Walnut’s Caddock: A wrestling legend

by Mike Chapman

The State of Iowa is known around the world for its prowess in the sport of wrestling. No other state can match Iowa for its impact on both the amateur and professional sides of the athletic activity that is often called Mankind’s Oldest Sport.

Wrestling is mentioned in the Bible when Jacob wrestles the angel of the Lord, in the oldest extant piece of literature known to exist, The Epic of Gilgamesh, and in the epic poems of ancient Greece, Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey.

Abraham Lincoln was a wrestler in his youth, as were several other presidents. The sport has a history like no other … with Iowa playing a preeminent role in that history.

And Iowa’s Earl Caddock is one of the sport’s greatest heroes.

Caddock holds the honor of being the first great amateur wrestler to become the world heavyweight professional champion, back when the professional game was still a genuine athletic contest. Handsome, well-built and tremendously skilled, Caddock truly was one of the greatest athletes of his generation, and one of the finest technical wrestlers who ever lived.

Beyond that, he was a legitimate war hero, businessman, and a superb role model to a generation of young athletes across the nation. Caddock volunteered to serve in the United States Army during a time of war. He was a doughboy in World War I and fought in the trenches in France, suffering lung damage from mustard gas. He returned home after the war to resume his wrestling career, and then moved into the business world, becoming highly successful and raising a family of devout Christians who, in turn, became highly successful athletes and businessmen.

Like most of the great wrestlers of the early 20th century, Earl spent his formative years on a Midwestern farm. He was born February 27, 1888, in a small cabin near Huron, South Dakota. When he was very young, his family moved to Chicago, where his father found work as a fireman. Shortly after the move, his father was killed in an accident, and the children were dispersed to relatives. Earl was sent to live with his uncle Ike, on a farm near Anita, in southwestern Iowa.