On October 26, 1901, Joe Sullivan beat Pete Loch in a wrestling bout at Lincoln,
Nebraska. Sullivan was the former captain of the Omaha police department and Loch
was a pro wrestler. They were both 150 pounds and competing for $100 side bet.
Sullivan took two-of-three-falls.
On Wednesday, August 11, 1909 at Bryner's Opera House in Callaway, Nebraska, Frank
DuCray was set to wrestle George Gion for the Nebraska state championship - under
Police Gazette rules. DuCray was considered the state titleholder. Ed Pollard of Kearney
was the referee with O.W. Barnard and E.C. Hoskin as the timekeepers. DuCray and
Gion had a long rivalry.
DuCray beat Gion in "the fastest and roughest wrestling match ever pulled off in Kearney"
on March 18, 1910. DuCray of Lincoln won in two-straight falls. Gion was from Aurora. It
was said that DuCray might meet Farmer Burns in Kearney.
In Omaha on March 18, 1911, Frank Gotch defeated William Demetral in two-straight falls
to retain his World Heavyweight Title.
On June 24, 1911 in Omaha, Jess Reimer (also known as Jess Westergaard) married
Anna Tramberg of Des Moines. Tramberg was said to be a "laundry girl."
In Lincoln on Thursday, June 4, 1914, Owen Daily beat Johnny Billiter of Toledo to
capture the World Lightweight championship. Frank Gotch served as the referee. Daily
was trained for the bout by Frank Coleman, who also accompanied him. Billiter was
accompanied by Sam Jordan. Ed Wood was teh announcer. Daily weighed 133 and
Billiter was 130 pounds. 2,000 fans were in attendance. Daily won in two-straight falls,
the first in 4:56 and the second in 51:43. Daily's toe hold combined with a leglock did the
George Gion claimed to have discovered Joe Stecher, according to the December 12,
1915 edition of the Lincoln Daily Star. Gion, three-years earlier, invaded Stecher's
hometown of Dodge, and was defeated by the young athlete. After the loss, Gion went to
Lincoln, where he touted Stecher as a future world heavyweight champion.
In 1916-'17, A.A. Hastings was a wrestling promoter and manager in Silver Creek, Merrick
County, Nebraska. He was the guiding force behind young Jim Londos at the time. A.A.
Hastings was likely Albert A. Hastings, a local real estate dealer, who was born on March
12, 1882 and married to Lena May Hastings.
While touring the Pacific Northwest, Owen Daily lost a controversial match against Milton
Harnden in Bellingham on Wednesday, February 14, 1917, thus, lost his World
Lightweight Title. The referee claimed Daily fouled his opponent after Harndon won the
initial fall and Daily won the second. Daily reportedly tore ligaments in Harnden's leg with
his toehold after the referee called the second fall, and then the referee disqualified
Daily, awarding the title to Harnden. According to one report, the local sheriff threatened
to arrest Daily for purposely injurying his opponent. All bets were called off. Over 2,000
fans witnessed the match.
Daily was then arrested. There were many different perspectives on the situation. The
Lincoln Daily Star (2/18/1917) reported that the issues began a year earlier when Daily
went to Bellingham and beat Harnden, the local favorite. The latter got Daily to return to
the city with a solid financial offer, leading up to their February 14 bout. Daily locked in
his famed toehold, and put Harnden out of commission. A referee then stepped in to say
that the injuries were caused after he'd called for the fall, which was a foul, and the end of
their match - with Harnden being given the victory.
The newspaper stated that Daily was arrested the next day, charged with "maliciously and
wilfully maiming" his opponent. Daily refused to put up the bail and remained in jail.
Harnden and promoter Crews got Daily to sign a statement saying that Harnden was the
new world champion. "This statement was signed before a plan to obtain his freedom
would be launched by the friends of Harnden," according to a telegram printed in the
LIncoln Daily Star. Only a few hours later, the charge against Daily was dropped.
Daily had entered an extremely hostile environment and was double-crossed in the ring,
and then persecuted by the local police. His freedom was only secured after he agreed
to recognize Harnden as the new titleholder. It appears that it was easier to win the title
this way than to actually defeat Daily in the ring.
Despite the result, some areas of the country refused to acknowledge the title switch.
There were reports that Daily had been "jipped," and that he was still the rightful claimant.
Daily was booked to match up with the younger brother of John Pesek, Charles Pesek of
Shelton, Nebraska on March 28, 1917 in Minden at the Auditorium. Pesek was a
welterweight and had a good showing against Daily in Kearney earlier in the year.
