Tsökahovi Tewanima hosted an American document in running for decades, however his training in ~ the notorious Carlisle school kept him from his genealogical Hopi lands


Tsökahovi "Louis" Tewanima came to be an Olympian if being compelled to attend the Carlisle Indian commercial School. Illustration through Gabriella Trujillo

One morning in November 1906, a Hopi teenager on the 2nd Mesa of the Arizona preventive awoke come pandemonium. A U.S. Army officer was calling the villagers together. He claimed the government had reached the border of that is patience. For 2 decades, the tribe had actually refused come send its kids to government-sanctioned boarding schools, as directed; now, under military compulsion, every Hopi son had to to visit one. Soldiers started rounding increase sleepy-eyed children and also older kids, too. Mothers wailed, babies cried and also fathers vowed come stand up to the Army. But the unarmed Hopi were no match for the soldiers, and also their young ones were seized.

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louis Tewanima after ~ winning brand-new York City’s 12-mile amendment marathon, might 6, 1911. Library of conference

Tsökahovi Tewanima, a teenager who was 5 feet 4½ customs tall and weighed 110 pounds, was defined by one soldier together “thin, emaciated and also beligerent .” Tewanima and ten other teens to be handcuffed and marched 20 miles eastern to Keams Canyon, claims Leigh Lomayestewa, Tewanima’s nephew. There, the Hopi youths to be shackled and also forced to construct a road. In mid-January 1907, the soldiers marched the prisoners 110 miles eastern to ft Wingate, new Mexico, whereby they boarded a train. Around five days later, they landed on Carlisle Indian commercial School in Pennsylvania, about 2,000 mile from home.

The institution was the flagship that a fleet of around 25 commonwealth funded, off-reservation organizations for aboriginal American children, run by religious groups and also government agencies. Carlisle, established by the Union army veteran Col. Richard H. Pratt, aimed to “civilize” native youth by to teach them Christianity and the ways of western society. “Kill the Indian, conserve the Man,” was Pratt’s motto, and, in fact, many kids did dice at Carlisle because of disease, starvation and also physical abuse.

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The 1912 Carlisle Indian institution track team. Luigi Tewanima is sit on the much right. Jim Thorpe is standing in the middle of the ago row. Photo courtesy of Cumberland County historical Society, Carlisle, Pa.

Tewanima coped with such social eradication through tapping into an old Hopi tradition—running. And also he would come to be an inspirational figure: a two-time Olympian, a record-holder for an ext than fifty percent a century and a source of pride because that his people.

I became keenly interested in native Americans together a child, listening come the stories of mine grandfather, that was born ~ above the Cherokee Reservation. Later, once I began running half-marathons, i heard about the legend Hopi runners. Yet it wasn’t till 2016, as soon as I was invite to visit the Hopi Nation, that ns learned about the amazing Tewanima. I heard much much more about that on subsequent trips. On my many recent visit, in march 2019, i stood on the sheet of the cliff wherein he ultimately met his tragic fate and also found myself haunted by his life. Why, i wondered, was this international champion and teammate the the celebrated Jim Thorpe virtually totally forgotten in the broader world?

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American runners luigi Tewanima (center) and Joseph Forshaw throughout the London Olympic marathon, July 1908. Forshaw won the bronze in the event; Tewanima finished ninth. Getty images

In search of that question, I go back to January 26, 1907, as soon as Tewanima, about 18 years old, to be enrolled in ~ Carlisle. Officials reduced his thick lengthy hair, melted his clothes and also gave the a U.S. Army uniform. An army sergeant offered him a brand-new name, i m sorry the institution spelled alternately together Lewis or Louis. Forbidden to speak his language or to practice his religion, Tewanima to be led into Carlisle’s barracks to accomplish the school’s 1,000 students from dozens of other tribes. Since they spoke different native languages, castle couldn’t interact with one another. Most youngsters didn’t know the white adults who spoke English. As a result, plenty of youngsters couldn’t monitor directions; college officials punished the youngsters with no supper, extra work or a whipping.

