Pappy Gault: Spartan of Spartanburg

By Clarence George on November 6, 2015
Pappy Gault: Spartan of Spartanburg
Pappy Gault’s motto was, "Never cause any trouble and never back down from any."

Pappy fought someone actually named Yogi O’Bera, knocking him out in the sixth at Textile Hall in Greenville, South Carolina, on July 16, 1953…

“If you asked a hundred people about my dad, 99 of them would have nothing bad to say. The other one probably didn’t know him.”—Billy Gault

Born on February 8, 1929, bantamweight William Henry “Pappy” Gault fought out of Spartanburg, South Carolina, from 1948 to 1959, ending up with a record of 68 wins, 25 by knockout, 26 losses, five by knockout, and two draws. Winner of his first 32 fights, he ultimately lost to Frankie Sodano, who beat him by unanimous decision at the Westchester County Center in White Plains, New York, on October 10, 1950.

Although he fought mainly in the Carolinas, Gault also had bouts in Florida, Georgia, New York, New Jersey, Virginia, Texas, Missouri, Colorado, California, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and DC, as well as Cuba, Canada, France, Australia, Thailand, South Africa, and Mexico.

Pappy, whose motto was, “Never cause any trouble and never back down from any,” faced some names, twice taking on Willie Pep, losing both times by unanimous decision, first at Valley Arena in Holyoke, Massachusetts, on September 27, 1955, then at Fort Homer Hesterly Armory, in Tampa, Florida, that November 29. And there was Angelo Dundee-trained Bill Bossio, who twice won on points, first at the Auditorium in Miami Beach on January 19, 1951, then at Laurel Garden in Newark that April 2; Chris Dundee-promoted Pupi Garcia, who twice won by stoppage, both times in Havana, first by eighth-round KO on August 30, 1952, then by third-round TKO that September 29; Robert Cohen, who’d go on to win the vacant World bantamweight title in 1954, who won on points at Palais des Sports in Paris on April 15, 1953; Willie Toweel, who won on points at Rand Stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa, on October 2, 1954; never-stopped Paul Jorgensen, who won by unanimous decision in Houston on July 12, 1955; and the amazing Ricardo “El Pajarito” Moreno (59 of 60 wins by way of knockout; one by disqualification), who won by third-round KO in Tijuana on August 15, 1956. Pappy also fought someone actually named Yogi O’Bera, knocking him out in the sixth at Textile Hall in Greenville, South Carolina, on July 16, 1953.

“I can’t remember him ever telling me about a fight he won,” writes Spartanburg Herald-Journal Sports Editor Leslie Timms. “The only things I remember Pappy telling me about his ring career were the losses, the times he was knocked down, the times he made a mistake and it wound up hurting him. But make no mistake about it, Pappy Gault was one of the finest athletes to come out of South Carolina.”

Ranked ninth by The Ring in 1952 and fifth in 1953, Gault won the North American bantamweight title on October 27, 1952, by beating Fernando Gagnon via unanimous decision in Quebec. Upon returning to his hometown on Halloween, Mayor Thomas W. Whiteside proudly proclaimed “Pappy Gault Day,” with Pappy, wife, and young son riding through the city streets in an open convertible. “I owe this sport much more than I’ll ever be able to repay,” said Pappy, who lost the title to Billy Peacock by split decision at Eastern Parkway Arena in Brooklyn on August 17, 1953. Three months later, on November 13, Gault faced Jimmy Carruthers at Sydney Sports Ground in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, for the Bantamweight Championship of the World, losing by unanimous decision. Losing, but “I guess that was the greatest thrill I ever experienced,” said Gault, “fighting for the world title.” Regardless of the loss, Gault showed plenty of guts fighting “the entire bout with a broken hand,” reports Herald-Journal sportswriter Luther Gaillard. “He was that kind of man.” Pappy himself downplayed the pain, “The hand didn’t hurt me once during the fight, but I couldn’t forget that it was hurt and I didn’t use it as effectively as I could have,” he said. “But Carruthers was a mighty tough boy. He’s probably the toughest I ever fought.” Though Carruthers returned the compliment, saying that “Hitting Gault was like hitting a brick wall,” Pappy had the last word, “He beat me at everything.”

Pappy made up for his loss to Carruthers, sort of, by winning the United States bantamweight title on February 16, 1956, beating Bobby Singleton via unanimous decision at the Memorial Auditorium in Spartanburg.

Gault last won on April 11, 1957, beating Johnny Hand by unanimous decision at the Memorial Auditorium for the Southern bantamweight title. After losing seven fights in a row, he hung ‘em up following his loss to Ross Calvin, who outpointed him in Memphis on January 1, 1959.

“The Brick Wall from Spartanburg” had worked in the mailroom of the Herald-Journal since 1946. Lou Parris, who eventually became the paper’s city editor, had been trained by Gault when a child. “Pappy took me through, showed me how to box,” recalls Parris. “I was the smallest and the youngest there at the time. I was so short, he didn’t have anybody else my size, so he made guys get on their knees to train with me.”

