Rasmussen known as a fighter and a homesteader
December 14, 2009
The stories of Craig and Moffat County's history written for this series in 2009 are made possible through a generous grant from the Kenneth Kendall King Foundation to the Museum of Northwest Colorado
A large group of people gathered in the Zobel Chapel on Aug. 24, 1960, to honor a man who had been a strong part of the Craig community for several years. They honored his work and his life with their attendance before laying him to rest in the soil of his adopted home.
Frank Rasmussen was born near Algonquin, Ill., on Dec. 5, 1903, one of five children. He learned the masonry trade as a young man, apprenticing in the International Bricklayers and Plasters' Union 11847 in Chicago.
His daily routine of carrying hods undoubtedly built his physique, so it was a natural transition for him to take up pugilism.
The popularity of this "gentleman's sport" during the 1920s gave plenty of opportunities for him to enter the "squared circle," and he soon built a reputation as a fighter to be reckoned with.
Within a few years, he won the welterweight championship of Illinois and began taking on opponents from Chicago throughout the West, including Colorado, Utah and California. He used the name Frank Russell in the ring and developed a good following of fight fans.
"Frankie Russell, that fighting Cary bricklayer, will appear tonight in the semi-windup of the boxing contests at Fan's park, Aurora (Ill) against Jimmy Murphy, Chicago … Russell, a drawing card on any schedule of bouts is in the best of condition. This will probably be his last major fight before his coming tussle with Eddie Burke, Central A.A.U. champion" (clipping from Rasmussen scrapbook, unknown Illinois newspaper Aug. 18, 1928).
The more Rasmussen saw the West, the more he was drawn to it. He made friends with Bud Hurd, another boxer and fight promoter who came from Moffat County, and soon, sportswriters were referring to his connection with Colorado's western mountains: "M(r.) Franklin Russell, the pugnacious bricklayer from the ski jump country fought one vicious winning round against Edward Burke, his old ring buddy …"
Stephen and Harriet Hurd moved their family from Creston, Iowa, to Moffat County in 1917. They took up a homestead on Little Bear Creek, north of Craig. Their children attended schools in Craig before following their unique paths.
Their daughter, Irene Hurd, graduated from Craig High School in 1924 while Rasmussen built his boxing reputation in Illinois.
She attended both Colorado State University and the University of Colorado in Boulder before becoming a teacher in the county's rural schools. She preferred country schools because she thought the children were better mannered than those in town.
By 1929, Frank "Russell" Rasmussen had decided to make his home in Northwest Colorado, specifically in Moffat County.
He became a member of the Craig BPOE 1577 to cement his connection to his chosen home. He continued to box, winning contests throughout Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.
The rules for teachers during the 1920s and 1930s didn't permit marriage. Women had to choose between a teaching career and a family. Irene and Frank circumvented those rules for six months until the Craig Empire-Courier reported the following in its Dec. 20, 1933, edition:
"That Miss Irene Hurd, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. S. A. Hurd of Craig and Frank L. Rasmussen of Cary, Ill., were married the 22nd of last June while Miss Hurd was attending the World's Fair, was the information, which leaked out in Craig Monday when Mr. Rasmussen arrived here to spend the holidays with his wife.
"Mrs. Rasmussen … has been a popular and successful teacher in schools near Craig for a number of years.
"Frank Rasmussen is better known in Craig under his fighting name, Frankie Russell, as he has been one of the most popular boxers ever to enter the squared circle in Craig.
"Mr. and Mrs. Rasmussen will reside at Little Bear this winter. They both have a wide circle of friends in the Moffat country who will wish them much happiness."
The Rasmussens settled into ranch life and the adjustments it required.
Frank worked as a bricklayer and was featured in boxing matches throughout the late 1930s. Irene didn't care for ranch life at first, even though she had grown up on the homestead.
The couple never had children of their own, but remained popular and active members of the community around them.
Frank's brother-in-law, Bud Hurd, was the fight promoter for this event, which was held in the Craig Armory and drew a large and enthusiastic crowd.
In the summer of 1960, Frank Rasmussen took ill and a month later, the great heart that had seen him through so many boxing matches and years of physical labor gave out Aug. 21.
He was survived by four brothers and a sister, most of whom traveled from Illinois to pay their respects to him.
Irene sold the ranch after Frank's death and moved to Craig where she lived until 1992 when she moved to Colorado Springs to be near a nephew and his family. She died Sept. 18, 2002, at the age of 98.
Frank Rasmussen only lived for 56 years, but he packed a lot of living into those years, just as he packed a lot of power into his punches.
Shannan Koucherik may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.