Great expectorations

By Pete Ehrmann on January 18, 2019
Great expectorations
He developed the “unfortunate habit of training for a contest on a cigarette and beer diet.”

Patsy started mowing through 130-pound opponents and earned a reputation as a proficient boxer with a hard sock…

One hundred twenty-eight years ago this week a boxer won the lightweight championship of Wisconsin by spitting in his opponent’s face.

Patrick Henry Darrington was known by the nickname “Patsy,” but in their January 18, 1891 fight defending champion James Davis was an even bigger one.

Darrington came to Wisconsin in 1887 from his hometown of Lewiston, Maine, and settled in Appleton. Billed as the “Lightweight Champion of Maine,” he started mowing through 130-pound opponents in the Fox Valley and earned a reputation as a proficient boxer with a hard sock.

An Oshkosh fighter named George Finney took such a pounding from Darrington in their September 16, 1887 bout that when they were supposed to have a rematch following year Finney showed up and declared himself “too drunk to fight.”

As the victories added up, Patsy developed what the Appleton Post-Crescent called the “unfortunate habit of training for a contest on a cigarette and beer diet.” He paid for it the first time he crossed mitts with James Davis on July 27, 1890.

That fight was held in a barn in Kenosha County close enough to the Wisconsin-Illinois border so the boxers, their handlers and the 50 or so spectators could dash into Illinois in case Wisconsin authorities crashed the party and tried to arrest everyone for violating the state statute that barred prize fighting in the Badger State since 1869. Gov. George Peck said boxing caused “more harm to the young people who are growing up ... than most anything I know of” by promoting the notion that “it is not a very serious thing to kill a man if you have eight-ounce gloves on.”

(Which showed how much he knew. When fighters wore gloves at all back then, they were little more than mittens.)

Darrington probably wished the cavalry had showed up during his first bout with Davis. Thanks to his less than prime condition, after the first five rounds went his way he ran out of gas; then Davis “knocked him around the 16-foot ring until he didn’t know east from west or north from south” (Racine Journal Times) and flattened him in the tenth round.

Their rematch six months later was scheduled to start after midnight in the Lincoln Park pavilion in Racine, but at 12:30 the county sheriff and chief of police showed up to spoil the fun. The fighters and fans dispersed, and reassembled at the railroad station at 4 a.m. They took the train to Kenosha, and in a building in the heart of downtown a small ring was pitched, and at 7:30 Darrington and Davis finally put up their dukes.

Patsy took another beating. In the eighth round he was knocked down repeatedly. After the last time he raised up on one knee as the champion stood nearby waiting for him to get up or be counted out. That’s when Patsy let fly—but not with a punch. Reported the Racine Journal Times:

“…He deliberately spit into Davis’ face. This irritated Davis. (Patsy) spit into his face a second and a third time. This was more than Davis could stand and he rushed at the fellow and smashed him on the jaw, knocking him to the floor.”

What Darrington did was foul, but what Davis did—hitting his opponent when he was down—was a foul in boxing. Davis was promptly disqualified, and the new lightweight champion of Wisconsin crowed, “All is fair in love and war!”

It was a bad night for Davis in more ways than one. After Patsy stole his title, somebody stole the satchel containing his money and clothes.

Within a few years, the lightweight champion of two states was spending more time in jail for public drunkenness than in the ring.

Typical was this item in the December 6, 1894 edition of the Appleton Post-Crescent: “Patsy Darrington, formerly of this city, got out of jail at Neenah long enough to issue a challenge to fight any 135-pound man in sight. Then he got drunk and was jailed again for 10 days.”

Patsy was smashed on February 28, 1906 when he tried to hop a moving freight train near Oconto and fell off. Then he was smushed.

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  1. Bob 10:03pm, 01/18/2019

    Another gem by the inimitable Mr. Ehrmann.  Great read.

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