by Bill McCormack
He was a man of immense talent. He approached his profession with remarkable skills. He was a headliner; a presence; a star who filled the ring with his being. To witness him in action, from pre-match ringside autographs, to his parting smile and waves to the cheering throngs, was all a part of the extraordinary magnetism of Carl D. Bell a.k.a. Don Eagle.
Born in Cuaghnawaga, Quebec, Canada to parents of Mohawk ethnicity, he entered the galaxy of grunt and groan at the age of twenty. He had already distinguished himself as a Golden Gloves Novice Heavyweight Champion in Cleveland. At the suggestion of his father, Joseph War Eagle, himself an established grappler, he launched his career in Indianapolis, scoring a pin in 16 minutes over Red Dawson. What followed was the substance of which dreams and nightmares are composed, and each left its mark on the being of the man in the regal feathered headdress.
On the plus side, the over the rainbow-bluebirds and Mrs. Wagner's Pie-portion of the ledger showed a very rapid rise to the co-feature and headline billing on mat cards. Perhaps, in the first three seasons inside the ropes there were promoters and bookers who sought to exploit the Native American angle in their lineups of nightly performers. That aspect of the wrestler, however, never became his singular drawing power. His position as a top of the bill star came from his athleticism, speed, knowledge of holds, and mat work, that, even with today's moronic audiences, could never merit the tag of "boring."
Drop kicks, flying mares, off the rope tackles, rolling short arm scissors, resounding body slams, bridges, ankle picks, piledrivers, and an arm strength full bridge "Indian Death Lock" were his stock in trade. He sold, could be stiff or loose, as his opponent dictated, and was never the Youngbloods, or Big Heart, punching bag to "war dance," chuckle evoking, stereotypical noble savage.
Don Eagle's first two years in the game showed notable victories over Ali Baba, Rufus Jones, Joe Dusek, Ivan Kalmikoff, Fred Bozic, Ray Steele, Yukon Eric, and Dick Raines. The Raines win via DQ cost him 17 months of inactivity due to severe shoulder and back damage that would have ended it all for a less driven competitor.
He returned rusty in 1948, but in a preview of what was to come, still had his arm raised in victory in 18 of the 32 singles head to heads in which he appeared. Adding five draws and two tag triumphs, Eagle managed a 20-9-5 log, the lowest winning percentage of his 18-year career. Of the nine downers, seven came at the hands of Orville Brown and Buddy Rogers, a pair of NWA champions.
The following campaign added Billy Goelz, Ivan Rasputin, Red Bastien, Rudy Kay, Lord Blears, Ronnie Etchison, and Yvon Robert's scalps to his trophy self. He was still, for all practical purposes, a mid-western commodity, although he did do a one shot deal in Boston and three premier performances in Pittsburgh, where he made quick work of Gorgeous George. He was only 24 years old and was placing enough fannies in the folding chairs that demand for his services grew monthly. The fact that his first carding with Lou Thesz in Montreal ended with Don Eagle being disqualified with the gladiators holding one fall apiece put Mr. Mohawk's kisser on the cover of newsstand magazines. He was the hottest of properties as 1950 rolled around.
Enter Fred Kohler, the Chicago director of operations, to go along with Al Haft who had been the beneficiary of Eagle's S.R.O. house packing in Ohio, and the top of the heap seemed on the near horizon.
Cyclone Anaya coughed up the Illinois Heavyweight title, the formidable Fred Von Schact went down and, with Jack Dempsey as referee, Gorgeous George once more bit the dust in International Amphitheatre action in the "City of the Big Shoulders."
Meanwhile, in the Haft Camp of the AWA, Don Evans, the Great Togo, and Frank Talaber lost to the heir apparent for the World Championship. On May 23, 1950 the expected passing of the strap occurred in Cleveland, when Don Eagle bested reigning king Frank Saxton in a best of three falls battle. He was 25. It seemed as though there would be no stopping him for the foreseeable future.
