Thomas Stora Andrews didn’t drink, smoke or carouse, but the man affectionately known as “Parson Tom” had as much reason to celebrate the New Year 1905 as anyone high on the beer that made Milwaukee famous.
At 32, Andrews was a popular and respected figure in the city he moved to from his native Canada with his parents when he was a year old. As a boy he played baseball and basketball on local amateur teams, but at 5’8” and barely 130 pounds, an athletic career wasn’t in the cards, and a job as a Western Union messenger led Andrews into the newspaper game. He eventually became sports editor of The Evening Wisconsin newspaper, one of five major dailies in Milwaukee in the early 20th century.
Milwaukee was then one of the country's top boxing venues, thanks in large part to Andrews’ efforts at boosting the sport not only in his newspaper but also as matchmaker for the city's first professional boxing organization, The Badger Athletic Club.
Tom Andrews wasn’t just a big fish in a small pond. Two years earlier, the first ‘T.S. Andrews Sporting Annual’ had been published to great acclaim by boxing fans all over the world. It was a pocket-size compendium of sports data that included the records of about 60 professional boxers. The third edition, expanded and due out in January, 1905, would solidify the reputation of its author as, to quote from the opening page of Andrews’ record books, “America’s Greatest Boxing Authority.”
As 1905 dawned, things were also looking bright for George Lawler. A decade earlier, Lawler was a boilermaker who earned free drinks in Milwaukee taverns by breaking one-inch pine boards with his bare fists for the entertainment of the other customers. Encouraged to try his luck in the prize ring, the 6’3” heavyweight found the going considerably tougher when his targets punched back. Lawler lost more than he won, and was stopped by Ed Dunkhorst, Gus Ruhlin, middleweight champion Tommy Ryan, and in 10 rounds by future heavyweight champion Jack Johnson.
In his only hometown bout, on December 9, 1899, Lawler lost a six-round decision to Klondyke Haynes in what the Milwaukee Journal called “one of the worst exhibitions of ring generalship ever seen.”
But in the summer of 1904, Lawler put together a modest winning streak in a series of bouts in small towns in northern Wisconsin. The reason for this, it turned out, was that the guy in the other corner for most of them was Charles Lawler, George’s brother, fighting under a variety of assumed names.
The purpose of these fights was to raise the money necessary for George to begin his life anew. At age 30, he had decided to put boxing behind him and start over in a new, more respected profession. In the fall of 1904, Lawler enrolled in the Milwaukee Medical College to begin studying to become a physician.
A celebrity to the younger students, Lawler played for the medical college football team and seemed to have left his old life and image behind for good – until he opened The Evening Wisconsin of January 3, 1905, and read in that day’s digest of boxing news:
“James J. Jeffries has wired to George Lawler asking him to join his troupe in Des Moines, Iowa, Wednesday night and act as his sparring partner. It is probable he will accept, though he is now pursuing his studies at the Milwaukee Medical College. Lawler is the husky weight who has been bush fighting around the copper country for a year in order to get the money necessary to carry him through a course of medical study.”
Two items later, another paragraph reported that Lawler had decided to remain in school and not “become a punching bag” for the heavyweight champion of the world. But thanks to the first report, George Lawler decided he had a little fight left in him after all.
In the late afternoon of January 5, Tom Andrews and several companions were leaving Barnickel’s gym at the Broadway Armory in downtown Milwaukee after watching lightweight Willie Fitzgerald train when out of the shadows stepped the Lawler brothers.
“I want to speak to you for a minute, Tom,” said George.
Andrews’ friends went outside to wait for him. Then George Lawler steered the diminutive editor toward a dark corner and, without warning, punched Andrews in the face. Lawler had seven inches and about 70 pounds on him, and Andrews’ lights went right out. But that didn’t keep the bigger man from straddling his prostrated body and smashing him several more times in the face, as Charles stood by and watched.
After several minutes, Andrews’ friends came back inside to see what was keeping him, arriving in time to see Lawler kick the unconscious Andrews in the face and yell, “Now, you son of a bitch, if you have me pinched I’ll kick the top of your head off!”
The brutal assault of Tom Andrews outraged the community. As he recuperated in bed from injuries that included several broken teeth, facial lacerations and badly swollen eyes, the Milwaukee Press Club met in emergency session and passed a resolution urging that Lawler be “punished for such an unexampled exhibition of cowardice and brutality.”
The Chamber of Commerce followed suit, and all the newspapers ran editorials decrying the attack the Milwaukee Journal called “a disgrace to the city.”
According to The Evening Wisconsin the day after the beating, “Public sentiment this morning was very strong against the perpetrator of the brutal assault against Mr. Andrews, and there were expressions of great indignation heard in the hotel lobbies and at the street corners. Offers of assistance to prosecute the accused man to the fullest extent of the law were made by a number of well known attorneys and some of the more radical openly expressed their desire to take the law in their own hands if the fellow secured bond.”
The details of the assault were repeated again and again with increasing abhorrence that any man could be so lost to reason and right as to beat and bruise a man of Mr. Andrews’ character. Not only among the sporting fraternity was the feeling of resentment and abhorrence felt, but among all classes of citizens, for Mr. Andrews is well known and respected by a large circle of friends.
“…Mr. Andrews’ friends state that they never have seen him in an offensive attitude, and even among Lawler’s pugilistic friends the severest criticism is rife.”
Charged with assault with intent to commit serious bodily harm and suspended from the Milwaukee Medical College, Lawler was more belligerent than repentant.
“Andrews was ‘knocking’ me all the time in his paper, and I got sore at him,” he explained. “He said that I made my expense money for college ‘bush fighting’ through the copper country. It wasn’t so. I asked him to let up on me and quit connecting my name with the ring.
“I’m sorry I did it, but I can’t see any reason why I should keep my hands off him just because he’s smaller than I, as long as he keeps knocking me.”
Lawler could have gotten up to three years in the slam, but for four months his lawyers kept getting postponements of his trial. When the judge wearied of that, they asked to have Lawler’s trial moved outside of Milwaukee on the grounds that the newspapers had whipped up so much sentiment against him it would be impossible to find 12 local citizens willing to give him a fair shake.
On May 12, for the first time in the history of Milwaukee jurisprudence a judge personally interviewed each of the 41 members of that day’s jury pool to determine their ability to stand in judgment. When none indicated any prejudice against a former prize fighter, the motion for a change of venue was denied, a jury was seated and the trial of George Lawler finally got underway.
It was over that same day, because in return for a guilty plea to assault and battery, the more serious charge against Lawler was dropped after one of his lawyers urged the judge to take into consideration that “the defendant has shown strength of character enough to renounce his former pugilistic life.”
He was sentenced to four months in the House of Correction, but when his lawyers asked that Lawler do his time instead in the county jail so he could continue his medical studies, the judge agreed. “Powerful influences have been at work for the prize fighter ever since his arrest,” dourly noted the Milwaukee Free Press.
T.S. Andrews recovered from his injuries and went on to greater fame as a boxing writer, record keeper and matchmaker (he was the first matchmaker at the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles when it opened in 1925). “Boxers seeking bouts or information about opponents frequently would address letters to ‘Mr. Andrews, U.S.A.,’ and he always received them without delay,” said The Milwaukee Journal upon his death in 1941 at age 72.
Largely in recognition of his pioneering work as a boxing journalist (his record books were published annually into the late 1930s, and are still prized by collectors), in 1992 Andrews was elected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, New York, in the “Non-Participant” category.
As for George Lawler, records at what is now the Wisconsin Medical College show that he graduated in 1908. He did his doctoring, like his bush fighting, in northern Wisconsin.