Typical of the man, only 5’3” himself, according to those who knew and loved him. “Inside the ring, Pappy Gault was fiercely passionate,” writes Herald-Journal sportswriter Forrest White. “Outside, he was tenderly compassionate. He didn’t want people to go without. When he bundled newspapers for boys to sell on the street, he would always sneak in a couple extra copies. If you’re selling papers on the street, he figured, there had to be a need. Two extra newspapers sold meant an extra 20 cents in the pocket.” 

Pappy Gault was murdered on December 30, 1971. He was 42.

In addition to training Parris and other local boys, such as middleweights Bruce Cantrell and “Irish” Mike Baker, Pappy loved his job as mailroom foreman, sometimes working “seven days a week, two shifts each day,” writes White. “If he didn’t think you were working hard enough, he’d say, ‘You’re putting the gloves on with me after work,’” recalls colleague Bobby Hart. “He’d spar with you in the parking lot. He’d never go for your head, but he’d tear your kidneys up.” But he also liked to gamble. “He ran with people who gambled,” says son Billy. “I can’t say if that’s bad or good. It’s just unfortunate that he was at a particular game the night he ran into the person who shot him.”

Gault stopped off at a gambling den the night he was killed, leaving shortly thereafter with a man named Douglas Chesney. The two were about to drive off to get something to eat when Allen Carroll Pruitt came up. Both men were later found in Gault’s car, shot to death.

Escaping the death penalty because of the jury’s inexplicable recommendation for mercy, Pruitt was sentenced to life in prison. Denied parole 12 times, he died in 2002. Married to a 15-year-old at the time of the killings, it’s unknown if his wife claimed the body for burial or if it’s moldering in the prison graveyard. Speaking of wives, Pappy’s widow, Frances, outlived her husband’s killer, dying in 2003.

Pappy is buried in Spartanburg’s Greenlawn Memorial Gardens. Nice plaque, too.

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  1. Peter martin 03:54pm, 01/21/2017

    I knew bill bossio very well he was Lila an uncle to me. I was just l little kid in the 1950’s. And bill was my hero before each of his fights in nyc he would come to our house have his pre fight dinner go for a walk with my dad and me and then go into my bed and take his nap before heading off to the fight i had not seen bill since the early 80’s and I am shocked to hear he od’d perhaps ur talking about the wrong guy Shelly I see you were bills nurse I would love to talk with you. I knew bills entire family his parents in ptsbg his brothers his wife Lillian and his 2 kids.  Someone please contact me. Thank you
    Peter Martin

  2. Shelly 07:17pm, 06/10/2016

    I am Bill Bossio’s Nurse. He is alive and kicking.. Literally sometimes lol.. Such a great man!!!

  3. Clarence George 08:47am, 11/10/2015

    Thanks, Mike, very glad you liked it.

  4. Mike Casey 08:33am, 11/10/2015

    Yet another goodie, Clarence - nice work!

  5. Clarence George 08:07pm, 11/06/2015

    Funny you say that, Peter, because that’s just what I was thinking…about myself!

  6. peter 07:33pm, 11/06/2015

    Clarence—Yes, Bossio was from Pittsburgh, but 37 of his 61 fights were fought in NY, (with many more in the tri-state area—NJ and PA.) Man, I need to be on my toes on this site!

  7. peter 07:22pm, 11/06/2015

    @ ch—You are absolutely correct! I fear I am becoming a bit addle-brained. I EVEN KNEW Billy Bossio in the 1990s, SO HOW COULD I HAVE WRITTEN THAT? Billy stopped by the Cage boxing gym in White Plains, NY before I became the head trainer. I remember a NY Daily News cartoon, by the late Bill Gallo, of Bossio and Sandy Saddler taped to the gym wall. Thanks for the correction!

  8. Clarence George 07:14pm, 11/06/2015

    You may be right, Chuck, but I’m not in a position to judge.  I know next to nothing about Bello, except that he never fought Gault.  Also, I don’t think he was from White Plains.

  9. Clarence George 06:58pm, 11/06/2015

    Thanks very much, Peter, and excellent post and observations.  Yeah, Gault was in many respects local talent.  I didn’t know Bossio had died, let alone of a drug overdose.  By the way, I don’t have him coming from White Plains, but from Pittsburgh.  Also, I don’t have his wins over Gault taking place in New York, but in Miami Beach and Newark.  But I’m open to being corrected by my elders, er, betters.

  10. ch 06:50pm, 11/06/2015

    Peter, could you be thinking of Billy Bello, who OD’d two weeks after he met Gaspar Ortega ? Correct me if I am wrong. I never heard too much of Bossio after he retired so I might be wrong.

  11. peter 05:22pm, 11/06/2015

    Another refreshing, eye-opening, Clarence George story about one of boxing’s forgotten stars. Unfortunately, Gault was a warrior who fared poorly once he fought away from South Carolina, his home state, where he never lost a fight. All of his 26 losses were on the road—Cuba, New York, California, Mexico, France, South Africa, Australia…Billy Bossio from White Plains, NY, had Gault’s number, beating him twice in NY.Both Gault and Bossio were rugged contenders, and both met tragic ends. Bossio died of a heroin overdose.

