The search for Wild Bill: After nearly six decades, man finds his father

Published: Sunday, Sept. 1 2013 1:35 p.m. MDT

He wrestled seven days a week, earning $50 a match. As soon as they were finished with their matches, Wild Bill and the rest of the wrestling troupe pile into a car and left that night to begin driving to their next event — Des Moines one night, Kansas City the next, then on to Chicago and Winnipeg, and so it went — sleeping on the road along the way. The wrestlers were divided into “good guys” and “bad guys” for ring personas, and the two groups never traveled or ate together. Bill was one of the bad guys. His contemporaries and friends included the legendary Haystack Calhoun and Gorgeous George. Calhoun, 6-foot-4, 640 pounds, once picked up Wild Bill — who was no small man, at 6-foot-2, 230 pounds — and threw him out of the ring like a bale of hay.

This was Bill’s life for a dozen years. He lost track of his family and vice versa. He never had a phone, and long-distance calls from pay phones were too expensive for him.

After his wrestling career ended, Bill became a wrestling promoter and later a town marshal in Iowa. It was in Iowa that he met and married a woman named Betty.

Randy knew little of this about his father. It wasn’t until he was 8 years old that he realized his stepfather was not his real father. Through brothers and sisters he learned that his father was a wrestler.

As Randy recalls, “As a child I heard from my siblings that (Wild Bill) might be on television — the ’50s and ’60s was a time when Friday night fights and professional wrestling matches were popular on TV — but I never saw him.”

He used connections as an employee of the Postal Service and a member of the Mormon Church — a proponent of genealogy before it became popular — to try to track down his father, but the search failed to turn up any leads. When the Internet age arrived, he began his search anew, but it failed as well. A few years ago he learned that a William C. Cole had died, and he assumed that was his father and his search was ended.

Then came a breakthrough. A cousin who was working on her genealogy came up with a lead that led to a man living in Creston, Iowa. Randy made the call in January of 2012.

As he tells it, “I was so filled with emotion I wasn’t sure how I would react. I called the number and when he answered I told him who I was. I asked if this was William Carlisle Cole, and he answered, ‘Depends.’ I then explained that I was his son. He said there must be a mistake. He asked if I was Marty, and I said, ‘No, that’s my oldest brother.’ He said, ‘Is this Joe?’, and again I replied, ‘That’s my next oldest brother, and then there is Lujuanna, Peggy, Patty and Alfred. Then there is me. When you divorced, mom was pregnant with me.’ ”

After the phone conversation, a photo of Wild Bill was sent to Randy. He saw the large arms and hands — much like his own — and considered it further confirmation. In March 2012, Randy’s sister Peggy flew to Iowa to meet her father, who was living alone (his wife had passed away). A month later, Randy met him. Finally, the family flew Wild Bill to Washington to be reunited with his children, with whom he hadn’t had contact for some 60 years.

Wild Bill’s health has declined in the last year or so until he could no longer live alone (he is diabetic). Randy invited him on several occasions to live with him and his wife before he finally accepted and joined them in February. Randy visits with him daily and tries to coax some memories out of him, although his father’s ability to communicate coherently waxes and wanes. They talk about his experiences in the war, pro wrestling, the Depression, family and life. Randy mines an occasional nugget, such as learning that he has another sister; she was born nine months after his own birth.

“It’s a relationship with my father I thought I’d never have,” says Randy. “It’s part of my life and putting all the links back together. My siblings have had the opportunity to finally get to know their father a little better, too.”

He thinks about this a moment. “It’s a lesson to others,” he begins again. “Don’t give up. I never expected this to happen. I thought I’d have to find out all these things in the afterlife.”

Doug Robinson's columns run on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. EMAIL: drob@deseretnews.com

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