Western History & Genealogy Blog

Jack Dempsey: Colorado's Heavyweight Boxing Champion

Jack Dempsey and Estelle Taylor at Denver's Union Station
Jack Dempsey's Manassa, Colorado home
Montrose, Colorado around 1890

Did you know that World Heavyweight Boxing Champion Jack Dempsey, the “Manassa Mauler,” was born in Manassa but also lived in many other Colorado towns? The Dempsey family left Manassa in 1902 or 1903, eventually settling in Montrose, Colorado in 1905, when Jack was ten years old. From the time he was seven he worked; as a sugar beet loader, a coal hauler, and in many other jobs. Bricks from the brickyard where he worked built many Western Slope buildings. He loved hunting and fishing and tracking and hated school. And from the time he was ten, he knew he wanted to be heavyweight boxing champion of the world. He and his brothers made their own jump rope out of twine, made punching bags out of canvas and sawdust, and held boxing matches with other kids (in addition to street fights). Dempsey toughened his face against cuts with beef brine, toughened his hands with horse urine, and built his speed by racing horse wagon teams. When he walked into Colorado mining camps and challenged all comers to a fight, the miners laughed at his high voice. Usually Dempsey would win, but sometimes the miner was so big, Dempsey simply ran away. As a skinny teen fighting up and down the Western Slope, he was outweighed by most opponents, but hit so hard that he gained a reputation. At the start of his pro career, he rode the rails as a hobo traveling across the country in search of fights. In short, he was a poor Colorado kid who willed himself to be champion through a life of dedication. He is considered by many scholars of boxing to be one of the ten greatest heavyweight boxing champions of all time. He was, as Roger Kahn says in the book of the same title, A Flame of Pure Fire. To find out more about Jack Dempsey’s life in Colorado, check our catalog for Khan's book and others located in Western History and DPL. Search our Digital Photographs for pictures of Dempsey and search our Archival Finding Aids to find out about other papers and photographs on Dempsey housed here in WHG. For information about the above photos, click here, here, and here.