The Brothers Forbes

By Clarence George on May 29, 2017
The Brothers Forbes
Clarence took on many of the same names as Harry, including Reagan, Finucane, and Neil.

Both brothers fought the formidable Oscar Gardner, aka The Omaha Kid (despite being born in and fighting out of Minneapolis)…

“The boxers today do not know how to fight.”—Harry Forbes, November 22, 1911

Harry Forbes was born on May 13, 1879, in Rockford, Illinois, to parents who wanted him to be a violinist. But Harry “took a hand in shaping his own career,” trading in his violin for boxing gloves and fighting out of Chicago from 1897 to 1913 (though otherwise occupied in ‘08 and ‘09), returning to the ring in ‘22, winding up with a record of 86 wins, 45 by knockout, 17 losses, 12 by knockout, 26 draws, and three no contests. And that’s in addition to 14 newspaper bouts (10-3-1).

A pupil of Harry Gilmore, the bantamweight fought many of the names of his day, including Terrible Terry McGovern (his toughest opponent, he said), who first knocked him out in the 15th at the Pelican A.C. in Brooklyn on October 1, 1898, then stopped him by second-round TKO at New York City’s Broadway A.C. on December 22, 1899 (for the 118-pound world title); New Zealand phenom Torpedo Billy Murphy, whom Harry knocked out in the fourth at the Chicago A.A. that April 29; Jimmy Simister, never stopped in 162 fights, against whom Harry drew at the Pelican A.C. on January 6, 1900; Johnny Coulon, who first beat him by newspaper decision in a contest for the bantamweight world title at the Ice Skating Rink Arena in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on March 28, 1911 (“Forbes put up one of the greatest fights of his long career,” wrote Ray C. Pearson in the Chicago Tribune of that November 19. “Seldom has such generalship been displayed in any ring as by Forbes that night against Coulon”), then kayoed him in the third at the Badger A.C. in Kenosha on January 22, 1912; and 4’10” Young Togo, who also answered to “The Yellow Peril” and “Jap Togo,” against whom Harry drew in McAlester, Oklahoma, on July 4, 1911, despite having 10 pounds on the little Japanese (Togo was “short, squat, barrel-shaped with a round, closely cropped bullet head and possessed of extraordinary strength,” according to The Seattle Times of March 10, 1912. “Of science he knows little or nothing, but his capacity to wade in, take all that comes his way and cripple an opponent in the clinches cannot be overestimated”). And let’s not neglect Charley Goldman, who made his name decades later as Rocky Marciano’s trainer, Harry winning by newspaper decision at the Royale A.C. in Brooklyn on November 14, 1911.

And there was Benny Yanger, aka The Tipton Slasher, Kid Goodman, and Matty McCue, aka the Belle City Bomber (whose 23 official wins came by way of knockout and who was only stopped once over the course of 75 fights, kayoed in the second by Mexican Joe Rivers at the Arena in Vernon, California, on July 4, 1914). Harry lost to Yanger by fifth-round TKO at Tattersall’s in Chicago on March 17, 1900, outpointed Goodman at Chicago’s Pyramid A.C. on March 13, 1902, and lost to McCue by 10th-round TKO at Union Park Pavilion in Racine, Wisconsin, on August 29, 1912.

Harry was the only man to stop granite-chinned Joe Cherry over the course of his 43 fights, first knocking him out in the 13th at the Saginaw A.C. in Saginaw, Michigan, on November 25, 1904, then in the first at Saginaw’s Arbeiter Hall on January 27, 1905.

So many worthy opponents, such as tough Philly fighters Tim Callahan, Tommy Love, and Turkey Point Billy Smith. Turkey Point is particularly worthy of mention, given his contribution to the arts. He was the model for two of Thomas Eakins’ masterpieces (“Hey, you son of a bitch, haven’t you got a date to pose for Mr. Eakins? Come on now, or I’ll punch your goddamn head off”) — Salutat (1898) and Between Rounds (1899). Perhaps it was the “delicate curve of his spine” that appealed to Eakins pupil Samuel Murray, who produced a bronze sculpture of the fighter in 1899, an artwork that sold for almost $4,500 in 2005.

