From the Gilpin Historical Society
By David Forsyth, PhD
Sports always played an important role in the social life of Gilpin County’s residents during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Perhaps the best known sports stars in the county were the members of the Central City Stars baseball team, who were the territorial champions in the 1860s. But, just as well known in his day was the sole boxing champion to emerge from the county, Louis “Gilpin Red” Ferganchick, who was Colorado’s middleweight champion for many years.
Named because of his red hair, “Gilpin Red” was described by reporters, his children, and his grandchildren, as a big man. His grandson, Jim, distinctly remembers his huge hands. A reporter for Telluride’s Daily Journal described him as larger and rangier than most of his opponents.
“Gilpin Red” Ferganchick was born in Worms, Germany on June 26, 1885. He came to the United States with his parents and two brothers when he was young, and the family settled in Russell Gulch. His parents later had two daughters, though one died at a young age. All of the Ferganchick men were engaged in mining in Gilpin County. Louis’s brothers Cap and Tony, according to a newspaper article from the Weekly Register-Call, were among the best hand drillers in Gilpin County by 1910.
Louis’s mother, Mary, died in June 1908 and was buried in the Russell Gulch cemetery. Four years later, his father, Alois (who went by Louis as well) went to his wife’s grave and shot himself, apparently still depressed over her death.
By the time of his father’s death, Gilpin Red was well into his boxing career. One of his first matches was fought on September 6, 1909, at the Central City Opera House. The evening opened with movies of the Gans-Nelson fight from California, followed by a demonstration by a bag-punching dog named Bob Fitzsimmons owned by former boxer “Spider” Kelly. After two preliminary matches, the main event between Gilpin Red and Jimmy McDonald of Denver began.
According to the report of the match in the Weekly Register-Call, both McDonald and Gilpin Red landed several good blows and after the seventh round the match could have gone either way. But, during the eighth round, McDonald landed a punch to Gilpin Red’s jaw that ended the fight.
Reporters credited McDonald’s victory to his greater experience in the ring. Ferganchick fought at least two more fights in Central City during his career. One was in 1911 when he issued a challenge to a boxer named Hector of Denver with the winner to receive the small sum of $50 (Gilpin Red’s son Bert wrote, that had his father boxed today, he would have been a multi-millionaire). The second was in 1912, when a match was scheduled between Gilpin Red and Joe Lind of Denver. A black boxer named Battling Thompson was scheduled to fill in for Lind if he was unavailable.
Most of Gilpin Red’s boxing matches took place in and around Telluride, where his brother Cap owned a brothel (Cap was reportedly shot and killed by one of the prostitutes in 1925). Gilpin Red won a fight against Maryhill of Georgetown in December 1912, with the Telluride Daily Journal reporting that Maryhill looked like he worked “in a slaughter house or tomato canning factory” after his defeat. The main contest, however, was between victorious Joe Clark and Andy Malloy.
Gilpin Red challenged Clark to a future fight, which finally took place in Telluride in April 1913. Originally scheduled to last twenty rounds, the judges awarded Clark the victory after the thirteenth round because of fouls committed by Gilpin Red. The Daily Journal reported that both boxers committed several fouls, but Gilpin Red did so more frequently due to his lack of experience.
Not all of Gilpin Red’s fights were legal, and he and several other boxers were arrested in Telluride in December 1913 for illegally fighting. The Daily Journal commented that several of those arrested would “have an opportunity of becoming penitent while they are engaged in the work of promoting civic beauty on the streets.”
In June 1914, Gilpin Red advertised that he was willing to take on anyone in a July 4th match in Nucla. His preferred opponents were Hector, who he had fought in 1911, or Joe Clark. He ended up fighting Andy Malloy, the loser of the match with Clark in December 1912. The ten-round contest between Malloy and Gilpin Red ended in a draw. Joe Clark would be stabbed to death in January 1915, and Malloy would later commit suicide while being held on a murder charge in the Telluride jail.
After a January 1, 1923, fight against Luther Watt in Norwood, Colorado, Gilpin Red’s final fight was against a soon-to-be-famous Jack Dempsey. According to his son, Bert, the fight went thirteen rounds and ended in a draw. Both men were so badly beaten, however, that Gilpin Red’s wife, Elsie, successfully insisted that he quit.
Outside of the ring, Louis Ferganchick earned his living on a farm five miles outside of the town of Austin (southeast of Grand Junction) and working in coal mines. He married his wife Elsie in 1914, and they had twelve children. At the time of his death at the age of 78 on September 15, 1963, he also had twenty-nine grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Today, as a tribute to Gilpin Red and his contributions to the sports history of Gilpin County, his pocket watch and one of his boxing gloves are on display in the Gilpin History Museum.