Al Barber and Battling Doty
Boxing fans may be interested to learn about the history of the sport and the stories of two early boxers in Oceanside.
Fighters in the early 20th century like Jim Jeffries, Gene Tunney and Jack Dempsey ignited interest around the country and filled arenas for both amateur and professional bouts. But shortly after organized matches were brought to Oceanside, boxing was banned here for two decades.
John L. Sullivan, a bareknuckle fighter who became the first American heavyweight champion in 1882, may have been the inspiration for Oceanside’s founder Andrew Jackson Myers. Myers, who was known to race a horse or two, was once featured in a local bout. The South Oceanside Diamond announced on August 10, 1888, that Myers would face the “Great Unknown” in a “grand slugging exhibition at the old Pavilion.” Spectators had to pay 50 cents to view the event, which also featured Myers’ son Joseph Myers and Charles Kolb in a bare-knuckle contest.
Local boxing enthusiasts were likely pleased when in 1908 the Oceanside Blade reported that the “Blake brothers have fitted up a gymnasium at the Mira Mar hotel for the free use of the young men of the town. The outfit is composed of a turning pole, swinging rings and trapeze. Some of the citizens intend adding a punching bag, boxing gloves, etc., which will make it very complete. The hall room is used for the purpose.”
Aloysius Cloud Thill, known as “Allie”, was one of the first local boxers to box professionally. He was the son of Andrew and Clara Thill who relocated to Southern California, along with younger son Francis around 1910.
Born October 29, 1898, in Buffalo, Minnesota, Allie Thill was both studious and athletic. He was the Vice President of the Freshmen Society at the Oceanside-Carlsbad High School and played on the school baseball team.
The elder Thill owned a popular barber shop for years and both he and his son Allie shared the occupation. The Oceanside Blade commented on Thill’s barbershop in 1914: “A. Thill recently placed in front of his tonsorial parlor on Cleveland Street one of the niftiest barber poles ever seen in these parts, it is of the rotary kind and when lighted up at night makes a fellow want to get shaved whether he needs it or not.”
In 1914 a group of Oceanside businessmen formed the California Social Club. Founding members included Hale Backensto and Andrew Thill. The club was formed for “educational and amusement purposes”. The source of amusement it seems was found in alcohol, which would find the club embroiled in controversy. But one other purpose of the organization was to hold boxing matches in Oceanside.
Hale Backensto, president of the Social Club, was in trouble for operating a “blind pig” or selling liquor without a license. He was arrested three times, and twice acquitted. He filed a $5,000 lawsuit against L. W. Stump, justice of the peace, and G. D. Love, constable for damages. Backensto’s arrests and subsequent lawsuit did not make him friends with the Oceanside City Council and Andrew Thill resigned from the social club.
Just before his 18th birthday, Allie Thill stepped into the boxing ring. He went by the name of Al Barber. The Oceanside Register shared some of the highlights of Al’s first fight against Fred Fadley on September 29, 1915: “Al Thill Wednesday night won an honor for himself and for Oceanside when be fought Fred Fadley in a four round go at the Field rink in San Diego. Although the fight was a draw Thill did splendid work and had fearful odds, his opponent being a trained fighter. Thill was supported by a score of local fans, whose voices were heard above the other 800 members of the audience. He won the favor of the whole crowd when he started the bout with an aggressive campaign against his opponent, giving him three punches for every one he received in the first round. In the second. Thill easily doubled the points over Fadley, but owing to lack of training, he tired out before the finish. With remarkable cleverness the local champ held off the well figured out blows of the San Diego fighter, but at two or three occasions failed to grasp opportunities to lay his opponent on his back. Had it not been for this, he would doubtlessly have been given the decision.”
Thill certainly made an impression, especially since he had started boxing only a week prior to his first match! Given direction by W. A. Roche, a member of the notorious California Social Club, Al Thill quickly became a local favorite, known for his heavy punch.
