By Tim Hornbaker
Humboldt County, Iowa, according to the United States Federal Census, had a little more
than 12,600 people residing within its limits in the year 1900. Among the people building
the farming communities were Frederick Rudolph (1830-1911) and Amelia Johannah
Nopece Gotsch (1834- ). The Gotschs, and their children, Mary, Anna, and Frederick,
immigrated from Germany into Lewis County, New York in 1863, and shorted their name
to “Gotch.” Frederick served as a private with Company A of the 186 New York Infantry
during the Civil War. During the middle of the 1860s, the family moved to Springvale
(later renamed Humboldt), and settled permanently.
The ninth child of Fred and Ameila was named Frank Alvin Gotch, born on April 27, 1876.
He built his muscles working on his family’s farm, and attended school, where he first
became interested in wrestling. One of his earliest opponents was his teacher, a man
seven years his senior. Gotch and Kennedy wrestled two matches, one win for Frank and
the other a draw. These matches were not amateur bouts held on a mat, but battles
outdoors before friends of both competitors, and little rules were followed. The bouts
were shoot matches, as all Frank’s early contests were, and provided a strong training
atmosphere for the young grappler. He built his toughness against Humboldt County’s
most interested fighters, wrestling in the streets, on snow or grass, in the dirt, and in farm
Gotch’s initial professional match took place on April 2, 1899 in Humboldt. Neither of the
individuals on the original bill had the name “Gotch,” but after one of the men failed to
appear, friends of Frank began to persuade him to step up to the challenge made by the
man who did appear, Marshall Green, a local farmer. Legend has it that even Humboldt’s
Mayor, Richard Gray helped convince Gotch to compete, which the latter did, and using a
strangle hold, beat his opponent.
During an interview with Joseph B. Bowles in 1913, Gotch said: “I won my first
professional match at catch-as-catch-can wrestling with the strangle hold because I didn’t
know any better. That was before I had met either McLeod or Farmer Burns. It was in the
match with Marshall Green, the chicken picker, when we wrestled in overalls in the old
opera house in Humboldt in 1899. It was a rough and ready battle and both tried for the
strangle hold. I was quicker than Green and won three straight falls in about an hour of
hard work, taking all three with strangle holds.” Gotch reportedly earned $80 for his bout
Still with no formal training, Gotch went to the annual Woodsmen’s picnic in LuVerne, Iowa
on June 16, 1899 and found himself in a match with the acknowledged heavyweight
champion of the world, Dan McLeod. McLeod used an alias (either Dan Stewart or
Charley Reynolds), appearing under the guise of a furniture mover from Omaha. McLeod
had been drawn into the picnic by the chance of having excess time on his hands while
waiting for an outgoing train. Another report stated that McLeod was brought in by
backers to specifically face Gotch, either way, McLeod and Gotch locked up for a match
with two-of-three-falls and a $50 side bet.
The two competed in the street and before a large gathering, in what was a brutal shoot
match between a heralded champion, and a newcomer. McLeod beat Gotch in 54
minutes for the first fall, and as blood flowed from both men, went another 9 minutes
before the champion won again. Another report of the Gotch-McLeod match stated that
the latter won the first fall in 1 hour and 14 minutes, and then the second in 28 minutes.
In a report written by Joseph Carroll Marsh and printed in the Des Moines Register (March
21, 1954), he said the following: “I managed Gotch for many years during his climb to the
championship. I saw him in his greatest matches, but I would have given more to have
seen his street match with Dan McLeod than any match he wrestled afterwards.
“In my opinion – and I feel that I am capable of judging, having been connected with the
game for more than 50 years and wrestled during 20 of them – a 21 year-old farm boy
with practically no experience meeting a champion like Dan McLeod and lasting more than
hour, stands as an event without parallel in athletic history.”
Needless to say, the performance Gotch put on with champion McLeod gave the youth
great confidence to continue his athletic career. On December 18, 1899, Gotch decided
to test his skill against Iowa’s greatest professional wrestler (to date), the legendary
That day, Burns was in Fort Dodge wrestling all challengers, and accepted that of Frank
Gotch. The two locked horns, grappling for position, and after 12-minutes, Burns was
victorious. Burns was impressed with the young wrestler, but after the match, the men
went their own ways. Within the next two months, Gotch met up with wrestling farmer
again, this time accepting a place within the Burns’ troupe. Martin trained Gotch
thoroughly, schooling him in the art. Along with Duncan McMillan, Gotch and Burns hit the
road, wrestling throughout the Central States. On September 26, 1900, the trio were
joined by Ole Shellenberger and Ernest Roeber for a tournament in Des Moines. Gotch
beat Roeber in the first bout, then Gotch won two-of-three-falls over Shellenberger, losing
the initial fall. Burns beat McMillan in two-of-three-falls, then failed to beat Gotch in 15-
minutes in the finals. Besides Burns and McMillen, Jack Carkeek was another early
influence on Gotch’s career.
The Burns-Gotch traveling show ventured to most small towns in Iowa, and when there
weren’t opponents to battle, they’d wrestle each other. In places they could, other
identities were used to mask their reputation from gamblers. On March 27, 1901 in
Burlington, Oscar Wasem, formerly from St. Louis and residing in that Iowa town, beat
Gotch with the first and third falls. Less than two weeks later, Wasem was dropped by
Burns in two-of-three-falls. During this time-frame, and on these early tours with Burns
and his cronies, Gotch learned how to work matches, and how to perfect his showmanship
before audiences. That skill would be used expertly until the day he died.
1901 was a very successful year for Gotch all-around, and it was his trip to the Yukon
Territory and Alaska that spawned a wealth of legend on his behalf. So many different
stories of that trip surfaced following his return, most of which counted his amazingly high
earnings. Reportedly, the date of the initial Gotch-Joseph Carroll Marsh meeting was
June 18, 1901. Marsh was scouting through Iowa looking for athletes to accompany him
for a tour of the great northwest. Marsh wanted Farmer Burns originally, but the latter
declined and offered up his protégé, Gotch. That same day, both men, along with the
Butler Brothers (Dick and Jim) and a man named (P.O.) McKeller, were on their way to
Seattle. There, they picked up famous collar-and-elbow wrestling great, Colonel James
Hiram McLaughlin, and the gang ventured northward.
