[27a. I. If any person fight a prize fight in this State, or act as second or trainer, or time-keeper, or referee, or umpire, to any persons so fighting, or if any person assist or in any way aid or abet another to fight a prize fight in this State, he shall be deemed guilty of a felony, and upon conviction thereof shall be confined in the penitentiary not less than two nor more than ten years.
Chapter 144, section 27a of the
Code of West Virginia
Fourth Edition, 1899
On June 29th of 1899, the boxing match that led to a ban of prize fighting in West Virginia got underway at Fries Park in Parkersburg, WV. The match between local boxer George ‘Kid’ Wanko and Felix Carr of St. Albans was falsely represented to officials as a boxing contest and not a prize fight. (In the former the gloves must weigh over five ounces and the fight is for points with no purse. In the prize fight the gloves weigh five ounces or less, there is a purse to fight for and the fight is kept up until one of the men is knocked out. The boxing contest lasts only for a certain number of rounds.)
Fight referee J. H. Nightingale later told police he’d been informed the Wanko/Carr fight was to be a twenty round contest, for points only. He’d been approached by E. E. Wright, a saloon keeper of Huntington, who backed and managed Carr. Nightingale said he did not agree to referee until he had talked with Carr, who assured him that there was “no money up and that it was a glove contest for scientific points only.”
Furthermore, said Nightingale, before the fight began he called the two contestants, Ben Anderson (Carr’s second), Ben Morrison (a Commercial Hotel bartender who backed and trained Wanko), and Wanko’s second to the ring, and asked for the articles of agreement. He said none were produced, and that the contestants agreed with him that it was a friendly twenty round scientific contest.
The fight organizers understood among themselves, however, that the fight was to be for a decision and that the winner should take the gate receipts.
Both men weighed in at 151 pounds. According to the Parkersburg Sentinel, “about two hundred of the sporting fraternity and several women from the lower end of town” attended the fight.
The fight began at 11 p.m. In the second round honors were even. Though the blows were not brutal, they were hard. In the third round, Wanko slipped on the canvas and fell on the floor and rolled under the ropes. In the fourth, Carr was weak and appeared discouraged.
Early in the fifth round Wanko landed a long left-handed blow to Carr alongside the head which sent him to his knees, while he grasped the ropes with one hand and rested the other hand on the floor. The referee counted off the ten seconds. Carr fell forward on his face and made several wobbly attempts to rise. He couldn’t. Nightingale decided in favor of Wanko, and Carr’s seconds assisted him to his corner. They rubbed him down, and no one supposed that he was seriously hurt. Moments later he began vomiting and then went into convulsions. His condition was so alarming that his handlers dispatched a messenger for a physician.
But before Dr. W. J. Davidson could arrive Carr’s handlers carried him into a cab and headed downtown to the Commercial Hotel. From midnight, when they placed Carr in a room there, he slipped into unconsciousness, dying an hour later. Wanko was bedside with Carr the whole time. Others interested in the fight were also in the room. Wanko took it greatly to heart and did not make any attempt to escape. He later told police investigators he did not know that the governor had written Parkersburg officials to have the fight stopped, but he was aware that a prize fight would not have been permitted in the city.
In October 1899, Wanko was convicted of manslaughter. Following an autopsy, it was determined that Carr had several health problems that contributed to his death. The charges against Kid Wanko were dropped.