Friday, January 6, 2017

On This Date in Minnesota History: January 6

January 6, 1910 – Walter Whitehead, the negro heavyweight pugilist, was stabbed by Ralph Jones, another negro, early today during a crap game at the Douglas Club, an after-hours gambling club in Duluth. Whitehead was taken to the hospital, where his condition was said to be critical. Jones, held pending the outcome of Whitehead’s injuries, claims Whitehead assaulted him, and Whitehead made a similar statement.

Although Whitehead was badly wounded, having two cuts in the back, under the kidneys, and several cuts near the heart, he was expected to recover after he was taken to the hospital. He was in great physical shape, which was expected to aid him in fighting the result of the wounds. He rallied, but took a turn for the worse and died early the morning of Jan. 13, at St. Luke’s Hospital at the age of 27.

Walter Whitehead1


Jones was indicted by the grand jury on a charge of assault in the first degree, but the March grand jury is anticipated to return an indictment charging murder in the first degree, as the stories told by the witnesses seem to substantiate a charge of the highest degree of homicide.

When Jones was arrested he claimed that he used the weapon, a small pocket knife, in self-defense. He said that Whitehead had cheated him in a crap game and when he protested, the pugilist attacked him. He said the first attack was all over and quietness had been restored, but that Whitehead made a second attack, during which Jones pulled the knife. Whitehead had him on the floor, he said, when he used his weapon.

Witnesses’ stories did not agree with those as told by Jones. According to them the trouble did not start over a crap game. Jones and Whitehead had some words, but the fight was not serious and quietness was restored. They said that at the time of the stabbing, Whitehead was leaving the club with two women. Whitehead was going out the door with the women behind, when, they said, Jones bounded across the room, pushed the women aside and stabbed Whitehead twice in the back. When Whitehead turned toward his assailant, the witnesses said, Jones stabbed his victim near the heart, twisting the knife after he had driven its short blade into Whitehead’s body. Other men pulled him away and Whitehead was rushed to the hospital.

Although Whitehead had not gained very much prominence in the boxing world, he had figured in local fighting circles for about the past three years. He came here from Fargo, where he had done some fighting, and had lived in Minneapolis prior to that time. When not fighting, he was a waiter.

A Cuban negro of fine stature and proportions, Whitehead was believed by many boxing fans to have considerable yet-to-be-developed ability. Just before the fatal encounter, he had made arrangements with “Doc” Reid, a Chicago fight promoter, who intended to take him East and try him out.

Ralph Jones, who will have to face a murder charge on account of Whitehead’s death, has lived in Duluth for several years. He is known among the negroes as “Gashmouth” Jones, the nickname coming from the size of the main aperture in his face. He has been in court before, having been convicted in municipal court of simple assault on a negro named Ham, the affair also being the outcome of a crap game.

Whitehead left a wife, who took charge of the body. The funeral was held in Duluth, and Whitehead now lies in an unmarked grave in Duluth’s Forest Hill Cemetery.

Forest Hill Cemetery2


On March 22, Jones was allowed to plead guilty to the charge of murder in the third degree and he was at once sentenced to 30 years in the Minnesota state prison at Stillwater.

At noon, assistant County Attorney Warren e. Green and B.N. Goldberg, attorney for the defendant, got together and talked the matter over, with the result that Jones was allowed to plead guilty to murder in the third degree.

The Minneapolis Morning Tribune; “Duluth Pugilist Is Stabbed. Walter Whitehead, Negro, Seriously Wounded During Crap Game.”; Jan. 7, 1910; p. 3.

1The Duluth Evening Herald; “Jones Now Faces First Degree Murder Charge. Walter Whitehead Dies as Result of Cutting Scrape. Witnesses’ Stories Do Not Support Jones’ Plea of Self-Defense.”; Jan. 15, 1910; p. 5.

The Duluth Evening Herald; “Jones Will Be Indicted. Charge of Murder in First Degree Will Likely Be Preferred. Knife With Which Whitehead Was Stabbed Said to Be Located.”; Feb. 22, 1910; p. 11.

The Duluth Evening Herald; “Jones Pleads Guilty; Is Given Thirty Years”; March 22, 1910; p. 7.



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