And then, in keeping with centuries of broken treaties and small pox infected reservation blanket gifts, the most infamous double cross match to date in professional wrestling was sprung by Kohler and his fellow conspirators. It robbed Don Eagle of his title and weakened the AWA so that the NWA could claim unification with a belt worn for the next five years by Lou Thez.
Eagle's next major defense of his AWA kingship was not slated until June 23rd in Cincinnati against Sandor Kovacs. His May 26th match with Gorgeous George, not ranked in the top ten as a contender, was just a televised four bout program appearance in the regular weekly time slot. It wasn't a dark match. There was little advance publicity. World titles were never given as freebies on the tube. The newly crowned mat king did not wear his belt to the ring nor did the introductions make mention of a title bout. One of the two regular program referees, Earl Mullihan, was going to make the calls. The snakes were ready to strike.
No contemporary comparison with the McMahon-Hart duplicity comes close to the Chicago assassination. Hart was leaving the promotion, he expected to lose before of after his Canadian appearance. His office punch out of duplistic Vince was not a matter of what, but where, and with what agreed to script, took place. Don Eagle was cut down without cause or warning. He was a young Native American. He was expendable.
The deed was captured on film with Russ Davis calling the match. The champion dominated George, whose lone offense was a combination of eye gauges and kidney shots of the loosest variety before begging for mercy and submitting to the vaunted death lock to end fall one.
Don Eagle was once more in control when he propelled himself to the floor via a glancing flying shoulder block, only to be counted out with a speedy ten by Mullihan to even the falls at one per contestant.
It was not long into the deciding fall that executioner Kohler's trap was sprung. Three quick short rolls using the middle rope for leverage, with a tight grip of the strand, into a backyard cradle, let Mullihan give a quick count with one of the champion's shoulders clearly off the mat. The Marvelous Mohawk had been gut shot. All hell broke loose.
Realizing the travesty, the former boxer slugged "Evil Earl" and also managed to snare his collar with a free hand as Mullihan fled the ring, ripping sweaty shirt down its side. Another shot landed to the back of his shoulder blades as he struggled up the aisle to the locker room, and spectators began pelting the ring with debris. A riot ensued.
Gorgeous George, clearly shaken, fought his way from the ring with police assistance. The ring ropes were torn down, chairs flew, and Russ Davis' closing words to his crew were "let's get out of here.
The Illinois Athletic Commission, in a legitimate, lawyers present, hearing, suspended Don Eagle for 60 days, and fined him $400.00. It was not a work.
Al Haft and his associates continued to recognize Don Eagle as AWA World's Champion. He held this honor for two years and wore his belt when working outside the territory.
This writer witnessed his magic on seven occasions in Newark, Teaneck, Asbury Park, the "old Garden" in New York, and Patterson. He defeated Gene Stanley and the Golden Terror, drew with Pat O'Connor, Roland Meeker, and Antonino Rocca, one of 11 out of 11 even meetings during their careers. In tag team work he teamed with Rocca to best O'Connor and Hombre Montana, and combined with Chief Big Heart to outlast the Tolos Brothers.
There were more serious injuries as he met the best from coast to coast. They took their toll so that, in the final three years in the ring, he appeared only 34 times. And yet, in spite of these painful interruptions, his numbers over 18 years tell the tale of a ring rarity. An .845 winning percentage in singles matches, a .702 rating in tag competition, 917 victories and only 75 setbacks before being forced to surrender to broken bones and torn muscles at the age of 38.
Not much is documented about the next three years in the life of Don Eagle. His final bold newspaper print recorded his death on March 17, 1966, by his own hand. He was 41. A devoted follower of his career can only speculate what went through his mind back on the Reservation in Caughnawaga, Quebec, over the last three years of his life. Perhaps, only just perhaps, like the sleek racing dog that spends his prime attempting to catch the rabbit, only to discover it was only a mechanized stuffed toy, he was completely disillusioned with his ring years.
Or, then again, maybe his depression came from knowledge of this chase, and his inability to be a part of it anymore.