Junior Munsell: Indian Fighter

By Clarence George on August 2, 2016
Junior Munsell: Indian Fighter
Munsell defeated Tiger Hairston, who once humiliated Joe Louis in a sparring session.

His first loss came on July 16, 1936, courtesy of Max Baer, who knocked him out in the fifth at the Coliseum in Tulsa…

“When the white man discovered this country, Indians were running it. No taxes, no debt, women did all the work. White man thought he could improve on a system like this.”—Cherokee saying

Italians, Irish, Jews, Mexicans, blacks…and at least one Chickasaw.

Despite bearing a strong physical resemblance to an English heavyweight of somewhat later vintage, Don Cockell, Junior Munsell was all American — American Indian, that is.

Born in Tuttle, Oklahoma, on May 30, 1913, “Indian,” a member of the Chickasaw Tribe, fought from 1935 to 1942, racking up an impressive record of 56 wins, 38 by knockout, 11 losses, five by knockout, and two draws, an average of about 10 fights a year.

The southwestern southpaw won his first 11 fights, eight by knockout (including outpointing someone actually named Buck Rogers, 0-6, in Oklahoma City on April 27, 1936), before drawing against Jack Van Noy at the Sportatorium in Dallas that May 14. His first loss came that July 16, courtesy of Max Baer, who knocked him out in the fifth at the Coliseum in Tulsa.

“A snarling Max Baer loosed a crushing right to the jaw of Junior Munsell 35 seconds after the start of the fifth round of a scheduled six-round bout here last night, and the Oklahoma City Indian heavyweight’s body bounced on the canvas with the knockout,” reported the Associated Press. “Seven thousand fight fans saw the 213-pound Baer, apparently in the best of condition, clown four rounds against the popular southpaw Indian, who scaled 187. Munsell was badly outclassed, but bored in hopefully against the former heavyweight champion of the world. Junior made his best bid in the fourth, when he peeled the bridge of Maxie’s nose with a whistling left. Jabbed the California playboy’s face with his right, shot left after left to Baer’s body.”

When Chickasaw troops marched against the Union during the Civil War, Chickasaw Governor Cyrus Harris observed that “This was the first time in history the Chickasaws have ever made war against an English-speaking people.” But not the last.

Although not a psych-out artist on the level of, say, Benny Leonard, Munsell knew how to intimidate…and how to make war. Following a third-round TKO loss to Charley Coates (the “hard-hitting Ohio Negro”) at the Eastside Arena in Los Angeles on October 5, 1936, Indian won 19 in a row, 12 by knockout. Among the hapless 19 was Vicente Parrile (aka Stanley Ketchell — that’s right, with two lls), who was well and truly discombobulated by Munsell waving around what he claimed was the scalp of a previous opponent. Parrile lost no time getting his head shaved, exclaiming, “No Indian gets my scalp!” He was wrong about that, Munsell knocking him out in the second in Ponca City, Oklahoma, on March 23, 1937 (with Archie Moore collecting $12, about $200 today, for doing the same to the fantastically named Ham Pounder, who had two opponents in his career, Archie and Brad Simmons, winning one on points and losing four by knockout).

Another victory for Munsell was over Tiger Hairston, who once humiliated Joe Louis in a sparring session, Junior winning on points in Dayton that July 23.

Indian’s winning streak was brought to a close by Marty Simmons, who outpointed him at the Municipal Auditorium in St. Louis that September 17. Another streak of wins, consisting of five knockouts, was brought up short by George Sutka, who won first on points at the Arena Gardens in Detroit on March 22, 1938, then by third-round KO at Detroit’s Olympia Stadium that April 8.

It was on September 27 that year that Junior won the Indian heavyweight title (recognized by the NBA) by outpointing Ernie Collins at Conoco Park in Ponca City, Nat Fleischer presenting him with the belt that October 4. He successfully defended, or perhaps rewon, the title against James Merriott, knocking him out in the second in Anadarko on August 15, 1940 (the year Lou Nova refused to meet him, saying that he wasn’t “interested in any inferior opponents.” Nova was ranked fourth by the NBA that year, while Munsell was ranked ninth).

The pattern of interrupted streaks continued. After winning four in a row, three by stoppage, Munsell was outpointed by Gunnar Barlund at the Legion Stadium in Hollywood on August 25, 1939. He won his next four, two by stoppage, including stopping Arne Andersson by second-round TKO on February 9, 1940 (despite manager Al Lang’s prediction that the Swede would “flatten Munsell as sure as there is a cow in Texas”), before Tommy Martin stopped him by fifth-round TKO that July 12, all five bouts taking place at the Legion Stadium.

Although hard-hitting Turkey Thompson stopped him by second-round TKO at the same venue that December 20, he won his next five, four by knockout, including outpointing Johnny “Bandit” Romero in Memphis on September 4, 1941, before losing his last two bouts to Connie Norden, who won the first by split decision on July 31, 1942, the second by unanimous decision that September 18, both at the Legion Stadium. Indian’s last win was on June 13 that year, knocking out Cash Dasher Clinton in the third in Las Vegas. A terrific name, but one he didn’t exactly live up to, winding up with a record of three wins, all by knockout, 11 losses, seven by knockout, and one draw.

