Jack Dempsey’s Childhood Home

This was originally published on Martha Sparks’ My West Virginia Mountain website and is reprinted here with her permission and our special thanks.

Holden, Logan County, WV photoHolden, Logan County, WV
Once the Home of Former Champion Jack Dempsey

While it is true that William Harrison Dempsey, better known as “Jack” Dempsey, former heavyweight champion of the world, was born at Manassa, Colorado, June 24, 1895, he claims Logan as his native county, for it was here that his parents were born and in this community that spent his boyhood years.

Jack Dempsey is the son of Hiram and Celia Smoot Dempsey, both of whom were born on Island Creek, Logan County, West Virginia. Along about 1893, Hiram Dempsey removed his family to Colorado and they were living there when Jack was born, although his older brothers were born at Holden, on Island Creek, previous to their removal to Colorado. Burnie Dempsey, an older brother, was born in a house situated on the Holden road, just east of the railroad crossing at Holden, where a gasoline station is now located.
When Jack was yet a little fellow, about the age of five, the Dempseys returned to Logan County, and when Jack had grown older he secured a job in a ten-pin alley in the building on Main Street, in Logan, now used by Ed Oakley as salesroom for Dodge cars. Jack set up pins on one alley while Oza Avis, sporting editor of the Logan Banner, performed similar duties on the other side of the alley.

Jack had the “fighting bug” in his head at that time and was constantly talking of boxing bouts. He wanted to be a prize fighter, but people around Logan only laughed at the awkward country boy. He left the ten-pin alley and secured a job in the mines of the Gay Coal & Coke Company, one mile west of Logan, while his people were living at the mouth of Mud Fork of Island Creek. It is only fair to say that Jack did not break any coal loading records while he was employed in the mines. He worked under the supervision of Harry S. Gay, Jr.

Along about this time in his life, Pat Canepa of Logan was riding the waves of popularity in boxing circles as the champion prize fighter of West Virginia. Jack could not get any one to encourage him in the game, so he took the bit in his own teeth and challenged Canepa for a fight. Canepa accepted the challenge and it was arranged the the bout would be staged in Charleston.

Some few days previous to the scheduled bout, Jack Dempsey left Logan, bound for the capital city, with a pasteboard suit case containing about all the clothing he had. After arriving in Charleston, Canepa and his manager insisted that Dempsey post thirty dollars as a forfeit in case he took cold feet and did not appear.

Dempsey did not have the money and could not raise it. The fight was therefore canceled and the manager of the cheap class hotel, where Dempsey was stopping, threw him out for non-payment of his room rent. He still has Dempsey’s cheap suit case. It is said that Dempsey went out into the city, spent his last dollar for a pint of liquor, caught a freight train and headed west. He was next heard from on the Pacific Coast where he was knocking every opponent for a row of country curves.

Jack returned a few years later and cordially greeted old friends, among whom were Harry Gay, Don Chafin, Oza Avis and others. He spoke kindly about his boyhood days here and stated he was going to return to Logan in the near future and spend a month hunting and fishing here, but he never arrived. In the person of Don Chaffin, former sheriff and Logan’s most famous character, Jack Dempsey had an ardent admirer. Don attended every fight in which Dempsey had been matched and during the bout between Dempsey and Gibbons in Shelby, Montana, Chafin was sworn in as one of Dempsey’s personal bodyguards.

Taken from Swain’s “History of Logan County”

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18 Responses to Jack Dempsey’s Childhood Home

  1. Sharon sutphin says:

    Update to my email. Have had bad health as well as my mother’s health has gone down hill due to a stroke. Hoping to continue my journey and search this fall.

  2. Diana says:

    Sharon, if you are still out the check WV Vital Stastics for Death records. I could never find records for J.B until just recently. They actually let you record the image on your computer. I also got the name of his father and mother and the informant. They have not got Resa’s information in the yet but I’m going to keep check. Also, I was looking at the Nostalgia pictures and was reading the caption. Jay Anna Ellis is Libriarian at Logan High School. You might could get info from her You might also check out West Virgina-Cemetary Registration. Also WVa used to be Virginia. Logan was formed from Cabell, Giles, Kanawha, Tazwell Co’s. The Library of Virginia, Richmond 1853-1896 no records prior 1853. No Law to record 1896 June 14, 1912. Hope this helps.