Promoter Ernie Holmes was the man behind a hugely important wrestling match on
January 16, 1920 in Omaha between Dodge's Joe Stecher and Ravenna's John Pesek.
In promotions, it was spun that it wasn't only a match between local farmers, but a battle
between a representative of the Navy (Stecher) and the Army (Pesek). Holmes
reportedly was not claiming the bout was for a claim to the world's championship.
Unfortunately, indicative that wrestling in Omaha had suffered dearly for the past
mistakes of promoters, managers, and the wrestlers themselves, only 5,700 fans turned
out for the heralded Stecher-Pesek bout. Had the match taken place in 1915 or 1916,
the attendance would've been double or triple that. The gate was less than $20,000,
whereas it has been predicted to be over $30,000. Pesek disputed the finish called by
referee Ed Smith of Chicago.
The Omaha World Herald (1/25/20) reported that wrestler Joe Stangl joined the Greater
Omaha basketball league with the Highland Parks.
By March 1920, there was talk of Omaha acquiring a match between Stecher and Ed
"Strangler" Lewis for the world title. Des Moines (Oscar Thorson) and New York City
(Jack Curley) also wanted the bout.
As of 1925, Jake Isaacson was the matchmaker for the Omaha Post of the American
Legion. He wanted to schedule the important Stecher-Pesek rematch, and was working
toward that goal in March 1925. A meeting was scheduled and Pesek's manager, Max
Bauman was present, however, neither Joe or Tony Stecher appeared to discuss
potential terms. Bauman posted $1,000 with Isaacson to secure the bout, also noting that
Pesek would agree to face Wayne Munn, the heavyweight champion, and Ed "Strangler"
Patrick "Pat" McGill was one of the well known wrestling stars to come out of Omaha,
Nebraska, born on July 25, 1896. He was married to Elizabeth McGill and had three
children as of the 1930 U.S. Federal Census. McGill passed away in December 1969.
Another Nebraska star was Joseph Zikmund, whose last name was butchered by scores
of newspapers throughout the early part of the 20th Century. He was born in Bohemia
(Czechoslavakia) around 1888 and came to the United States in 1899. In 1920, he was
living with his family in Oak Cree, Butler County, Nebraska, with his wife Anna and two
daughters, Mildred and Viola Mae. Zikmund was a tractor mechanic and moonlighted as
a professional wrestler. In 1926, he was elected the Mayor of Brainard (population 400).
On February 16, 1933, the Associated Press reported that Farmer Burns of Omaha
celebrated his 72nd birthday on February 15 and was "still spry." He "hasn't eaten a
breakfast in fifty years," and didn't use tobacco, coffee, or liquor. He was said to have
wrestled 6,000 matches and was world champion from 1894 to 1897.
John Pesek was said to have lost his first fall in ten years in May 1934 to Abe Kashey in
Omaha. Kashey punched Pesek out in the opening fall of their scheduled three-fall bout,
then pinned him. Pesek came back with fire, pummelling Kashey around the ring, then
tied him in a knot. Kashey, needless to say, lost the second fall and was unable to
continue. He was taken to an area hospital for treatment. Pesek, incidentally, had lost
falls during the last ten years - proving the gist of this report inaccurate.
Geza Tako was a wrestler who appeared on a handful or so Omaha wrestling shows in
1943. The November 20, 1943 edition of the Omaha World Herald announced that the
36 year old Tako had received his United States citizenship the day before at a special
hearing before Federal Judge James A. Donohoe. Geza Walter Tako was in the military
and working as a physical instructor at Harvard Air Base. A little more digging shows that
Tako was born on May 21, 1907 and passed away on March 10, 1985 in Dade County,
In 1950, professional wrestling in Omaha (and throughout the wrestling world) received a
huge boost from a large number of former amateur wrestlers turning pro. Omaha saw
local appearances from Verne Gagne, Mike DiBiase, Joe Scarpello, Leo Nomellini, and
Bob Geigel, and also had appearances from young Jack Pesek, The Sharpe Brothers,
and Wladek Kowalski. The future of wrestling was definitely bright.
On Wednesday, January 16, 1957, Gene Melady passed away at the age of 84. Melady
promoted professional wrestling and boxing in Omaha in the 1910s and '20s. According
to his obituary in the Nevada State Journal (Reno, January 18, 1957), Melady "managed
heavyweight wrestling champion Joe Stecher and discovered Earl Caddock, who was to
take the crown from Stecher." Melady reportedly captained the "initial" Notre Dame
football team when he was 16 years old in 1887.
Research by Tim Hornbaker
|Nebraska Wrestling Territory