Louis Tewanima was born in the Hopi village of Shungopavi on the Hopi Nation during the time when there was little contact with the outside world. The Spanish, who sought to Christianize the Hopi and other northern Pueblos were instead banished from the Hopi mesas during the 1680 Pueblo Revolt. Much later the U.S. government sought to impose their laws on the Hopi and began to round up children to give them “proper education”. But the Hopi, who were a deeply religious society, resisted these efforts and the U.S military was dispatched. Many Hopi men were incarcerated and carted off to places such as Alcatraz.
Tewanima along with 10 other men, all in their twenties were rounded up and sent by train to Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania. They had little choice but to begin to transition to their new environment. One day the 5’3” Tewanima approached track coach Glenn S. “Pop” Warner and said “Me run fast good. All Hopis run fast good.” Not long after Tewanima was headed for the 1908 Olympics held in London, England. Tewanima finished ninth in the marathon.
Jim Thorpe joined the Carlisle track team which dominated the best college teams around. During this time, Tewanima ran and won many races including the 10-mile indoor race at Madison Square Garden in New York and the New York Evening Mail Marathon in Manhattan.
During the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm Sweden, Tewanima won the silver medal in the 10,000 meters in a time of 32:06.6, a new American record which held for 52 years until Billy Mills set a new record winning a gold medal in the 1964 Olympics. Tewanima also ran the marathon and placed 16th.
When Tewanima returned home, he continued his Hopi religious practice to old age and one foggy winter evening he left the ceremonial kiva to return home, he apparently got disoriented and fell to his death off the mesa edge. He was 92 years old.
The Hopi proudly hold the Tewanima Footrace in honor of their Olympian and this past Labor Day celebrated the 50th Anniversary.