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Anyone who was alive in the 1970s remembers Evel Knievel (pronounced ēvil knē’vil) as being the daredevil who performed incredible stunts, such as trying to jump the Snake River Canyon. But, you might not realize that he created a semi-professional hockey team and assisted in multiplying the hunting capabilities of elk in his home state of Montana. Ultimately, Mr. Knievel was a huge salesman of his own persona, even if it meant breaking bones 37 times throughout his life.
Popping a Wheelie in an Earth Mover and Earning a New First Name
Born in 1938 in Butte, Montana, Robert Craig Knievel, and his younger brother, Nic, were raised by their father’s parents, their grandparents, Emma and Ignatius Knievel, who were second-generation German-Americans.
Robert and Nic’s parents divorced and left Montana right after Nic was born. Copper mining was the major economy in the Rocky Mountain town of Butte and Robert left high school at age 16 to work for Anaconda Mining Company, operating a diamond drill deep in the copper mines. Promoted to driving a huge earth moving vehicle, he was promptly fired when he did a “wheelie” with the big equipment and crashed into the main power line supplying electricity to the mining town, which knocked electricity out of Butte for several hours.
A police chase that he led on a motorcycle resulted in a crash that landed him in the Butte Jail in 1956. He was in a cell next to a man known as “Awful Knofel,” since awful rhymed with Knofel.
Immediately, Knievel got the nickname of “Evil Knievel,” coined by the night jailer who used the same type of rhyming that was used to create Awful Knofel. Mr. Knievel didn’t want to be known as “evil,” so a few years later, he changed the spelling to “Evel,” a name that stuck for the rest of his life.
Enjoying a thrill and possessing athletic ability, Knievel became the champion of the Northern Rocky Mountain Ski Association Class A Men’s Ski Jumping competition in 1959. At a month shy of his 21st birthday, Evel married Linda Bork. He was also a player for the Charlotte Checkers minor professional hockey team of the Eastern Hockey League.
Knievel then started a semi-pro hockey team called the Butte Bombers and convinced the 1960 Czechoslovakian Olympic hockey team to play the Butte Bombers prior to the Olympics.
A player himself, Knievel was tossed from the game in the final period and left the building. When it was time to pay the Czech team money they were promised, a discovery was made that all of the gate receipts were stolen.The U.S. Olympic Committee paid the Czech team their promised money in order to avoid a controversy.
The Sure-Kill Guide Service was then created by Knievel. Any hunter paying Knievel for his guide service was guaranteed an animal, or Knievel would refund the money. The business closed when game wardens discovered Knievel was poaching elk from Yellowstone National Park. In 1961, half of the 10,000-strong Yellowstone elk herd was killed by the U.S. Park Service in order to reduce the herd. Knievel hitchhiked from Butte to Washington, D.C., carrying elk antlers measuring 54 inches (137 centimeters) wide as a way to gather 3,000 petition signatures calling for a stop to culling Yellowstone’s elk. After talking to Washington officials, the killing of the elk stopped and the Park Service continues to this day to capture elk within Yellowstone and relocated them to the surrounding states of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho, where they are legally hunted.