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The Boxing Biographies Newsletter

Volume 2- No 6             21st February ,  2008


The Nelson Family, One of the Oldest

and Most Blue-Blooded in Historic

Old Denmark.




Lightweight Champion of the World. My full name is Oscar Battling Matthew Nelson. I was born on June 5, 1882 in Copenhagen, Denmark, the day on which we Danes celebrate the winning of Independence. Though born on foreign soil I herewith proclaim myself an American in every sense of the word.

When scarcely one year old my parents and their small family emigrated to this glorious land of the free, and the home of the brave. This was in 1883. Father and Mother had relatives in the West, and therefore we did not tarry long in New York. We landed in Oshkosh, Wis., that fall, and settled down on a neat little truck farm which father had purchased. We remained there one year after which we moved to Dalton, 111., a place not far from Chicago proper. The following Spring we moved to our present home Hegewisch, Ill. Therefore the Nelsons have been residing in Hegewisch for 23 years or more.


I was sent to the Henry Clay school when six years old, and continued to master English until I was 13. Hegewisch is located within a short distance of Wolf Lake and Lake Michigan, one of the largest bodies of fresh water in the world.. The chief industries of this thriving little town in those days were truck gardening, Ice cutting, and meat packing. The lakes in the vicinity each winter gave up tons upon tons of beautiful clear ice which was shipped to all parts of the country. The winter seasons found nearly every able bodied man, youths, and mere kids like myself employed cutting, storing and packing the big cold cakes for the Chicago market. Boys were employed to drive the horses used for hauling the ice. I showed an early aptitude for the business, and secured a steady position with John Daline, the ICE MAN of Hegewisch. My first week's work netted me 90 cents, or 15 cents per day.

I remained in Daline's employ all Winter, and as I had been attentive to business and worked hard Mr. Daline appealed to my father to allow me to continue in his employ. I wanted to go back to work in preference to going back to school.

I forged ahead gradually, and before I quit Daline to enter the employ of the G. H. Hammond Co., I was drawing one dollar a day. I picked up the fine points of the business rapidly and from driver was promoted to cutter, timekeeper, and finally assistant foreman. During this time I was going to night school.

It was this early taste of heavy, hard outdoor work  which served to build up and make a strong, sturdy "kid" of me. Though not very tall I was stockily built for a youngster, and when I quit the Hammond Company I was really doing a man's work.


I was in the employ of this company when I made my first public appearance as a boxer, or prizefighter, at Wallace's Circus, in Hammond, Ind., on Sept. 3, 1896. Hammond is only a few miles from Hegewisch. At the time I was working as a meat cutter. On account of the warm weather we were working only three or four days a week and, of course, being such a kid, I was anxious to see the circus when it arrived in town. I applied there and asked for the job of carrying a banner in the parade, or carrying water to the elephants.

The manager lined us up in the parade and after its conclusion we kids were put to work carrying water to the elephants, for which work we were handed passes for the show. I had gained quite a reputation about Hammond and Hegewisch as a shifty, hard-hitting sort of a kid and naturally my ability as a boxer was greatly admired by all the youngsters in our vicinity, most of whom worked in the factories thereabouts.

We learned that Wallace had a world renowned prize fighter traveling with the big show who was meeting all comers. The strangest part of the affair was the fact that no one seemed to know just who he was or where he had won his reputation as a "maneater." Wallace positively refused to divulge his identity.


We here in front of the main entrance of the show long before the affair had opened, and one of my comrades, who possessed an unusual amount of nerve, boldly stepped into the manager's tent and said : "Say, boss, we've gotta feller here wid us named Bat Nelson wot's willin' to meet dat champ of yourn to-night. What would you give if our champ knocks de block off you great slugging unknown "

The old manager, used to such 'incidents as this, laughed heartily and said: "Well, if your pal stands up the full three rounds necessary before my man, why I'll give him a dollar. Besides, if he should actually manage to win, why I'll give him a chance to try each succeeding night."

That suited me to a nicety, and while we all enjoyed the show very much we were all anxious to hear the big lusty-lunged ringmaster announce the "main scream" of the evening's entertainment, the appearance of the sensational whirlwind lightweight wonder-fighting champion of the world Wallace's unknown.

My fighting togs consisted of a thin well-worn, red sweater in which I worked and a pair of low rubber shoes. The big, white tent was packed to suffocation with citizens of Hammond, Hegewisch, South Chicago, and other small burgs thereabouts. Three of my brothers were there and, of course, were unaware of the fact that I was awaiting my turn to tackle the "Demon”to go into the sawdust covered arena and dance before the public for the first time as a fighter.


The manager of the show grabbed me roughly by the shoulder and hustled me into a side tent saying: "Now, kid, be game and don't allow this fierce man-eater to kill you. He hits like a trip-hammer and the very sting of death is in every blow."

Now, kind reader, you can easily depict the string of chills and thrills which chased themselves up, down and across my spinal column. The sea of faces, the roaring of the lions and other wild animals, and the wonderful glare of the hundreds of flaming lights were sufficient to unnerve anyone. Inside the tent I met face to face the terrible Unknown. He was stripped for action already, and was nervously pacing the floor like a caged tiger, ready to spring upon and throttle the innocent lamb (the dub who was to face him).

The manager, with a growl, said, addressing the Unknown, "Here, Jack, is Bat Nelson, who is going to try and win a dollar of your money to-night by staying on his feet for three rounds !"

Jack was as tough a looking fellow as I had ever seen or have met since. He stood about five feet six, and, of course, was a few inches taller than I. He possessed broad, compactly-built shoulders, had a square, heavy jaw, and, all in all, was a rather likely looking fellow. He would have passed for a twin brother of Kid Broad. I wasn't much on muscle or breadth of shoulders then, but 1 had worked hard and long for two years hauling ice, shovelling coal and doing some butchering also, and, for a kid, had a beaut of a sleep producer myself.

Jack would hardly look at me and he growled, "All right, we'll see him stand it out."