Conducting family history and genealogy can be very rewarding for all the wonderful stories and people that you discover along the way. Family histories are also where one discovers the tragedies that one’s family has had to endure over the years. The story of Ernest “Kid” Eppenstiner, an up-and-coming boxer of the 1910s, is one of those tragedies from my own family history.
A note on the spelling of Eppenstiner: The historical record often presents different variations on the spelling, even within the family itself. In telling this story I am using the spelling used by Ernest and his immediate family.
The Eppenstiner family settled in the region of northern Kentucky and southern Ohio in the early 19th century with the arrival of Conrad Eppenstiner from Bavaria. The family moved back and forth across the border a number of times over the course of the 19th century, with Ernest’s family eventually residing in the Hamilton, Ohio area by 1915.
Ernest was the oldest of four children of Adam Eppenstiner and Lillian Curtis Eppenstiner, born in 1895 in Brown County, Ohio. Shortly after his birth the family relocated to Mason County, Kentucky where Adam rented a farm. Ten years later, in 1910, the family had moved again, this time to Butler County, Ohio where Adam now was in the saloon business. It was around this time that Ernest had begun to learn the sport of boxing.
Boxing was not the only athletic endeavor that interested Ernest. While attending Hamilton High School in Hamilton, Ohio he was a standout on the school’s baseball, basketball and football teams. While he was very athletic he was by no means large, recorded as being of medium height and build according to his World War One draft registration.
Ernest’s known boxing career began in the spring of 1912 when he was on the under-card of a “Boxing Carnival” being presented at the Grand Theater in Hamilton, Ohio. Ernest was slated for a five round match with another local fighter. The main attraction of the night was a ten round match between Arthur Coleman and Battling Wilcox.
The newspaper account of Ernest’s bout is the first time Ernest is referred to as either “Young” or “Kid” Eppenstiner, a name that would follow him throughout his brief boxing career. Given that he was only sixteen at the time of the fight, it was certainly a suitable name. Even though Ernest conceded fifteen pounds to his opponent he managed to battle him to a draw with his “footwork and clever ducking.”
Later that summer Ernest went up against another local fighter, Toe Williams. The match was held at the Merry Widow Camp in Butler County, Ohio. Newspaper accounts of the event billed Ernest and Williams as “the cleverest young boxers Hamilton ever produced.” At the time of the match, in July 1912, Ernest had yet to lose a match to anyone in his weight class. Ernest would fight Toe again several weeks later in a bout at the Butler County Athletic Club that Toe would later remember that fight as having “really packed ’em in.”
Ernest’s boxing career continued throughout his high school years and while he was also actively participating in the other sports mentioned above. Whether Ernest intended to pursue boxing professionally or not is unknown, but the sudden death of his father in March 1916 forced Ernest to become the sole provider for the family. A point he notes on his World War One draft registration document.
Ernest took a job as an Oiler at the Hamilton Furnace Company in Coke Otto (New Miami), Ohio and supplemented that income by continuing his boxing career. He fought in matches throughout Ohio and, at one point, his manager even took him to Canada for bout where Ernest knocked out his opponent less than two minutes into the fight. Unfortunately Ernest’s boxing career, and life, would come to an abrupt end in October 1917.
It had been over a year since Ernest’s last documented fight when he agreed to a bout against Fort Wayne, Indiana fighter Kid Hesse. The ten round match was held at the Dayton Gymnastic Club in Dayton, Ohio on 29 October 1917. Not surprisingly Ernest held his own and the fight dragged into the tenth and final round. Kid Hesse connected with a punch that knocked Ernest down by the ropes and his head struck the floor. He was immediately knocked unconscious and there were concerns that he may have broken his back. Ernest was transported to Miami Valley Hospital where they determined he suffered a serious concussion. He would never regain consciousness and he died in the early morning of 30 October 1917.
Young Ernest Eppenstiner was mourned in the newspapers in southwestern Ohio as a talented multi-sport athlete who came from a well-respected, working class family. By all accounts, his future was a bright one that unfortunately ended with his final knockout. He was buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Hamilton, Ohio. Following his career in the local and regional papers was a wonderful way to connect with an ancestor I never knew existed.
Ernest “Young” Eppenstiner’s Known Bouts:
3 May 1912
Grand Theater, Hamilton, Ohio
Versus “Kid” Schalk, 5 rounds – Draw
Merry Widow Camp, Butler County, Ohio
Versus “Toe” Williams –
18 Dec 1914
Versus Cy Young, Win / Decision
15 Feb 1915
Versus Jack Osborne
22 Feb 1915
Versus Cy Young, 10 rounds – Win / TKO
5 Apr 1915
Jefferson Theater, Hamilton, Ohio
Versus Andy Adams, 4 rounds – Exhibition
12 Apr 1915
Versus “Battling” Felzer, 4 rounds – Draw
Hartman Athletic Club, Hamilton, Ohio
Versus Al Thompson, 10 rounds
29 Oct 1917
Dayton Gymnastic Club, Dayton, Ohio
Versus “Kid” Hesse, 10 rounds – Loss
© Noel B. Poirier, 2020.