Even more impressive, Harry six times fought Abe Attell, aka The Little Hebrew, outpointing him at the West End A.C. in St. Louis, Missouri, on November 4, 1901; drawing against him at the America A.C. in Chicago on November 10, 1902, and at the Indianapolis A.C. (for the world featherweight title) on January 4, 1904; getting knocked out in the fifth (again for the featherweight championship) at the West End A.C. that February 1 (“In the fifth round, Forbes was one with Nineveh and Tyre,” as Red Smith put it some 70 years later); losing on points at the Light Guard Armory in Detroit on May 10, 1905; and stopped by seventh-round TKO in Troy, New York, on February 28, 1910.

Harry became Bantamweight Champion of the World by kayoing Danny Dougherty in the second “with a terrific right-hand uppercut” to the jaw at the West End A.C. on November 11, 1901. He defended against Johnny Reagan at the same venue on May 1, 1902, the fight resulting in a draw, then against Young Devaney at the Elyria A.C. in Denver that June 13, winning on points.

Prior to his next title defense, Harry kept busy by taking on two opponents on the same day, outpointing Billy Finucane and stopping George Halliday by first-round TKO at the America A.C. on November 3, 1902. He then successfully defended against Frankie Neil, stopping him by seventh-round TKO at the Reliance A.C. in Oakland, California, that December 23, and Andrew Dick Tokell, outpointing him at the Light Guard Armory on February 27, 1903. He won the United States bantamweight title by knocking out Johnny Kelly in the ninth at the Missouri A.C. in Kansas City that March 24 before again defending his world championship against Neil, who won by second-round KO at the Mechanics’ Pavilion in San Francisco that August 13.

Harry last won on March 27, 1912, beating Young Frenchy in a newspaper decision in Burlington, Wisconsin. He retired on September 22, 1913, after Paddy Meehan kayoed him in the second at the Glen Cove A.C. in Glen Cove, New York, only to return on October 9, 1922, when he was outpointed by Jimmy Katz in Chillicothe, Ohio.

Born on June 1, 1881, in Rockford, brother Clarence was a featherweight who fought out of Chicago from 1898 to 1912 (though out of the ring in ‘09 and ‘11), winding up with a record of 68 wins, 37 by knockout, 18 losses, nine by knockout, 31 draws, and two no contests. There were also 16 newspaper bouts (6-3-7).

Also a pupil of Gilmore, he fought for the world bantamweight title on June 23, 1899, drawing against Casper Leon, aka the Sicilian Swordfish, in St. Louis. He did, however, win the Western lightweight title by knocking out Con Suffield in the 11th at the Auditorium for the Fistic Carnival in Dubuque, Iowa, that August 29. He also won Canada’s version of the 115-pound title by knocking out Jimmy Smith in the second at the Bijou Theater in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, on April 21, 1900. “Clarence Forbes is the fastest boxer ever seen here,” reported the Toronto Star.

Clarence took on many of the same names as Harry, including Reagan, Finucane, and Neil. In fact, he substituted for his ill brother on January 15, 1903, getting kayoed by Neil in the sixth at the Mechanics’ Pavilion. And, like Harry, he fought twice on the same day; doing so on two separate occasions, in fact. First, he took on Finucane and Brooklyn Tommy Sullivan on February 15, 1902, drawing against Finucane at Chicago’s De Soto Club and losing to Sullivan on points in St. Louis. Then, on January 29, 1906, he fought Tony Bender and Eddie Lenny at the Washington S.C. in Philly, losing to Bender but beating Lenny, both newspaper decisions.

Both brothers fought the formidable Oscar Gardner, aka The Omaha Kid (despite being born in and fighting out of Minneapolis), Harry drawing against him at Chicago’s Star Theatre on December 1, 1899, and getting knocked out in the first at the same venue on June 1, 1900, with Clarence stopping him by ninth-round TKO in Kansas City, Missouri, on October 8, 1901.

Tommy Feltz, “the greatest little man who ever donned a glove,” was another opponent they had in common, Harry outpointing the Polish-born Brooklyn battler at the West End A.C. on February 27, 1902 (in a bout for the world and American 115-pound titles), and at the America A.C. that August 11, drawing against him at Detroit’s Metropolitan A.C. on October 14, 1903. Tommy fared better against Clarence, kayoing him in the first that May 14 and in the 11th that June 4, both times in St. Louis.

