From the Museum Archives: Northwest Colorado’s famous fighter
“Russell needs no introduction to local fight fans. He’s there with two hands that carry a sleeping potion.” — Craig Empire Courier, June 25, 1930
Born in 1903, Frank Rasmussen grew up in Cary, Illinois. Somewhere between growing up as one of five children and becoming an accomplished bricklayer, Frank acquired the skills and physique to become a prominent fighter in Chicago.
He began using the name “Frankie Russell” early in his career and became good – really good. Known as the “Illinois Thunderbolt”, he became the welterweight champion of Illinois in the early 1920s. He also headlined cards in Utah, California and Colorado.
As the story goes, in the late 1920s while fighting in Chicago, Frank’s storied success attracted the attention of one of the city’s prominent mobs. After a fight, he was approached by a couple men who asked him to become a body guard for “The Boss.”
The fighter, wanting no part in the burgeoning crime scene sweeping through Chicago at the time, declined. However, the simple fact that he was on the mob’s radar — and that he had turned them down — spooked the young fighter.
So in 1929 he decided to pack up and move somewhere a little more off the radar. He succeeded when he chose Northwest Colorado’s Moffat County. A few years earlier he had befriended fellow boxer and fight promoter, Bud Hurd, who was also a Moffat County resident at the time.
Boxing became immensely popular in the 1920s and 1930s and a fighter of Frank’s caliber became a huge attraction in Northwest Colorado. With Bud Hurd as his new promoter, “Frankie Russell” fought throughout Colorado and the surrounding states for years. And he won… a lot. While his record isn’t known, it’s rare to find a newspaper reporting his defeat. Even with his wide notoriety, one of his most frequented boxing venues was his adopted hometown’s “Old Armory” — today’s Museum of Northwest Colorado in Downtown Craig.
Frank eventually married Bud Hurd’s sister, Irene, and they settled on the Hurd homestead north of Craig. Frank continued as a bricklayer when not fighting and Irene was a rural school teacher. The years of fighting and hard work finally caught up to Frank in 1960; he died at the young age of 56. Irene sold the ranch after Frank’s death and moved to Craig and then eventually to Colorado Springs where she died in 2002 at the age of 98. Bud Hurd moved to Routt County in the 1930s where he was an active community member and state game warden for 31 years. He passed away in 1997 at 91.
Irene Hurd and the Hurd family have donated several items pertaining to Frankie’s boxing career. A number are currently on display in the museum.
Paul Knowles is assistant director of the Museum of Northwest Colorado. To learn more, drop by the Museum of Northwest Colorado at 590 Yampa Ave., or visit the museum’s Facebook page, facebook.com/MuseumNorthwestColorado.
This week’s picture book for children was written and illustrated by David Litchfield who lives in the United Kingdom. “The Bear, the Piano, the Dog, and the Fiddle” is a sequel to “The Bear and the Piano,” a best-selling picture book.