By: Hillary Delaney
In September 1876, the Heavyweight Championship of the World was decided in Walton. The fight was between reigning champ Tom Allen, an Englishman from St. Louis, and challenger Joe Goss, also English, who had recently arrived in the states.
The well-promoted fight was slated to be held outside Independence and was highly anticipated. Cincinnati locals gathered in downtown saloons a full day before the event to “prepare”. One report in the Cincinnati Daily Enquirer described sight of the fans as a “penitentiary on holiday”. At midnight on the eve of the fight, a ten-car train filled with 300-400 drunken fans left for points south. The more respectable, less inebriated citizens wisely waited for later trains.
Bare-knuckle prizefights were illegal in Kentucky, but the bout was on, regardless of law. After a rowdy start, complete with brawling fans, the fight began. By the sixth round, the crowd was getting its money’s worth. At this point, the Covington Militia arrived to shut down the event, which took another full round. The locale was quickly changed to the Boone County property of Mr. Patrick Lane of Walton. Sheriff Ben F. Sleet insincerely ordered that the illegal event could not proceed in his county, and was quickly given a ringside seat for the fight and three cheers from the crowd.
The train full of drunken fans never arrived, as it had been sent south to prevent problems at the event. The mob first stopped in Worthville, KY. Once they realized there was no fight, the mob looted the hotel and even the sheriff’s private home. Next they boarded the now-Northbound train and continued to cause chaos. One man fatally shot proprietor Mr. Garvey, while plundering his Liberty hotel. On went the gang to terrorize Sparta, then Elliston, KY. They never made it to the fight, disembarking at Newport and Covington, where they caught ferries home. The suspect in the shooting was apprehended twice, but escaped both times, leaving two accomplices in custody.
Back at the fight, Champ Tom Allen was getting the better of his challenger in the 18th round, when a bold woman named Gorman arrived to enjoy the match, her enthusiasm apparent in her claps and loud comments. In the 21st and final round all reports of the day agree that it was a clear win for the Champ, Allen; Goss was barely standing. Allen struck a blow as Goss was going down and a foul was called, giving Joe Goss the win. Mrs. Gorman shook the hands of both bruised and bloodied fighters, shimmying under the ropes to reach Tom Allen.