Orville Brown was left an orphan at the age of eleven and he earned his board working on the farms of his relatives. He was up early milking
cows, taking care of livestock and walking to school. For financial reasons, he attended only one year of high school at Kiowa, Kansas where he
starred as a football player. He became a professional cowboy and by the time he was eighteen years of age he was one of the top rodeo hands in
bulldogging. He bulldogged a steer in 4.8 seconds! In an exhibition in 1927, he became the first cowboy to bulldog a buffalo by jumping from a horse.
While working on a farm near Leonardville, Kansas he met the farmer’s daughter, Grace. In October of 1926, he and Grace eloped and had a
marriage which lasted nearly fifty five years. Orville found a job as a blacksmith in Wallace, Kansas. The heavy work in the blacksmith shop
enhanced Orville’s naturally strong physique.
Ernest Brown (no relation), a wrestling manager, passed through Wallace and saw Orville working some hot iron on an anvil with a heavy hammer.
He convinced Orville he had the physique to become a top professional wrestler. Ernest got Orville his first match which he won easily, then
another and another, until he had the unbelievable record of seventy-one wins without a defeat. He gained enough notoriety in western Kansas
that the promoter in Wichita put him on the preliminary of one of the weekly matches there. His opponent was an experienced wrestler and to
everyone’s surprise Orville made it seventy-two straight wins.
A well known wrestler, Abe Coleman, saw Orville and called Tom Packs, the promoter in St. Louis, and told him he had to see this “kid.” In 1933,
World Heavyweight Champion Jim Londos was training for a match with Everett Marshall and advertised for young wrestlers to work out with him.
Orville jumped at the opportunity and gained great experience and connections. He met and beat some of the greats of the day and by 1935 was
considered the number one challenger to Jim Londos’ Title.
In 1935, Orville wrestled Londos three times in Detroit and the third meeting drew the biggest crowd ever to see a wrestling match in Detroit
up to that time. By 1939 the Midwest Wrestling Association was the largest organization of promoters in the country. This group recognized John
Pesek had the most solid claim to the title while Orville Brown and Dick Shikat shared the rating of Number One Contender. Pesek failed to
meet either one and the MWA stripped Pesek of the title and on June 28, 1940 Brown and Shikat met for the Championship which was won by Orville.
Orville met and defeated several of the other “champions” and became the catalyst which brought about the formation the National Wrestling
Alliance in 1948. Lou Thesz also claimed the title. A match was finally arranged and it was to be held in St. Louis on Thanksgiving night 1949.
Orville had been maintaining a heavy schedule and decided to set up a training camp and take no matches for a month. Some top hands had agreed
to work out with Orville and after a match in Des Moines he asked Bobby Bruns to ride back to Kansas City with him and to consider working with
him some in preparation for the match with Thesz.
Then disaster struck. They came over the top of a hill to find a semi-trailer truck crosswise in the road. The car struck the trailer and
lodged under it. The two powerful men pushed back on the seat which broke. This, fortunately, kept them from being decapitated. Orville’s
head hit the main frame of the truckand he had serious brain damage plus cuts and bruises. Orville was unconscious and the doctors were not
able to determine if he would survive. He regained consciousness after five days. His car, a near new Cadillac, was sold for salvage for $218.00.
He went through long agonizing hours of therapy and exercises. He regained full use of his body. He regained his strength and stamina
but he never regained the ability to respond automatically. He had to think about every move he made. He had been exceptionally agile
and quick for a man of his size. No matter how hard or how much he worked he was simply unable to react with the speed necessary to do
what he wanted to do most – to wrestle again.
While his career was over, his life was not. He became a very successful promoter and enjoyed staying in the business and with the
wrestlers he new so well. He received a great deal of satisfaction watching Lou Thesz, who became one of the all time great champions.
How did Orville Brown rate with the professional wrestlers of the first half-century? People in any profession are most accurately rated
by their contemporaries. Many of the wrestlers of the time proclaimed Orville Brown to be the best professional wrestler ever to step into
the ring. He held the title for eight years and went out of his way to meet the best, especially those who claimed to be Champions.
- Dick Brown