The excitement of Thill’s prowess and future success brought boxing to Oceanside when the following month several bouts were held at Mildred Hall on North Tremont Street. The Oceanside Blade reported that “Frank Fields of San Diego, outboxed Charlie Tapsico, an Oceanside product, for three rounds of what was to have been a four-round bout.” (Charles Tapsico was an amateur boxer only and a mechanic by trade.)
Summaries of the other bouts were as follows: “Red Gardner stopped Blacky Sandow in two rounds while Billy Howard performed the same service for Billy Patton in the third. Al Barber secured the decision over Shano Rodriguez of Tia Juana, the contest going four rounds in one of the bouts.” The article concluded with the sensationalized detail that “there was a satisfactory amount of gore visible to satisfy the fans and the crowd seemed to have obtained the worth of the fifty and seventy-five cents charged for the seats.”
Despite the previous lawsuits and scandals, in November of 1915 the California Social Club held a subsequent boxing match in Oceanside promoted by Frank Fields, former boxing champion and promotor of San Diego.
In March of 1916 Allie Thill began training with Frank Fields. Thill and Fred Fadley fought again the following month at Oceanside’s Mildred Hall but once again the bout ended in a draw. The fight drew over 100 attendees who also saw other matches, one with locals Frank Mebach and William Patton, followed by Joe Lopez who outboxed the Oklahoma Kid, and then another draw between Windy Briley and Shining Oscar.
Al Thill would finally get his first winning decision on April 29th in a four-round match against “Young Sandy.”
On June 10, 1916 Thill as “Al Barber” faced Joe Berry, known as the “Italian Crackerjack” in Oceanside. The Oceanside Register announced the bout touting both fighters: “Berry has a knock-out punch that has set many other fighters to flee and young Barber’s courage in taking him on will win still higher praise among his many local admirers.”
At the height of enthusiasm and growing excitement of boxing matches, sanctioned or hosted by members of the now defunct California Social Club, the Oceanside City Council put an end to any and all future bouts. In July of 1916 they passed Ordinance No. 226 “Prohibiting the Holding of Sparring or Boxing Exhibition for Profit.” The ordinance read “Any person, who, within the corporate limits of the City of Oceanside, California, engages in or instigates, aids, abets or does any act to further any contest, sparring or boxing exhibition between two or more persons, with or without gloves, for prizes, reward or compensation, directly or indirectly, or who charges, receives, accepts, gives or takes any ticket, token, prize money, or thing of value from any person or persons for the purpose of seeing or witnessing any such contest, sparring or boxing exhibition —- shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and upon conviction thereof, shall be fined not more than $300.00 and be imprisoned for a period not to exceed three months or both such fine and imprisonment.”
Nonetheless, the Oceanside Register announced on October 20, 1916, that “Thill the Barber here, is soon to return to the boxing game. He is known as Al Barber and will meet Sandy from ‘Frisco. They are both said to be in first class condition and are about equally matched, so it ought to be a good fight.” Due to the ban, this fight was likely not held in Oceanside.
Thill’s professional boxing career was interrupted in 1917 when he entered the Navy during world War I. Stationed in San Francisco, he met and married Cecilia Goodwin of Napa. (This marriage ended in divorce, but Allie married again in 1926 to Ethel T. Vesely by whom he had two children.)
Although it appears his boxing career was well behind him, in July of 1919, Thill took to the ring again to entertain spectators in an exhibition held at the Oceanside Beach. The Oceanside Blade reported: “Saturday’s amusements under the supervision of W. H. Trotter were enjoyed by a crowd almost as large as that of the day before and consisted of music, dancing, sparring matches, rodeo, ball game and other sports. The boxing took place at the new band stand on the beach. Al Barber, the “Pride of Oceanside,” sparred four rounds to a draw with Kid Dillon of San Diego. Frank Fields and Battling Clark went four fast rounds, also to a draw.”
In 1924 Thill took over his father’s barbershop which had relocated to the basement of the Palace Hotel on North Hill Street (which his father built). He and his wife Ethel raised their two children, LaGloria and John (known to friends as Gloria and Jack), in a home located at 801 Alberta Street. Thill remained a sports enthusiast, hunting, golfing, playing billiards, and was one of the founders of Oceanside’s annual rough water swim. Active in a variety of local organizations, he served as commander of the Disabled American Veterans.