Tewanima’s new life was ruled by the bell, the belt and the bugle. His days to be spent finding out English, sewing shirt and, in winter, shoveling snow. “He to be so homesick, the traumatized him,” claims his nephew Ben Nuvamsa. Early on on, Tewanima and two various other Hopis ran away by hopping a train. Castle met part hobos, that taught them exactly how to jump on and off a relocating boxcar without gaining hurt. After several days, the trio landed in Amarillo, Texas, wherein they believed they were past the school’s reach. Lock walked boldly in the street, and a guy approached and also offered come buy castle a meal. They accepted. But the stranger turned out to be a sheriff, and the boys were jailed, Lomayestewa says. Tewanima was only 500 miles from home, however he discovered himself top top the next train come Carlisle.

What complied with was most likely a penalty of difficult labor and time in the school jail cell. By April, Tewanima was back in the dorm, do the efforts to lull his heartache through running. “If you to be a Hopi male, girlfriend were intended to be a runner,” Nuvamsa says. In his boyhood, living 5,700 feet over sea level, Tewanima and his friends had actually spent hot summer days running 65 mile to Winslow, Arizona, just to watch the trains. After ~ the caboose rumbled past, they would certainly run home.

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luigi Tewanima at the Olympic games in Stockholm in 1912. U.S. Olympic and also Paralympic Committee Archives

Running is likewise a Hopi spirituality practice. In part ceremonies, young guys run to remote places in the desert to find springs. They to fill their gourds through water and also run home, wherein the water is blessed through elders and also poured on the fields, symbolizing health for not simply the Hopi however all mankind.

At Carlisle, students ran for glory. Tewanima, in damaged English, request the monitor coach and legendary football instructor valley “Pop” Warner if he can join the track team. Warner eyed the scrawny kid and also said he wasn’t an athlete, but according to family members lore, Tewanima insisted: “Me run fast good. All Hopi run fast good.” after ~ clocking his time, Warner saw that Tewanima was undoubtedly fast—and had actually an astonishing “kick” finish. The Indian conveniently made his mark, particularly in distance events, contending against—and beating—better-heeled runners indigenous Lafayette College and also other schools.

A year later, Tewanima was picked over plenty of veteran runners to stand for the United states in the 1908 Summer Olympic games in London. One of Tewanima’s team members told the London papers how he can run faster “than a streak that greased lightning.” The British press clamored to view for themselves.

Race day for the Olympic marathon, July 24, 1908, to be hot—78 degrees—and humid. Tewanima join 54 other marathoners in ~ the starting line close to Windsor Castle. Because that the an initial mile, Tewanima ran in the back of the pack, writes Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert, professor and also head of American Indian research studies at the university of Arizona. Plenty of men dropped out of the gyeongju from heat and also exhaustion. By Mile 12, Tewanima remained in the center of the pack, attach by a U.S. Trainer on a bicycle. Yet by Mile 21, the Hopi started suffering from sore feet and confusion around what his English-speaking trainer to be saying. Tewanima gone into the brand-new Olympic stadium in Shepherd’s bush to a roar that cheers. He finished in 9th place. He had actually “endured an ext agony than anyone and also ran gamest,” one of his teammates recalled.

Tewanima believed that he would certainly be enabled to go home to Arizona. Instead, he was went back to Carlisle, where he baled hay and also posed in promotional pieces for the school. “Savage Hopi Indians are Transformed into Model Students,” one newspaper headline said above his picture.

Tewanima continued racing. In 1909, in ~ the Pastime strong Club’s games at Madison Square Garden, he stunned the sports people with a sprint-finish victory in the ten-mile indoor run. A month later, he winner a 20-mile gyeongju in brand-new Orleans. In might 1911, Tewanima won brand-new York City’s 12-mile modified marathon. Fans referred to as him the “Speedy Red Man.”

