(Young Peter Jackson; via)
Even the most rabid of boxing fans would have to scrape the look of perplexity off their faces if asked about that time Sim Thompkins and Aaron Lister Brown met in a ring. But tell them Young Peter Jackson and Dixie Kid squared off, and that might be speaking their language.
Around the time of their meeting on December 26, 1904, nicknames and clever monikers were often ways to simply pay tribute to hometowns, ethnicity and even fighters of yesteryear who paved dangerous roads.
In this case, Young Peter Jackson’s nickname was an homage to former “colored” heavyweight champion Peter Jackson, who waded through the heavyweight ranks, skin pigment unimportant, to have a respected boxing career. And that meant something to many, whether he realized it or not.
Jack Johnson, giant of both Galveston, Texas and black history, visited the grave of Jackson — who had died of tuberculosis in 1901 — in Brisbane, Australia shortly after seizing the heavyweight championship in 1908, as a nod of respect to one of his predecessors.
On Jackson’s grave marker reads simply, “This was a man.”
Dixie Kid and Young Peter Jackson were among those who followed in the wake of such culture-bending and stereotype-destroying figures, merely trying to be men themselves.
By Christmas in 1904, Dixie Kid had lost inside the distance only three times in 42 fights: twice by stoppage, and once by DQ. His record was respectable in any era, but especially so in one where fewer opportunities usually meant tougher gauntlets to survive.
Outside of Maryland and the California coast, where he had fought most of his bouts, the Kid was likely best known for his controversial April, 1904 tussle with the “Barbados Demon” Joe Walcott for the welterweight title. In the final frame of the 20 round bout, Walcott was disqualified for a punch in the kidney area despite not having been warned prior. It was later unveiled that referee James Sullivan had bet on Dixie Kid, thus the fight was voided as a title bout, but the result stuck.
Local press in Baltimore opined that Jackson would have an easy contest in front of him. A hat was tipped the Kid’s way for going nearly even up with Philadelphia Jack O’Brien at literally the last minute’s notice, though, as Chicago native John Willis failed to show for their fight, and the Kid, who was sitting ringside, volunteered himself and, according to the Baltimore American, “under the conditions the Kid fought decidedly well.”
Jackson had his own run-ins with Joe Walcott, going 1-2-2 against the legendary figure. But Jackson’s lone win was by stoppage — the only early ending in their five fight series, even if Walcott claimed the final body shot was low.
Unlike Dixie Kid, Jackson traveled to wherever he could fight, apparently. He spent chunks of time in Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, the California Bay Area and more. After defeating Walcott in their final encounter, Jackson fought six times in England, winning all six fights by knockout, on what served as both a publicity and “stay busy” type of international tour.
Though Jackson’s win over Walcott was fought at a catchweight, Jackson was often billed as the welterweight champion, while the Kid claimed the welterweight and middleweight championships of California based on a KO win in one round over Al Neill the previous February. Neill had defeated Jackson by points in 20 rounds two years prior, which more or less made a Jackson vs. Dixie Kid bout a natural.
Jackson trained in Catonsville, a city in the western region of Baltimore County, where he had lived and trained for his win over Walcott. He was joined in camp by Joe Gans and Kid Sullivan, a Washington D.C. scrapper that was in and out of the lightweight title picture for a few years. But the bout was fought at the Eureka Athletic Club, which was the most famous fight venue in Baltimore for about 20 years, on Shell Rd. in an industrial section of the city.
In the days leading up to the bout, Sullivan and Dixie Kid’s manager, Denny Murray, had a side bet of “$400 to $500,” said The Sun. The Kid was to have arrived in Baltimore with future great trainer Jack Blackburn, but instead was seconded by a rowdy group in Murray, Eddie Haney and Billy Reynolds.
Word of low ticket sales and attendance got out, but to aid in the promotion of the bout, it was announced that Dixie Kid would be getting married promptly after the fight. A headline in the Baltimore American read, “In Ring At Three, At Altar At Five.” The Kid was to meet his bride at the Centennial Colored Church afterward, to which Jackson replied, “He certainly had no right to make two such engagements on the same day,” then promised to postpone the wedding by making the Kid suffer. And on the day of the contest, Jackson said he changed his fighting style to be able to sustain his offense throughout the fight.
When the fight materialized, the action was unfortunately relatively tame, apart from a few rounds. Both men reportedly fought a measured 1st round, but in round 2, Jackson caught the Kid with a series of punches that either put the latter through the ropes, or set him up for being pushed through them, depending on which reports are to be believed. The Baltimore American reported, “…in the second [Jackson] went to work, and in the old-school Jacksonian way put down the Kid for the count of nine with a shower of rights and lefts and shoved him through the ropes,” then said, “From the third round on Jackson was sleigh-riding.”
Seemingly content with the work he had done to that point, Jackson’s offense dipped while the Kid forced the action from a distance. The Kid managed to batter Jackson about the ribs inside, though to ringside observers, Jackson was the stronger of the two when he let his hands go inside. What may have made Jackson reluctant, however, was that before the fight, the Kid’s corner and few supporters demanded that the breaks enforced by referee James O’Hara be “clean,” meaning there would be far less of the inside grappling and locking up that favored Jackson.
The Kid’s loud and trifling corner became a factor throughout the bout as well, and a famed local Deputy Marshal named Manning had to repeatedly warn the cornermen to settle down or have their man lose by disqualification.
Either Jackson’s power was telling in the middle rounds, or his foe’s stamina was suspect, because the Kid vomited in his corner between rounds on a regular basis after a 6th round that saw his nose bloodied significantly.
The final three rounds, and the 14th and 15th in particular saw Dixie Kid attempting to make up for lost time, rocking Jackson on a few occasions and taking punches in return before nearly throwing him over the ropes in the last few minutes. Both men finished exhausted, unable to bring a decisive ending, and the fight was declared a draw.
The overall gist of things was slightly split, though, as the Trenton Evening Times said, “Dixie Kid did the leading throughout the fight, Jackson apparently not extending himself except in three rounds.” Meanwhile, the Baltimore American suggested that the fight wasn’t much more than a sparring session for Jackson, and the Saginaw Newsreported in their headline, “Peter Jackson could have put the Dixie Kid out.”
Whatever the case, the two men crossed paths just this once and went separate ways.
Jackson got a return bout with Philadelphia Jack O’Brien (and by proxy a shot at an unclear version of the middleweight title in the process) three months later, which is precisely what Dixie Kid craved. He repeatedly fought Sam Langford, among many others, before retiring in 1914.
The Kid’s wedding was off, as aside from the fact that marriage license clerks were on vacation for the holidays, it was found out that he was already married. He fought a week later, though, fighting to another draw, again in 15 rounds, in the same venue, with the same referee, this time against Larry Temple. From there, the quality of the Kid’s opposition dipped significantly, and he never fought past 10 rounds again, losing frequently until finally retiring following his own European tour in 1920.
And they eventually became men.