Jump to content



Recommended Posts




The Syracuse Herald

8 August 1913





To-day we have the pleasure of telling you not only about the hardest battle, but one of the greatest and most wonderful in the annals of the game. So great and wonderful, in fact, that you ail probably have heard of it before—that famous battle on the barge when Jim Corbett fought Joe Choynski. It was the hardest battle Corbett ever had, or ever saw, he says—or ever heard of. Choynski says the same.


That battle which the twenty eighth round brought to a close that hot and sultry July day in 1889 really started five years before. For five years this fight raged like a volcano in. the breasts of these two San Francisco lads, erupting now and then and spreading ruin in the form of flying fists. Five times they fought desperately, viciously, and unsatisfactorily, and, although the fifth and deciding battle, the battle of the barge, is regarded as the hardest, yet the hardest battle should comprise all five of them.


Corbett and Choynski were born and raised in San Francisco, within a few block of one another, in that section of the city known as Hayes Valley. Both Corbett's brother and Choynski's brother worked in the City Hall One day an argument arose between the brothers. It seemed that Choynski was telling about the prowess of his young brother Joe as a boxer, and Corbett was speaking of his kid brother Jim, who, he allowed, was some scrapper himself.


Anyway, the discussion grew so warm that the next night all concerned met in the Corbett barn, where young Joe and Jim were to settle their brothers dispute It was to be merely a boxing match, but you know how such affairs are — it was soon a fight, and a hard one too.


It was the first time that the two lads had ever seen each other; strangely too, as they had both grown up to their present ages of fifteen and sixteen, respectively, in a five block radius from Laguna and Hayes streets.


Jim backed up his brother's boast in good style, whipping Joe in six rounds after a terrible tussle. The boys, now bitter enemies, never met again for about a year. One day with a party of friends they came across each other while strolling about the sand hills out toward the Cliff house. Again they fought, and again Corbett won, but not without a mighty struggle.


Again the period of a year rolled By. In the meantime the boys had joined athletic clubs; Corbett was a member of the Olympic club and Choynski belonged to the Golden Gate A. C . The Olympic club gave an amateur boxing show, and Corbett their star member, was matched to meet the champion of the Golden Gate A. C, Joe Choynski, in the star bout.


This was their first ring battle, and as before, Corbett won — won in the third round of the best fight the club ever saw.


Then Joe turned professional. His success was astounding, and he won victory after victory from the best men they had on the coast with ridiculous ease. Corbett was urged to turn professional also, but as his father protested. so strenuously, and because that he had a nice position in the bank. Jim remained obdurate. Even the newspapers took up the cry, and soon hot words were passing between Jim and Joe via the sporting pages. Joe threatened to lick Jim on sight, if not otherwise.


These taunts were too much for the elder Corbett, and one day he told Jim to turn professional or anything else he liked so long as he gave Joe a whipping. They were matched and the boys were happy Jim was glad of the chance to vindicate himself, and Joe was even more joyous over the opportunity to avenge himself of his past defeats at his rival's hand. You must remember that although Joe had lost to Corbett several times he had always come close to winning at some time during the battle as to leave him with the inlaid impression that he could whip Jim if ever given another chance.


The boys were given their chance in an old barn across the bay about half -way between Sausalito and San Rafael, far away from police interference ( they, thought) as boxing had been ruled against in California at that time. Those in the "know attended the battle in carriages, and what a crowd "knew"!


The promoters of the contest talked it over and decided that the safest and sanest plan would be to collect all the handy hardware that was concealed around the back pockets of that very self-confident audience. They did. Corbett. dressing in a nearby farmhouse, was surprised to see a man with his two arms stacked to his eyebrows, with guns, dirks, and daggers, stagger into his dressing room and throw them on the bed. It was quite a shock to his already taut nerves, but it did not affect his fighting qualities, for he was giving Joe a lacing when the police, who in some way became wise to the affair, broke into the barn and stopped the fight in the sixth round.


Corbett and Choynski escaped with their lives and gloves, and it was arranged that they meet again six days later and finish it out. Just six days hence they all met at the little town of Benicia, about an hour's ride from Frisco. At this city the trains to S. F. are ferried across the Sacramento river on barges. One of these barges was chartered, and with everyone on board It moved out to the center of the river. (Business of snapping fingers at the police.)


When Referee Patsy Hagen brought them to the center of the ring Choynski wore no gloves.

"Where are your gloves?" said Corbett. "I don't know," replied Joe. They were lost in escaping the police in the barn."


But let Gentleman Jim tell It himself:


It made me angry — I saw through it all, now. You see, I had severely hurt the knuckles of my right hand in the fight in the barn, and some way Choynski's seconds had found out and, thinking to make it a bare knuckle fight had tied Choynski's gloves to a stone and tossed them overboard.


"I’ll fight you wearing gloves, and allow you your bare knuckles. I said. This sounded as though I was giving Joe the best of it but in reality I was not. I would not have been able to use my right hand at all if It was not incased in a glove.


Then someone in the crowd gave Joe a pair of riding gloves — to comply with the law he said. Choynski drew them on and the battle started.


"We started fast - furious it was - and I had all the best of it. I was hurting him badly when I injured my already broken knuckles in the fourth round. This gave me only one hand – my left - . I jabbed and jabbed as he came in wickedly and defiantly. He was stronger than I was and could hit harder. I was a little taller and he was a little the heavier. We were both in the prime of youth, at the age that meant as much to both of us – the turning point in life. We were rival, enemies and intensely ambitious. Throbbing courage and defiance. Such a thing asbacking up or giving in couldn’t enter our minds. And here we were in a great struggle. We both realized it, it was a battle to a finish – to death if needs be – and we knew it.


My broken hand made it even able to reach me with those buckskin gloves of his that left three long parallel marks every time they landed. We were a horrible sight. My jabbing cut him terribly and he kept me bleeding profusely always.

In the fourteenth round I hit him a straight left that landed on his head. It broke my thumb, and the pain was excruciating. At the same time Joe caught me a wicked left on my eye that cut and closed it. Everything turned black—I thought I was gone. Even my own brother, who was in my corner, saw me staggering around to what he thought was certain defeat- covering his face with his hands he broke through the mob and sobbingly sought a corner of the barge.

Discovering my brother gone my other brother was frantic. Catching sight of him at a far corner of the boat he ran over to him and, grabbing him roughly, wanted to know what the matter was.


'I can't stand to see him lose,' he sobbed. My other brother was furious." 'That's the time you ought to be here if he is going to lose.' He shrieked and walloped him on the eye "Then there were two fights raging at once.”


Well I managed to last the round out by stalling, and as my scattered senses came straggling back. I was conscious of a murmured prayer. At first I thought it was myself; then as my gear grew clearer I could hear someone in the audience repeating the Lord's prayer over and over again, I looked and saw a little Irishman, with eyes closed tight praying for me as hard as he could. Tom Riley, I hope you are doing well.


"With both hands gone, all I could do was to hit with my wrists and forearms. I fought the last half of the battle in this fashion. 'It was in this manner that I crashed against his jaw in the agonizing twenty-eighth round, and it was over at last. Along with the referee I counted him out. Joe Choynski the greatest fighter that ever became champion."


And we and all of us wonder to-day how much better fighters these two magnificent gladiators would have been if they had not fought each other

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

  • Create New...