  3. Sharon Sutphin says:

    I know what you mean about the many hours put in this. I spend many all nighters on this hoping to get a nice booklet for my grandmother. I got to my gg grandfather John Dempsey and got stumped. See John Dempsey was my g grandfather (Arnold Simpson Christian) he was given his step father’s name. Arnold’s mother was Pheobe Ellis.
    Arnold’s mother was Mary Essa Ferrell. (Burbus line) Mary Essa is who I hope to concentrate on as my grandmother spoke of her passing when my grandmother was 5 yrs old. Mary Essa was blind at the time of her death. This goes on and on and on doesn’t it? Good in a way because we have many roads to travel to get the information. I feel at this point I MUST travel to Logan to complete the mystery and I’d a lot of pictures I have obtains since my grandmothers death in 2010. I am so ready now more than ever.

    Have a great Sunday.

    • Diana says:

      Sharon, We passed Ferrell Creek, Branch, Cemetery something along our way. Can’t remember where. Our route was Rt 10 out of Huntington, crossed the river at Hart’s (we should have went straight). Made a left at Hart’s creek and went over Dingess Mountain and came out at Mud Fork. If we would have gone straigt we would have came down East Fork which would have kept up closer to the river which dad couldn’t fiqure where the river went. It was just a long way around and we would have ended up at the same place any way. I can appreciate the lady’s story about Hart’s creekers. I know what she is talking about now. We took 119 to Lenore hit the old road 65 Dempsey Branch then 52 to Kermit where we had to detour at the train tunnel at Marrowbone because a coal truck overturned. When we were stopped and going to turn around some nice people a lady and her husband noticed our tags as Ohio and asked if we we trying to get around this. We said yes and she said follow me. She took us across Jennies Branch, past Big Jim’s Branch back to Jennies Branch to Crum. I found this out by googling our route from Logan. You can get detailed info even cemeteries will show up. I was looking through my grandmother’s sisters funeral guest book. The Funeral home was Ferrell-Chambers in Huntington. Two of the pall bearers were Ferrell’s. The address is 924 29th Street.(304)523-9424. Also I was reading the quest list and I found Dwight and Evelyn Smoot. This was in the 70’s. Dad didn’t remember them but I remembered the name from Hiram’s wife Celia Smoot-Dempsey. Any how try the google the route thing and I wish I could remember where I saw it. If I run across it again I’ll let you know.

    • Diana says:

      Sharon, type in ferrell branch logan wva. Go down to line 34-35. Hattie Hatfield. Omg. I’ve been told my grandmother and grandfather were, one the Hatfield and one from the McCoy’s. Some names may be of interest to you. May have been gggm or gggf. Gee’s. I forgot to tell you to Zoom in and drag the map along your destination. If you make the trip I recommend a compact vehicle. It may come in handy in a tight squeeze, like Dingess Mountain or the cemetery at Henlawssen.

    • Diana says:

      Sharon, I found on West Virginia cemeteries near Williamson, Ferrell in Mingo Co. Ferrell in Logan Co. Ellis at Gilbert and Ellis at Mt Gay Shamrock Mud Fork. I think the latter is what you may be looking for. I’ve just been plugging and stumbled on to this. That’s where we came from Hart’s creek, Dingess Mtn and Mud Fork. Hope this is it!

    • Diana says:

      Also check out boxingmemories.com/Jack-dempsey/. They have the actual fights on Video. Also ESPN Sports Century Jack Dempsey. Awsome fights.

  4. Diana Vinson-Childers says:

    My Grandfather Alvah Lloyd Vinson’s father J.B. Vinson was married to Recie (Resa) Dempsy. Her father was A.L. Dempsy. My father Donald L. Vinson said Recie was related to Jack. I am interested in any information for J.B. Vinson. He had a grocery store in the Red Jacket or Aracoma areas. My father remembers the store and his father buying him his first Gun, probably of Red Ryder. He remember’s barely being able to carry in home along the Rail Road Tracks. I am also looking to find J.B.’s fathers name. Andrew or Ale. Cemeteries where located etc. Any info would be greatly appreciated.

    • Bob Piros says:

      Hello Diana, if you go to https://www.familysearch.org/ you can find lots of free info.

      I found a Andrew Vinson, married to a Julia Page on May 30, 1901 in Mingo County WV.