While away from Iowa, Gotch adopted the alias “Frank Kennedy” while Marsh was known
as “Ole’ Marsh.” Kennedy was billed as being from Springfield, Illinois, and having served
in the Spanish-American war. On Wednesday, August 14, 1901, Gotch wrestled a
member of his troop, Vincent White at the Orpheum Theater in Dawson, Yukon Territory.
Gotch said the following in 1907, “I made a match with Vincent White in our camp for $500
a side and threw him. Then word was ‘mysteriously’ carried over to Bear Creek, where
(Bob) Swanson worked, that there was a wrestler on the Bonanza (Creek). A delegation
came over. Swanson was one of the number – a great big hulky sort of a fellow.”
“Both sets of miners began bragging. They boasted and bragged and quarreled. Finally
money began appearing. First $1,000, then $2,000, then $5,000. When this amount
came up the Bonanza boys grabbed it. In all, about $6,000 appeared and was covered.
The bout was advertised far and near. Frank Gotch (sic), miner, from Bonanza Creek,
bet $5,000 he can throw the mighty Swanson, the posters said.
“The opera house in Dawson was crowded that night when the match came off. Money
flowed like water. Bet after bet was made. Excitement was high. When we appeared on
the stage the miners yelled themselves hoarse. Only one fall was scheduled. We went at
it. Swanson clamped his big arms around me and picked me off my feet. I got loose, and
waited for an opening. It came. I jumped in, got a clean half Nelson, and rolled him over.
Time, 18 minutes. Well, the crowd went wild. I cleaned up about $4,000 on it. And the
boys from Bonanza Creek? Lord knows how much they got!”
The troupe working the Yukon continued their performance in Dawson, and McLaughlin
and Marsh competed several times. On Wednesday, August 28, at the Standard Theater,
Kennedy (Gotch) lost a one-fall match to Marsh in 22-minutes. Kennedy had an
overbearing advantage over his opponent, and betting went in his favor to win. During
the celebrated bout, Kennedy fell from the ring and into the orchestra pit, of course,
leading to his demise. When he lost, an estimated $3,000 changed hands, and there was
immediate talk of a rematch. Kennedy was pegged again as the choice to win.
Marsh was very interested in making money, proved further by his wrestling contests at a
local gymnasium in Dawson at 5:00 in the morning on August 29 against a Swede named
Yonson and Gene Riley. Marsh won his bout with the former in 45-seconds and then took
the latter in 1:15, capturing $50.
The second Kennedy-Marsh match drew considerably more attention then their first
round. A local promoter named John Mulligan worked the specifics, invested money, and
offered $1,000 to the winner. The affair took place on Friday, September 13 at the Savoy
Theater, and Colonel McLaughlin acted as the referee. Kennedy and Marsh performed in
a memorable contest, although many believed Frank wasn’t using all of the moves in his
repertoire. Some saw faults in the officiating of McLaughlin. Kennedy won the first fall in
14:20, and although Marsh was defeated, there were still people betting on him. Marsh
bounced back to capture the second in 11:31 and then won the match in 29:20, winning
the purse and damaging the name “Frank Kennedy” forever.
Joe Carroll Marsh was a veteran wrestler, but hardly the wrestler Frank Gotch was. Gotch
was in shape, had a dominant weight advantage over his older opponent, and would not
have lost a straight arrowed contest. Their Savoy Theater match on September 13 had
plenty of controversy, including falls for Gotch that were not counted. Eight days later,
the duo and McLaughlin entered a round-robin tournament at the Savoy. Gotch won a
Cornish-style match over McLaughlin, lost a catch-style match to Marsh, then won a
Graeco-Roman match over McLaughlin, and beat Marsh in a catch-style rematch.
Before leaving Dawson, Gotch fought an experienced boxer named Frank “Paddy” Slavin
(1862-1929), an Australian familiar with the territory. Kennedy put up $1,000 backing his
fighting abilities, and Slavin agreed to the terms of a 15 round, Marquis of Queensbury
rules match, predicting a victory and unafraid in the possibilities of “Kennedy” being a
ringer. Kennedy was, in fact, a ringer, but not in the world of boxing. They laced up their
gloves and went at each other on September 25 at the Savoy. Slavin dominated the fight
before a hearty crowd, all hoping to see something spectacular, but after two rounds, the
boxer was awarded the match by disqualification after Kennedy had tossed him to the
mat. The audience was not pleased with the result.
Gotch remembered the fight with Slavin in 1907, saying the following: “After I wrestled
down the Klondike champion for $11,000 a side in Dawson City, in 1900, the boys up
there began to think that I could do anything. They matched me to fight Frank Slavin, who
was in Alaska at the time. Well, I trained hard for the match, and we fought before a
packed house, the miners paying their way in and making their bets with gold dust, fresh
from the pan. Slavin and I had a terrific tilt. The police stopped it in the seventh round.
At least that’s what they told me afterward. Say, do you know that during those seven
rounds, Slavin hit at me 300 times, and I don’t believe he missed me once.”
The day following the boxing match, the Daily Klondike Nugget of Dawson stated that
referee Tozier halted action after the second round had ended. Slavin had punched
Gotch as they were separating for the break, and Gotch quickly reacted by downing the
fighter from Australia. Tozier then ended the bout. A recollection of Joe Carroll Marsh in
1915 said that the bout lasted three rounds, and affirmed that Slavin’s fistic skill eclipsed
that of the future World Wrestling Champion.
