The Pacific Northwest wrestling territory was a complex network of promoters,
matchmakers, and affiliations between the 1930s and '50s, and saw its share of
promotional wars for the "rights" of the landscape. Such individuals as Ted Thye,
August Sepp, Bob Murray, Paul Boesch, "Musty" Musgrave, Virgil Hamlin, George
Gitch, Eddie Miller, "Hat" Freeman, Tex Hager, Cliff Olson, "Whipper" Billy Watson,
and Don Owen were each ingrained on the promotional or booking side in some
capacity at one time or another. Some of these men were longtime fixtures in the
Northwest, making a name for themselves as honest businessmen, while others were
ruthless and eternally enterprising. The structure of the National Wrestling Alliance
also made it impossible for some people to do business in terms of competition.
Professional wrestling was banned in 1911 in Seattle, but the directive was lifted by
Acting Chief of Police Claude Bannick on March 3, claiming that the earlier ban was a
"misunderstanding." Plans to bring the "Russian Lion" George Hackenschmidt to the
city were underway.
In March 1931, professional wrestling was under the microscope of the Seattle State
Athletic Commission. There were allegations of fixed matches and that the Pacific
Northwest was under the "control" of Billy Sandow and Ed "Strangler" Lewis. On April
1, 1931, the commission decided to issue a new decree, stating that all future
matches were to be labeled "exhibitions." For his contemptible practices when it came
to wrestling, the Seattle commission banned Jack Rutledge from promoting in the
The Seattle "business group" was said to be made up of Joe Gottstein, William Edris
and J. Von Herberg, according to the Seattle Post Inquirer on April 2, 1931.
Musty Musgrave, a protege of "Toots" Mondt talked Bob Murray, a businessman in
the restaurant field, into buying the Seattle territory from August Sepp. Murray
reportedly owned "The Dog House." In Seattle, Musgrave was responsible for the
booking and importation of talent, and Paul Boesch helped him run operations
behind-the-scenes. Boesch, around 1937 and having walking away from active
wrestling because of a nagging back injury, bought Murray's interests in the Western
Athletic Club and became the partner of Musgrave. Boesch was only 25 years of age.
According to Boesch's autobiography, "Hey Boy! Where'd You Get Them Ears?"
Musgrave ran the Seattle business into the ground and in November 1938, Ted Thye
and Virgil Hamlin broke their deal with Musty, and leaving their business in shambles.
Boesch left the territory broke.
Everything regarding professional wrestling in Washington State came to a standstill
on the evening of Friday, March 1, 1940. During a heated match at the Civic
Auditorium in Seattle between John Katan and Laverne Baxter, the fans were pushed
to a fever pitch. Baxter, the loser, protested his decision, and the fans began to
unravel. One fan threw a bottle into the ring, and Baxter pushed referee John
Stevens into the corner. Stevens fell, then rolled from the ring, hitting his head on a
steel post holding up the ring. A short time later, at 10:30 p.m., the 50-year-old
Stevens died in a dressing room.
Immediately, protests to ban pro wrestling in the state were called for, and Baxter was
a suspect in the death of Stevens. Three investigations, one by the City Building
Superintendent, another by the County Prosecutor, and another by the Washington
State Athletic Commission, were all promised, and the Seattle Coroner planned an
extensive inquest into Stevens' death.
Wrestling was suspended altogether in Washington until this was resolved. News of
the referee's death and subsequent articles were featured prominently on the front
page of the Seattle Daily Times, alerting all citizens to the mayhem of pro wrestling,
and the extreme violence it featured.
Later in the month, the Seattle Coroner Otto H. Mittelstadt proceeded with an inquest
into Steven's death, and after three days, concluded that he passed away of heart
disease. Baxter was absolved for any wrongdoing. Stevens' daughter issued a
comment stating that she hoped wrestling wasn't banned in Washington because of
her father's death, and the Washington State Athletic Commission agreed,
immediately lifting its suspension of the sport in state rings. Seattle, however, wasn't
going to let wrestlers back into the Civic Auditorium just yet. But promoter August
Sepp, who promoted the show that Stevens refereed, shifted his operations to the
Senator Auditorium instead.
