By Brad Dison
Robert “Bob” Craig needed direction in his life. School was boring to him. He craved excitement. He was an adrenaline junkie. Bob decided that he had had enough of schooling and quit Butte (Montana) High School in his sophomore year. He was anxious to get out into the real world.
Bob enjoyed his newfound freedom from school and he lazed around for a short while. Pretty soon, though, Bob realized that he needed money to survive. Bob found employment at the Anaconda Mining Company where he worked as a diamond drill operator in a copper mine. Shortly thereafter, Bob earned a promotion and drove an earth mover, work he considered unimportant. Just like school, Bob quickly became bored working in the copper mine. Bob’s boredom had become too great for him to quell. Rumors persist that Bob somehow rode a wheelie in his mammoth piece of heavy equipment and ran into Butte, Montana’s main power lines. The massive machine damaged the power line infrastructure which shut off the electricity in the town for several hours. Bob’s boss fired him immediately. Bob liked the rush he got from making the gigantic machine pop a wheelie and searched continually for ways to feel that sort of feeling again.
On March 7, 1959, twenty-year-old Bob entered in Butte, Montana’s fourth divisional ski jumping championship in the men’s class. Lou Buckmaster skied down the slope of the long jump, launched, soared through the air using his body movements for steering, and landed the jump successfully. Officials recorded Lou’s jump at 86 feet. Paul Maxwell performed his jump with precision and reached a distance of 99 feet. Bob was the ultimate competitor. He was determined to win. Bob shot down the ski slope, used his legs to spring himself higher into the air, and soared toward the bottom of the hill. His landing was perfect. Officials recorded his distance at 111 feet. Of the three people who competed in the men’s class, Bob won by a distance of twelve feet. Of the seventeen people who competed that day, Bob came in second overall.
Skiing was fun, but Bob needed money. Bob went through a host of jobs. He played with the Charlotte Clippers of the Eastern Hockey League. He formed, acted as owner, manager, coach, and player of a semiprofessional hockey team called the Butte Bombers. He ran a hunting guide service and once hitchhiked from Butte to Washington, D.C. carrying a 54-inch set of elk antlers along with a petition to stop the planned slaughter of 5,000 surplus Elk in Yellowstone National Park. Bob was not an animal rights activist; he had an angle. Bob’s plan was for the transplantation of the elk to the area where he ran his hunting guide service. Rather than incurring the expense of transplanting the elk, and in an effort to appease the public, the commission abandoned the planned slaughter. Bob ran a Honda motorcycle dealership where he offered $100 off the price of a new motorcycle to anyone who could beat him at arm wrestling. He claimed to have been a swindler, a holdup man, a card thief, and a safe cracker.
According to former U.S. Representative from Montana Pat Williams, “No one had more guts than Bobby. He was simply unafraid of anything.” Bob was good at self-promotion and was always comfortable in the limelight. Few people remember Bob as a skiing champion, a hockey player, hunting guide, owner of a Honda dealership, or any of the negative jobs Bob claimed to have had. Even fewer people knew Bob by his real name, but Bob certainly became famous. Bob once claimed that he “made $60 million, spent 61. … Lost $250,000 at blackjack once. …Had $3 million in the bank, though.” In the mid-1970s, the Ideal Toy Company released a series of toys and other merchandise based on Bob, which became best sellers and are still sought after. Hanna-Barbera produced a series of Saturday morning cartoons based on Bob. Bally created a pinball machine based on Bob.
Bob was an entertainer whose performances were dangerous. Bob still holds the Guinness World Record for the “Most broken bones in a lifetime.” According to Guinness, by the end of 1975, Bob had suffered 433 bone fractures. Bob received most of his bone fractures while performing in front of a live audience. Bob was a stunt performer and entertainer. His real name was Robert Craig…Knievel. The world knew Bob as Evel Knievel.
1. The Montana Standard (Butte, Montana), March 9, 1959, p.7.
2. The Montana Standard, November 22, 1961, p.8.
3. The Montana Standard, December 1, 2007, p.7.
4. Guiness World Records. “Most Broken Bones in a Lifetime.” Accessed March 12, 2021. guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/most-broken
By Brad Dison