Clarence has the honor of being one of only three men to defeat the great Harry Harris, aka the Human Scissors (whose twin brother, Sammy, was also a boxer), outpointing him at Tattersall’s on November 27, 1900. Never stopped in 53 fights, Harry Harris was also outpointed by Steve Flanagan at the same venue on February 7, 1899, and lost by newspaper decision to Danny Dougherty at Philly’s Penn Art Club on March 26, 1902.

He five times fought impressive Kid Herman (who later became a florist), facing him four times in Chicago, where he outpointed him on December 7, 1901, and September 8, 1902, drawing against him on January 8, 1903, and that November 16, before getting knocked out in the sixth in Kansas City, Missouri, on February 10, 1904.

Clarence also took on the very durable indeed Young Erne, who engaged in 274 bouts over 17 years, losing to him by newspaper decision at Philly’s National A.C. on February 25, 1905.

He last won on February 21, 1912, stopping the wonderfully monikered Special Delivery Hirsch by sixth-round TKO in Kenosha. He retired from the ring that December 10 after getting knocked out by Jeff O’Connell in the fifth in Kalamazoo.

When not in the ring, the boys were in the hoosegow.

Although little remembered, John C. Mabray was up there with Ivar Kreuger. Operating out of Council Bluffs, Iowa, Mabray’s gang (formally known as the Millionaires’ Club) made their money by promising “investors” across the country that they could fix a variety of sporting events, including boxing and wrestling matches.

“The cons were simple and well executed,” writes S.M. Senden in her book, Lost Council Bluffs. “They would be pulled off at various places around the country. The gang set up fake matches using a supposed champion in either wrestling or boxing who was to spar with an opponent. With a big buildup of the champion’s easy chances at winning, the mark was induced to bet on the champ. The fight began, and everything looked like the champ would beat his opponent easily and the winnings were a sure thing. The victim could almost taste the cash.”

But that cash turned to ash when “the underdog opponent would manage to get the champ into a stranglehold. That’s when blood would suddenly begin to gush out of the champ’s mouth. It appeared to all present that the easy favorite was suffering a fatal hemorrhage,” simulated by “use of chicken blood held in a small, bladder-like pocket made from the entrails of a sheep,” which the favorite would bite into at the opportune time. “For extra added effect, the champion would fall to the ground and writhe as if in agony.”

The mark lost his bet, of course, as the bout ended in “tragedy.”

A Mabray lad then hustled the sap away, “filling him with the fear of arrest because he’d been gambling illegally.”

“Later, the con man would meet up with the mark and offer to help him get his money back. The mark often would head back home, getting all his ready cash — selling, mortgaging or taking a loan to amass as much as he could — and then return to the con man ready to win the next ‘sure thing.’

“Men starting out for a bit of sport with hopes of easy money ended up losing nearly everything they had.”

Charged with illegal use of the mail in connection with these “sporting” activities, Mabray and several associates (including Harry and Clarence) were found guilty of having fraudulently obtained as much as $5 million over the course of two years (a mouthwatering $120 million in today’s money). Impressive but not surprising, as some suckers lost as much as $40,000, almost a million bucks today.

The brothers were sentenced to two years in prison on March 20, 1910, and Harry was ordered to pay a $10,000 fine, which would be at least $240,000 in 2017. President Taft commuted his sentence and reduced the fine, and Harry was back in the ring on September 11, 1910, knocking out Joe Hennessy in the third in Chicago. Less presidentially favored, Clarence didn’t fight again until January 22, 1912, when he drew against Kid Taylor in a newspaper decision at the Badger A.C.

Clarence, “one of the trickiest and hardest-punching boxers ever developed in Chicago,” died age 36 on February 13, 1918 (around the same time and age as Terry McGovern), and is buried at Bluff City Cemetery in Elgin, Illinois. According to the Chicago Tribune of that March 1, a benefit was to be held for his widow and daughter, as he left them in “unfortunate circumstances.”

