Fighting for his family: the Billy Miske story
Billy Miske, a middleweight from St. Paul, Minnesota, has come to town. He has issued a challenge to any of the boys his weight. “(Milwaukee Free-Press, September 14, 1913)
One of the biggest and bravest men in history stood only six feet tall and weighed around 160 pounds. Doughy white, knobby knees, and fists that flew faster than its nickname implied: the St. Paul Thunderbolt.
Billy Miske was a boxer, an oiled man with determination and determination. Born in 1894, his glory years were destined to fall into decades plagued by hungry and hungry mouths. He married, had children, and was broke. Broken dead.
But Miske used God-given abilities to make ends meet: He screamed with his fists and hit one opponent after another in the ring. His style was orthodox; not sexy, not flashy, but quick and decisive. Every jab, every hook, every hook was thrown for a purpose, whether they landed or not. In preparation for each fight, Miske literally hit his own jaw 10 times a day.
Miske fought hand-to-hand with some of the best boxers of the time: Jack Dempsey, Harry Greb, and Battling Lavinsky, among others. In his illustrious career, Miske accumulated around 45 victories, 34 of which were by knockout. The early 1900s are known as the “No Decision” era, which means that in some states a bout not decided by knockout was considered no decision and therefore did not fit the overall record of the game. boxer. Miske could easily have close to 100 career victories if it weren’t for the period of time in which he fought.
But the knockouts didn’t matter to Miske. His family did. He would do whatever it took to maintain them, and if enduring 15 rounds of breakneck punches would accomplish that, he agreed. But his time in the ring appeared in 1919.
At the age of 24, Miske told his coach Jack Reddy that he was feeling more tired than usual. Naturally he attributed it to boxing. However, after a few visits to the doctor, Miske learned the dire news: He was battling Bright’s disease, a serious kidney disease for which there was no cure. Doctors gave Miske about 5 years before he died. But even worse than that, Miske was told he couldn’t fight anymore.
Telling a man like Miske that he can no longer fight is like telling a tiger to let the antelope herd pass without pouncing on one. Miske enraged his mission in his later years to do one thing: provide financial stability for his family. If that meant boxing through tremendous pain and fatigue? So be it.
Miske chose not to tell any family member about her condition. There was no need for Marie and her children to worry, and the last thing she wanted was for someone to tell her she shouldn’t fight. Miske tried other ways to earn money. He used his life savings to open a car dealership. Unfortunately for Billy, as good as he was at boxing, he was just as bad at running a business. He had to fight just to cover the dealership’s losses.
Miske’s options were limited. The thing that made him money, the only thing in this world that he was really good at, the doctors told him would be detrimental to his health and shorten his life, even limited. But Miske believed that if he could fight enough matches, even if he didn’t win, he could get money to keep putting food on the table. Billy Miske kept fighting as if nothing had happened. He continued with regular training routines with Coach Jack Reddy. He fought (and won) numerous matches in the years after his fatal diagnosis.
In today’s era where it is rare to see a boxer fight more than one or two fights, Miske participated in dozens of fights. In 1922 alone, he stepped into the ring 15 times. If his kidneys were failing, the outside world certainly didn’t know. But when the interior began to close, Billy did too. The parties were few and far between. Miske felt too bad to fight. He ate nothing but boiled fish, and could barely move because of the pain, much less dance jabbing in a boxing ring.
In 1923, Miske could feel the end. The light at the end of the tunnel of his life was getting closer and closer. However, he knew that he could not leave this land until he was sure that his family was safe. As the coolness of fall completely descended in the Midwest, Billy called his coach, his good friend Jack Reddy, and told him that death was hitting harder than ever. He needed to fight.
Reddy immediately rejected the concept. There was no way he was going to allow Billy, a 29-year-old man but with a shattered and frail body like an old man, to get into a ring and get beaten up. Reddy was preparing to give Miske money to help with bills and vacation expenses Billy would face in the coming months. Here’s what Billy Miske told him: “I’ve never received a handout and I won’t start now. Jack, I’m completely broke and I just want to give Marie and the kids a decent Christmas before I go out. You have to get me a payday, for the old times “.
Reddy reluctantly agreed, knowing that nothing would change the mind of the St. Paul Thunderbolt. He lined up a fight with “KO” Bill Brennan, a man just like Miske even at the peak of his career. Miske didn’t stand a chance. He wasn’t even in good enough health to train for the fight. How could I even get in the ring with Brennan?
That was the thing about Miske. It could not be judged simply by his appearance. Maybe he sounded more like a minimum wage factory grunt than a world-class prize fighter, but Miske had the heart of a lion. That lionheart knocked out “KO” Bill Brennan in the fourth round, earning him a good $ 2,400 salary.
Christmas 1923 would be special at Miske’s house. Billy knew it would probably be the last, but he had long ago made his peace with it. Watching your children open presents at Christmas that they couldn’t have received earlier was worth it. And watching his sweet wife Marie tickle the ivories on the baby grand piano he bought for her brought more than sweet music to his heart.
On December 26, the day after Christmas, Miske called his good friend Jack Reddy and told him that he was dying. Jack came and picked him up to go to the hospital where he would finally reveal his fatal condition to Marie. Five days later, at age 29, Billy Miske’s kidneys did what Miske never did: stop fighting. Miske died on January 1, 1924.
Miske’s story traveled quickly through the community, the state, and the world of boxing. Tommy Gibbons, a giant in the boxing world at the time and a man who had fought Miske several times, had this to say about Billy:
“Billy Miske was one of the bravest guys to ever put on gloves. He was always a gentleman in the ring; he always fought by the rules and never took advantage of a defenseless opponent or resorted to rough tactics.”
In fact, Billy Miske is a hero. A man who fought with passion and loved with passion. Billy Miske left a legacy that every man can live by. The moments of happiness with the family far outweigh the earthly worries that we may have for ourselves. Billy Miske lived a selfless life, one that proved that no matter the odds, family is always worth fighting for.