Al Thill died in 1962 and was laid to rest in Eternal Hills Memorial Park. His son Jack was proud of the fact that his dad never lost a professional fight.
Another Oceanside resident who stepped in the ring and went professional was George Webler, better known to boxing fans as “Battling Doty.”
The son of Thomas and Mary Webler, George Napoleon Webler, born in Kankakee, Illinois in 1903, was one of six children, and the oldest of three sons. George was named after his paternal grandfather, George A. Webler, who arrived in Oceanside in 1904 and operated a restaurant in downtown Oceanside.
Thomas Webler supported his large family by working at the Oceanside-Carlsbad High School as a custodian and groundskeeper. The Webler children all attended Oceanside schools, both grammar and high school. The boys were athletic and known for the prowess in foot racing and particularly baseball.
Although George Webler was skilled with a bat, he was just as well known for his fists. William Reid Couts remembered him all too well. “I remember George Webler; [he] was two grades ahead of me. He used to beat me up pretty nearly every day. I always had a girl, you know, and Doty would want to take her away from me. I remember one time he was on top of me, beating the hell out of me, one of the teachers took him off of me.
“Doty was just a nickname they gave him; George was his first name. If you looked up his records for his fight, it was Battling Doty. He was a middleweight, I think he was a welterweight to start, but he wound up a middleweight.”
George Webler did not graduate high school but instead, at the age of 17, joined the Navy. The Oceanside Blade reported on July 24, 1920, that, “George Webler has signed up as a jacktar in Uncle Sam’s Navy.” A jack tar was a term used to refer to seamen of Britain’s Merchant or Royal Navy, but by World War I it was also used for those in the U.S. Navy. The following week Webler left for training at Goat Island, San Francisco.
Webler’s time in the Navy was short because by 1921 he was back on the local Oceanside baseball team, where he played off and on for three more years.
By 1922 Webler went from a street fighter to a professional one, using the name of “Battling Doty”. In November of that year the Santa Ana newspaper reported that Battling Doty of Wintersburg was scheduled to fight Joe Riley. (Wintersburg is a small area or neighborhood near Huntington Beach, established largely by Japanese. It is unknown how or why Webler became associated with Wintersburg, he possibly lived there for a brief time.) In Oceanside he was a local favorite and by all accounts he was a powerful puncher.
Webler lost his debut match with Riley on a technical knockout on November 15th but came back two weeks later in a rematch and won. A bout with Kid Tex ended in a win for Webler but he lost to Babe Orton in San Bernardino on March 1, 1923. Webler’s boxing career seesawed, with 28 wins, 26 losses and 7 draws. (Stats from boxerlist.com)
William Reid Couts, who spoke at length with his run-ins with Webler recounted vividly: “Man, that guy was ornery, even when he grew up he was ornery. Mean! I went to Escondido to see him fight one time, that’s when he was on his way down –when booze and women got him. He was a good fighter, Doty was. I seen him fight a couple of times. He fought everything in the west coast, the middle west. He was big time. But you just can’t battle that booze.
Webler was in Escondido for a scheduled fight in 1924. Couts recalled an encounter with Doty before the match: “I went over to Escondido and I walked in his dressing room, before Doty had this fight and he shook hands, ‘How are you?’ and all that and all of a sudden, WHAM, took me in the kidney, just WHAM. No reason, absolutely no reason at all. A professional fighter whacking you in the kidneys, they know where to hit, you know. So I picked up something, I think it was a chair. ‘I’m going to brain you, you son of a bitch.’ He said, ‘Come on, can’t you take anymore?’ ‘You watch your step,’ I said. I always told him, ‘Someday I’m going to kill ya.’
From January to April of 1925 Doty dominated in the ring. He won seven consecutive bouts, two by knock out.