Gotch’s trip to the Yukon and Alaska may have earned him upwards of $30,000, and his
association with Marsh continued in the months and years that followed. In December of
1901, Gotch gained revenge over Oscar Wasem in Burlington, taking two-straight falls in
less than 20-minutes, and, thus, taking claim to the Iowa Heavyweight Title. Carl Pons
was a victim of Gotch’s abilities on January 10, 1903 in Seattle, and on February 22 in
Cleveland, Frank matched moves with American Champion Tom Jenkins. Jenkins had
very few contemporaries in the catch-as-catch-can style, and had been considered one of
the best in the world. That night in Cleveland, Jenkins beat the up-and-comer from Iowa,
but recognized the prospects for Gotch’s future, and Farmer Burns’ boasts that he would
soon be champion seemed certainly possible.
Jenkins offered a rematch if the price was right. Gotch spent some time in the Pacific
Northwest, where he drew well, and defeated Burns, Emil Klank, and Frank Coleman. The
manager of Beck’s Theatre in Bellingham, Washington, A.C. Senker, worked with Gotch’s
handlers to book the highly anticipated rematch between Frank and Jenkins. The date
was set for Wednesday, January 27, 1904, and drew 5,000 fans. Not only was the
American Title on the line, but Gotch and Jenkins were wrestling for the $2,000 purse and
a $2,000 side bet. The challenger won the first fall in 53-minutes, and the heat was
turned up for the second, as fans watched Jenkins apply a stranglehold, a move barred
from use. Gotch broke out of the maneuver several times, jabbing the only eye Tom
could see out of, and the two ended up on their feet with the former nearly striking his
opponent with a punch.
The referee disqualified Jenkins and Gotch was named the new American Champion.
Shortly thereafter, Frank left Marsh behind and ventured east, where he took Horace W.
“Harry” Lerch, a sports writer and manager from upstate New York, as his pilot. Gotch
continued his winning streak, going over the likes of Jim Parr, Joe Rogers, and Dan
McLeod. On December 23, 1904 in Buffalo, Gotch had to beat Parr again, under
handicap rules. He had to beat him three times in 60-minutes, and when he was only able
to win twice in that time, Parr was named victor. A talented French-Canadian named
Emile Maupas won a handicap match from Gotch on January 1, 1905 in Montreal. He
then won bouts over Rogers, Ed Atherton, and a rematch over Jenkins on February 1 in
Between March and May 1905, several historical events took place in professional
wrestling. First, George Hackenschmidt, a mammoth grappler from London was arriving
for his first North American tour. Second, Gotch and Jenkins were scheduled for a
rematch at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Third, Hackenschmidt and Jenkins
wrestled at the Garden for the catch-as-catch-can World Championship, and fourth, in
Buffalo, Gotch and the “Russian Lion” faced off the first time.
Hackenschmidt, by the Spring of 1905, had established himself as the strongest, most
feared grappler in Europe. He beat Tom Jenkins with little trouble in London in July of the
year prior, and was looking for a rematch. Jenkins said the following in the middle of
March 1905: “I see by the papers that Hackenschmidt is on his way to this country. The
time is ripe therefore for me to put in my claim for the first opportunity to meet the Russian
in a match at catch as catch can style. No matter what the outcome of my match with
Gotch at the Garden next Wednesday night it seems to me that I am entitled to the first
opportunity to meet Hackenschmidt in this country. In London I met him on his own
battlefield in a straight Graeco-Roman match and it seems to me that he ought to meet
me on my own battlefield at my own style.”
Organizers did sign Hackenschmidt vs. Jenkins following the Gotch-Jenkins affair on
March 15, 1905. Jenkins won the first fall in 19:34, Gotch returned to capture the second
in 6:47, and Jenkins won the third in 10:11, regaining the American Title before a large
crowd. Later that month, Hackenschmidt arrived on the West Coast and traveled to New
York to prepare for his duel with Jenkins. On May 4 at the Garden, Hackenschmidt beat
Jenkins in two-straight falls, winning the match in 31:15 and 22:04. Hackenschmidt was
holding World Titles in both the catch-as-catch-can and Graeco-Roman styles.
Hackenschmidt went to Buffalo for a May 6 appearance against Jim Parr, and Gotch was
in attendance. Gotch verbally assaulted Hackenschmidt before the bout, issuing a stern
challenge. Hackenschmidt declined, and tried to remain focused on the match on hand.
When the estimated 2,000 fans in attendance began voicing their opinions in the matter,
the pressure began to heat under Hackenschmidt. Gotch claimed that he was scared,
but, in an attempt to prove that he wasn’t, Hackenschmidt said that he would give Frank a
match as soon as he arrived for his second tour of North America. Hackenschmidt even
said no to a $5,000 offer from a local promoter. He did proceed to beat Parr in three-
straight falls, winning a handicap match with the rules that he’d beat his opponent with
three falls in 60-minutes. George won all three falls in nearly eight minutes. Gotch had
lost a comparable match to Parr.
Although Jenkins was the American Champion, it was quickly becoming apparent that
Frank Gotch was the great hope to resurrect the popularity of professional wrestling in the
United States. Jenkins was also looking to slow down his career, and the offer from
President Theodore Roosevelt to serve as the initial boxing and wrestling instructor at
West Point Military Academy was too significant to pass up. He did remain champion until
Wednesday, May 23, 1906, losing a three-fall match to Gotch at the Convention Hall in
Kansas City, Missouri.
Shortly after his win, Gotch announced that he wanted to wrestle Hackenschmidt. “I want
to wrestle Hackenschmidt for the world’s championship in Kansas City,” he said, “and I am
going to make him a proposition that he can’t dodge.” A $6,000 purse was offered by the
Missouri Athletic Club and Gotch agreed to put up $4,000 himself for Hackenschmidt,
which he would receive no matter what.
Gotch, between the summer of 1905 and through his match with Fred Beell in December
1906, built a long streak of victories. Among those defeated were Beck Olson, Duncan A.
