A Look Back in Iowa - continued

As you remember, we are reprinting the history of horseshoe pitching in Iowa, as written by Leland Mortenson for the "Horseshoe Pitching Compendium," originally published by the NHPA in 1940. This is the second part in the series. In the early-days of our sport, there probably was no more colorful player than - Putt Mossman. Mortenson, has captured so much of the colorful side of this Hall of Fame pitcher and also the interaction with the great Frank Jackson. Appears the whole Mossman family may have been a bunch of colorful characters.

Please note where the article is telling about Emmett Mossman being the 1924 Junior World Champion. We must consider and keep in mind that the author lived in Iowa, but the NHPA World Tournament Program lists Hall of Fame pitcher, Frank Stinson, as the 1924 Junior champion. Well, in part, both records are correct. That year there were two Junior divisions, a division for 30' Junior pitchers and a 40' Junior division. Emmett won the 30' division and Stinson won the 40' division. There was a best of five game playoff between Emmett and Frank for the outright 1924 Junior world title. Stinson won in straight matches.


By Leland Mortenson

The three Des Moines high schools adopted horseshoe pitching as an inter-school sport in 1924, and Lyle Brown was secured to serve as coach for all three schools. The athletic board evidently didn't have much interest in trying to make success of it for they merely drove a couple of stakes in some cinders behind out-of-the-way corners of the schools. The poor courts made a poor appearance, as did the out-of-the-way locations.

Why was the game dropped? It couldn't have been of lack of interest for there were more entries for horseshoe pitching than for track, for which reason coaches grumbled about horseshoes "taking away material." Did the sport attract the rougher element of the school? Well, hardly, for of the ten men on the North High team, all graduated with excellent records, five graduated from college, and one man, the City High School champion, is now a foreman in a Des Moines factory. The City School athletic director opposed horseshoes upon the grounds that it lacked enough action, but she favored golf, a sport with less action.

It was about 1924 or shortly before that the Des Moines horseshoe pitchers organized a club and held regular Sunday morning tournaments at what are now called the Birdland Courts. The results of these tournaments were published regularly in the press. This was not necessarily the first such club in Iowa, but it was the best known, as it still is. Since that time, many other active clubs have sprung up such as those at Cedar Rapids, Cedar Falls, Adair and Ankeny, with its electric lights.

Two interesting officers of two of these clubs were D.J. Cowden of Adair, and Dr. J.H. Becker, of Des Moines, already mentioned.

Cowden organized a mail league tournament on a nation-wide and called his league the "National Horseshoe Pitchers Athletic Association of America." He studied horseshoe scores as they were mailed in, spent hours on each one, wrote letters of eight to ten pages to the sender with what he called scientific criticism of the pitchers' score. And he had revolution ideas on how to completely change the game. His plans were so complicated that nobody but Cowden bothered to try to study them.

Dr. Becker, although I said he used dictatorial methods in holding his office, was a practical horseshoe boaster. Many times he personally canvassed the Des Moines merchants to get prizes for tournaments, and in a state meet here in 1927, he collected $275 in merchandise prizes. A fault he had, but which did no harm, was to get enthusiastic about some plan, announce it to the press, and then discover that it was unworkable. For instance, he once announced that the following year he was going to take America's best 50 pitchers on an exhibition tour of Europe. Becker began getting numerous applications and he made promises to some, then found out he couldn't do it.

By August of 1924, Frank Jackson was again world's champion and came to the fair confident of regaining the title left vacant by Lundin's retirement. But he was disappointed, for Putt Mossman, a flashy 18-year-old boy from Eldora, swept through the tournament. Mossman had won fifth in the 1923 state tournament.

A world's championship tournament was held at Minneapolis in September, 1924 and Mossman won first, Frank Jackson second, and Frank Campbell, of Waukee, Iowa, fourth. Emmett Mossman, age 13, won the world's junior title, and the oldest brother, Warren, took the men's world's amateur title.

Putt Mossman was in Hardin County, Iowa, July 8, 1906. Besides his brothers, Emmett and Warren, he had a sister, Dessie. The children all went in for sport with emphasis upon horseshoe pitching, almost total exclusion of education, and as much as possible also of work. In fact, Putt probably never did any work except a little on the farm and none at all after he became world's champion.

