This article was originally published in Wrestling Perspective Volume XI, Number 54. Copyright © 1995 Wrestling Perspective
Wyoming's Wrestling Rancher: Life and History of Clarence Eklund, Champion Wrestler
By Clarence Eklund
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There is an old adage to the effect that if you repeat something often enough and with enough authority, eventually it will be believed no matter how farfetched it may be. A prime example of this adage is Clarence Eklund's daughter, Hazel Odegard. In her role as her father's de facto press agent, she has given new meaning to the word "farfetched."
The first time I came across her was in Earle Yetter's column in the old Wrestling Revue. That should give you some idea as to how long she's been at it. At any rate, she was certainly welcome news to old Earle because she gave him something to write about. (Anyone who's ever read Earle's column knows what I mean.) Others may remember her articles about her father in Norman Kietzer's Wrestling News (may it rest in peace). With the demise of these magazines, the publicity wells have dried up, thus she has taken to writing a book: Wyoming's Wrestling Rancher: Life and History of Clarence Eklund, Champion Wrestler, available only through mail order by sending $24.95 to Hazel Odegard at 195 Pine, Buffalo, Wyoming, 82834.
The first thing I noticed after reading the book was that she hadn't changed her tune one note over the years. For those lucky enough not to have heard it, the gist of it (as well as the book) goes something like this: "My Father Was The Greatest/ Much Better Than The Latest/He Was The Champ And Really Swell/But They Only Remember Ad Santel/Ad Gypped My Pop And That Is True/So I Am Writing All Of This Just To Tell You." So why buy the book? Two words: Clarence Eklund.
Eklund was one the better wrestlers of his time, a holder of the Light Heavyweight Championship, whose reputation as a wrestler made him somewhat of a drawing card in an era when ballyhoo was limited. But the heights of his fame in this country ended shortly before World War I. The style of slam bang wrestling created after the war to cater to the tastes of the Roaring Twenties passed him by and left him in the resin dust of obscurity.
Given these circumstances, and the fact he refused to participate in the new order of things, Eklund turned to touring. He was a particular success Down Under and it was while in Australia that he would experience his one last gasp of fame. He won the World's Light Heavyweight Championship in a tournament, pinning archival Santel in the process.
Returning to the States he found no market for his championship, and, because he wouldn't cooperate with the Trust, he was also blacklisted. Unable to secure worthy opponents and the resultant big paydays, Eklund retired in 1929. Upon his retirement a couple of years later, he was almost completely forgotten - erased from the collective consciousness, as it were. He turned to a life of farming and writing, with one disastrous plunge into politics. Most of his writings were included in Odegard's book, including a short manuscript entitled "My Forty Years in Wrestling," which by itself is worth the price of the book. An insightful, if myopic, remembrance of his wrestling days, "My Forty Years in Wrestling" seems as if it was intended to be much longer; perhaps as part of an autobiography. Though slanted from his perspective, it is a fascinating peek into the early years of wrestling. Just don't ask for honesty. There is no way Eklund was going to spill the proverbial beans.
After reading "My Forty Years of Wrestling," I quickly realized Eklund was fulfilling a quest. This quest was to defeat Santel. Eklund seemed possessed with the idea of beating Santel, almost as if old Ad were the Holy Grail. To hear Clarence tell it, he was an honest wrestler in honest times. Oh, Ad was honest, too, but scared to meet Clarence at his weight (175 lbs.). Santel was about 10 pounds heavier, and unwilling to meet others such as Ted Thye at the lighter weight. Well, Eklund finally wore Ad down to where Ad dropped the weight, and Eklund defeated him in a match, or to hear Eklund tell it, "Santel learned more in that match about wrestling at 175 pounds than he had learned in 15 years of talking of wrestling at that weight."
Eklund then goes on to mention that the next week he defeated Thye during a tour of Australia for the Light Heavyweight title and held it until his retirement in 1929. But how honest was it? The Australian tour was promoted by Al Haft, who probably never had an honest day in his life. The story on Haft was that he wrestled as Young Gotch. The reality was that Haft used to pass himself off as the Frank Gotch in areas that had never seen Gotch. If the audience became wise, Al retreated to the name "Young Gotch." Wrestling was no more honest in Eklund's heyday than it is today, no matter what he claimed. Even if he said wrestling was a work, I doubt his daughter would've printed it.
