in the center of the top (back row) in this photo of the Lemmon, SD, High School boxing team. Jack Randall is next to him on his left. John Portney is on his left at the far end.
My first three years of high school in Lemmon, South Dakota, I played football—pretty much without incident until a game at Mobridge, South Dakota. I was playing center when a tackle on the Mobridge team started hitting me in the nose. The center is at a disadvantage, because he is passing the ball back between his legs. The second the ball is passed, the defensive linemen try to push past the center to tackle the ball carrier. This tackle did not try to push past me he just hit me in the nose each time I passed the ball. Soon I was a bloody mess and nobody paid any attention to the beating I was taking. After about the fourth play in which this happened, I had had it. Instead of passing the ball I just stood up and knocked the offending tackle cold. Of course, I was suspended from the game. But, I was always glad, and still am, that I delivered justice when it was needed.
The following year after the Mobridge game, I decided to leave football. Between playing dances [see previous post] at night and all the other school activities, and with working in restaurants and all the other things going on in my life, football just didn’t measure up. Soon after I left the football team, a Mr. White formed a boxing team and he asked me to take part. Since I had developed some expertise up to this point, I agreed.
On the boxing team, I fought heavyweights and light heavyweights. At the time, my weight ran 185 to 190 pounds. So, I was able to fight in both weights. The first fight arranged for me was in the town of Mott, North Dakota, a farm town. When I stepped in the ring, I couldn’t believe my eyes. My opponent was a huge muscular farm kid, black visaged, scowling, about 6`2" and about 200 pounds. I was secretly terrified. This guy was going to break my neck at least. We came dancing out of our corners in the first round and he swung a big, awkward blow just grazing the tip of my nose. My nose started to bleed, as it always does. I had seen some pretty good fighters and I knew some of the psychological tricks that were used. I smeared the blood around on my face, messed up my hair, and made weird faces at this fighter. He took another awkward swing at me and I nailed him—a right hook right on the chin. He went down without a sound. But he didn’t get up, he was paralyzed.
The word got around from that fight, I guess, and the instructor couldn’t get fights for me. I fought a couple, but they were easy. When the team fought, most of the time my good friend, Jack Randall, and I would put on exhibition fights. We almost always fought to a draw, neither of us being able to do any great damage to the other.
Lemmon High School (Click to Enlarge)
Note: The photo of Lemmon High School is from 1914, twenty-one years before John (Gene) Crowley attended.
After high school, I fought a couple of carnival fighters. They were billed as ferocious man killers. If you could stay with them for three rounds, the carnival would pay you $15. Since that was a small fortune to me, it didn’t take much convincing. There were some great fighters among the carnival crowd, but I never drew one. Every fighter I drew was a pug who had seen better days. I felt very sorry for them and just stayed with them long enough to win my $15 without getting hurt or doing a lot of damage.
My adventures were very, very mild compared to the experiences of my brothers, Joe and Neal. I have covered some of their exploits before. Suffice it to say, they were considered to be—without exception—the toughest fighters in the entire territory. One would think, on the face of this, that they must have been mean critters. The truth was that Joe and Neal were among the most loved and respected men in that country. They didn’t take advantage of anyone. They fought to defend their honor or that of some other person.
One of my more memorable fights was the Fourth of July, 1940. Neal, my brother, was promoting fights in Faith for the July 4th celebration. He had booked me to fight a leading fighter from the Cheyenne Indian Agency at Cherry Creek. This Indian was supposed to be greased lightening and had a knockout punch in either hand. To tell the truth, I was plenty worried. I wasn’t so concerned with getting hurt as being humiliated and defeated in my home town.
The night of the fight arrived and the Indian boy didn’t show. But Neal had another fighter, so all proceeded as planned. When I stepped in the ring, I could not believe my eyes—my opponent was John Portney, a fellow boxing team mate from Lemmon. I had so out classed John when we were in high school that they had never matched us. Seeing John here as my opponent was a big let down. He did not have the ability to show a good fight, and it would make me look bad.
We came tearing out of our corners so determined to finish each other off, they had to stop us and make us start over. Like I said, this was going to be too easy. Then the blows started—one after another—accurate as any target practice, banging my belly like I was a stupid amateur. About the second round of this unmerciful beating I was taking, my second informed me that I was delivering a good upper-cut but I was not connecting with it. He advised me to perform exactly as I had been, except now take another step forward every time I threw the uppercut. I performed exactly as the second advised me, and the next round John went down. The next round, he went down again. I was still suffering from the beating he had been giving me, so even though I had him going, it was still a tough fight. He wouldn’t quit and we were both taking a bad beating. The uppercuts paid off finally and, although it was a close fight, I won the decision and the small purse. I lost track of John over the years.
(To Be Continued)