A few years after winning the world's amateur championship, Warren took up professional wrestling and once claimed the middleweight championship of his county.

Emmett beat Frank Jackson at the Iowa State Fair at the age of 13, but he never seemed to improve much and never beat Jackson again. Several years later he tried to copy Putt's horseshoe and motorcycle exhibitions, but he flopped. He tried amateur boxing and in his only fight he was knocked out in the first round. He tried Putt's motorcycle stunts on the highways and there he had similar accidents to those Putt had on the race tracts.

After Putt won the world's horseshoe title he traveled from coast to coast staging horseshoe exhibitions, sometimes on a guaranteed contract, but mostly by taking up collections. In 1927, he pitched for a semi-pro baseball team in New York, and in 1928 he failed in a try-out with the Boston Braves. In 1927 he invented a hook horseshoe and also a horseshoe uniform. In 1929, he started to stage motorcycle exhibitions. By 1930 he was shooting revolvers by aiming through mirrors, doing high kick stunts and numerous other things. In 1929, he nearly served time in the Ohio Penitentiary for killing a pedestrian while driving 40 miles an hour in a town, and with defective brakes, and then he drove the car the remainder of the year without having the brakes repaired. He starred in motion pictures in Hollywood in the early thirties, fought main events on Des Moines boxing cards in 1930, and went around the world putting on exhibitions in Japan, Australia and other countries.

Putt has been nearly killed on his motorcycle several times, and he is reported to have cripples his wife for life when he failed to clear her in a stunt motorcycle in California. He is said to have taken up an airplane in Australia without instructions, and to have crashed. He claimed the title of "World's Champion All-around Athlete" in 1930. (See Omaha World-Herald April 6, 1930). An Iowa college professor said Putt was a genius, and if he studied chemistry or law he would have been as remarkable in that way a he was in horseshoes. Another professor said he was insane. One newspaper reporter wrote an article about Putt's marvelous personality. Another reporter said Putt has a very poor personality.

This is just an outline about Putt, but this outline is worth further investigation as to whether Mossman must not certainly be rated Iowa's No. 1 athletic of all time.

In August of 1939, Mossman was reported to be a member of an exploring expedition in Africa, but this is not presented as fact as it has not yet been confirmed.

For a short time after winning at Minneapolis, Mossman took Frank Jackson with him for exhibitions, and beat his rival most of the time but the two couldn't get along and soon parted company.

The 1925 National meet in Florida, and the state tourney at the Iowa State Fair of the same year were repetitions of 1924, Mossman first, Jackson second.

In the fall of 1925, Omaha, Nebraska, held a tournament for the interstate championship of Iowa and Nebraska. Lyle Brown won, but neither Mossman nor Jackson were present.

In the spring of 1926, Jackson regained his world's title from Mossman in a Florida tournament, but he was not master without dispute, for Putt beat him in four straight games a few weeks later. Jackson was absent from the Iowa State Fair Tournament, so Mossman won with ease.

On December 18, 1925, Mayor Hale Thompson promoted a special match in Chicago for the world's championship between Mossman and Jackson with Mossman winning and claiming the championship. Jackson then claimed that a match for a championship was in violation of National rules. So, in fact there were two world's champions until C.C. Davis beat both of them in Florida early in 1927.

In September 1926, Jackson entered a Mid-West Tournament at Omaha. First and second place prizes has been advertised as $100 and $40. When the pitchers assembled, they complained about the lopsided set-up of prizes. But Jackson insisted that the prizes remain as advertised, which they were. Cecil Freel. A lanky six foot, five inch, 118 pound, 18 year-old youth from Murray, Iowa, provided a surprise and won every game, connecting with 65 ringers to defeat Jackson. Freel was really not in Jackson's class. It was just his day, and if any man ever was blue it was Jackson with his $40.

After Davis won the world's championship from Mossman and Jackson in 1927, no Iowa man ever won it again. A state championship tournament was held at the Des Moines Birdland courts in June 1927. Jackson won and Mossman was absent, and at the State Fair the same year, Jackson kept his title although he lost two games to Mossman.

1927 saw the establishment of electric lights at the Birdland courts and many pitchers took advantage of them by tossing until past midnight many times. Before the end of the summer, hoodlums had destroyed the light and they were removed by the Parks Department. In 1938, lights were again installed and are still in use.

