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DELANO RAMBLINGS: Boxer Eddie Cotton likely Allensworth's most famous past resident

I kept The Californian’s Jan. 15 edition because it reported on a virtual tour of Allensworth and the valley’s Black history.

I am told that in the Oct. 26, 2010, Ramblings I reported on Eddie Cotton’s boxing exploits after I learned that he was from Allensworth.

I will start at the beginning. It must have been the 1960s when I heard on TV during a boxing match that Eddie Cotton was from Delano.

That was before the days of computers and the internet, so I had no idea how to reach him. I just addressed a letter to “Eddie Cotton, Boeing Co., Seattle, Washington.” I had learned that he worked at Boeing.

Amazingly, weeks later I received from him a small newspaper that must have been the program for one of his matches and was printed on newsprint.

He had inked remarks on the writeup of his life, including asking if his old football coach Ray Frederick was still around (he was at that time) and his business ed teacher, Mr. Brooding. Somehow I have lost or discarded that paper and cannot recall everything on it. I do recall that Cotton said he drove the Delano High school bus from Allensworth at that time, which flabbergasted me that as a student he was allowed to drive a school bus!

Then at the old Delano Record office I received an email dated Dec. 2, 2013, from Stephen Hill Sr., of the Friends of Allensworth, San Diego Chapter No. 12.

Hill asked if I had a copy of the article or the letter that he wrote me. I did not have the copy and it was a small “program,” not a letter, so I never got back to Hill. Also, the material he provided me on Cotton was much more detailed than what I had known.

Hill found information that Cotton was born June 15, 1926, in Muskogee, Okla., and that he was a former boxer residing in Seattle until his death June 24, 1990, following a second liver transplant.

Said the item Hill gained from an encyclopedia: “Cotton was a light heavyweight contender from the late 1950s until his retirement in the late 1960s. He was known as a good defensive fighter, although not very exciting. He was also prone to getting cut in fights. His style was undoubtedly influenced by his original trainer, who had boxed in an almost identical manner. He twice unsuccessfully challenged for the world light heavyweight title, losing to Harold Johnson for the National Boxing Association title in 1961. In 1966 he lost what many felt was a controversial decision to Jose Torres for the world title. ‘Ring Magazine’ named the Torres bout the Fight of the Year.”

Cotton fought 81 times in his career, winning 56, losing 23, and drawing 2 fights. He retired from boxing in 1967. After his boxing career ended, Cotton worked for the Boeing Aircraft Company as a tool and die maker. He was also a member of the Washington State Boxing Commission. Cotton owned a restaurant in Seattle which bore his name. A Seattle street also bore his name.

Hill’s message to me included a story from The Seattle Times printed at the time of his death on Monday, June 25, 1990.

Cotton died in the University of Washington Medical Center 13 days after undergoing a second liver transplant in three months. He was 64.

The article said that Cotton was honored at two “Eddie Cotton Appreciation” events earlier in 1990.

At the time, Cotton was asked by medical personnel why he became a prizefighter. He responded, “I said it was because I was pretty good at it.”

The article said that almost certainly Cotton’s record would have been even better if he had fought all of his bouts in the Pacific Northwest or even in this country.

“But, because most fighters in his weight class didn’t want to step in the ring with him, Cotton was forced to fight all over the world. Hometown judges in South America and Europe were naturally biased against the outsider. Cotton never weighed more than 168 pounds but often found himself in the ring with men 20 to 30 pounds heavier than he.

“In 1957 when he fought a very overweight Archie Moore in Seattle, Cotton’s trainers sewed 11 pounds of lead into his jockstrap for the weigh-in, so nobody would know that Moore outweighed the Seattle fighter by 30 pounds. Moore won by decision.”

In 1963, Cotton earned his first shot at the light-heavyweight title, losing to then-champion Harold Johnson in 15 rounds at Sicks' Stadium. A friend of Cotton’s was a judge for the match and later told Cotton, “It was close, but I had to vote against Eddie. He had too much style and character ever to complain to me.”

The article said that Cotton’s bitterest disappointment was his loss to Jose Torres in Las Vegas. “Cotton, then 40 years old and an odds-on-underdog for the nationally televised fight, was expected to be no match for Torres, reputed to be the most vicious body puncher in the world at any weight. Cotton not only was on his feet at the end of the fight, but most of those in the crowd thought he had won. But Torres was declared the winner.”

The article said that Cotton grew up in Arizona and California, lettering in four sports at Delano High School. He enlisted in the Navy as a teenager and wound up in Bremerton.

The year 1945 would have been his graduation year, but I could find only a yearbook of 1944, and he was pictured on the varsity football and basketball teams.

The track writeup — this was his junior year — said, “Junior Eddie Cotton, a real go-getter, led the field of trackmen throughout the season. He leaped 21-5.5 at a five-way meet in Porterville to break the 14-year-old school record.” A yearbook photo shows him high jumping.

Among the school staff photos was a picture of  drivers — that included Cotton.

It’s possible that he did not even go to high school for what would have been his senior year and MAY have entered the military instead.

The only classmate of his that I know is still around is Betty (Gage) Kouklis, whose letters to the editor I still see in The Californian.

The article said that in 1946 after three or four amateur fights he entered the Gold Gloves in Seattle. He weighed 161 pounds and could have shed weight to make middleweight but was told by a friend to fight as a light heavyweight where the limit was 175 pounds. In Golden Gloves he defeated fighters who outweighed him by 12 pounds.

Cotton began work at Boeing as a tool and die maker early in his prizefighting career. In 1966 the company designated him as its “Goodwill Ambassador” and the same year the Seattle Post-Intelligencer named him “Man of the Year.”

One of Cotton’s close friends in recent years had been former fighter Larry Buck, who credited Cotton with helping him to develop as a prizefighter. Buck said when he didn’t have a sparring partner that Cotton would get into the ring with him. “He was well up in his 40s by then, but it was still a real education,” said Buck.

Cotton’s wife, June Lombard-Cotton, was a professional educator who married him after his fighting career was over.

Cotton’s longtime manager after hearing of Cotton’s death remarked, “Eddie Cotton was a high-class guy. He spoiled me for other fighters I handled over the years.”

Cotton was survived by a son, Vann, and two daughters, Delphone and Pam Cotton, all of Seattle.

There have been other Delano High athletes who have come from Allensworth. I recall when I wrote stories about Delano football returning home by school bus from a game in Tulare and passing through Earlimart. Players from Earlimart would get off the bus, usually after 11 p.m. because in those days players actually showered in the away gyms and that took time for all to finish.

One night, O. B. Hendrix, Demar Lewis (who later played at Fresno State) and Demar’s brothers, Donald and Eugene, and even some other boys who played football, got off the bus on a dark night in Earlimart, and assistant coach Ed DeFraga asked them, “Do you need a ride home?”

They all said no and started the walk west to Allensworth, in the dark, 7 miles away!! I can’t imagine an athlete these days willing to walk home that far, and late at night!!

I just hope that Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park has a writeup and picture of Cotton, who certainly must be the community’s most famous past resident.