In March of that year Webler married Ruth Chambers of San Diego. The marriage however was short-lived. Ruth filed for annulment on the grounds that she was underage when the two married. She was just 16 ½ years old at the time of their nuptials. A judge granted the annulment in June 1925.
That year Doty fought seventeen matches professional matches, winning eleven, five of them consecutively; two ended in a draw. He fought three opponents in just as many days in exhibition fights, which were just as long and grueling. In 1926 his win record was eight out of fifteen, with two draws. In 1927 Webler won just three out of eleven matches and was knocked out twice. His boxing career ended just after five years but his sixty-one professional fights, and numerous exhibitions took a toll.
Webler was working as a taxi driver in San Diego in 1928 and 1929. Perhaps his hard drinking caught up with him, along with the many hard punches his embattled body would have taken. Local newspapers circulated the sad story that he attempted to take his life by “inhaling gas in his room at 1334 Front Street.” He was taken by police ambulance and transported to the “psychopathic ward.”
He recovered and was released from the hospital but his life continued in a downward spiral. In 1930 he was arrested and found guilty of first-degree burglary while in Los Angeles. He was sentenced to 1 to 5 years and sent to San Quentin Prison on November 22nd. Paroled in 1934 and discharged from supervision in 1936, Webler stayed in Northern California after his release. He worked as a shoe shiner along the Embarcadero in the 1940s.
Unaware from his fall from grace, William Reid Couts, who had been the target of Webler as a young man, was still confounded by his assaults. “The last time I ever saw Doty I told him, ‘The day will come when I’m going to knock you from here to yesterday.’ Last I heard he was a merchant sailor.”
Then perhaps thinking of George’s probable age in 1987 (the year of his interview) added: “But he’d be 82, so I might not do it! But believe me, I might think about it if I see him!”
Couts was unaware of Battling Doty’s fall from grace, and his death which had occurred two decades previous. George Webler died May 31, 1966 in his hotel room at the Lincoln Hotel at 115 Market Street in San Francisco. Records indicate his cause of death was fatty degeneration of the liver, perhaps due to long term drinking. His sister Lillian Webler Newton paid his funeral and cremation expenses.
The City of Oceanside repealed the ban on boxing in June of 1938. The small town of Encinitas was featuring boxing every Thursday night and proved to be quite popular. Subsequently Councilmember Ted Holden stated at meeting that he had been approached by a “responsible party” about holding boxing matches of a “professional character”.
City Clerk John Landes informed him of the 1916 ordinance and an additional 1930 ordinance banning matches except those under the auspices of the American Amateur Union. Rather than amend the previous ordinance it was suggested a new one altogether and to update others as it was pointed out that there was an ordinance forbidding “a speed of more than 8 miles an hour for motor vehicles.”
Later that summer Jim “Dynamite” Dawson and Herb ‘‘Dangerous” Dunham faced each other in a three-round boxing bout at the beach.
In 1941 Oceanside’s Recreation Park hosted exhibition boxing. On August 29th the main event featured a three-round battle between locals Johnnie Dominic “The Vegetable King” and “Hit ’Um” Eddie Hubbard.
Amateur boxing matches were featured at the Oceanside Athletic Club shortly after it opened in 1949. (Wrestling, however, proved much more popular.)
Lee Ramage, a native of San Diego, moved to Oceanside in 1950. In 1931 he was the Light Heavyweight Champion of California and fought 105 fights over his nine-year profession career. At the peak of his career, he was ranked in the top five of heavyweight boxers. Most notably he fought Joe Louis, the Brown Bomber, TWICE. In his first meeting with Louis in Chicago in 1934, Ramage held his own for seven rounds, but Louis won by TKO. Three months later they fought again in Los Angeles with the same result. Ramage operated a gas station/grocery store and trailer camp at 1624 South Hill Street (Coast Highway) in the 1950s.
Oceanside was thrilled to host Heavyweight Champion Floyd Patterson in 1958. Patterson stayed at a local hotel and trained at the Beach Community Center for his title bout against Roy Harris. Patterson was accompanied by his trainer and manager, the legendary Cus D’Amato who would train boxer Mike Tyson years later.