Henry F. "Dode" Bercot, the "Monroe Bearcat," was a welterweight boxer, fighting matches in the Pacific Northwest in the 1920s and early 1930s. By trade a high rigger in the logging camps around Monroe in Snohomish County, Bercot entered the ring in 1922, a five-foot-seven lefty who weighed on average 140 pounds with well-developed 12-inch biceps. Loved by fans for his fighting spirit and short, direct punching style, Bercot won more than 80 main-event bouts, 38 of these as knockouts, with 38 draws and 16 losses. He won the Pacific Coast Lightweight Championship title in 1923. Ill health forced his retirement from the ring in 1931 and he moved with his family to Holmes Harbor on South Whidbey Island near Freeland. Bercot worked on the island as a state game warden for more than 30 years and died in Langley at age 85.
The Bercots in Snohomish County
Census listings show that Henry Francis Bercot was born in Ohio on October 25, 1902, the oldest of five children. His father, Henry Edward Bercot (1877-1944), emigrated to the U.S from France in 1882 and married Annie King (1881-1957) in Essexville, Michigan, in May 1900. Henry F. was nicknamed "Dode" and his brothers and sisters were Florence Mae (1907-1979), Earl Oren "Bud" (1908-1993), Irene (1909-2006) and Clara (1911-2004). Bud also became a boxer.
The Bercot family had moved to Snohomish County by the time Dode was seven, living first in Everett and later in Monroe. They were in Everett in 1909, when the senior Henry worked as a laborer in the Sumner Iron Works. It is likely that Dode did not graduate from high school and instead found work at a young age in logging camps near Monroe. He was a high rigger, one of the most highly paid and dangerous jobs in the business, requiring great strength and agility and a fearless nature. What Dode gained in the logging camps served him well in the ring and also provided a narrative that boxing promoters and sports writers would use to build his career.
By 1920 Dode and his parents were living in Monroe. On June 25, 1921, Dode Bercot married Mary McDonald in Monroe and the couple gave birth there to son Don (1922-1988) on October 1 the following year.
Bercot Begins Boxing
Although professional boxing was not officially legal in the state until June 1933, boxing still took place, with matches allowed by city laws ruling the sport. Boxing enthusiasts found ways to circumvent the state law by staging unregulated amateur bouts, often called "smokers" because they were fought in local gymnasiums or at organizations such as the American Legion, Elks, Eagles, or Knights of Columbus, where a haze of tobacco smoke accompanied the events. There were professional bouts as well, under the guidance of managers and with fighters who drew large crowds.
Bercot's first recorded fight took place June 13, 1922, at the Seattle Arena (the Civic Auditorium at 225 Mercer Street, later the Seattle Ice Arena and today the site of McCaw Hall). In the match against an experienced fighter he lost on a points decision. His big break came when he met Seattle boxing manager Lonnie Austin (1878-1950). According to news accounts, the 19-year-old attended a smoker that Austin had helped arrange, approached the manager, and told him that he'd like to fight the winner of a semifinal match between two 158-pounders. Austin told a Seattle newspaper:
"When Dode told me that he weighed 145 pounds fully dressed, I suggested that he was offering too much of a handicap ... But he was so insistent that I finally matched him with Thompson, the winner, whom he knocked out in the third round ... Since Bercott [sic] started in June of this year, he has had eight fights, winning four by knockouts, two decisions, and two draws. His last battle was in Tacoma last week, when he won the decision from Art Sorento in a grueling match. The kid doesn't know a great deal yet, but he is learning fast, and I believe with his fighting instinct and puzzling style, I have a real champion. Whether or not he is, it's a cinch he will make a hit with any fight audience" (Robertson and Kilmer).
While some boxers swung widely with windmill arm movements, Bercot's style consisted of short and hard-hitting punches, usually to an opponent's chin or abdomen. In his first years of boxing he was often described as green but learning fast. Bercot was initially managed by Earl Pownall, with Bob Schuler as a promoter. However, following the event in Monroe, Lonnie Austin became his manager, and although Bercot was rising quickly in the ranks of regional boxers, Austin wisely built his career slowly. When New York boxing promoter Tex Rickard (1870-1929) saw Bercot's potential and hoped to book him in an East Coast event, Austin replied that "while Dode can knock them stiff in the little halls in this neck of the woods, he is not ready to tackle Madison Square Garden for quite a spell" ("Tex Rickard Inquires ...").
The Monroe Bearcat
Bercot was developing fast, however, with most of his matches ending in wins or draws and, to further his career, he needed to fight more experienced opponents. His chance came in May 1923 when Austin booked a six-round match at the Seattle Arena between Bercot and East Coast welterweight Jimmy Sacco (1896-1972). Sacco won but Bercot fought well, losing only on points in the sixth round. This was followed by two matches with Portland lightweight Johnny Trambitas (1903-1969) who was considered one of the region's best boxers. Bercot won the first fight, and the second ended in a draw. Bercot was becoming a regional favorite.
