Don Eagle Part One
I have taken pride in writing about some of the greatest Indian wrestlers but did not give justice to Don Eagle while talking about others.
Growing up in the shadows of his father, a retired Junior Heavyweight wrestling champion named Chief Joseph War Eagle, Don Eagle had a difficult time trying to just get into wrestling. His mother would see War Eagle come home with blackened eyes, broken fingers, broken noses, and cauliflower ears. She did not want to see this in her son.
Don Eagle had boxed in a Golden Gloves tournament in 1945 and turned pro shortly after that. He was successful in 22 bouts, winning 17 of them by knockout. In the same time period, Don was conditioning himself for the ring wars of pro wrestling as well.
In his early career, some of the men he met were top talents in the business. Names like Yvon Robert, Hans Schnable, Frankie Talaber, and the one and only Gorgeous George. In 1950, he beat Frank Sexton for the AWA championship in Cleveland. This skyrocketed his career to a national level.
He went on to defeat guys like Primo Carnera, Mr. Moto, Moose Cholak, and Buddy Rogers. His even temper won him a lot of matches as he defended his belt on a nightly basis all over the country. He packed arenas like the old Cleveland Arena, the Chicago Amphitheater, and Toronto's Maple Leaf Garden, just to name a few.
Besides being a wrestling champion, Don Eagle was a deeply religious man and cared for people dearly. A young 11-year-old fan, who had been hospitalized in Pennsylvania with a terminal condition, wanted to see Don badly before his demise. A call went out to Don from the boy's father, and Don did not hesitate one bit to drop what he was doing on his only day off that week. He jumped in his car and drove 300 miles to see the boy and spent several hours chatting.
The boy did die that day, but he had a smile on his face because this adversary of goodness had taken the time to come and be by his side. Don had taken one of the feathers from his ring headdress and placed it in the boy's hands to be buried with him. The father thanked Don Eagle and offered to pay him for his trip, but Don said he was only doing what he had been placed on earth to do. They parted ways, and Don drove back the 300 miles to his hotel room to ready himself for the next match.
Don had the uncanny ability to break some of the best holds put on him in the ring. He could wiggle out of a full Nelson, escape from a sleeper, and reverse many leg and arm locks put on by opponents. Most of this was because of his excellent and winning attitude and the fact that he trained every day before matches in a gym.
In 1953, while in the Chicago area, he was involved in a match against Hans Schmidt, who was not known for being a nice guy. Schmidt could kick a field goal from the 20-yard line of the opposite end of the field. He could also break a lot of rules when it came to winning matches. He would do ANYTHING to win if he could but was often disqualified by referees who followed the rules.
In that match, the referee was just about to give the match to Don Eagle by way of disqualification when Schmidt grabbed Don by the Mohawk haircut he wore and tossed him over the top rope and into chairs that had been holding fans just a few seconds before. That spill crushed several spinal discs and a couple of ribs in the process. Don was taken back home to the Caughnawaga Reservation in Quebec, Canada for his rehabilitation. Don was in a plaster cast from his neck to his feet.
The doctors in both countries, Canada and the United States, had told Don that his wrestling days were over. Don did not see that happening to him and began a stern training regimen that included many hours of weight training. He also followed a strict diet of high protein foods and at least nine hours of sleep each day. Don returned to the ring in 1955.
To be continued....
Percival A. Friend, Retired
(MIDI Musical Selection: "God Bless The U.S.A.")
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