This may come as a shock to some readers but right smack dab in the middle of the urban, sophisticated eastern half of our nation one can find some of the ruggedest, natural wilderness this side of Alaska. The mountains of Kentucky and Tennesse are still Davy Crockett country, even though nothing but the spirit of that great American remains to haunt the hills of his youth.
Cities such as Nashville, Lexington, Memphis and Louisville sprawl in tribute to modern times, but only scant miles away one can find hearty mountain folk, living much as their ancestors did a hundred years ago.
It was from these hills that Luke Brown and Jake Smith, the giant Kentuckians, came to the world of professional wrestling. They have become famous since leaving their, mountain homes, but they still remember how it was when they were boys back in the Kentucky hills.
"I recollect one time when a bunch of the boys was a testin' little Willie Wallace " Jake began. "I'd been off fishin' by 'myself that day, on account' I'd found a trout hole up the creek and hadn't told nobody about it, not even Luke. I was just gettin' back to town when little Willie was gettin' about ready to fight Zeke Ross. Now Zeke's a fair-sized feller, and little Willie weren't about six' 'foot tall and I know he didn't weigh no more than two hundred. I was lookin' for a place to hide my fish afore I did anything else, cause I didn't want Slim Byrd's ol' hound dog gettin' these beauties.
"About that time, Luke steps up to Willie and Zeke and says, 'If'n you fellers really aims to fight, I'd be obliged if you'd let me take on the winner.' Well, Zeke was a pretty big boy, but he wasnt big enough to mess with Luke and he knowed it. That meant he'd either have to let little Willie whup him, fight ol' Luke, or git out of the whole thing somehow. I reckon Zeke did more thinkin' in about thirty seconds right then than he'd done in his whole life. He told little Willie he'd just been a-funnin' him and didn't mean no harm, and everybody else got the idea. Willie, he cooled off fast enough when everybody quit botherin' him. I got so interested watchin' Luke handle all them fellers that I plumb forgot about my fish 'till I saw ol' Slim Byrd's hound dog takin' off down the road with em."
It hardly seems believable to most of us that a man six feet tall who weighs two hundred pounds could be considered small. Even among professional wrestlers, a breed of big men, there have been successful heavyweights who weren't this big. Things are different back in the hills of Kentucky, though; there, Luke Brown and Jake Smith are called, big, but Luke stands six feet, nine inches and Jake is a full seven feet tall. What's more, each man weighs in excess of 350 pounds!
"Back in them days we didn't take our rasslin' very serious," recalled Luke Brown, "it was just somethin' to do after we finished up a day's work."
It's understandable that the keen, often vicious competition in the professional wrestling ring was a foreign thing to these two good-natured fellows from the Kentucky hills. To them, the tests of strength and skill with other young men had been in fun. In pro wrestling, there was a deadly, seriousness involved; a seriousness to which they were not accustomed.
"We first got the notion we ought to rassle for money when we found out you could get money for rasslin'," Jake explained. "We went to the rasslin' matches in town one night and we thought them fellers was right smart the way they'd get ahold of one another's arms and legs and get in all of them fancy positions and do all kinds of fancy stuff like me and Luke hadn't never seen before. We told the feller a-settin' next to us how we thought these boys they had in this town was especially good, the way they used that fancy stuff, but he told us that they wasn't from this town. He said they were fellers who didn't do nothin' but go around from one town to another rasslin' each other. He said they all drove cars, and they got paid for rasslin'--sometimes as much as fifty dollars in one week!
About that time we noticed that one of the fellers up there in the ring had the other one down and was stompin' him some" real bad. 'Luke,' he says, 'How come he don't quit stompin, that feller now that he's got him whupped?' and the man next to us told me and Luke that the one doin the stompin' was some mean critter who always did like that.
"Well, me and Luke decided we wouldn't a-stood for that sort of thing at home, and just 'cause we was in the city didn't mean we was goin' to stand for it here neither. We got us up on that scaffold and we climb through them ropes. Luke, he took care of the guy who was gettin' stepped on, while I went after that mean 'un.