McMillan, Jack Carkeek, Emil Klank, McLeod, Charles Hackenschmidt, Farmer Burns,
Rogers, Apollo, Parr, Charles Olson, Hjalmar Lundin, Leo Pardello, and a number of
handicap match wins over several wrestlers at a time. Highlights in the run were two
matches in Montreal, his tournament victory over Emile Maupas on December 27, 1905,
and his controversial match with Emile Pietro on May 14, 1906. The latter saw the two
battle for 30-minutes to a no decision when police stopped fans who were nearly rioting.
Gotch had English-speaking fans backing him, while Pietro had French-fans backing him,
and the two groups were nearly at blows.
A heavy influx of international talent gave Gotch a range of opponents, and actually built
American support for him. His confident challenges towards Hackenschmidt seemed to
prove his invincibility, and the latter’s failure to appear for a match hinted more of the
same. Hackenschmidt, in the minds of many writers, was the only man who could give
Gotch a serious test. When Frank went into the Greenwall Theatre in New Orleans on
December 1, 1906, he was the palpable favorite. Odds were heavily in his favor to win,
but strikingly, there were still people in the arena betting on the challenger, the
“Wisconsin Wonder,” Fred Beell.
Beell stood only 5’6”, and weighed no more than 167 pounds versus Gotch’s 5’11” and
202 pounds. The betting continued as Gotch won the first fall in 31:22, even more
astonishingly, bets continued in favor of Fred to win by a select group of gamblers
although the odds were 3-1 Gotch. Referee Charles Olson ordered the match to resume
for the second fall, and after more than 30 minutes, Beell took advantage of the fall by
slamming the champion to the mat four successive times. One of the moves sent Gotch
from the mat and to the floor, before the audience, where he hit his head. Gotch
returned, dizzy, and hardly the wrestler he was going into the fall, and Beell quickly
capitalized, scoring a winning pinfall at the 39 minute mark. Handers carried Gotch to the
dressing room, and he had a total of 20 minutes to recover. The third fall lasted a total of
50 seconds, with Beell pouncing on the weakened Gotch and pinning him. A stunned
audience watched Beell capture the American Heavyweight Title, and a reported $10,000
The Gotch-Beell affair has been labeled the greatest upset in professional wrestling
history. In fact, it was the greatest something, upset – no, “work” – yes. The match was
handled perfectly by all involved, and earned the Gotch-Burns-Beell-Olson troupe a
bundle of cash. Commenting on the question of possible artificially created finish by two
actors rather than wrestlers, referee Olson said the following to the New Orleans Daily
Pacayune: “I’d bet this to a penny that the two worked their best.” As he said the words,
he displayed a wad of cash. Was the money he held earnings from the huge payday?
16 days later in Kansas City, Gotch regained the title from Beell with two-straight falls
before an estimated 8,000 fans. Both men, again, cleaned up at the box office. Olson
was an important member of the Gotch-Burns syndicate, and would go on to win three
handicap match victories over the champion, but lose finish matches.
In 1907, Gotch replaced his manager, Harry Lerch with Emil Klank. Klank was born in
Chicago on June 19, 1876 (listed as June 9, 1876 in Joseph B. Bowles 1913 book entitled
Frank A. Gotch, World’s Champion Wrestler) to German parents, Charles and Johanna
Kauradt Klank. He was trained by Farmer Burns, and was a longtime worker within the
syndicate, even using different identities along the trail to dupe audiences out of money
and to hide his reputation. Klank claimed various championships during the early 1900s,
including an Omaha-city title, the Nebraska State Title, the Northwest Title, and the
Western States Championship which he lost to Gotch in 1905. As a civilian occupation,
Klank worked as a policeman. Gotch and Klank had a memorable match in Denver on
August 23, 1907 even though Gotch was the master of his opponent. In 13:30, Gotch
beat Klank with a half Nelson and bar lock, injuring Emil’s arm. The champion won the
second fall in 11:20.
The first inclination of Gotch retiring from wrestling came in March 1907, more than a year
prior to his first match with George Hackenschmidt. His schedule did slow down, but the
door remained open for possible bout with the Russian. Gotch competed in “safe”
matches against members of his organization, even dropping several handicap bouts to
the likes of Joe Rogers, Charles Olson and William Demetral.
During the latter part of February 1908, Milwaukee businessman and promoter William W.
Wittig was hard at work trying to get Gotch and Hackenschmidt to negotiate for a match.
Both were willing to hear the offer, and when mention of a $10,000 purse came up, the
deal was signed simultaneously, with final confirmation via cable, in New York City (Gotch
was signed for by Wittig) and in London by Hackenschmidt. Wittig immediately attempted
to fix Madison Square Garden at the location of the match, but was unable, and finally
settled on Chicago being the host city for the match of the century.
Rogers was an interesting pawn in the build up for Gotch-Hackenschmidt. He was born
around 1879 of Jewish-German parentage and immigrated to the United States from
London when he was three years old. Standing a little more than 6’1” and weighing
between 260 and 295 pounds, Rogers was a formidable fellow in any ring. Under the
guidance of Hall of Fame fight manager Tom O’Rourke, who managed Tom Sharkey,
Rogers was accorded much respect even before his first boxing match with comparisons
to many of the sport’s best. O’Rourke even hoped that young Rogers would dethrone Jim
Jeffries for the World Championship. With great aspirations, Joe and O’Rourke traveled
to Europe in 1907 to pursue both boxing and wrestling.
Joe Rogers, the boxer, wasn’t as skilled as Joe Rogers the wrestler, and O’Rourke quickly
learned that. Before leaving for the west after an unsuccessful tour, the duo beckoned
for a match with Hackenschmidt, the World’s Champion. Rogers, possessing skill in both
the Graeco-Roman and catch-as-catch-can styles, was outmatched by his opponent when
they locked up at the Oxford Music Hall in London during the afternoon of January 30,
1908. The match was under the latter style, and Hackenschmidt won the first fall in 7:35
and then took the second in 6:45. Hackenschmidt proved that his talent and quickness
could overcome the size of the “American Apollo.” Interestingly enough, The Times of
London, England, printed that Rogers stood “about five inches” taller than Hackenschmidt.
