Throughout history, there are landmark outside-the-ring events that changed the course of the
business, and in the early morning hours of November 1, 1949, one of these unfortunate
situations occurred three miles north of Eagleville, Missouri.
At around 1:00 a.m., following a wrestling engagement in Des Moines at the KRNT Theater,
National Wrestling Alliance World Heavyweight Champion Orville Brown and Bobby Bruns were
returning to Kansas City in Brown's 1949 Cadillac sedan when fate interjected. A stalled tractor
trailer carrying bananas from New Orleans, and driven by Alvin Henry Fleming, had broken
down on U.S. 69. Fleming set out road flares to warn fellow travelers, and began walking to
Eagleville to get help. However, the brakes on his truck soon failed, sending it backward down
a slope, and then jackknifed. The tractor itself remained on the pavement, hindering any traffic
going southbound, while the trailer rested just off the road. Two trucks, just before Brown and
Bruns arrived on the scene, unaware of the incident before them, passed the disabled vehicle,
driving north, and one of them tried to warn Brown by flashing his lights at the wrestler.
It didn't help. Within a moment's notice, Brown and Bruns were upon the disabled truck, and
Brown immediately reacted by turning his car to the right to avoid a collision. His car, however,
went underneath the bed of the trailer, pealing back the top, and injuring both men severely.
The two grapplers were taken to Bethany hospital. Brown had suffered cuts to his forehead,
scalp, right forearm, and right hand, and doctors immediately believed he sustained a skull
fracture. Bruns' injuries were less severe, suffering a broken right shoulder and possible back
injuries. They were moved to a hospital in Kansas City later in the day, where Brown would stay
This was the Des Moines show both appeared at before the accident:
Des Moines, Iowa: Monday, October 31, 1949
(KRNT Theater) … NWA World Heavyweight Champion Orville Brown b. Bobby Bruns (1-0)
(Brown won the only fall in 60-minutes) … Don Eagle b. Walter Sirois (2-0) … Ronnie Etchison
b. Roy Graham (DQ) … (promoter: Pinkie George) … (3,000 fans)
The secrets of professional wrestling were vitally important at this time, and the fact that Brown
was traveling with his arch-enemy of the ring, Bruns, was considered to be a damaging thing.
However, this paled in comparison to the loss of these two performers as regulars on the
wrestling circuit. Although there are beliefs on both sides of the coin, Brown could've easily
been chosen to go over Lou Thesz on November 25, 1949 when the unification match was
scheduled to take place in St. Louis. In fact, if Brown was still an active competitor, the
heavyweight championship scene may have looked a lot different during the 1950s. Perhaps
Thesz wouldn't have gotten the lengthy run he ultimately had, and Brown's influence as
titleholder and a political player in the National Wrestling Alliance would have been comparable
to Thesz, if not even greater. It's hard to say for sure.
What we do know is that Brown's career as an active professional wrestler was over, and the
highly anticipated National Wrestling Alliance World Heavyweight Champion (Brown) vs. National
Wrestling Association World Heavyweight Champion (Thesz) double-title bout never took place.
Thesz was named undisputed champion at the November 1949 convention in St. Louis, and the
rest was history.
On May 16, 1950, Orville Brown was awarded what was believed to be the largest damage suit
judgment in Harrison County history when he received $35,000 for the accident that ended his
|World Champion Orville Brown in Auto Accident