The Boxers, A Lawmen, and a Bunch of Gymnasts and One-Legged Acrobats


“Ernie, the one-legged acrobat who is now performing in Virginia City, lost his leg at the age of four years,” writes the Nevada Appeal. “At the age of sixteen, he decided to be an athlete and acrobat.”

“He can lie on his back and lift 425 pounds. He does wonderful work on the horizontal bar and performs the extraordinary feat of running a block on a single crutch,” the article continues. “He is a roller skater and a bicycle rider. He is married and has five children. He earns about $10 a day and sends it home.”

Talk about being a one-legged man in a butt-kicking contest. The story recently resurfaced in the ‘Past Pages” of that publication.

While perusing microfiche in the UNR library, searching for our elusive one-legged Ernie, we tumbled upon another single-limbed acrobat. Thomas S. Dare, whose real name was Thomas S. Hall, was born in New York and for a time worked with his brothers, George and Stewart, both of whom were also gymnasts.

Why him? Because we struck upon this little gem from London, England’s The Era, Sun., Jun. 3, 1877:

“Mr. Steward [sic] Dare (the one-legged gymnast) and Little Hall (the American Clown) gave an exceedingly clever and also amusing exhibition of their talent as performers on the horizontal bar.”

Oddly, an Internet search shows the man in question posing bipedally.

Thomas Dare was married for the first time on Jul. 1, 1871, in New York City to Susan Adeline Stuart/Stewart, who became internationally celebrated as the trapeze artist Leona Dare. He subsequently married Frances Mary Stevenson in 1882, whose stage name was Ada Dare, and professionally associated with the boxer James J. Corbett.

While Dare divorced Ada in 1892, Corbett is the one who returns us to the Comstock.

Dubbed Gentleman Jim Corbett by the media, he has been called the “Father of Modern Boxing” for his scientific approach and technical innovations.

On Mar. 17, 1897, at The Race Track Arena, Corbett lost his Heavyweight Championship to Bob “Ruby Robert” Fitzsimmons in Carson City.

Corbett was dominant for most of the fight and knocked Fitzsimmons to the canvas in the sixth round. Fitzsimmons recovered and, though badly cut, rallied from that point on.

When Mrs. Fitzsimmons called out, “Hit him in the slats, Bob!”, where “slats” meant the abdominal area, her husband followed her advice. The body blows took their toll, and though Corbett continued to outbox his opponent masterfully, ringsiders could see the champion slowing down.

Fitzsimmons put Corbett down in the 14th round with a withering body blow to the solar plexus, and Corbett, despite his best efforts, could not regain his feet by the end of the ten-count. The fight, lasting over an hour and a half, was released to cinemas later that year as The Corbett-Fitzsimmons Fight, at the time, the longest film ever released.

Fitzsimmons was married four times.

With his first wife, Louisa Johns, whom he married in Sydney in 1885, he had a son, Charles. The marriage ended in divorce.

Fitzsimmons married Rose Samnell, also known as Rose Julian, a well-known acrobat, in the U.S. in 1893. They had three children, Robert, Martin, and Rosalie.

Rose is the wife who shouted: “Hit him in the slats,” making her my kind of gal.

After Rose died in New York in April 1903, Fitzsimmons married a vaudeville singer Julia May Gifford, in San Francisco on Jul. 25, 1903, but they divorced in January 1915.

He married Temo Ziller in Portland, Ore, on May 26, 1915.

A year before his match with Corbett, the San Francisco Athletic Club sponsored a fight at the Mechanics’ Pavilion between Fitzsimmons and Tom Sharkey. Unable to find a referee, they called on former lawman Wyatt Earp, who had officiated 30 or so matches in earlier days, though not under the Marquess of Queensberry rules.

Earp entered the ring still armed with his Colt .45 and drew attention when being disarmed. He later said he forgot he was wearing it.

Fitzsimmons was taller and quicker than Sharkey and dominated the fight from the opening bell. In the eighth round, Fitzsimmons hit Sharkey with his famed “solar plexus punch,” an uppercut under the heart that could render a man temporarily helpless.

The punch caught Sharkey, Earp, and most of the crowd by surprise, and Sharkey dropped, clutched his groin, rolled on the canvas, and screamed foul. Earp stopped the bout, ruling that Fitzsimmons had hit Sharkey with a low blow, awarding the decision to Sharkey, who “…limp as a rag,” was carried out of the ring.

While an interesting piece of history, unfortunately, it brings us no closer to our “Ernie, the one-legged acrobat.” So it is back to microficheing, but then, ain’t that the way of Virginia City?

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