When she was 17, her boyfriend stopped to see her on his way to California and asked her to marry him. She accepted.
"I would have married anyone to get off that reservation," she said.
She first saw a wrestling match in Kansas City, and eventually met Billy Wolfe, the Missouri state champion who ran the city YMCA.
Joseph Wolfe said Mildred was attracted to Billy, who would become her second of three husbands, and started pestering him to teach her to wrestle.
"Finally, one day she pestered him enough and Billy let her climb into the ring with a really good wrestler," Joseph said. "They met at the center and this fella picked her up and slammed her real hard.
"She got up and went back to meet him at the center and did what she saw him do to her. She picked him up and slammed him and then pinned him. That's when she knew she wanted to be a wrestler."
Burke attributed her invincibility in the ring mostly to the "alligator clutch," a Burke invention with which she figures she ended about 4,500 of her matches. The move is a devilish pinning maneuver in which you make a pretzel of your opponent and then sit on him, or her.
For two decades, Burke wrestled six days a week, 50 weeks a year. Joseph, who had a stepbrother and stepsister, said he spent much of the time with relatives.
"But when mom was home, wrestling was something that was never discussed," he said. "She was really quite the average mother."
Burke's life, however, was anything but. Besides the rigors of travel, her profession was dangerous. Along the way, Burke said she broker her nose, had five knee injuries and had each of her thumbs ripped out of the joint and pushed back to her wrist.
Her worst injury was when she was on her back and an opponent stomped on her mouth, loosening all her teeth. Eventually, they all had to be removed.
"I beat the living hell out of her," Burke recalled. "I was hurting so bad, I went insane."
Joseph said his mother also suffered from temporary blindness from wrestling.
"She had taken a tremendous beating her whole life," he said. "All of it attributed to her retirement.:
Burke's daughter, Violet Wolfe, also was a wrestler, but died from an injury suffered during a match, Wolfe said.
Mildred lived with her son for the past six years and had just completed an autobiography of her life when she died. Joseph said the manuscript does not have a publisher.
"Now I don't know what to do with it," he said.
Memorial services will be held at 1 p.m. Wednesday (Feb. 22) at Forest Lawn of Hollywood Hills.
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