During the early part of the 20th Century, there was at least one wrestler representing each
of the hundreds of different farming communities in Iowa. Wrestlers would meet in farm
houses, athletic clubs, and in make-shift rings, testing their abilities and putting their pride
on the line in heated contests.
Wrestlers from Iowa: Farmer Burns, Frank Gotch, Paul Prehn, Ralph Parcaut, Earl
Caddock, George Turner, James Alldredge, Peter Fromm, Jake Brissler, Fred Grobmier,
Wilbur Nead, Griz Gray, Guy Elliott, Billy Schober
Before he arose to the pinnacles of the wrestling business, Frank Gotch was regulated to
regional matches throughout Iowa as he tried to gain a reputation. In Burlington on
Wednesday, March 27, 1901, he was actually defeated by Oscar Wasem of St. Louis in two-
of-three-falls. It was one of the few times he was beaten. The month before, Gotch
wrestled his mentor Farmer Burns in Eldridge, and it was said that the match had a poor
attendance, attributed to cold weather.
Gotch avenged his loss to Wasem, beating the latter in two-straight falls on Tuesday,
December 17, 1901 in Burlington. With the victory, Gotch captured the Iowa State
championship - his first title.
In January 1910 in Cedar Rapids, George Turner of Grinnell beat "Zbysze" (?). Turner was
said to be the brother of the "famous sprinter."
During the first three months of 1911, there were two deaths on the wrestling mat, and one
near fatality. The first incident happened in Amarillo between Charles Olson and Joseph
McCray in early February. On Wednesday, February 22, 1911, Johnson County, Iowa’s
wrestling champion William J. “Bill” Baldwin, known as Farmer Baldwin, competed against
“Dad” House of McIntyre. The bout took place at the Smith Armory in Iowa City. Baldwin
and House battled each other ruthlessly, ending with Baldwin striking the mat head-first,
crushing the fourth and fifth vertebrae of his neck on his spinal cord. An emergency
surgery was performed, but the popular 24 year old grappler died the next evening. The
third incident took place in Chicago between Frank Gotch and Henry Bahn on March 16.
During that match, Bahn nearly died from skull fracture.
In 1878, James Harley Alldredge was born in Illinois to Bazil Davis and Sarah Emaline
Williams Alldredge. A blacksmith by trade, James wrestled professionally in the Central
States, based out of his hometown of Leon, Iowa. He competed with both Frank Gotch and
Farmer Burns, taking a handicap victory from the former in June 1903. During the early
1900s, he reportedly appeared in Los Angeles and boxed a three-round exhibition match
with James J. Jeffries. He married Laura M. Housh in November 1903 and had two children,
Reginald Leroy and Lillian. James was heartbroken when his young son died on October
10, 1918 from pneumonia. He trained future wrestling champion Tom Alley, and died of
blood poisoning in the late 1920s. Alldredge was buried in Leon Cemetery.
Another talented Iowa-born wrestler was George W. Turner of Poweshiek County. Born on
November 15, 1875, he grew up in Turner near Grinnell, and invested most of his time
working within his family’s businesses. After attending and playing football at Grinnell
College and serving in the Spanish-American war (Iowa 50th Voluntary Infantry), George
became a professional wrestler. He was tutored in the sport by Farmer Burns and Gotch,
toured extensively, and claimed the Iowa State Heavyweight Title until being dethroned by
In early December 1915, there was rumblings in the press that Frank Gotch was going to
become coach of the Iowa University wrestling team. The two sides were negotiating, but no
decisions had yet been made.
On April 22, 1919 in Dubuque, Johnny Meyers, claimant to the World Middleweight Title,
defeated George Thompson, and the latter received a "terrible beating." Meyers used a
double wrist lock and the maneuver tore several ligaments in Thompson's shoulder.
The May 3, 1929 edition of the Evening State Journal (Lincoln, Nebraska) stated that the
widow of Frank Gotch and his 15-year-old son went to a wrestling program in Des Moines
recently. The main event was between Gus Sonnenberg and Charles Hansen, and the
"sight sickened Mrs. Gotch who thought it was 'brutal, merciless and unfair.'" Gotch's son
apparently had considered becoming a wrestler, and, according to the article, had his
"boyish enthusiasm dampened."
