Ketchel: Way of the Gun

By Mike Casey on December 20, 2012
Ketchel: Way of the Gun
After shooting a friend in the foot during a rage, Stanley Ketchel wept tears of remorse.


Nobody knew why middleweight champion Stanley Ketchel carried his favorite guns with him wherever he went. It is quite possible that nobody dared to ask.

Ketchel the fighter was easy to assess: a burning ball of energy, all cunning skills and thrills, punching all the time, never giving an inch. He was the Michigan Assassin. He was the Slasher. There were all sorts of apt and glorious names for Ketchel the fighter.

But who could figure out Ketchel the man? He wasn’t right and most people knew it. Almost certainly psychotic, Stanley’s demeanor from one day to the next was almost impossible to predict. Would he be smiling or sneering? How long before the lid blew off again and what would he do when it did?

After shooting a friend in the foot during a rage, Ketchel wept tears of remorse as he picked the man up in his arms and rushed him to a doctor. Stanley’s mood swings would constantly rocket from one end of the emotional spectrum to the other.

This was the man known as “Steve” to his closest friends.

Hype Igoe, a great New York boxing writer and raconteur, enjoyed a close friendship with Ketchel, falling under the wild child’s spell like so many others. Sensible men who follow life’s rules have a guarded admiration for dangerous men who don’t. Ketchel was swashbuckling, freewheeling, a man forever on fire and ready to storm on to the next adventure.

Igoe was Ketchel’s unofficial manager when Stanley first came to New York, protecting his young tiger, indulging him, waiting always for the next exciting eruption and perhaps knowing that the end game would be premature and violent.

Ketchel’s way was the way of the fist and the way of the gun. He didn’t do diplomacy. He didn’t sit down and fill in ten different forms when he wanted something. It was fitting that he lived and died in his chosen time. Today’s society would control him, section him, neuter him and quite possibly drive him to suicide or a Jimmy Cagney-style “top of the world, ma” exit.

Hype Igoe was left with many a colorful memory of Stanley, such as the time he nearly shot a sarcastic waiter. Recalled Hype: “I nearly died of anxiety in Wheeling, West Virginia, one morning, when we went to breakfast in the Clark House.

“One of the waiters gave Ketchel a snippy answer about the kind of eggs and bacon they had on tap and I saw Steve reach for the gun under the table cloth.”

Ketchel was in a foul mood. He had broken his left hand in his recent fight with Frank Klaus and the pain from the swelling was driving him to despair. Igoe knew that he had to do some fast thinking to avoid a disaster. “I bit into my thin water glass and cut my mouth purposely, and with blood running from my lips I yelled for Ketchel to see me to the wash room.

“He stuck his gun in his waistband and hustled me off. I insisted that I was bleeding to death and he must hustle me to a doctor. Anything to get away from that waiter. The ruse worked.”

However, Igoe would learn that friendship never got in the way of business with Ketchel. Returning from a trip to Philadelphia, Hype was sitting in a Pullman drawing room when Stanley came in and threw two of his pistols on the table. “I want to talk a little business to you, Hype. I think I prefer having Wilson Mizner manage me from now on.”

That was it. No debate, no room for discussion

“That’s fine,” said Igoe.

On October 15 1910, at Pete Dickerson’s ranch in Missouri, Stanley Ketchel broke an old western rule he had always observed. Distracted by the charms of waitress Goldie Smith, Stan sat with his back to the kitchen door and paid with his life.

Goldie was the girlfriend of farmhand Walter Dipley, with whom Ketchel had already clashed. Stan had earlier riled Dipley after scolding him for beating a horse. Now Dipley was enraged by Ketchel’s flirting with Goldie

His gun across his lap, Stan was blind to Dipley coming through the door and taking aim with a rifle. Fatally, Ketchel thought he was having his leg pulled when Dipley commanded him to throw up his hands. Stan got up and was in the act of turning when Dipley fired a .22 caliber bullet into Ketchel’s back, directly beneath the right shoulder blade. The bullet surged upwards and punctured a lung.

Stan fell to the floor. Dipley left the room but then returned to snatch up Stan’s revolver and give the fallen idol a crack over the head with the weapon before fleeing.