In 1912, Tewanima and also another Carlisle student, Jim Thorpe, contended in the Summer Olympics in Stockholm. Thorpe, a member that the Sac and also Fox Nation, winner gold medals in the pentathlon and decathlon events. Quiet seasick indigenous the trans-Atlantic trip, Tewanima ran the 10,000-meter event in a blazing time of 32:06.6, despite he shed to Hannes Kölehmainen that Finland. Still, Tewanima collected the silver- medal and collection an American record for the event—a combination that would not recur because that 52 years, as soon as Billy Mills, one Oglala Lakota Sioux, damaged it in the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo.

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A poster because that the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, draft by Olle Hjortzberg, a professor at Sweden’s royal Academy. Getty images

At Stockholm, Tewanima “gave a exceptional exhibition the grit and also persistency,” marveled James E. Sullivan, secretary of the American Olympic Committee. “After Stockholm, Tewanima became a celebrity,” claims Gilbert. Yet photographs of the champion that day depict an unsmiling man of about 24. Would he finally be allowed to go house now?

First, he and also Thorpe had actually to go back to school. “They were provided a great reception through the citizen of Carlisle, through a parade and also fireworks,” Nuvamsa says. Dignitaries such as the school superintendent and Pop Warner offered speeches praising the two athletes. Thorpe addressed the crowd, speak he was grateful for the “splendid time.” then Tewanima was standing up. “Me too,” he said, and also sat down. To him, the accolades rang hollow, states Lomayestewa.

Finally, after virtually six year in online captivity, he was permitted to leave Carlisle. In September 1912, that walked into his village on 2nd Mesa and was shortly tending cornfields, herding sheep and also participating in timeless ceremonies. Tewanima married a Hopi woman called Blanche, and also they had actually a baby, Rose, their just child. But Rose, prefer her father, was sent out to one Indian boarding school. She eventually ended up being ill and also returned house sometime in the 1920s, wherein she died from an undiagnosed illness.

Tewanima never ever again contended in a race, running just for his religion. He refuse to speak English, didn’t give many interviews despite being search out, and became chef of among his clan’s divine organizations, the Antelope Society. In 1954, at period 66, Tewanima returned to brand-new York, and also the Helms Athletic foundation honored him together a member of the All-Time U.S. Track and Field Team. Three years later, he to be inducted into the Arizona sports Hall that Fame. Soon, though, the good runner was forgotten by mainstream sports historians and also writers. He no a multisport all-star choose Jim Thorpe. And his civic work in Hopi country did not make nationwide headlines.

In his final years, Tewanima play a vital role in spiritual ceremonies. Top top January 18, 1969, he to be preparing for one such occasion with his nephew Lomayestewa, then simply 10 year old. The young was an alleged to walk his 81-year-old uncle home, but instead prospered sleepy and left early. So Tewanima walked house alone in the moonless night. As ideal as anyone have the right to tell, he observed lights in the distance and, believing they to be from his village, headed toward them. Yet he miscalculated, stepped off a cliff, and plunged 70 feet come his death. All night his clan sought him. They found his human body at daybreak.

Today, much more than a century ~ Tewanima’s i can not qualify Olympian feats, the Hopi organize the yearly Louis Tewanima Footrace in his honor, which is open to runners from every states and nations. Due to the fact that 1974, thousands of adults and also children have gathered to operation the ancient trails the Hopiland. In 2020, because of Covid-19, the gyeongju went virtual; runners offered the honor system to report your times.

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“The thing I learned from that was, ‘Be Hopi,’” states Nuvamsa. “He was never colonized.”

Editor"s Note, might 20, 2021: An earlier version that this story said that Billy Mills was the first to rest Tewanima"s record in the 10,000-meter event. He to be the an initial to both break the record and also earn an Olympic medal in ~ the very same time.