Saturday, May 8, 2010

California dreaming

A rag-tag fleet of boats converged on Mare Island, just outside of Vallejo, California. The steamship Red Jacket, carrying John Morrissey—the contender—and his friends pulled alongside the West Point where George Thompson, newly crowned Champion of California, waited with his entourage. It was a broiling August day and the mosquitoes that plagued the mile wide strip of land named for a Spanish general’s horse were swarming in huge numbers. It was time for the bout that would help put California on the pugilistic map and the 900 men pouring off the various vessels were, like the insects hovering around their heads, ready for blood…

So began Morrissey’s plunge into the world of professional boxing, at least as professional as mid-19th century boxing got, which wasn’t very. Speaking of professional, I’ve been doing research on Morrissey’s time in California and the boxing scene there and have found that the newspapers of the era were rather slapdash affairs, filled with vague reports and rumors, unless they actually had a reporter on the scene. When they did have a writer there, the stories contain reams of minutia (which I of course prefer) written in the florid prose of the day.

For instance, the first professional fight in San Francisco that was well publicized came off in 1850 between a fighter named James Kelly and another man simply known as “McGee.”

This casual attitude extended to other parts of life in old California. On my quest to track down more information on “A man named McGee,” which was apparently his full title, I came across a criminal case involving the Kelly-McGee match. It seems that after Kelly was bested by McGee, he was consoled with $500 from the door. He immediately got drunk with his friend, referred to by everyone as "The Bear Hunter" and was robbed of the money. In the ensuing investigation, handled by the Committee of Vigilance, McGee’s first name never comes up.

As an aside, Kelly found out who robbed him and, upon threats of death, recouped his loss by becoming the new proprietor of a bar called “The Port Phillip House.”

My search for the elusive first name of Mr. McGee continues…

On another note, I’ve found a number of incorrect dates at to when the Morrissey-Thompson fight occurred. It was Aug. 20, 1852, a Friday. Morrissey won.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi, I'm doing some research on my ancestors, and I'm related to James Kelly. I'd love to chat with you about him and learn something from the research you've done. Please email me at