Seattle professional wrestling received a huge black eye from this situation, and
there were lasting affects. For one, in the newspaper, there were comments from
officials following Stevens' death that wrestling was "in no sense a real sport," and
that it was just "acting," which always hurt the business. Such comments were heard
in many other places throughout the country, including in the Dan Parker series of
columns revealing wrestling's fakery in New York City. Fans recoiled from supporting
wrestling after such exposure.
The Associated Press, in early May 1951, reported that Jack Ganson was leaving
Cleveland for Seattle to open a new promotional venture. Sam Muchnick mentioned
the move in a 1951 letter, and there was thought that Ganson was going to be
working with Ted Thye, but they actually parted ways a short time later (around late
On July 1, 1951, the Tri-City Herald in Pasco, Washington stated that Ganson and
Ivan Mickailoff of the Century Booking Office were working with Ray Bell of Pasco to
stage programs locally. Bell was a former national amateur wrestling champion in
1910 and promoted Pasco for the outfit. Mickailoff was also reportedly an amateur
champion in 1908.
Thye later talked about Ganson when he was interviewed by Stanley Disney of the
Department of Justice in June 1955. He said that Ganson had come to the Northwest
"planning to take over the territory." There was an apparent belief by Ganson that
when he arrived in the territory, that he'd get NWA membership, and also had help
from Al Haft of Columbus. Ganson reportedly couldn't get any talent to support his
operations and his venture failed. "Thye said that Ganson had agreed to give him,
Thye, 10 per cent, if he used Thye's licenses, but that Ganson never could get
going," according to Disney's summary.
On Monday, March 23, 1953, in Boise, promoter Dale Haddock of Walla Walla
presented the Intermountain Tag Team Title to Tony Baillargeon and George
Dusette, who overcame three teams to win a tournament. Haddock and Mike
Nazarian, the previous titleholders, were forced to vacate the championship after
reportedly 101 victories after Nazarian was injured in a car accident in Montana.
Haddock and Nazarian were given trophies to recognize their exceptional run as
champs. The booker for this territory was Tex Hager of Boise.
The September 4, 1954 edition of Wrestling as You Like It, a publication out of
Chicago, stated that there was "an Aqua Theater in Seattle on Green Lake where
there is a floating ring installed in the dead center of the pool. The wrestlers enter
the ring by going over the water on a ramp. If a wrestler is thrown out of the ring, he
lands in the water." That same issue stated that Dale Haddock was promoting
wrestling in Walla Walla.
The Seattle Daily Times, on Friday, February 4, 1955, stated that wrestling was
returning to channel 5 (KING) on Monday night at 10:50 with "film" from Los Angeles.
Beginning on Monday, April 11, 1955, Seattle station KTVW (channel 13) broadcast
the wrestling show live from the Trianon. It was part of the big KTVW "remote
William Pinkerton Day, a longtime wrestling announcer in Seattle, passed away on
December 23, 1957. Day was a pioneering radio personality in the northwest. He
had been born in Portland on February 1, 1896.
The Seattle Times on June 16, 1957 announced that the day before, the Washington
State Athletic Commission issued a promoter's license to Tex Hager to promote
boxing and wrestling in Seattle. Cliff Olson was licensed to promote in Tacoma and
Richard W. Elliott was licensed to stage wrestling in Vancouver. Dr. Charles A.
Larson of Tacoma was elected to head the Washington Athletic Commission. The
body also approved of a "three week trial" of women's wrestling in the state.
Haddock, who promoted Walla Walla until retiring to go into the restaurant business,
was now working as an officer at the Washington State Penitentiary, according to the
Tri-City Herald on July 26, 1957. He'd also promoted wrestling in Pasco, Washington.
Tex Hager of Spokane took over the city when Haddock left - book as a booking
agent and promoter. Women's wrestling in Washington had been approved after a
long ban on a "trial basis." A decision on the future of women's wrestling in the state
was expected soon.
The Seattle Daily Times reported on September 6, 1959 that Harry Elliott was the
new promoter at Seattle's Civic Auditorium. He was going to begin on October 6 and
promised "no women, no freaks, no men from Mars." Elliott, as a promoter, was going
to capitalize on the old territory of Hager, and obtain his talent from Don Owen's
Eugene booking agency.
Research by Tim Hornbaker
|Washington State Wrestling Territory