LIMA — Don A. Baxter was born to privilege.
The scion of one of Lima’s most prominent families, he was a graduate of a military school, a business man and a frequent subject of the society columns of Lima’s newspapers at the turn of the century. If there was a euchre party or a 5 o’clock tea in Lima, Don A. Baxter probably was there.
Don L. Baxter knocked people out.
A boxer, or “pug” as newspapers of the day were fond of calling them, Don L. Baxter fought, and fought often, in smoky halls across Lima and Ohio during boxing’s heyday in the late teens and early ‘20s.
Although the two men shared nearly identical names and lived at about the same time in the same city, they inhabited very different worlds.
Don A. Baxter was born in 1875, the son of Samuel A. Baxter Jr., who the 1976 county history described as “an outstanding doctor and humanitarian, a good business man as well and one of Lima’s early leading citizens.” He served as mayor from 1896 to 1898. Don A. Baxter’s grandfather, Samuel A. Baxter Sr., arrived in Lima in 1838 from Maryland by way of Lancaster to open a hat store. He soon became interested in law and became one of the city’s early lawyers.
The Baxter family home stood at the corner of Baxter and Market streets and was considered a Lima showplace. “As one contemporary described it,” Marian W. Fletcher wrote in the 1976 history, “’This house always seemed to me like a castle nestling in its park.’” The red brick house contained 11 rooms with a “serpentine staircase spiraling steeply from the front entrance hall to the fourth-floor tower room …”
Don A. Baxter left the family home in the late 1880s to attend the Michigan Military Academy in Orchard Lake, Michigan, near Detroit. By June 13, 1893, he had been at the academy for six years when he and some pals visited the world’s fair in Chicago. The Lima Times-Democrat took note, writing that Don A. Baxter “now holds the proud distinction of being a first lieutenant.”
The following April, the Times-Democrat reported that “Don Baxter has taken a position with the natural gas company.” He also took his position in Lima society, escorting young ladies to the summer hop, attending “5 o’clock tea” and dances at the homes of other wealthy residents. In the summer of 1897 he joined a “frolic” with a group of friends. “A trolley ride, Hover’s lake with its varied attractions and a supper at King’s wound up the fun of the evening,” the Times-Democrat wrote on July 5, 1897.
With hostilities with Spain looming in the spring of 1898, Don A. Baxter left for Washington to, in the words of the April 4, 1898, edition of the Delphos Daily Herald, “offer his services to his country in case of need.” His country accepted the offer and in June 1898 he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps.
The war lasted only 10 months and Don A. Baxter spent most of it guarding Spanish prisoners in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. In July 1898, he wrote his brother Clem Baxter, “My duty is an important one and from now on my time will be fully occupied. Don’t worry if there are no letters. I am well and satisfied with my post — as well satisfied as I could be without being at the front.”
By the spring of 1899, he was back in Lima, back in the society columns and back to tending to family business. In February 1902, he wed a former Lima woman, Edith Leonard, in a ceremony in California, where he often wintered. The couple eventually divorced and he remarried about 1920.
Don A. Baxter died at 56 in December 1931. “Baxter, a son of the late Dr. and Mrs. Samuel A. Baxter, of Lima, and a brother of Frank E. Baxter, 123 N. Charles St., and Clem S. Baxter, 1034 W. Market St., was associated with his father and brothers in the banking and oil business in Lima for many years,” the News wrote Dec. 14, 1931. “For the past 25 years, he has lived in New York, Oklahoma and California, where he was identified with the oil industry and a senior member of a New York stock brokerage firm.”
The family of Don L. Baxter had lived in Allen County a full decade longer than Don A. Baxter’s family. Curtis Baxter, Don L. Baxter’s grandfather, was 6 years old when his family arrived in Amanda Township from Ross County in 1828. When Curtis Baxter died in May 1897, the Delphos Herald wrote that he “had vivid recollections of the wolves and other beasts of prey that abounded, and deer and other wild game that roamed the forests through which his elders had to cut their way to reach a site for the erection of a cabin.”
Curtis Baxter had 11 children, one of whom, Charles L. Baxter, fathered Don L. Baxter in 1896.
Don L. Baxter, who listed his occupation as laborer and was married to Zelba Fisher, a former cigar roller, first appeared in the News in February 1917. “Don Baxter Ready for All Comers,” the headline in the Feb. 25, 1917, News proclaimed. “Lima can now claim a real boxer in the person of Don Baxter, who carries 115 pounds and is willing to take on all comers at that figure. Del Burchell is handling this promising youngster and has already arranged several matches with prominent pugs of this weight,” the News reported, adding that “Baxter works in the blacksmith shop at the Lima Locomotive Works and has many admirers throughout the city.”
Eight months later, with the United States in World War I, Don L. Baxter was taking on all comers at Camp Sheridan near Montgomery, Alabama, and, in July 1918 embarked for Europe as a member of the 143rd Machine Gun Company. He returned to Lima and to the ring in 1919, beating Bruno Suter in a fight at the Murphy Street ball park in August 1919.
Don L. Baxter followed that success with a win in October at Hawisher Hall in Lima. “Young Baxter, local lad, won an easy battle when he handed the sleep potion to Bill Bruce in the third round,” the Times-Democrat wrote Oct. 16, 1919. A month later, “Young Baxter” had the sleep potion handed to him, losing by knockout to another local lad, Jake Gross, who fought under the name Kid St. Elmas.
Boxing in the 1920s was immensely popular and populated by a lot of “Kids.” In July 1920 Don L. Baxter fought Frankie Mason, of Fort Wayne, Indiana, who was billed as “America’s Flyweight Champion,” at the American Legion Boxing Carnival in Memorial Hall. On the same card were three other Lima fighters, Kid Black, Kid Spots and Kid Henson.
The Lima Republican-Gazette reported Mason won without getting his hair “mussed.” Charles Maxwell, official referee for the Lima Boxing Commission was more charitable. Writing in the Lima News & Times-Democrat on July 18, 1920, Maxwell claimed that “no fighter was ever applauded in Lima like Don Baxter.”
Don L. Baxter was a popular fighter with local fans. After a May 1921 fight in St. John’s hall in Delphos, the News noted, “The Lima fighter made a big hit with Delphos fans, as his style of standing up and fighting was a big attraction.”
He also apparently made a big hit with managers, at one time having two of them — Lima fight promoter Walter Perry and Ed Schlatter, promoter and proprietor of the St. Elmas bar — feuding over who represented him.
Don L. Baxter continued boxing into 1925 at venues from Memorial Hall in Lima to Coney Island in Cincinnati, winning as many as he lost. On June 23, 1925, he fought Milton Cohen at the Olympic Arena in Brooklyn, lost and retired from the ring.
He died in Toledo at the age of 39 in 1935.
Reach Greg Hoersten at firstname.lastname@example.org.