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Iowa History Daily: January 8 - Farmer Burns, The Father of Iowa Wrestling

Iowa History Daily: On January 8, 1937, early iconic Iowa catch wrestler, and coach of the state’s first ever high school wrestling champions of Cedar Rapids Washington, Martin “Farmer” Burns died. A true hall of famer of early wrestling, Burns left a legacy of legendary proportions.

Born in a rural Cedar County, Iowa, log cabin in 1861 while the American Civil War raged, Burns started showing a talent for wrestling at an early age. According to legend, at eight years-old Burns won fifteen cents when he threw an older child in an impromptu match. Working as a farm hand and in a road grading camp, Burns developed incredible strength to pair with natural ability.

Perfecting catch wrestling techniques against older and more physically-dominating opponents, by 1880, the 165-pound Burns fought professional grappler David Graffit to a draw. By April of 1895, the pinfall master Burns proved ready to claim the American Champion title from Strangler Lewis. Burns claimed at the end of his career he had wrestled over 6,000 matches while only losing seven.

When his career ended, Burns paid his knowledge forward and opened gyms, established schools, and worked tirelessly to help establish the sport of wrestling. He also helped to mentor and develop another all-time Iowa wrestling legend, Humboldt’s Frank Gotch. In 1921, coaching in the inaugural season of high school wrestling for Iowa, Burns led Cedar Rapids Washington to the state title. #IowaOTD #IowaHistoryDaily #IowaHistoryCalendar


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