Broken down into several sections, one of the more interesting portions of the book is a history of the wrestling times of Eklund, written by Bill Sporis, a sportswriter and friend of Eklund, which says a lot about his impartiality. But there are 37 capsule profiles of Eklund's various competitors which give us a valued insight into a period of wrestling we know little about. This is followed by a compilation of articles written about Eklund during the Twenties, and some written later than that. The articles are fine, but this is where the book should have ended.
Eklund's story would have made a fine chapter in a history of wrestling. Instead, his life has ended up overexposed in a book penned by a daughter intent on making his life into the stuff of which tragic heroes are made. That's the good news. The bad news is that in her attempt to chronicle her father's life, she not only includes his wrestling career, but also his family life and his various scribblings on politics and religion. Eklund may have been a superb wrestler, but he clearly was not a thinker, and Odegard's attempts to paint him as a "Socrates of the Sagebrush" come off as an incredible pomposity. She mentions in one chapter that her brother tried to discourage her from writing a book about her Dad's life. After reading her effort, it's a wonder why he wasn't more persistent.
As a result, we are treated to pages and pages of Eklund's views on everything from politics to health to economics. The chapter containing this begins with a photo of Eklund in later years underneath which is a caption which reads as follows:
Clarence Eklund's great mind kept him absorbed in reading and writing about the economy, the banking structure and the political scene. Voters' minds were being controlled and manipulated through radio and newspaper media. Dad realized democracy was being taken away from the people. He was passionate in writing and fighting against this.
How Eklund ever missed out on the Nobel Prizes in these subjects is still a mystery to this day. Maybe his daughter can chalk it up the General International Conspiracy which has always existed to keep good men such as her father down and out.
In reality, Eklund had a very ordinary mind. He ran for political office on the Socialist ticket and was trounced for the effort. He was a passionate defender of Soviet Russia and believed that its principles should be instituted here. (These principles worked so well that the first chance the Soviets got to change their system of government, they did so with what might mildly be called reckless enthusiasm. If history has taught us anything, it is that man is not perfectible.) He also detested capitalism, especially in the form of "big banking." Quotes from a booklet called The Truth About Money, which was in his personal library, are reprinted. They allude to The House of Rothschild and "alien-minded bankers." Both are synonyms for Jews and were part and parcel of the Anti-Semitic movements of the Thirties. Combined with Eklund's view's on health, his thoughts appear to eerily parallel those of Dr. Josef Goebbels (once referred to by fellow Nazi, Gregor Strasser, as a "Beefcake Nazi" - Brown (shirted) on the outside, pink on the inside) rather than any other mainstream thinker.
If you think his political views are wacky, wait until you see his views on health. He seemed convinced about vasectomies to the point where we are treated to a photo of a vasectomy operation in the book. Charming. Daughter also extols father's views on health while at the same time mentioning ever so softly that he had a drinking problem at one time. So much for health.
As if this were not enough, Daughter then goes on to present a compilation of title matches that make no sense and an Addendum containing her own views which makes even less sense, if that is possible by this point in the book. Were there other books on this period of time available, I would easily tell you to avoid this one like the Ebola virus. However, given the reality of historical information, the wisest course is to buy the book for its wrestling history. The rest you can safely laugh at from the comfort of your home.
The Phantom of the Ring's articles are a regular feature of Wrestling Perspective. To read more of his great articles, subscribe to Wreslting Perspective today.
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This article is Copyright © 1995 - 2006 Wrestling Perspective. All Rights Reserved. This article may not be quoted, reprinted or distributed without written permission from Wrestling Perspective publishers Paul MacArthur and David Skolnick.
Footnotes/Endnotes for this article should read as follows:
The Phantom of the Ring, "The Deep Thinker of Buffalo Wyoming," Wrestling Perspective, Volume XI, Number 54, (1995): 10 - 11.