The aspirations of O’Rourke and Rogers quickly faded, although upon return to the
United States, Joe received a handicap match with Frank Gotch in New York City. The
match took place at the New Amsterdam Hall on March 6, 1908, and Gotch had to beat
Rogers five times in 60-minutes. He failed, only winning two falls in the allotted time.
Using the rationale, if Hackenschmidt beat Rogers so squarely, and if Gotch had such a
difficult time with him, it seemed likely in the opinions of many that Hackenschmidt had an
advantage. Gotch did win two falls, like “Hack,” over Rogers, but lost the handicap
match. Rogers had wrestled both men within a two month period, and tested their skills,
so, in the minds of some, he was the barometer. All in all, it gave pundits more to chew on
as the date of April 3 neared.
Back in Chicago, Gotch wrestled and beat Fred Beell on February 7, 1908 in Chicago and
won in two-straight falls. The first went after 54-minutes of action. He was scheduled to
compete with Charlie Olson the next night at the Illinois Athletic Club, but could not due to
a cold and a hurt knee. The man representing him in the negotiations for the important
bout was Jack Herman, the future manager of Stanislaus Zbyszko. Gotch also had
Farmer Burns, Jack Carkeek, and Emil Klank working in his best interests, and trained
locally in the “Windy City” with a German named Ernst.
The pieces were in place, and both grapplers were in town making their final preparations
for the match. The night of April 3, after several preliminaries, and as an estimated 6,000
fans looked on in the seating areas of the Dexter Park Pavilion, Hackenschmidt went to
the ring with boxer Rudolph Unholz and wrestler Gus Schoenlein. Out of apparent
courtesy, he waited for Gotch to arrive and get into the ring first, before making the move
himself. The American Titleholder was accompanied by Burns, Carkeek, and Klank.
Finally, a match three years in the making, Gotch and Hackenschmidt shook hands at 10:
29 p.m., and the timer began as both readied for the fight of their lives. The quickness
displayed by Gotch out-dueled any strength of Hackenschmidt, and the latter was easily
unprepared for the conditioning of the man from Humboldt. Any attempts by the Russian
to gain the upper hand was knocked away by superior defense.
Two hours and one minute of harsh, bloody, and heavily contested wrestling ended with
the international superstar, George Hackenschmidt, unable to continue. Hackenschmidt
honestly told the referee and his opponent that he was giving up the fall, and the entire
match. He was unable to go any further. Thus, Gotch was the new catch-as-catch-can
World Heavyweight Champion. Chicago fans lifted their hero onto their shoulders and
carried him to his dressing room, as Gotch’s supporters cheered wildly.
After the match, Gotch was quoted by the Chicago Daily Tribune, Saturday, April 4, 1908:
“Hackenschmidt never was a better man than I am. He may be a little stronger in the
arms, but not much. He wanted to quit several times and have the bout declared a draw.
I told him he could quit, but I would not consent to a draw. I can beat him any time and am
willing to go right out now and wrestle him again. I intend going to Paris and open up in
the theaters, where I will meet all comers. I am glad I won the championship of the world.”
In the same paper, Hackenschmidt said: “Gotch surprised me. He is 50 percent better
than when I saw him last. He had me greatly worried because of his toe hold and I was
afraid to go to the mat. When Gotch threw me on the mat he hurt me internally and I quit
rather than injure myself for life. When I get well, I will wrestle Gotch again and try to
retrieve my lost laurels. Gotch beat me and I have to acknowledge it.”
In an article that ran in the Washington Post on April 5, 1908, Hackenschmidt was quoted
as saying: “There is no man in all England who has a chance with your man, Gotch. He
is king of his class, the greatest man by far that I have ever met. After going nearly two
hours with him my muscles became stale. My feet also gave way on me. I had trained
constantly against the toe hold and I had strained the muscles of my legs. When I found
myself weakening I knew there was no use continuing. I had no chance to win. That was
the reason I conceded the championship to him. I have no desire to wrestle him again. A
return match would not win back my title.”
Hackenschmidt, still picking up the pieces from the loss, corresponded with the London
Daily Mail, which was special to the Washington Post, and ran in the April 6, 1908
newspaper, saying the following: “The tactics by which I was defeated on American soil
would not have been tolerated in England. Gotch’s body was literally soaked in oil, to
prevent my holding him. All the world knows this to be unfair and against the rules of
wrestling. He dug his nails into my face, tried to pull my ear off, and poked his thumb into
my eye. Gotch fought not like a man, but like a cat. I will state facts, and let the English
“In the first place, I underestimated Gotch’s power, and thought it unnecessary to do much
training. For two weeks after my arrival from England I went on a tour in the East, and
then I hurried on to Chicago. The manager of the Chicago Athletic Club, where I was to
train, insulted me and acted mean, so that I only went there twice. Consequently, I was
wholly unfit to meet Gotch. However, I am sure that if he had wrestled fairly, I should have
beaten him. Once in the ring, I began aggressive tactics, but Gotch would not come on,
and started his tricks.”
“I saw that his body was oiled, and protested, but the referee paid no heed to me. The
people at the ringside were all prejudiced against me and unfair, so that I concluded the
best thing to do was to keep silent and do my best. Gotch then dug his finger into my
eye, and I called out “unfair,” but he continued, and the referee did not stop him. Then he
caught hold of my ear and started to pull it off. In releasing my ear he scratched my face,
tearing the skin off.
“Now happened an unusual thing, which I don’t think fair. Gotch grabbed my big toe and
tried to sprain it, with the object of crippling me by breaking the bone. Throughout the
match he kept pulling and wrenching my toe, and I saw that it was not a wrestling, but a
butchery match. After an hour and a half, I was disgusted and ready to quit, but I decided
to try again. Gotch seemed to weaken, but, cheered by the crowd, he kept up the ‘bloody
work’ on my face, so half an hour later, I said ‘I’m done.’