The Seattle Times had this to say on December 2, 1923:
"Why is Dode Bercot the biggest drawing card in Seattle, show after show? Because any time he starts he does some punching. The fans know he can hit and are always looking for the unexpected. ... There are few better boxers in the West than Bercot. It is doubtful there are any with Bercot's stamina and natural physical condition" ("Monroe Boxer in Fine Shape...").
Bercot's career as a boxer officially ranged from June 13, 1922, to his last documented bout on March 9, 1931, with his best years being 1923 and 1924. Venues for his matches were the Eagles Hall and the Knights of Columbus Auditorium in Everett, the Eagles Hall in Tacoma and the Arena in Seattle, plus occasional bookings in Bellingham and elsewhere on the West Coast, including San Francisco and Hollywood. In Bercot's recollection, it was an Everett Herald sportswriter who nicknamed him "Bearcat Bercot" since he was strong like a bear and fast as a cat.
The Championship Win
On June 12, 1923, about 7,500 spectators packed the Seattle Arena to witness a six-round match between Bercot and another popular logger-boxer, Ted Krache (1902-1995) of Hoquiam, for the Pacific Coast Lightweight Championship. Since Krache had been boxing for almost a year longer than Bercot, with a winning record, he was favored to win. Each boxer drew hundreds of fans. Monroe's mayor led a group of about 300 spectators from Monroe, men and women wearing ribbon badges inscribed with the name "Monroe Bearcat." They came to see a good fight and to cheer for their favorite son. An equally large group from Grays Harbor was there to support Krache.
The first four rounds went smoothly for Krache, who was able to batter Bercot with blows to the head. Bercot appeared awkward but managed to connect with a few left-hand punches. Then, according to The Seattle Times:
"Bercot changed his style completely in the fifth round and it was well that he did. In a mild way he had been rushing Krache before, but he became a veritable demon in the fifth. He started with a left to the chin and crossed with his right. He never gave Krache a chance to set, paying no attention to the Hoquiam lad's right and left hands" ("Bercot Has Krache on Floor ...").
With Krache failing to connect, Bercot knocked him to the ropes and won the round. In the final round, he nearly knocked Krache out, but the defeated fighter got to his feet after the count of 7, which gave Bercot the win but not a knockout. Bercot's fans went wild and Monroe citizens held a banquet for him following the fight. A year later in 1924 Monroe High School changed its team nickname from the Panthers to the Bearcats in his honor.
Promoters could not pass up a quick rematch between the two young pugilists who had drawn a record crowd and a fight was scheduled two weeks following the championship match, again at the Seattle Arena, and this time it ended in a draw. Bercot and Krache would fight another four times in their careers.
Bercot fans also remembered a 1928 10-round fight in California where Dode was robbed of a victory. A small crowd attended a Fourth of July bout in the Oakland Auditorium between Bercot and Pete Meyers of San Francisco. The fight began well for the Monroe Bearcat, with Bercot having an edge in the first round, but early in the second Bercot cut a nasty gash over Meyers's left eye and Meyers responded with a swing that knocked Bercot down. On advice from his manager, Bercot rested, sitting and leaning on the ropes. He rose on what he thought was the count of 9, but the referee counted him out and awarded the fight to Meyers. Many attendees insisted that Bercot was fine and that on the count of 9 he was up and walking to the other side of the ring, ready to go. The only thing that kept pandemonium at bay was the small crowd size.
Hanging up the Gloves
Like all boxers, Bercot had fight injuries. In a 1976 interview with a reporter from the Whidbey Island Record, Bercot said that he had lost sight in his left eye when an opponent poked a thumb into it in the fourth round of a fight in 1926 or 1927. Nevertheless he won that fight and went on to box several more years. Bercot had several other health issues during his boxing career. Before his 1923 championship victory he underwent a tonsillectomy, and several other times Bercot was reported to be having or recovering from a serious illness, once described as anemia. Bercot himself announced before a fight on April 17, 1929, at Liberty Hall in Bellingham that this would be his last ring event. It wasn't; he continued for two more years.
In 1926 and 1927, Dode, Mary, and Don were living at 1515 Hoyt Avenue in Everett and, although still boxing, he was also selling Chevrolets. In 1929 Bercot purchased a farm at Holmes Harbor on South Whidbey Island near Freeland and, following his last boxing match, the Bercots moved there. Dode planned to open a summer resort with dance hall, cabins, and boats, but it's likely that the hard economic years of the Great Depression changed those plans. Dode Bercot became a state game warden on Whidbey Island and served in that position for 30-plus years. He died on February 19, 1988, in Langley at the age of 85. His son Don died the same year.