"About that time, a whole bunch of policemen got into the ring and told Luke and me that we was arrested. Bein' as how our paws always told as to mind what the lawmen told us, we went peacefully along, although we didn't exactly understand what it was we did wrong. I noticed they didn't arrest the mean feller who was the one that started all the trouble to begin with."
"Just as soon as they got us to the jail-house, though, some feller we hadn't never seen before come in and talked to the policemen and give them some money. We knowed he must be somebody pretty important, 'cause he was wearin' a necktie and it wasn't even Sunday. The policemen told me and Luke this gentleman had, paid us up and that we could go home now.
"Me and Luke we thanked that feller and told him we thought he was real folks for helpin' us out, but' that we didn't want to owe no man and that we'd pay him back just as soon as we could. We asked how much we owed him and he said it cost twenty dollars apiece to get us loose. We told him we shore didn't have that kind of money, but he said it would be all right if we just sort of worked out our debt.. He said for us to meet him at the hotel the next week.
"Me and Luke we was right on time that very next Thursday night. We got to the hotel just when he said to, but there was a fellow in a funny-lookin' suit of clothes standin' outside the hotel and he acted like he didn't want to let us in. He looked somethin' like a general or a admiral, so we figured he must be somebody important About that time, though, this feller we, was to meet come out and told the general we was all right.
"We told the man that we'd be obliged if we could get right to doin' the work he wanted. We asked him what, and he told us that all we had to do was to go to the rasslin' matches and scuffle with a couple of other fellers, and that if we was to win we'd be all square with him and have money left over.
"Next thing we went to a room with a bunch of fellers who was just sittin' around in their drawers and lacin' up their boots and such. They looked at me and Luke, but they didn't even say howdy. Finally, one feller come over and said somebody called a promoter told him to explain, to me and Luke about the rules for rasslin' in the city. He said we'd be rasslin' against two other fellers, but that we could only one of us and one of them be in the ring at once, and that we wasn't to hit with our fists 'nor pull hair 'nor nothin' dirty like that. We told him we'd do just like the 'rules said to do.
"We thought it was mighty funny they'd told us not to pull nobody's hair, 'cause the fellers we rassled didn't have no hair to pull. I guess nobody said nothin' to them, 'cause they pulled hair and did everything else we'd been told not to do. After awhile, me and Luke, got downright disgusted. We told them fellers that if'n they wasn't goin' to abide by the, rules, then by golly we wasn't a-goin' to neither! Me and Luke we both got in that ring and tossed those two bald-headed fellers right out. They didn't come back for more, neither.
About that time, a feller wearin' a striped shirt who'd been a-runnin' around inside the ring, wavin' his arms, gettin' in our way and all, he told us we was the winners. We found out later that he was the referee, and that meant the boss. We was just lucky we didn't do nothin' wrong, 'cause we hadn't paid him a bit of mind the whole time.
"Well, next thing you know, all the folks sitting around the ring starts in a-clappin' and shoutin', and me and Luke we thought there must be somebody important a-comin', but we looked around and didn't see nobody. When we was leavin', though, everybody slapped us on the back and said we was all right and that they was glad we'd beat them two bald-headed fellers.
"Later on, the feller we owed the money to said he'd be obliged if we keep right on a-rasslin' for him, even though we had our debt paid off. We told him we'd sure like to, but we'd have to ask our folks if it was all right.
"I talked to my paw the next day, and he said he realized as how more and more young'uns were goin' to the city to work these days, and that I was big enough to be my own man and could do as I pleased. Luke's maw told him he hadn't ought to spend none of the money he made on them magazines that has pictures of women in their underclothes, but, that it would be all right for him to work in the city if he liked.
"Well, podner," big Jake concluded, "that's how me and my buddy Luke got started rasslin', and we been a-rasslin' ever since!"
Luke Brown and Jake Smith have come a long way since leaving their mountain home. From wrestling preliminaries in small Kentucky towns they have graduated to main events in the biggest arenas in the country. They've learned how to live in the city, and they like the folks they've met there, but they're still just a couple of big old country boys at heart.