Ketchel died at six minutes past seven that evening at the Springfield hospital. His friend Pete Dickerson had organized a special train and taken three physicians on board. They had performed an operation on Stanley earlier, but had failed to locate the bullet.

When the shock and the grief went away, people who had taken the rollercoaster ride with Stanley Ketchel knew that a rocking chair on a porch would have been a far crueler end for him.

(Mike Casey is the Founder & Editor of ALL TIME BOXING at https://sites.google.com/site/alltimeboxingrankings. He is a freelance journalist and boxing historian and a member of the International Boxing Research Organization [IBRO].)

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  1. bikermike 07:12am, 12/25/2012

    When they want to put together a list of the GREAT MIDDLEWEIGHTS…Stanley Ketchel still makes the list…this long after his death….Me..being a North American…I think of Hagler…Sugar Ray Robinson, Tony Zale…Rocky Graziano.  but there were some really great Middleweights who on came to North America to knock the locals around and go home with the cash…safe to say they didn’t get a lot of North American support…when these talented lads would come to town…kick the shit out of the local hero….screw the women ...eat the food..drink the wine….and go home with the cash….

  2. bikermike 06:08pm, 12/24/2012

    never had it put so bluntly ...about Stanley Ketchel being…let’s say….a half bubble off plumb.

    A magnificent warrior…and even with a massive weight difference….could fill a stadium with Jack Johnson….Ketchel was that dangerous…he had a slugger’s chance at Johnson…damned near pulled it off too.

    Course…he paid….big time for that misunderstanding…that the fight was to be a calm approach to a decision end…..Stanley forgot about the deal and tried to take off Johnson’s head…..Johnson returned the matter…and knocked out Ketchel and four to six of his teeth doing it.

  3. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo (aka) Gimpel 02:13pm, 12/23/2012

    Oh how we love these bat shit crazy buggers…..from a safe distance that is!

  4. Norm Marcus 02:54am, 12/23/2012

    Ketchel was an amazing character that could live on the pages of a Zane Gray western novel. The fighters back in the day were so much more colorful and interesting than the pugs of the 21st century. They were bigger than life and much more interesting to write about in my opinion. The term “the good old days” seems to say it all. These guys were interesting gladiators that lived life minute by minute. Something has gone out of the american spirit these days. Boxing is a mirror of society. I don’t like what I see today.
    Again great piece Mike—enjoyed it.

  5. Mike Silver 08:59pm, 12/22/2012

    Thanks Mike. Never tire of reading of “The Michigan Assassin”. 
    I’d read that Ketchel broke his right hand early in that last fight with Papke.

  6. Burt Bienstock 08:32pm, 10/07/2012

    When Rocky Graziano was a young sensation, who I saw ringside many times, was being compared in style with Stanley Ketchel, Nat Fleischer and other old-timers ridiculed the comparison to the Michigan Assassin.
    They claimed that Ketchel was a two-handed dynamite superior fighter…
    As a youngster my elderly uncle told my dad and me that he when a youngster traveled to Van Cortland Park, in the upper Bronx NY, where Stanley Ketchel was training in 1910. When we asked him what do you remember about seeing Ketchel he replied. “He was so damn handsome.”

  7. Tex Hassler 05:55am, 10/06/2012

    I spent a lot of my teenage years reading about Stanley Ketchel. Thanks bringing him back for us to learn about. I feel Stanley would have had an easy time with today’s middleweights. It is a shame he had to end this way.

  8. Mike Casey 06:25am, 10/04/2012

    Thanks kindly, Pete and Ted. Yes, Mr Ketchel was a bit of a devil, to put it mildly!

  9. Pete The Sneak 05:33am, 10/04/2012

    Mike, another “Boxing Lesson” for me in regards to Mr. Ketchel. If History would have read like this when I was in high school, I would have gotten an A+ and not have to attend summer school 4 years straight. Nice Peace (yes, pun intended).

  10. the thresher 03:16pm, 10/03/2012

    Nice one. More education for the so-called young historians.

    Boxing.com is bringing the heat.

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