Roger Williams on YouTube: Ellison "Tarzan" Brown - Boston Marathon winner

Brian Lightfoot Brown: The Narragansett legend who won the Boston Marathon twice

Last Big Win For Tarzan

On the morning of the 1939 Boston Marathon, the top runners in the world prepared for a 26.2 mile trek through a driving rain and also in the midst of a partial eclipse. The skies darkened during the race as the rain continued to fall.

As the rare occurrence was taking place, one very determined runner took charge of the day. The same runner who was seen shoving down hot dogs into his mouth and drinking down a milkshake shortly before the race was to begin, because he missed breakfast. The same man who "broke (Johnny) Kelley's heart" by breaking away from Kelley to give "Heartbreak Hill" its famous name. The man who catapulted onto the 1936 U.S. Olympic Team after winning the 1936 Boston Marathon. The man known as "Tarzan".

Ellison "Tarzan" Brown a proud member of Rhode Island's Narragansett Tribe, left no doubt as to who was going to win Boston on that day. Brown's 1936 victory in Boston established his status as one of the greatest runners in the world. In 1939, he would further solidify it.

Tarzan Brown winning the 1939 Marathon
A photo from the collection of the Boston Public Library shows Narragansett citizen Ellison “Tarzan” Brown winning the Boston Marathon in 1939.

The Boston Marathon course had been extended to 26.2 miles in the 1920's and on this wet April day in 1939, "Tarzan" Brown became the first American to finish the marathon in under 2 hours and 30 minutes, with a time of 2 hours, 28 minutes and 51 seconds. He won the race by about 3 minutes. It was his 2nd time winning in Boston.

Ellison "Tarzan" Brown is 1 of just 2 Native Americans to have won the Boston Marathon (Thomas Longboat, Onondaga from Canada won in 1907), and he is the last indigenous person to claim victory in this internationally iconic race. It has been 80 years since his final Boston victory. The Narragansett people still tell stories of this beloved man. Much of his family still lives in and around his old stomping grounds in southern Rhode Island.

He is an indigenous hero whose legend falls under the radar. He was as amazing and gifted an athlete as Jim Thorpe and Billy Mills, yet he remains overlooked and unknown outside of the Narragansett Tribe and marathon historians from New England.

More Native Americans are running in Boston with each new year. Perhaps its just a matter of time before another Boston Marathon victory will belong to Indian Country.

A triumph last felt by Native America thanks to "the Narragansett Indian from Rhode Island", Ellison "Tarzan " Brown, 80 years ago.

Brian Lightfoot Brown is an enrolled Narragansett Tribal Citizen and a Grand Nephew of Ellison "Tarzan" Brown.

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