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One of the most comedic and memorable scenes from around the turn of the century in Sioux Falls took place on January 6th, 1906.  When the World Heavy Weight Champion of Boxing came to Sioux Falls and found himself pleading, crying, somber, smiling, and singing all within about a 24 hour period!

At the time, South Dakota law required a person be a “resident” in the state for only 6-months before they could file for a divorce; a much shorter time required across most of the rest of the country. This led many well off citizens of east coast high society to take up residence at one of Sioux Falls’ sterling hotels for half a year before filing divorce paperwork at the local county courthouse.

One such individual seeking a “quickie” divorce was Julia May Gifford, the wife of Heavyweight boxing champion and international celebrity Bob Fitzsimmons.  Julia May took up residence at the World Class Cataract Hotel at 9th and Phillips and began her 6 month wait to become an official citizen of South Dakota.

In the meantime Bob discovered her whereabouts and caught the first train he could to town.  In a public display of affection Bob spent the better part of the first day in town seeking an audience with his wife and openly weeping when it was declared by her attorney that she did not wish to speak with him or reconcile their differences.

The next day Bob, straightened himself up and approached the situation with dignity and pride and began negotiations with his wife and her attorney in a private parlor of the hotel.  Bob Fitzsimmon’s must have been a world class charmer as well as heavy weight boxer, because by the end of the second day the couple had resolved their differences and mended their relationship!  They were seen smiling and embracing about town!

Reports vary, whether in commemoration of the day or just for recreation Bob would later on be found in the Blacksmith shop in town entertaining a crowd of about 300 with stories and demonstrating his skill as a blacksmith making horse shoes!  As the crowd pressed in close to watch… the floor suddenly gave way and over a dozen people including Heavy Weight Champion of the World Bob Fitzsimmons plummeted into the basement!  Bob received a small cut on his cheek and possibly injured his leg, a young man in attendance broke his arm and was burned rather severely apparently by the hot iron Bob had been shaping, and a few other minor injuries were reported.

After getting the boy bandaged up Bob and his wife held an impromptu benefit concert and exhibition at the hotel ballroom and donated $250 to the young man for his medical treatment!  Between the donation and money raised at the benefit concert, the couple gave close to $1,000 (an equivalent of about $31,000 in 2022) to help out those injured in the incident!

The couple would go on to create and star in a comedic play surrounding their “would be divorce” entitled “A Fight For Love” which was received with varying reviews!  Bob and Julia may Fitzsimmons would remain married until 1915 when Julia suddenly passed away at age 33.

This is just one of the always intriguing saga of Sioux Falls’ “Divorce Colony” in the early 1900’s. Many more interesting characters would come through town seeking legal separation from their spouse! Be sure to stay tuned to read about more!