Following his retirement from the ring, Munsell joined the 1st Battalion, 24th Marines, aka the Terror from the North, where he served as boxing instructor throughout most of 1943.

Although not yet inducted into the Chickasaw Nation Hall of Fame (though wrestling brothers Jack and Jerry Brisco are 2016 inductees), Munsell was inducted into the Oklahoma Athletic Hall of Fame in 1976 and the American Indian Athletic Hall of Fame the following year. He died age 82 on April 29, 1996, in Ocala, Florida, where he’d been living with his daughter, Mary Reed, and is buried in Reno.

All right, maybe not up there with fellow Indian southpaws Marvin Camel or Joe Hipp. After all, Munsell didn’t take on too many names. Why, he even faced a pro wrestler, Jack McDonald (1-2-1, 1 KO), knocking him out in the third in Tulsa on June 5, 1941. But he was a tough ham-and-egger, and one who faced guys of the same deviled kidney. And if boxing ain’t about two toughies hammering away at each other, then it’s really not about much of anything at all.

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  1. Clarence George 09:27am, 08/07/2016

    Their most recent effort, Irish (“Hail, Caesar!”), was a disaster, despite some very funny scenes.

  2. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 07:49am, 08/07/2016

    Off the chart great posts here! Speaking of the Coen brothers….if they had made Tommy Lee Jones’ film “The Homesman”, it would have been a Western (I guess you could call it such) for the ages. True Grit…the scene where the stranger in the bear skin approaches Rooster in the cold, bleak, snowy evening…..the look in Bridges eye…captures the essence of Cogburn….if you pose a serious threat to him he will kill you.

  3. Clarence George 12:33pm, 08/06/2016

    You completely got me on those names.

    I’m not a fan of John Cassavetes, but what I liked about the show is how New York noir it is.  Wonderful street scenes of all that made the city so appealingly gritty, including dance halls and amusement arcades.  All gone, and the city is no longer what it was or what it was meant to be.  Anyway, the 30-minute show is on getTV on Saturday mornings, starting at 8:50.

    I like Johansson and think he’s somewhat (if not grossly) underrated.  His right was phenomenal, among the best.  As A.J. Liebling inimitably described it:  “He left it perched on the side of his chin like a pigeon on a cornice, depending on it to take flight when its moment came.”

    Arne Andersson should have stayed in Sweden, at least for longer than he did—he would have had a more successful career and might have lived longer.

    That crossroads reference…you’re thinking of…

    Robert Johnson

  4. Lucas McCain 09:50am, 08/06/2016

    Johnny Staccato!  You’ve got me there!  Had to wiki it and learned Barney Kessel and Red Norvo (post Mildred Bailey, alas) appeared on the show.  Now I’m going to have to look for it.  Jazz pianist-private eye is a truly bizarre premise, thought I suppose a link runs back to jazz enthusiast Joe Friday.

    Back to boxing of the Johnny Staccato era, I saw last month for the first time Ingo’s KO of Eddie Machen, which set up the Patterson series.  Holy cow, what a right!  It was of Max Baer quality.  Strange to see so ordinary a fighter as Johansson, merely competent with a pokey jab, possessed of a single, incredible weapon—seemed supernatural.  Maybe they have crossroads in Sweden where you can make a deal with the devil for one special skill.

  5. Clarence George 08:35am, 08/06/2016

    That’s a good link.

    Evelyn Ankers was “The Queen of the Screamers.”  In addition to “The Wolf Man,” I remember her from “Hold That Ghost,” with the brilliantly comedic Joan Davis.

    I actually thought of a remake that’s superior to the original:  The 2010 version of “True Grit” over that of 1969—not only one of the best Westerns I’ve ever seen, but just one of the best movies.  That said, I don’t consider the John Wayne version a classic, though certainly a good movie.  The novel, by the way, is outstanding.

    Best,

    Johnny Staccato

  6. Lucas McCain 07:26am, 08/06/2016

    Yes, Patricia Owens, who is superb though her scream is not quite up there with Evelyn Ankers’ of Wolfman fame.  The Fly remake, though, has Geena Davis, who is also a pleasure.  The remake is more gooey and gory, some of it silly (it’s 30 years ago, a longer interval than that between the films!!)  but also darkly humorous and hip theorists of the 80s loved Cronenberg’s obsessiveneness.  Just for fun, I found this 5-minute comparison on Youtube, notable in part for the superb restoration of the original!  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4SAFMKId5Nc

  7. Clarence George 12:04pm, 08/04/2016

    Never saw the remake, Mr. McCain.  Who was the girl in the original, Patricia Owens?

    Francoise Hardy doesn’t ring a bell.  But I very much liked Kathleen Nolan and, even more so, Antoinette Bower.  Don’t know what they look like today and don’t intend to find out.