      Take care. Bob Piros

      • Diana Vinson-Childers says:

        Hello Bob, We made the trip to Logan on Wednesday the 26th. My dad, myself and two nephew’s. They reside in Greenup Co,Ky. I live at Kitts Hill, Ohio. We found J.B. and Resa at Forest Lawn at Peck’s Mill after we found an old cemetery at Peach Creek up on the hill. That cemetery was so old and overgrown the names were eraced and the Tazmanian Devil could not get in. May Dad’s memory was from 7 to 10. The Sundry store is at Aracoma and there is a Church up on the Hill above it( just a little block building.) My Grandmother would put dad on the trian at Huntington and Grandfather’s sister Veda Mullin’s would pick him up at Logan. One time when he was 7 the train pulled out and stopped at logan. Dad said a nice looking man with well dressed clothes laid down on the tracks and was cut into. They found out later that he was the son of a Lawyer. My Grandfathers cousin was Fred Vinson of Louisa. My Grandfather was born at Wayne. Resa (Recie) was Jack Dempsey’s sister from Lenore. We drove past the Dempsey home on Dempsey Branch, the Home is torn down and a dozer sitting where the house was. I have found that also, but I also found Ale and Sarah on another site. Still plowing trying to do my own leg work and County Census Record’s and picking my dad’s brain. Alvah worked at the Russell, Ky RR yard’s. He would put an ornament, once a football on his Caboose so he could set on his back porch and he could tell how many times out he would be. We think J.B. was born at Red Jacket.

        • Sharon Sutphin says:

          Interesting read. I hope to go to Forest Lawn cemetery when I visit. Did you dad ever hear the names Simpson Ellis or Arnold Christian (he actually was a Dempsey, son of a John Dempsey. (so many I am a still searching which John) Arnold was a cousin of Jack , this is what my grandmother has told me. Happy Hunting. Take good care.

          • Diana says:

            I will try to find out. He did mention Jack had a brother named Jim and he raised two boys not his I’ll question that further. My Grandfather’s sister Estella Vinson was Head Nurse at Logan Hospital in 40’s and 50’s. She is buried behind J.B and Recie. His other Sister Olive married Grover Steele who had the Steele furniture store in town. J.B. and Recie spent their remaining years at Apple Grove in Mason Co. W.Va near the Gallapolis Lock’s and Dam .He helped with the farm Grover bought there. Now we need to find out where Grover and Olive are buried. They had a son who played baseball for one of the major leagues they may have named him J.B. I’ll have to double check that but last name would have been Steele. There was a cemetery on Dempsey Branch we were in a Hurry to get back. I barely caught the name it had funny lettering but it kinda looked like Zebulon Cemetery. I haven’t tried to google it yet to maybe get the correct name. It wasn’t very far from the pull off spot where they had to walk across a walk bridge to get to the house. Keep plugging! I will be when my brain is not dead. This has been one draining project.

          • Diana says:

            Sharon, I had my Jack’s mixed up. When dad was talking about Jack it was Vadah’s son Jack Mullins who is close to 90 and residing in Florida. Mom said they talked to him a couple of months ago and his mind is still sharp and his hearing is good. I’m like pick his brain I’m sure he has the info I’m looking for. Sure could save me a lot of trouble. Resa’s brother was Jim Dempsey and he raised two boys one Jr and another he couldn’t remember and a girl named Octavia. Back then as now they would take in the children and raise them as their own. Dad said Recie called everybody (children) and when you went to her house she would ask if you were hungry. She would go into the kitchen fire up the stove and it wouldn’t be to long and she would have you something to eat. I asked about the names you mentioned and he didn’t know. Have you checked cemetery directories. Some have been cataloged and some have not. Some also have photo’s available. Try what ever co and cemeteries and usually you can get a complete listing and go from there. Good Luck!

  5. Sharon Sutphin says:

    Sarah Cartwright was Simpson Ellis wife. He had another wife, Florence Greever, I believe she was after Sarah Cartwright. (I am still putting all this together) so I am not certain but my g g grandmother Phoebe Ellis was born two yrs after the marriage to Sarah Cartwright. Happy hunting.

  6. Sharon Sutphin says:

    My great grandfather Arnold Christian was Mr dempsey’s cousin. My grandmother spoke of Jack visiting them when he was in Logan. My gg grandfather raised my g grandfather Arnold. His name was Simpson Ellis. I so enjoy reading about Logan. Thanks for this website.

  7. Shelby Burgess says:

    Many thanks for the Jack Dempsey info. My grandfather (Anthony Baisden) was a first cousin of Jack. I knew he had worked the coal mines; but did not know he set pins in a bowling alley, while a lad. Also I give thanks to Martha Sparks for her input on cousin Jack’s grandfather, (John Dempsey), was one of the first settlers in the Logan area.