InYo: Journal of Alternative Perspectives Aug 2003

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Death Stalks the Wrestling Mat

By Mark Hewitt

Copyright © EJMAS 2003. All rights reserved.

The author wishes to acknowledge the assistance of John Leffler, of Austin, Texas.

In the wild and wooly world of professional wrestling, a "Texas rules" match always assures the fans of plenty of mayhem. However, in an earlier era, when legitimate "shooting" contests were occasionally held, the action could be downright brutal. One such match was held in Amarillo, Texas on January 28, 1911.

Harry Mayes of Waco was to face Stanley Lake of Hastings, Nebraska at Amarillo’s Grand Opera House for a $1,500 purse. Lake, accompanied by both his young wife and his manager J. Aikire, had been barnstorming around Texas knocking off opponents.

As the match at the Opera House commenced, referee Harry Prindle called for Mayes and Lake to start wrestling. Lake, although the younger of the pair, was the bigger man.

The grapplers squared off. They clinched and began sparring for holds. Through brute power, Lake was able to thwart all Mayes’ aggressive attempts to take him down.

After 50 minutes of tugging, pushing, and pulling, Mayes began to tire. Therefore, he started roughhousing the youngster, battering him until he found an opening. He found one, and snaked on a half-Nelson.

With a definite advantage now, Mayes worked into a full-Nelson. He clamped the hold on tight and then began leveraging Lake’s shoulders to the mat for a pinfall.

Lake squirmed wildly and flung his body around trying to escape. Mayes held firm and suddenly a loud audible crack was heard. Mayes later described it as "like the noise of a teamster snapping his whip."

Lake went limp. Mayes released the hold and the young wrestler flopped down and lay motionless on the mat. Lake’s manager rushed to his side and went into hysterics. The stunned Mayes was quickly hustled out of the theater by his supporters. Lake was carried to St. Anthony’s Sanitarium, with his wife at his side.

At the hospital, although he regained consciousness, he remained paralyzed from the shoulders down. At first, there seemed to be some improvement in his condition, but apparently, his spinal cord was broken, and two days later, he was dead.

Meanwhile, Mayes had taken the first train out of Amarillo, and by the time the death was announced, Mayres was in St. Louis. However, the sheriff, the county attorney, and the district attorney decided that the death was accidental. Consequently, no criminal charges were filed.

Slowly, the actual details of both participants became known. Both wrestlers had been using assumed names. Lake was really Joe McCray, Jr. of Longmont, Colorado. His manager was his father, Joseph McCray, Sr. Joe Jr. claimed the championship of Colorado and had only recently married Maud Titus, also of Longmont. The newlyweds, accompanied by the elder McCray, had embarked on a honeymoon trip through Texas. To cover their expenses, Joe wrestled along the way. He used the moniker "Stanley Lake" because his reputation had been growing and he didn’t want to scare off any potential opponents. They had taken the bout with Mayes, on the assumption that he was a local wrestler from Waco.

Harry Mayes was at first thought to be Billy Edwards, a veteran middleweight wrestler. Than it was discovered that Edwards was really the referee, Prindle. Meanwhile, Mayes was none other Charles Olsen, a man whom heavyweight wrestling champion Frank Gotch once described as "one of the most dangerous men on the American canvas." [EN1]

Olsen was a master catch-as-catch-can wrestler and was extremely tough and deceptively strong. Standing 6’1" tall, he weighed in the 160-170 pound range, and he had made a career wrestling side bet matches against "local prides." Many an unsuspecting town tough guy and his backers were separated from their money by the "beanpole." In one "money match," held in Asheville, North Carolina, on September 15, 1905, under "anything goes" rules, Olsen tackled a 215-pound Japanese judoka named Akitaro Ono. After a little over an hour’s worth of non-stop battling, Ono threw in the towel. This wasn’t quitting, either, as his eyes were swollen shut, his face was bloodied and bruised, and he could barely stand up. Olsen cleaned up $10,000 in betting action that day. [EN2]

Added the Seattle Daily Times, referring to the Olsen/McCray match, "Olsen is a past master of the punishing game. He is a terror to every foe against whom he is in earnest. All the bone-breaking, nerve-wrecking, heart-rending tricks of this most torturing of all sports are at his command. Olsen has long stood in his own light as a wrestler. He has eked out a fortune… by wrestling under aliases in the ‘bushes’."

Anyway, Olsen, along with Edwards, had heard about the barnstorming wrestler making his way through Texas, and he decided to "ring in" on him and pick up some easy cash.

A few weeks after the tragedy, John C. Meyers interviewed Olsen. Choking back tears, Olsen said, "I’d give everything I have in the world, and I’m far from being a poor man, to bring that Colorado boy back to life again." Olsen went on to describe the match. "After working thirty minutes with the Colorado chap… I asked who he was and where he learned to wrestle between breathing spells, but he only smiled and wanted to know who I was. I told him the truth, still he refused to reveal his own identity, except to say that the party who was seconding him was his father… I began to get tired… It was nip and tuck…but I knew some tricks…and had a full- Nelson on him before the Colorado grappler knew what was up. He battled gamely, but I put the pressure on and began to pin his shoulders to the mat." Olsen recalled hearing a loud snap and added, "I let go and began feeling myself…thought some bone had surely snapped."

Ironically, while wrestling under the same nom de guerre Harry Mayes, Olsen had been involved in another fatal wrestling match. This match took place in Montreal around 1902, and the victim had been a black wrestler named Oscar Taylor. According to the stories, Taylor went toe-to-toe with Olsen and they traded every foul tactic imaginable. Olsen finally secured a good grip on Taylor and tossed him into the crowd. Taylor’s head crashed against an iron chair and his skull was smashed in. He died instantly.

When not on the mat with money on the line, Olsen was apparently an easy-going, good-natured fellow. Born in Germany, his family immigrated to America and settled in Montana, where he was raised. His real name was Max Flachkamn. Besides the Olsen and Mayes ring names, he also wrestled as Lawrence Miller, Jack Carey, and no doubt other handles as well. Billings such as "the Montana Cowboy" or "the Terrible Swede" were often added to his various monikers.

Olsen invested his mat earnings in the fledgling moving picture business, and when he hung up his ring gear, he retired quite comfortably in Indianapolis.


EN1. Copyrighted photos of Olsen appear on the Library of Congress’s American Memory website. Go to, then use the keywords "wrestler" and both Olson and Olsen.

EN2. In an obituary published on December 24, 1921, the Japan Times noted that Ono, "who held high rank in the Kodokwan, was one of the pioneers to go to Europe and America to teach the now noted art of Judo. While in England, where he was best known as ‘Daibutsu,’ he taught, with the assistance of one of his English pupils, at the Polytechnic Y.M.C.A. and when he returned to his native land began teaching at the Yokohama Y.M.C.A. His assistants were his English pupil and two local experts. Under the instruction of Dr. Ono, Messrs. Butler, Isaacs and Cabeldu some seven years ago passed the strenuous Kodokwan Black Belt tests." Ono also taught judo at military academies in Berlin and Gross Lichterfelde around 1906, and wrestled professionally in England and Italy. For more on this, see and The name is also transliterated Ohno. See, for instance, Gunji Koizumi’s remarks at And, while Daibutsu means the Great Buddha, Ono was actually Catholic.

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InYo Aug 2003