    With affection and esteem,

    Reese Bennett

  8. Lucas McCain 11:29am, 08/04/2016

    Vincent Price’s The Fly was improved, I think, by the remake—though the fun first was hardly a classic and the second profited by the brief appearance of George Chuvalo!  As for older women, I find I like em better as I age as well.  Francoise Hardy was an adorable “ye ye” pop star in the 60s and she’s an exceptionally attractive gray-haired creature now.  As Muhammad Ali said (probably quoting someone):  don’t count the days; make the days count.

  9. Clarence George 03:50am, 08/04/2016

    So glad you liked it, Mr. Ansara, thank you.  By the way, how I envy you your marriage to Barbara Eden.

    We have to introduce friend Peter to James Ellroy.  At his best, he is very good indeed.  And another thing, Peter:  Windmill turns 78 tomorrow.  Which reminds me that today is the 124th anniversary of the Lizzie Borden murders.

    Best,

    Harry Cording

  10. Michael Ansara 02:51am, 08/04/2016

    Clarence George pulls another rabbit out of the hat by remembering a relatively unknown fighter who deserves to be recognized. Thank you for bring the story of Junior Munsell to our attention. Great read, as usual.

  11. peter 05:35pm, 08/03/2016

    Junior Munsell, James Ellroy, Diana Dors—Those are names beyond my ken of knowledge. Once more, I’m off to Google!  Windmill Ray White I do remember. He developed the fearsome “two-handed punch”.

  12. Clarence George 06:40am, 08/03/2016

    Ha!  Yes, I thought you meant James Ellroy, though I suppose Elmore Leonard would also be a possibility.  Except that he’s dead, isn’t he?

    No doubt that age is a beautiful woman’s worst enemy.  I remember someone once telling me, “If you want to get even with a woman, wake up in the morning and tell yourself that she’s a day older.”  But it can also be fatness.  Buxom types, in particular, are very prone to this.  Even as a comparatively young woman, Diana Dors, for instance, was quite the sausage.  Yes, Rocky Marciano let himself go after leaving the ring.  I suppose he felt entitled to do so.  And maybe he was right.

    I did meet Gloria Vanderbilt once.  But a brief chat was the extent of it.

  13. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 06:11am, 08/03/2016

    Clarence George-James Ellroy! Anyway….if Marilyn Monroe had lived she would be 90 this year the same age as Queen Elizabeth. It makes me sad to see what time does to beautiful women like Marilyn and Gene Tierney. In fact, it made me really sad to see Rocky Marciano all puffy and overweight and toupeed in retirement. Did you ever bump into Anderson Cooper’s mom in your travels? Seems as though these socialites like to boink.

  14. Clarence George 07:17pm, 08/02/2016

    I think you’re conflating James Ellroy and Elmore James, me auld warrior.  Hence, this mysterious James Elmore to whom you refer.  Speaking of which, I always get Gene Tierney and Hedy Lamarr mixed up.

    Remakes of classics are always flops, not to mention pointless, though I’ve never been a huge fan of “Laura.”  Wonder who they would cast as Waldo Lydecker.  Someone more believably hetero than Clifton Webb, I would hope.  Did I ever mention that I used to know Victoria Preminger, Otto’s daughter?  Beautiful girl.

    No one’s ever asked me to write a screenplay, though several people have said that I should do voice-over work.  Easier said than done, of course.

  15. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 06:20pm, 08/02/2016

    Clarence George-Yep! A loosey goosey Ray Bolger type if ever there was. Read somewhere that James Elmore is writing a screenplay for a remake of Laura….they’ll have a hard time casting someone to match Gene Tierney’s dazzling beauty.  Have you ever considered writing screenplays?

  16. Clarence George 05:43pm, 08/02/2016

    Glad you liked it, Irish, and thanks for your good post.

    You think it smells?  Could be, but I got no reason not to give him the benefit of the doubt.  My take on Munsell is that he and/or his team saw boxing as a way of making a living, rather than as a means to glory.  Still, I think you can argue that he more or less wound up a fringe contender.  Impressive, as he was very much a regional fighter, almost all of his bouts taking place in the Southwest or on the West Coast.  I don’t think he ever made it East, never mind to the Garden.  Yeah, I think he did OK.  Now, Arne Andersson’s career was indeed terribly handled, with tragic results.  Putting him up against guys like Johnny Paychek and Lee Savold long before he was ready for them was this side of criminal.

    Tiger Hairston was a good, tough fighter.  Needless to say, nobody remembers him.  As for Windmill—very tall and thin, if memory serves.

  17. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 03:36pm, 08/02/2016

    Clarence George-Great story! Another strange career per Boxrec though….in his first 14 fights up to and including Baer, eight of his opponents had combined records of 344 Wins against 164 losses….kind of odd for a newby going up against this type of opposition and winning all until he ran into Baer. Hairston “humiliating” Joe Louis in sparring reminds of a session Jerry Quarry had with Windmill Ray White at the Main Street Gym….during a brief tie up Ray copped a sunday on Jerry with one of his behind the back slap/punches….as the story goes Jerry proceeded to knock the shit out of Ray or throw Ray bodily out of the ring, I forget which.

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