When Gentleman Jim Corbett Came to Town

This part of a series of stories of Paso’s past from local storytellers willing to share their remembrances in honor of the 125th Anniversary. The names have not been changed to protect the innocent.

A lot of things have changed in the Paso Robles area in the past 125 years.  One living now would not imagine in their wildest dreams what it was like then. The term “good old days” definitely applies to these stories.

by Cliff Tucker

Ignace Paderewski was an early well-known world musician that came to Paso Robles for the special  powers of it’s hot springs. However, he was not the first noted celebrity to seek the powers of  this water. Between 1892 and 1897, World Champion boxer “Gentleman Jim” Corbett paid our fair city a visit.

220px-James_corbett_1890Soon after Gentleman Jim defeated the legendary John L. Sullivan in 1892 to win the title of Heavyweight World Champion Boxer, he came to Paso Robles because he felt the special water there would improve muscle power and overall strength. While using the water treatments, he also realized that he  needed to keep up his boxing conditioning.  He could only do this by actually sparring against another  boxer.

A local young man that stood six feet tall and weighed one hundred ninety-eight pounds agreed  to “spar” with the great Gentleman Jim. A great amount of local interest was created over the event, so a few of the locals decided to make it an exhibition match and sold tickets  and arranged for a boxing ring and grandstand be erected out at the “Mud Bath House,” area at the north end of Spring Street and the railroad tracks. Here in this environment was to be a boxing bout between Jim Corbett and “Big Bill” Stockdale, the son of a local sharp shooter and honored cavalryman, George Stockdale, of Shandon.

It was agreed by both Corbett and George Stockdale that only “light blows” were to be thrown  and only light gloves were to be worn. Near the end of the first round, Corbett started punching hard on young Bill. So at the end of the round, the father, George, went to Corbett and complained of  the heavy punching, to which Corbett replied, ” I’ll knock that hayseed out in the next round.” The father went back to his son and took his light gloves off and told Bill to “go get him.”

The round started and Big Bill went after Corbett unmercifully with all kind of punches and jabs. At this point Corbett’s brother, who was acting as his “second”, jumped into the ring to stop the fight. He was followed by others in the stands, which resulted in a full-scale riot taking place in the ring and surrounding area, eventually spilling onto the nearby railroad tracks.

As a result of the this “exhibition” bout, Gentleman Jim and his brother forgot about anymore “sparring” matches in Paso Robles against “hayseeds.”

About the Author:

Cliff Tucker was born in Ventura. CA, 1926 and came to Paso Robles in 1927. He spent his early childhood and young adult life in Paso Robles from 1927 until 1951 when he went to Bakersfield and started his teaching career that lasted for thirty eight years. During these years, Cliff kept up on the growth and development of his hometown, Paso Robles, through his Father, Sid Tucker, the Paso Robles City Manager from 1936 until 1971. Also, many of his relatives resided in the area and still do. With the many family ties he has always had close ties to the area of his growth.

His early schooling was done with  great guidance from the many local teachers of that era like Winifer Pifer, Georgia Brown, Glen Speck, George Flamson, Nick Nugent, Hank Bieden, Martha Swanson and of course Easterberg.

Cliff graduated from Paso Robles High School in 1945 where he was an active student and leader.  He was the Student  Body President in 1944-45. He was a four sport letterman and has always said “Once a Bearcat, always a Bearcat.”

After serving in the Army for eighteen months, in 1945-46, he  started college at St. Mary’s but later transferred to San Jose State where he earned a teaching credential in history and physical education. Additional college work was done at Fresno State, Cal Poly, and Bakersfield State College. His teaching experiences covered a wide range of positions such as classroom teacher, “hooky cop”, coach, athletic director, counselor, dean of students. and vice principal.

After his wife of fifty-seven years, Vivian,  passed away in 2007 and three of his children and families had all left the Bakersfield area, Cliff  decided to return to the place that he cherished as his hometown, Paso Robles.

Since his return he has written many stories of Paso Robles and residents that lived there in 1930-40 for the Paso Robles Magazine and also a book, Paso Robles, 1930-50, When Highway 101 was Main Street of My Hometown. He married a former classmate, Louise Jennings, in 2011. He also serves as a docent at both the Pioneer Museum and the Carnegie Museum. Says Cliff with great satisfaction, “It’s Great To Be Home.”