Harry owned a gym in Chicago, where Joe Gans came to train for his December 13, 1900, bout with McGovern, which took place at Tattersall’s, Terrible Terry knocking out the “Old Master” in the second in what was quite possibly a “rank fake” (Gans, in fact, claimed that he threw the fight, though that doesn’t necessarily mean that he did). In later years, Harry was a trainer for Nate Lewis and then at Kid Howard’s famed Arcade.

The “tough little Irishman” died on December 19, 1946, age 67, and is buried at Forest Home Cemetery in Forest Park, Illinois.

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  1. Alt Knight 11:32am, 05/31/2017

    Lucas McCain… I saw Bronson play a boxer in some other sitcom or comedy sketch. It was in black & white and he looked young. Can’t remember who was in it with him. I searched the Roy Rogers show and it was titled, “The Knockout” and was made in 1952. My favorite Bronson movie is, “Hard Times,” where Bronson plays a bare knuckle fighter in the Depression. Great movie. I think my second favorite Bronson movie is, “The Mechanic.” Bronson was about 53-54 when he played in, “Hard Times.” The guy looked great for a man pushing the double nickel.  He had one of those type of physiques that you couldn’t figure out what he did to attain it. I don’t think he pumped iron, and he was a heavy smoker from what I read, but the guy had a body that a lot of men would love to have.

  2. Lucas McCain 11:10am, 05/31/2017


    The earliest Bronson I’ve seen is his guest spot on a Roy Rogers show.  It had a boxing theme and Roy, for some reason I can’t recall, had to get in the ring with Bronson, who was built like a monster back then.  (It’s still available on one of those 50 old shows for five dollars DVDs; I have it somewhere) )

  3. Alt Knight 05:38am, 05/31/2017

    Lucas McCain…Tanks for the link. It’s been quite awhile since I saw an episode of the Outer Limits, I somewhat liked the series, but like you, thought The Twilight Zone was better. I was born in ‘61 so I wasn’t watching The Twilight Zone in its original run, but I am amazed at how many pretty famous actors played in that series. I’ve seen Charles Bronson, William Shatner, Telly Savalas, and a few others in The Twilight Zone episodes. Bronson and Elizabeth Montgomery from Bewitched, were together in one episode. Gunsmoke was another series where a lot of actors passed through on their way to fame and fortune. Television was definitely better back then. I find I watch the same stuff that I did while growing up, even though I’ve seen it countless times. If it wasn’t for the older stuff, I would chunk my t.v out the window. I certainly don’t rely on the t.v. for news. haha.

  4. Clarence George 03:00am, 05/31/2017

    Excuse me!  Sheena, not Sheba.  And since you’re a fan of Joe Franklin:

  5. Clarence George 02:45am, 05/31/2017

    Thanks, Mr. Kamen.

    The 1950s was known for its bounty of busty beauties.  Remember Greta Thyssen?  She lives on East 82nd.  And Irish McCalla, aka Sheba, Queen of the Jungle?  No longer with us, unfortunately.


    Alfred Ryder

  6. Milt Kamen 02:17am, 05/31/2017

    Interesting piece, as usual, Mr. George. It was nice seeing the lovely Meg Myles mentioned in the comments. I saw The Phenix City Story at a revival theater a few years ago and she was in the crowded audience and received a standing ovation. That film was particularly strong for the era and featured one of my favorite, albeit underrated character actors, John Larch. Larch was most memorable as a cop mentally coming apart at the seams in an episode of Naked City called “Today the man who kills the aunts is coming.” I just looked up Ms. Myles and was surprised that she is only 83 considering I believe she is the only living cast member from Phenix City.

  7. Lucas McCain 05:42pm, 05/30/2017

    Alt K.

    Funny you should mention The Twilight Zone.  Its competitor/imitator (started a couple of seasons after) called the Outer Limits (a few great episodes) began with the sceen of an oscilloscope.  The opening and closing seconds of this one minute intro shows the usual pattern:
    But the Twilight Zone was the best, even when the acting was over the top and the moral lesson a bit blunt (though always well intentioned).  Rod Serling the creator and writer for most episodes (and the writer for Requiem for a Heavyweight) served in the Philippines in WW 2 at the same time as my father, though I never asked him if they met.

