As Sullivan recounted the incident to Bly, "I told him, 'In the barn.' And he soon got put out of there for his toughness."
Most of the press, kept at distances even greater than the barn, was more skeptical than Ms. Bly, who concluded her article by saying, "I shook hands with John L. Sullivan and wished him success in the coming fight, and I believe he will have it, too, don't you?" Taking Fox's lead, the prefight coverage portrayed the bout as a duel between the 30-year-old family-man Kilrain, who once won the National Amateur Junior Sculling Championship (all the more legitimate for not having been sponsored by Fox), and the dissolute Sullivan. The Gazette tended to picture Kilrain in a high silk hat to accentuate his ostensible social superiority. The upshot was that the odds were drawing even. The New York World: "According to the history of all such drunkards as [ Sullivan], his legs ought to fail him after 20 minutes of fighting."
This was terrific from a promotional point of view. However, the matter of logistics—where and how you stage an event that, by its illegal nature, cannot invite customers—was problematic. Louisiana governor Francis T. Nichols had more or less put out a contract on the fight, ordering both the Louisiana Field Artillery and the Louisiana Rifles to be at the ready.
Nevertheless, the nation's high rollers were highballing their way into New Orleans. The Daily Picayune reported, "The city is fighting mad.... Everybody had the fever and is talking Sullivan and Kilrain. Ladies discussed it in street cars, men talked and argued about it in places which had never heard pugilism mentioned."
Reporters swarmed New Orleans, which surely did not contribute to decorum. Western Union had 50 telegraphers there to transmit more than 200,000 words of prefight coverage. And even in the pre-sports-book age, betting was rampant and, by one account at least, international. According to Michael T. Isenberg's biography John L. Sullivan and His America, large sums were being wagered in Tahiti. Sullivan was reportedly the great favorite there.
Supposedly only New Orleans sportsmen-gamblers-promoters Bud Renaud and Pat Duffy knew the site and where the trains would be directed, but Mississippi was soon the destination most often mentioned in rumors. To be safe, Nichols went into league with the governors of Mississippi, Alabama, Texas, Arkansas and even Nebraska to keep the fight from taking place in their jurisdictions. However, Nichols was derailed in most of his efforts when he couldn't book trains to move his militia. The promoters had long ago locked up all rail transport.
On the afternoon of July 7 the fighters' train left New Orleans. A baggage car separated the rival parties, but not well enough. Police Gazette editor Bill Harding mistakenly entered the Sullivan car. A Sullivan-camp member punched him in the nose and walked him into the Kilrain car.
Beginning at 10 o'clock that night a crowd that would reach 15,000 thronged New Orleans's Queen and Crescent Yards. Only ticket holders ($15 for a ringside camp-stool seat, as little as 50 cents for the grandstand) were supposed to board the trains, but, in a chaotic scene, lots more gained passage. Conductors found it difficult to collect fares, especially from those who perched on the rooftops, and they threatened and cajoled, finally, according to one account, "shooting pistols up by the edge of the cars by the dangling legs, but it didn't work." With passengers inside and out, the trains slipped out of the city at 2 a.m., heading north.
The high authorities may have been determined to stop the fight, but their resolve did not filter down to the rank and file. Aboard the first excursion train were both the Louisiana attorney general and the New Orleans chief of police, who said they were on board to make sure the train went safely past the state line. However, they did not get off there, and The New York Times, in its account, "presumed that they continued on their way with the others."
As only the fight's inner circle knew, the destination was a 30,000-acre pine farm near Hattiesburg, north of New Orleans. The estate was owned by Col. Charles Rich, who had happily agreed to provide the use of his land. Rich, who put the fighters up the night before, had 20 men working by torchlight to erect a ring and wooden stands. Rich even had the limbs of surrounding trees shorn so that no tree-climbing spectator could gain a free view.