Ellison Tarzan Brown
Ellison “Tarzan” Brown, also known as Deerfoot among his people, was born on September 22, 1913 and raised near where the Narragansett tribe's reservation was located. Ellison’s physical prowess at an early age led to his nickname of “Tarzan”. He was extremely agile and fast when running through the forest, climbing and swinging from trees and all of this was reminiscent of the Tarzan character who was popular at the time.
“Tarzan’s” career moved onto the big stage in 1935 when he started training for the Boston Marathon. Brown started the race also wearing shoes that were falling apart. However, Brown etched himself into Boston Marathon folklore when he removed his shoes and finished the last third of the race barefoot. He finished in 13th place while Johnny Kelley from Massachusetts went on to win the Boston Marathon that year.
It was the following year’s Boston Marathon where “Tarzan” took center stage among the esteemed list of Boston Marathon winners, when he outdueled the previous year’s winner, Johnny Kelley, over the last few miles. These miles were made up of modest hills and Kelley managed to catch up to Brown, only to see Brown surge ahead for good on the last hill, leading the media to name it “Heartbreak Hill”. Brown went on to win the 1936 Boston Marathon, helping to qualify “Tarzan” for the 1936 U.S. Olympic Team.
Brown ended up being disqualified in the Olympic Marathon for getting medical assistance to rub out leg cramps. Upon his return to the U.S., the media was critical of Brown, often attributing his lack of success to his Indigenous heritage. Brown responded by winning a marathon in New York and another marathon in New Hampshire just 24 hours later. When asked why he ran two marathons in two days, he responded that it was to show his detractors that he didn’t give up in the Olympics.
“Tarzan” would go on to win the 1939 Boston Marathon to solidify his place in history. He was the first runner to complete the Boston Marathon in under 2 hours and 30 minutes. He was set to be a member of the 1940 U.S. Olympic team but the outbreak of World War II in Europe would cancel the Olympic Games, and do the same to the 1944 Olympics.
Ellison “Tarzan” Brown died on August 23, 1975. The accomplishments of the Indigenous icon live on forever. A reminder of an undying spirit and legacy of perseverance persists from Ellison “Tarzan” Brown.