  12. Eric 10:23am, 11/06/2015

    Irish…The “Western male” has definitely been under attack my entire lifetime, I was born in 1961.  I have never heard the slur/name, “Twinkies,” directed at Whitey, that is a new one for me. I have heard of “Pinky” but can’t say I have ever been called a legendary snack food.  Thanks for the 411.

  13. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 10:12am, 11/06/2015

    Eric-The “modern Western male” has been under assault as long as I can remember and it’s about fukin’ time he starts fighting back. I can remember when I was in the military back in the Fifties, aggressive and hateful individuals of color referring to “Western males” as Twinkies because they felt like they could attack them at will without any real blow back. Newsflash….the KO Game has be going on for at least 60 years that I personally know of. Now we have a hateful Mau Mau in the White House, put there by those same Twinkie’s grandchildren.

  14. Clarence George 09:58am, 11/06/2015

    Thanks very much, Irish, and my fault.  I thought Pruitt’s motive was sufficiently implied, but perhaps I was mistaken.  Anyway, it was robbery.  I don’t know why the jury was merciful.  Pruitt was an unsavory character, to say the least, and the murders were cold-blooded, brutal, and there must have been at least some premeditation.

    Yogi had a record of one win, by knockout, seven losses, five by knockout, and one draw.  I respect any man who steps between the ropes, but…jeez.

  15. Clarence George 09:43am, 11/06/2015

    You’re right, Eric, though some parents don’t take it lying down.  There occasional (if only occasional) victories.

    Ha!  Yes, I guess it was a TKO.  I was of course more aggressive when younger, but I’ve always tried to avoid fights.  They bear little resemblance to the movies or TV, where guys emerge with nary a hair out of place.  Fights, in fact, are degrading and can be extremely detrimental to one’s health, never mind one’s coiffure.

  16. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 09:36am, 11/06/2015

    Clarence George-Great research once again….I remembered the name but didn’t know much of anything about Pappy…thank goodness he kicked Yogi O’Berra’s ass, that would have been a hard one to live down. One wonders what Pruitt’s motive was and how a double murder could possibly have warranted leniency. If Pruitt was black he would have fried in 1971 Dixie where Jim Crow was still alive and kickn’ and that’s for sure.

  17. Eric 09:24am, 11/06/2015

    Clarence… Nothing suprises me anymore. It is amazing how the masses accept everything the social engineers spoon-feed them. Congrats on the tko victory over the truck driver, sometimes those situations can’t be avoided by walking away.

  18. Clarence George 09:03am, 11/06/2015

    Glad you liked that anecdote, Eric, and I appreciate your observations.

    Did you hear about the little boy who was suspended for shooting a pretend arrow from a pretend bow?  Or how “man up” in now prohibited speech on college campuses?  Nothing short of crazy.

    I worked in a factory eons ago, and there was a former boxer there.  His name was something like Mike Musselmeli.  But he wasn’t my boss and never challenged me to a fight.  Once, however, I got into a tussle with a truck driver.  I ended things with a magnificently executed left to his elbow (which doesn’t mean I wasn’t trying for his ribs).

  19. Eric 08:37am, 11/06/2015

    Nice story about Pappy trowin’ in a couple of xtra copies to the newspaper boys. And what a boss. How many bosses would settle a working dispute with gloves in the parking lot, especially nowadays. Win, lose, or draw, I’m sure most of us have had bosses we would like to trow down with and still keep our job. “Never cause any trouble and never back down from any,” they don’t make many men like Pappy in this day and age. The modern Western male doesn’t want any trouble and would much rather his attorney do his fighting for him.

  20. Clarence George 06:55am, 11/06/2015

    Thanks very much, Chuck.  And you’re absolutely right.  Frankie, who beat Pappy by split decision, got to represent the U.S., while Pappy accompanied him as an alternate.  Kinda interesting that Frankie also handed him his first pro loss.  As I’m sure you know, Frankie died earlier this year.

  21. ch 06:29am, 11/06/2015

    Great but bittersweet story of a real tough guy. Perhaps we could even add to his portfolio by mentioning he also was a member of the 1948 Olympic squad that went to London. There is a popular photo of Pappy and team mate Frankie Sodano sparring on the ship on the way to London. Good stuff Clarence.

  22. Clarence George 05:07am, 11/06/2015

    Thanks very much indeed, Mr. Wilke.  You know who Pappy reminds me a bit of?  Steve Mamakos.  I wrote about him once, and there are indeed some similarities.  Irish Mike was an interesting character.  He fought from ‘72 to ‘84, only to return in ‘95 and then again in ‘98, stopping both opponents.  I’d be delighted if he’d post here.  In any event, I certainly hope you write about him.

    All the best,

    Roy Roberts

  23. Robert Wilke 04:43am, 11/06/2015

    Pappy sounds like an ornery cuss, tearing up co-workers kidneys in the parking lot. Funny how you mention Irish Mike Baker, Mr. George. He was always in the magazines in the 1970s, having had close to 100 fights (I’m going to look him up after I write this). I always thought he would be a good story. If you read this, Mr. Baker, please respond to this story with your contact info. Another Clarence George gem, a master chronicler of the forgotten but important battlers of yesteryear.

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