Published on June 22, 2012 by Amy
Billy Two Rivers (Mohawk name Kaientaronkwen), born May 5, 1935, is a retired Canadian professional wrestler. He began wrestling professionally in 1953 and competed until 1977. During his career, he wrestled in the United States, United Kingdom, Japan, and Canada. After retiring from wrestling, he became a leader of the Mohawk nation on the Kahnawake reservation. He played a major role in blockading the Honoré Mercier Bridge during the 1990 Oka Crisis. He has also appeared in several movies.
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Two Rivers was trained by Don Eagle, a former World Heavyweight Champion in the Boston-based American Wrestling Association. When Don Eagle, also from Kahnawake, returned to the reservation to take a break from wrestling, he met Two Rivers and agreed to take him to Columbus, Ohio for training. The training lasted for two years, during which time Two Rivers increased his weight to 205 pounds while learning how to wrestle.
Two Rivers made his professional debut in February 1953 in Detroit, Michigan. He spent the next several years competing in the United States, first in Ohio and then throughout the Atlantic Coast. He competed against such wrestlers as “Wild Bull” Curry and Larry Hamilton. He also formed a tag team with Don Eagle from 1956 to 1959.As a team, they faced a wide variety of opponents, including Ray Stevens, Boris Malenko, and Fritz Von Erich. From 1957 to 1959, he competed primarily in North Carolina. In addition to Don Eagle, Two Rivers teamed with such wrestlers as Antonino Rocca and Red Bastien. It was with George Becker, however, that Two Rivers held his first championship belt. On April 6, 1959, they won the Southern version of the NWA Southern Tag Team Championship by defeating Alberto and Enrique Torres. They held the title for three months before dropping them to the team of Mr. Moto and Duke Keomuka. After losing the championship, Two Rivers considered moving to Calgary, Alberta to work for Stampede Wrestling. He met Ray Napolitano, a wrestler from the United Kingdom, however, who told him to consider competing overseas. Two Rivers flipped a coin to decide where to move; ultimately, he chose the United Kingdom, where he began competing in October 1959.
Wrestling in England and Scotland, Two Rivers gained fame due to his First Nations heritage. He wore a feathered headdress, had a Mohawk hairstyle, and performed a war dance during some of his matches. He has stated that he was a “journeyman” wrestler rather than a major star, and that people wanted to see him because he was “an attraction”. He was successful, however, and his time in the United Kingdom, where Paul LeDuc has stated that Two Rivers was “treated like a God”, helped him become an “international star”.
Two Rivers returned to the United States in September 1965 and resumed wrestling in North Carolina. After six months, which included teaming with Karl Gotch to defeat the Blond Bombers (Rip Hawk and Swede Hanson), Two Rivers left the territory to compete in Japan. He competed there until at least May 13, 1966, after which point there is no record of him wrestling again until 1971.
In 1971 and 1972, Two Rivers competed in several matches in Ontario and Quebec, often as part of a tag team with Johnny War Eagle. The following year, he returned to the United Kingdom, where he stayed to wrestle until late in 1974. At that point, he wrestled several matches in Germany before returning to Canada. He made the decision to return because his family asked him to spend more time at home. Competing for the Montreal-based Grand Prix Wrestling (GPW), he held the GPW Tag Team Championship while teaming with Jean War Eagle in 1974. He remained in Canada, facing such wrestlers as Sailor White, The Sheik, and Kurt Von Hess, for the rest of his career. His final title victory came on August 3, 1976, when he defeated Serge Dumont to win the Canadian International Heavyweight Championship. He retired in 1977, and has stated that one the best parts of his career was “ending [his] career healthy”.
After retiring from wrestling, Two Rivers became involved in the governance of the Kahnawake reservation, serving as an elder, chief, and councillor. In 1990, Two Rivers helped lead the Mohawk nation during the Oka Crisis. A golf course in the village of Oka, Quebec planned to expand onto land claimed by the Mohawk as traditional land. The Mohawk people objected to the plan to cut down a sacred grove of pines and build on top of their burial grounds. During the dispute, the First Nations group blockaded a bridge, and a member of the Sûreté du Québec was killed.
He has appeared in several movies, including Pocahontas: The Legend, Black Robe, and Taking Lives, He appeared in the 1973 documentary The Wrestling Queen. He has also appeared in the made-for-television movies Red Earth, White Earth and Northern Passage.
Two Rivers is the father of British fashion designer Wayne Hemingway.
Two Rivers’ name has entered popular culture in many forms. A British racing horse shares Two Rivers’ name and was christened after him. The British band The Dogs D’Amour also named a song after Two Rivers on its In the Dynamite Jet Saloon album in 1988. Two Rivers plays a large role in Pulitzer Prize-winner Paul Muldoon’s poem “My Father and I and Billy Two Rivers”. The poem discusses watching Two Rivers in a wrestling match and compares the pre-determined outcome to the Boston Tea Party.