The Boston Marathon

The Boston Marathon: An Indian Tradition

Brown’s Boston Marathon running days came to an end in 1946. Making a comeback in that race, he fi nished a surprising 12th. He returned to his work as a mason and catching and selling fi sh, although he continued to run in challenge races. Until the age of 59, this remarkable athlete also put on exhibitions, sometimes entertaining the crowds by running backwards. In fi nancial trouble for much of his later life, like Longboat before him, he was forced to sell his prized medals and trophies to pay for groceries as well as for his medical bills. But in 1973, he was inducted into both the RRCA Distance Running Hall of Fame and the American Indian Athletic Hall of Fame. Two years later, Brown was killed outside of a bar in Westerly apparently after being hit by a van. The memory of the ‘”King of the Boston Streets” is kept alive today in the “Annual Tarzan Brown 5.5 Mile Mystic River Run” that takes place in southeastern Connecticut.

The Tradition Continues

Festivities leading up to the running of the 120th Boston Marathon in 2016 included a major conference “Native American Running: Culture, Health, Sport.” It was sponsored by Harvard University, in cooperation with its Peabody Museum, its American Indian Studies Program and Radcliffe College as well as the Boston Athletic Association, the sponsor of the Boston Marathon. The conference also commemorated the 80th anniversary of the win by Ellison Myers “Tarzan” Brown, Sr. in the 1936 race. The conference explored the history and traditional roles of American Indian running as well as its health benefits to youths and adults alike.

American Indians from all over North America participated, including descendants of the great Native marathoners. Among the honored attendees and speakers was Billy Mills, a Lakota and winner of the 10,000-meter race at the Olympic Games in Tokyo in 1964. Several conferees of American Indian descent ran in the 2016 Boston Marathon to honor their legendary ancestors and tribal members. These included William Winnie, honoring his great grandfather Tom Longboat, Dale Lolar, a Penobscot honoring Andrew Sockalexis, and Mikki Wosencroft, a Narragansett honoring “Tarzan” Brown. The fans of this great sports event were now reminded that the first residents of the Northeast had not disappeared, but were still visible, even on the streets of Boston.

Laurence Hauptman, a frequent contributor to American Indian magazine, is SUNY Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History. Heriberto Dixon is SUNY Lecturer Emeritus of Business and History.