In 1928, a Central Iowa tournament, with an airplane ride for first prize, and a state junior tournament were held in Des Moines. John Garvey, a youth from Boone, won the first meet and Floyd Saffell of Des Moines, took first and Emmett Mossman second in the later tournament.

Frank Jackson won the 1928 State Fair Tournament, with Mossman fourth. This meet saw our first experience with a public address system, but we didn't have another one until 1936.

On July 14, 1929, a state tournament was held at the Birdland Courts. Jackson was first and Mossman sixth.

From the time Mossman became a first-class pitcher he had never been backward about belittling Frank Jackson. Time and time again he issued challenges to play for side bets. Sometimes these were published. During the summer of 1929, Mossman did more challenging than ever, and inferred through a newspaper story that Jackson feared him. The results of this was that Jackson was rather "burned up," and that there were a large number of red-hot fans ready by State Fair time. Jackson downed Putt in the preliminaries, but the finals were to be a sensation.

At this time, and this was the last one, we had no schedule, game by game, for the finals. The finals started and a crowd of over 1,000 was present.

There was always tremendous interest in the Mossman-Jackson games. There were several reasons. Both were former world's champions: both hated each other and the fans know it; there was a contrast wherein Jackson was old and a common farmer type, while Putt was young, good looking, fast and active and dressed in a flashy manner. Jackson was modest, Mossman a braggart; Jackson was fairly large, Mossman small.

I was superintendent of the tournament and had arranged for Mossman to put on a trick exhibition in the midst, the result of which was to draw about a thousand people about him on the courts. The State Fair farmer police gave up in their attempt to get the crowd back. In fact, they refused to help me.

The fans presence on the courts stopped several games and slowed down the finals. Many of the pitchers became angry at Mossman and me for arranging the exhibition, but my purpose was to get the fans entertained so I let the exhibition continue, Jackson was furious.

Finally, after the exhibition, Mossman and Jackson argued as to when to pitch their game. Jackson wanted it at once. Mossman wanted it last. The crowd got into the argument and all knew what the trouble was. Finally, Mossman, Jackson and Guy Zimmerman, then a quiet 21-year-old boy from Sac City, Iowa, had only one another to pitch against. Mossman and Jackson got into a heated argument in the center of the courts as to which one should play Zimmerman first.

The crowd had followed the dispute closely, and thinking there was an impending fight, rushed out upon the courts, their mass stopped most games. Some of the crowd were Jackson supporters, evidently eager to fight for their favorite. Some were for Mossman. I went out to settle the argument and I was threatened by both sides. The Fair cops vanished from sight. It seemed that the slighted thing could have started a first-class mob fight. I called for a flip of a coin. Mossman lost.

As I walked away from the center of the court, I absent-mindedly walked in front of a peg to which Harry Reese, of Iowa City, was ready to pitch. Reese's patience with the interfering fans was at its end, and as soon as he saw me, but yet not recognizing me, he let the shoe go with all his might. It struck me a terrific blow on my arm.

Putt downed Guy Zimmerman, 50-29; Jackson then beat Guy 50-14. Then Putt hurled 51 ringers out of 60 shoes to beat Jackson 50-16. This clash between Mossman and Jackson, I rate among the three greatest of Iowa games, as was said before, for suspense.

Mossman and Jackson split games at the Fair in 1930, but Jackson won the title.

In 1931, Mossman filed his entry for the tournament at the Fair but was seriously injured in a motorcycle spill on the race track a few days before the start of the tournament. Hansford won the title from his dad who took second.

Dessie Mossman, Putt's comely sister was permitted to pitch 30 feet against the men in 1930 and 1931. The first year she won seventh prize; the second she took third, and in a hot streak she connected for ten straight double ringers. The men pitchers objected so strongly to a women having a handicap (of the shorter pitching distance) that such a method has not been permitted since.

Frank Jackson regained his title at the Fair in 1932 by handily defeating Hansford. That year as in 1931, a state college tournament was also held with Victor Jones of Iowa State College, defeated a field which include the 1931 winner, Jimmy Rainbow, of State Teachers' College; and a State High School Tournament was likewise held. In addition, I presented the State College champion discus thrower, a leading shot-putter, and a boy who the next year won the Drake Relay hop, step and jump event, in exhibitions. The exhibitions were good, but the Fair visitors were not greatly interested.

To be continued...