  8. Clarence George 03:35pm, 05/30/2017

    Thanks, AK.

    Candy Barr is my favorite burlesque star.  It’s a lost art, despite Dita Von Teese (whom I once saw perform live) and a relative handful (another intended pun) of others.

    By the way, the worst real name for one of these gals has to be Diana Fluck (Diana Dors).

  9. Alt Knight 03:10pm, 05/30/2017

    Irish… Speaking of “Mammaric,” it was one of Clarence’s articles that introduced me to Juanita Dale Slusher aka Candy Barr.

    Clarence… You are quite welcome. Great articles!

  10. Clarence George 02:40pm, 05/30/2017

    AK, Irish:  Appreciate the kind words, especially as my articles tend to otherwise be of—shall we say?—limited appeal.

    At 42-24-36, it’s small (pun intended) wonder that Meg was voted “Queen of the First Measurement” in a 1957 survey conducted by “Night & Day.”

    Ah, Rocky and Henny—both long gone.  It seems like yesterday, though, when the latter and I would share an elevator:  “Mr. Youngman!  It’s good to see you.”  “It is.”


  11. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 02:14pm, 05/30/2017

    Alt Knight-“Mammaric” Meg Myles! That’s what I’m talking about! How about oscillating tassels? Can’t get that image out of my mind. I too have learned plenty from reading Clarence George’s great contributions to He’s had my attention here in the back row even before he wrote that Henny Youngman lived in his building and Rocky Graziano would visit Henny from time to time.

  12. Alt Knight 11:33am, 05/30/2017

    Lucas McCain…I never really watched a great deal of sci-fi films, but I was disappointed the SyFy channel didn’t run a Twilight Zone marathon this past weekend. I always liked those old Twilight Zone episodes. Usually they will run those episodes for a couple of days on a holiday weekend.  I always learn something from reading Clarence’s articles, and this one is no different. I now know what “oscillating” means.

  13. Lucas McCain 10:30am, 05/30/2017

    A.K.  Depends what sci-fi films you watched as a youth.  I knew “oscillate” from a very early age, since 50s film scientists tended to track strange phenomena on an “oscilloscope,” which have such nice, wavy lines on their sceens.

  14. Clarence George 08:05am, 05/30/2017

    AK:  I remember the movie about Phenix City, with Edward Andrews giving a characteristically bravura performance.  John Larch as the thug was also very good.  Mammaric Meg Myles played the singer.  Now in her 80s, she lives on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, where she tends birds.

  15. Alt Knight 06:46am, 05/30/2017

    Clarence..“Oscillating” might have been a bit too wordy for the average boxing fan back then and especially today. I knew what an ocelot was, but I had to reach for the dictionary on the word, “oscillating.” Speaking of the seedy little town, Council Bluffs, Iowa and nicknames, we have the, “Council Bluffs Butcher,” Ron Stander. I always thought that Council Bluffs was a Midwestern version of Phenix City, Alabama.

  16. Clarence George 04:55pm, 05/29/2017

    Thanks very much, AK.

    I, too, am partial to the “Sicilian Swordfish,” which reminds me of the “Oscillating Ocelot,” a Joe Louis nickname that didn’t stick.

  17. Alt Knight 04:13pm, 05/29/2017

    I was partial to the “Sicilian Swordfish.” Great article and nicknames.

  18. Clarence George 02:20pm, 05/29/2017

    Thanks very much, Irish, delighted you liked it.

    Yes, great characters with great names, each and every one of whom is worthy of his own article.  No femme fatale, however, perhaps to the relief of Messrs. Eakins and Murray.

    Speaking of lovelies, Dina Merrill died just a few days ago.  She was once touted as “Hollywood’s new Grace Kelly.”  RIP.

  19. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 01:19pm, 05/29/2017

    Clarence George-I loved this one….everything here but a femme fatale! “One with Nineveh and Tyre”.... Red Smith’s take on someone who got their ass kicked…..“Turkey Point Billy Smith”.....“The Yellow Peril”....“Special Delivery Hirsch” gotta’ love it! Samuel Murray’s keen eyed “artists” observation of Turkey Point and the “delicate curve of his spine”.....right!

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