“I was not hurt much, but I didn’t want all my skin pulled off. I never appealed for a draw. I
am both quicker and more powerful than Gotch. The only thing is that I did not train
enough. Had I do so, I would have beaten him despite oil, scratching, toe pulling, and ear
butchery. I ask the English public, through the Daily Mail, if this is fair dealing? I will
return to England in a few days, to appear at the Metropolitan Music Hall two weeks
hence, and shall not retire.
“I shall keep all my English engagements, and now that I know Gotch I will train to win back
the championship, but not on American soil. I don’t think American ideas of sporting are
fair. I trust that when the English public learns the above facts it will not allow my so-called
defeat to injure my reputation. I tried to uphold English sportsmanship by fair means, and
would not stoop to win by foul methods. I have made $20,000 since my arrival in America.”
Hackenschmidt went to Wittig’s farm to recover following the match, and soon returned to
England on the Lusitania, while the people of Humboldt awaited Gotch’s return. He
emphatically denied “Hack’s” statements that his body was heavily oiled. Among the
thoughts Gotch pondered both in the press and in private was the possibility of giving
Hackenschmidt a rematch, and the offer of $10,000 to tour Europe. Frank took a look at
everything, and was hesitant to make any rash moves.
As the motion picture of the Gotch-Hackenschmidt match circulated in movie houses,
Frank made his first reference to leaving professional wrestling behind for vaudeville. He
had several matches in May and built up to a bout with Dr. Roller in Seattle on July 1,
which he won. Gotch then went to Texas for a tour of the major cities, including Dallas,
Houston, and Galveston. In Dallas on July 15, he took out three competitors in 19-
minutes. Two nights later, he was in a Galveston ring against Herman Berneau. Within
five minutes of one-sided wrestling, Berneau was injured with a broken rib, and Gotch was
held by police for aggravated assault. Gotch was released the next day as the case was
Gotch and Klank sailed for Europe on the Campania on October 28, 1908, arriving in
Queenstown on November 3. The members of the Gotch party battled sickness at sea,
only to have the speculation of a battle between Frank and “Hack” to begin as soon as
they stepped off the boat. A bout in London during the winter stay was not going to
happen. He did make numerous appearances, performed in some exhibitions, and acted
in a sketch entitled “All About a Bout.” On February 2, 1909, Gotch returned to New York
City on the Deutschland.
Yussiff Mahmout and Antonio Pierri, while Gotch was overseas, arrived in the United
States, and began headhunting. Next to Gotch vs. Hackenschmidt, Gotch vs. Mahmout
quickly became the most yearned for professional wrestling match available, and
promoters worked to get the contracts signed. Mahmout rolled over the top
heavyweights, Beell, Jenkins, Roller, Ordeman, Lundin, Olson, and Demetral, proving to
the American wrestling fan that he was a force to be reckon with.
Between March and June 1909, Gotch toured extensively, defeating his major
challengers. On April 14, 1909 in Chicago, he wrestled Mahmout before a reported
15,000 fans, and scored a two-fall victory. He earned $7,500 for the match. Additional
wins came over Dan McLeod, Ordeman, Roller, Charles Hackenschmidt, Westergaard,
Beell, and Jenkins. Mahmout, familiar with the territory and finding a friend in Gotch,
became the latter’s training partner and “policeman.” Gotch decreed that Mahmout and
his student, Ordeman, were among the best wrestlers around.
Jack Curley signed Gotch for a thirty week tour, paying $1,100 a week, with the Sells-
Floto Circus in January 1916, to begin in April. Accompanying him on the circuit was Jess
Willard, the heavyweight boxing champion. The most important thing for the major
wrestling promoters at the time was to bid and practically beg for the rights to a Gotch-
Stecher match. Promoters from New York, Chicago, Omaha, and San Francisco all set
sights on the bout, but Gotch was determined to call the shots, turning down an offer for
Decoration Day. In March 1916, he went to the Pacific Coast, where he continued his
training to get back into shape. On March 10, he beat William Demetral in two-straight
falls in Los Angeles. He turned down a deal to wrestle Ad Santel in San Francisco.
Early in May, after joining the circus on the road, Gotch became seriously ill. He was
unable to hold food down, and had lost between 30 and 40 pounds. He cancelled his
contract with the circus, told newspapers that he was not going to wrestle Stecher, and
that he was done with wrestling completely. Gotch returned to Humboldt, where he hoped
to recover, and reports of his illness ranged from fatal stomach cancer to acute
indigestion. Gotch’s health quickly turned around, and was not only able to return to the
circus, but resume any discussion regarding a match with Stecher, whom many thought
he was running from.
On Sunday, May 21, Gotch met with Stecher’s manager Joe Hetmanek and Gene Melady
in Burlington to discuss the prospects for a bout. At the conference, Gotch stated that no
matter if he won, lost or the match was a draw, he needed 40 percent of the receipts. On
the other side of the table, Hetmanek wanted 60 percent to the winner, and 40 for the
loser. In a previous declaration, Gotch had stated that if Stecher wanted a match, Joe
would have to pay him $18,000 to get him out of his circus contract. Needless to say, Joe
refused. Earl Caddock, whose friendship with Gotch was growing, joined the circus, and
the two trained with each other often.
During the afternoon of July 18, 1916, an incident redirected the course of wrestling
history forever. The accident ended the possibilities of a match along the lines of Gotch-
Hackenschmidt, which could have remained as legendary today, as it would have been on
Labor Day 1916. Gotch and the circus were in Kenosha, Wisconsin, where he was
wrestling another member of the gang, Bob Managoff, a talented Armenian shooter.
Going for a hip hold on his opponent after the passing of only a few minutes of grappling,
Gotch’s left foot became caught in between a set of mats, and a continued movement
strained his febula, above the ankle, to the point of fracture. A physician, Dr. Curtis H.
Gephart, ran to Gotch’s aid, as did Willard and Tom Jones. A combined effort got Frank
to a nearby automobile, where he was taken to a hospital.