The Waterloo Daily Courier reported on Thursday, June 2, 1932 that Harold Croy failed to
win both the heavyweight and light heavyweight wrestling championships both on the same
night. Croy, formerly of Iowa State Teachers College, had captured the Iowa State Light
Heavyweight crown in the finals of the Hapae Grotto Tournament on Wednesday. Croy
defeated Griz Gray of State Center when Gray was unable to continue after the first fall. In
the heavyweight match, Croy was unable to beat Ray Williamson of Des Moines.
Griz Gray was really Harold S. Gray from State Center Township in Marshall County. He
was born on July 23, 1908 and died on December 23, 2007 in Arvada, Colorado. His
parents were Robert and Nellie Gray. Gray was a halfback at Simpson College in 1930 at
On Wednesday, April 20, 1932 in Waterloo at the Grotto, Guy Elliott of Collins defeated Billy
Schober and Griz Gray defeated Carl Neidermann of Mason City. Elliott claimed to be the
middleweight champion of Iowa. Gray wrestled at 175 pounds and was exceptionally
strong. Carl Neidermann also promoted matches in Mason City. He was born on June 30,
1897 and died in December 1979 at Albuquerque, NM.
Wrestler Earl Turnure was born on February 11, 1914 and died in July 1984 at Atlantic,
Cass County, Iowa. In 1930, he lived at Eldora, Hardin County, IA and wrestled during the
1930s. He competed at 170 pounds and spent his summers touring with a carnival, taking
on all comers.
In February 1939, Des Moines promoter Pinkie George managed boxer Johnny Paychek
and was trying to land a fight against Tommy Farr.
The Des Moines Register (1/26/1944) reported that Lt. Johnny Meyers of Dubuque was a
former wrestler (not the former light heavyweight champion) was back in Iowa after 23
missions in Italy and Tunisia. He earned a Purple Heart during combat.
The August 19, 1945 edition of the Waterloo Daily Courier explained that wrestler Al
Caddell was taking a year's leave of absence from the Des Moines police department to
tend to his health in Arizona. Also, Ken Fenelon had a butcher shop and grocery store in
Dubuque and drove a truck for the H. and W. line. Al Ney, the sportswriter, also made
mention of a "Chief Tommey (sic) Marvin," who was a wrestler for the Cole Brothers Circus.
Marvin was going to be taking on all comers after the wild west show when the circus was in
town. Marvin was a longtime professional grappler and tough guy.
Pinkie George, on Thursday, February 5, 1948, donated $1,200 to the March of Dimes
campaign after a boxing program on Wednesday headlined by Del Cockayne and Jimmy
Joyce. According to the Des Moines Register, "Profits of the show were $1,165.61. George
donated the remainder to make it an even 12,000 dimes."
The City Auditorium in Council Bluffs, Iowa was purchased by Joseph B. Katelman. The
local wrestling promoter, Ralph Hayes, who had staged shows at the venue since December
1945, was facing the end of his lease on July 31, and there was some question whether or
not he'd continue offering programs from the venue. On July 27, 1949, Hayes announced
that he was moving his shows to Playland Park after August 1. Katelman had leased the
Auditorium to the Moose Lodge.
In June 1952, it was announced that the Humboldt (IA) Junior Chamber of Commerce was
going to erect a memorial to Frank Gotch in Gotch State Park.
Iowa City came up in correspondence between NWA members in 1952 after "Toots" Mondt
booked Antonino Rocca for a show there in opposition to Pinkie George. However, a
newspaper clipping, according to the Department of Justice records, had been mailed by
George to Sam Muchnick, stating that Rocca ran out on the Iowa City date - demonstrating
that no independent promoter had the ability to buck the NWA with top flight talent. All it
took was a phone call or two to get whichever wrestler unbooked from a scheduled show.
Research by Tim Hornbaker
|Iowa Wrestling Territory