Gotch remained in a Kenosha hospital for a number of days, and was quoted by the
Washington Post on July 23, 1916: “I am done for good. I think it is time for any man to
retire when he is 40, and from now on I don’t care who has the wrestling championship.
Just as soon as I am able to leave the hospital, I am going back to the farm.” The injury
was severe, and Frank limped for several weeks afterwards. Any possibility of a match
with Stecher seemed totally out of the question.
In August 1916, Gotch engaged a special exhibition bout with Jim Essen for the Selig
Polyscope Company, and was victorious. He said the following and was quoted by a
number of newspapers from the Washington Post, which reported that the article was
under copyright, 1916, to the Selig Polyscope Company, to the Omaha World Herald and
was printed at different times over the span of several weeks: “I have retired from the
ring. I have not retired because I do not think I am capable of defeating them all, but
because I do not think I am quite as good as I was, say a half dozen years ago. I am 38
years of age and time will tell sooner or later. I think it would be later with me, but, just the
same, I do not want my friends to back me with their money believing that I am even better
than I was ten years ago. I am not better. I may not be as good. At that I think I would be
good enough to take on those in the game today.
“My match with Jim Essen, champion of Scotland, staged exclusively for motion pictures,
will go down in history as my last match. I won, it is true, but after that match it came to me
suddenly that there is a time for all men to retire. I never dodged a match and I gave
them all opportunities to win my championship title, and so my retirement will not permit
nor will it deserve criticism. The retirement was made at no small sacrifice, for under an
agreement with the Selig company I was to receive $85,000 for two more matches. I will
not wrestle again. I have enough money. I want to stay on my farm and enjoy the
company of my wife and family.”
In January 1917, Gotch publicly backed Caddock, stating that he was the best in the world
and a future heavyweight champion. Frank was among the team tutoring Earl in Chicago
for his April 9 bout with World Title claimant Joe Stecher at Omaha’s Municipal Stadium.
That night, Caddock won the World Heavyweight Title from Stecher when the latter
refused to continue after losing the second fall. Gotch, who was in Caddock’s corner,
helped put pressure on the referee after Stecher refused to return to the ring. The
badgering became too much, and the referee declared Caddock victor by forfeit.
Gotch was in Houston four nights later to referee the middleweight championship match
between Mike Yokel and Waino Ketonen. Before an estimated 10,000 people at Chicago’
s Coliseum, Gotch wrestled his final match against Leo Pardello on Tuesday, May 1,
1917. Frank beat his opponent in 6-minutes with a half nelson and crotch hold. Also on
the all-star show for the Elks Lodge No. 4, were Caddock, Louis Talaber, Marty Cutler,
Ernest Kartje, and Ben Reuben. The following night, Frank acted as the third man for the
John Olin and Ed “Strangler” Lewis match, which the latter won a claim to the heavyweight
title. He also refereed matches on May 7 in Des Moines (Caddock-Eustace) and on
August 30, 1917 in Harlan, Iowa (Caddock-Draak). On October 12, Gotch and his wife
finished their journey from Humboldt to Chicago, where Frank was going to seek medical
help at St. Luke’s Hospital.
Gotch was moved to the German Hospital, and was quoted by the United Press as saying
the following on October 15, 1917: “The doctor is kidding when he says he don’t know
how long I’ll be here. I feel fine. Fine thing for me to be doing, loafing in a hospital. We
were loading rugs out on the farm and I strained myself. They couldn’t do much for me
out there, but I have felt fine since coming to the hospital.” A strained back was one of the
earliest symptoms, but doctors seemed to believe he was having kidney problems. The
illness ended up being uremic poisoning. He was put on medication, and rested for
several weeks before boarding a train with his wife for Humboldt, rather than going on to
Hot Springs, Arkansas, the couple’s original plan. The news they received while in
Chicago was terrible, Frank was dying.
Frank Alvin Gotch died at noon on December 16, 1917 with his wife at his bedside. His
health had deteriorated in the weeks and days prior to this death. With Iowa Governor
William L. Harding and hundreds of mourners in attendance, Gotch was buried on
December 19 in the family mausoleum in Union Cemetery in Humboldt. A friend of Frank’
s, Reverend Alexander Bennett, of Salina, Kansas, performed the oration, and the entire
town of Humboldt closed up all businesses, schools, and offices to pay their respects to
the fallen champion.
Near Humboldt, Gotch had owned 1,200 acres of farming land, as well as owning property
in both Iowa and Minnesota, interests in business, and an estate worth between
$250-$400,000. The master of the toe hold, Frank Gotch was a family man, an avid
sports fan, an animal lover, and car enthusiast. Most of all, he was America’s greatest
wrestler, paving the way for the generations that succeeded him.
Gotch, posthumously, was inducted into the following hall of fames: Des Moines Register
– Iowa Sports Hall of Fame – Inducted in 1951, Madison Square Garden Hall of Fame,
George Tragos/Lou Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame at the International
Wrestling Institute and Museum – Inducted in September 1998 in Newton, Iowa,
Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame – Inducted on May 5, 2002 in Schenectady, New York.
An autobiography entitled Gotch – World’s Champion Wrestler was written with Joseph B.
Bowles and George Robbins, and published in 1913. An updated biography, Gotch: An
American Hero, was written Mike Chapman and published in 1999.
Gladys Gotch, who was only 26 when her husband died, married a Humboldt County
salesman named Dale Fraser during the 1920s, providing a stable home for her son
Frank. In 1926, 12 year old Frank “Junior” was photographed with Ed “Strangler” Lewis,
and the caption was widely circulated in newspapers. It seemed, at the time, young Frank
wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps, even through his father and mother both wanted
him to pursue his education and become a lawyer. Gladys took Frank to see a wrestling
match between World Champion Gus Sonnenberg and Charlie Hanson in Des Moines in
1929, and the course violence had an impact on both. Maybe the dramatics and lack of
what was known, or even perceived as “real” wrestling swayed the young man from taking
the road his father had.
In November 1909, the arrangements for a traveling athletic combination show featuring
Frank Gotch, John Hermanson (boxer), James Callahan (baseball player), James "Jim"
Jeffries (boxer), and Dr. Roller as headliners. Sam Berger (manager of Jeffries) and Jack
Curley (manager of Gotch) were making the deal for a scattering of theatrical
appearances throughout the country. They were called a "band of champions," the
"Greatest Gathering of Athletic Stars Ever Got Together Under One Roof." One report
out of New York on November 4, 1909 claimed that Jeffries was going to battle Gotch to
prepare for Jack Johnson.
During the theatrical show, Jim Jeffries was going to perform for 25 minutes in an act
entitled "In the Gymnasium." He was going to jump rope, work the pulleys, and punch a
bag, demonstrating a normal routine.
Based on the success of the company tour across the United States, a 10-month tour of
the world was planned. The tour would begin on July 8, provided that Jeffries regained
his championship from Jack Johnson on July 4, which he ended up not accomplishing. H.
H. Frazee made the announcement on January 31, 1910. Among the others who'd be on
the journey were Gotch, Roller, James J. Corbett, Stanley Ketchel, Sam Berger, and
maybe Battling Nelson.
The Sheboygan Press (12/11/1912, Sheboygan, WI) ran a feature on Gotch and included
some quotes from one of the latter's friends, Ed Smith. Smith said: "The other day, I ran
into Gotch in a downtown hotel. It was the first time I had seen him since last fall when he
wrestled Hackenschmidt here. Clad in a woolly overcoat and under a heavy cloth hat, the
Iowa star looks as fat and sleek as a retired businessman, whose one aim was to exact
most of the good things out of this life."
Gotch admitted that training to get back into shape was something he didn't look forward
to, and had horrific memories of past experiences. He explained: "They are scolding me
in some quarters because I don't wrestle Zbyszko again. They may keep on scolding. I
don't care. I beat him once; don't doubt that I could do so again, but I haven't the slightest
inclination to try it. That's final, and I don't care how strong you make it."
In February 1913, Gotch told the press that he was willing to return to wrestling. He said:
"If there is a public demand that I wrestle again, I'll come back. I might even wrestle some
one I already have beaten, if the sporting public thinks I should, in order to make my
superiority conclusive. But I'm not anxious about going into training."
In early November 1917, Gotch arrived home to Humboldt, Iowa from Chicago. He
became sick when he was first going to the "Windy City," and there was talk he was going
to spend the winter in Hot Spring, Arkansas. He was unable to go through with the
treatment in Chicago and planned to recuperate at home in Iowa. He was accompanied
by his wife.
If you think Brett Farve has made one too many retirement announcements, only to come
back to play football, or that Terry Funk did the same, one can look back to the legendary
Frank Gotch as setting the bar for these athletes -- unwilling to walk away from the sport's
they love. For Gotch, it was a move of leverage, working over potential rivals and the
audience, all in effort to build toward another huge payday. And frankly, did Gotch even
love professional wrestling like Farve loves football or Funk loves wrestling? In a report in
the January 6, 1907 Washington Post, taken from the Kansas City Star, Gotch said that
he was not proud of the title of wrestling champion, and was "ashamed of the wrestling
business," as his parents were also. He wanted to leave wrestling behind as soon as it
ceased to bring him "big money." He was also quoted as saying that wrestling was a "poor
game." Doesn't sound like Gotch had any real love for wrestling at all. These simple
facts may change the opinion of some about Gotch regarding his perspective on
wrestling, and why he was even involved in the sport. Wrestling came naturally to him,
and he learned that he could make a fortune doing it. It was a business, not a passion.
But what kind of man was Frank Gotch? After his death, Farmer Burns was quoted as
saying that "Gotch was one of the kindest hearted of men. He proved it by his love of
dumb animals. Every animal on Frank's farm would come at his call."
Retirements of Frank Gotch: (Work in Progress)
March 3, 1907 - Washington Post, Washington, D.C. - "Champion to Retire"
August 29, 1910 - Stevens Point Daily Journal, Stevens Point, WI - "Gotch Retires From
*Article says that Gotch has competed in 331 matches, and has only lost 7, five of them
being handicap matches. Gotch reportedly announced his retirement in a letter to a
Kansas City sports writer.
January 1, 1911 - Salt Lake Tribune - Gotch is retired and won't wrestle Hackenschmidt
January 4, 1911 - Salt Lake Tribune - Gotch Retires From the Mat
December 27, 1911 - Daily Oklahoman - Gotch's exhibition with Munro to be his last.
February 7, 1912 - Coshocton Tribune - Gotch will retire for awhile.
February 26, 1914 - Stevens Point Daily Journal - Frank Gotch Retires Again
July 23, 1916 - Washington Post, Washington D.C. - "Gotch Back to Farm From the
*Article quotes Gotch : "I am done for good. I think it is time for any man to retire when he
is 40 and from now on I don't care who has the wrestling championship." Gotch also said
that his son will not be a wrestler or a boxer, but a "champion lawyer of the State of Iowa."
January 11, 1917 - Daily Northwestern, Oshkosh, WI - "Frank Gotch Has Quit"
*Gotch claimed that he was going to be "forty-one years old next April," and that he
thought Stecher was the best man in the sport. However, he wanted Farmer Burns to get
a hold of Stecher and teach him a few new holds. Incidentally, the Daily Review (Decatur,
IL) on September 21, 1916 stated that Gotch still limped from the accident at Kenosha,
and that he didn't want to wrestle again because he was "now past forty years of age."
*Within days of his December 27, 1911 proclamation that he was through with wrestling,
Gotch was telling sports writers that he was coming back because there was a "fine piece
of bottom land near Humboldt" that he wanted, according to the January 4, 1912 edition of
the Daily Oklahoman. Gotch explained that he'd wrestle anyone who could topple
Mahmout first. Mahmout was Gotch's training partner.
Copyright 2012 by Tim Hornbaker
|Frank Gotch Wrestling History
Legends of Pro Wrestling