“Marathoner Louis Tewanima and the Continuity of Hopi Running, 1908-1912″ (Western Historical Quarterly, Autumn 2012)

Click to download article (23 pages)

In the summer of 2010, I started writing an article titled “Marathoner Louis Tewanima and the Continuity of Hopi Running, 1908-1912.” The article was recently published in the Western Historical Quarterly (Autumn 2012, Vol. 43.3, pp. 324-346), which is the official journal of the Western History Association.

Louis Tewanima was from the village of Shungopavi on the Hopi Reservation in northeastern Arizona. In January 1907, he and ten other Hopis traveled to Pennsylvania to attend the Carlisle Indian Industrial School. While at Carlisle, Tewanima received fame and notoriety by winning several running events, which gave him opportunities to compete in the 1908 (London) and 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm, Sweden. At the Stockholm Olympics, he won the silver medal in the 10,000 meter race.

Over the years, a number of people, especially non-Hopi individuals, have written about Louis Tewanima. The majority of the scholarly literature on Tewanima is found in Peter Nabokov’s Indian Running or larger narratives on Natives and sports, most notably Joseph B. Oxendine’s American Indian Sport Heritage and John Bloom’s To Show What an Indian Can Do.

Although popular audiences often read Tewanima’s story in newspaper articles, magazines, and books, these publications tend to focus on his participation in the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm, and many of them perpetuate a romantic portrayal of Tewanima by retelling accounts of him running after rabbits as a young man and running to Winslow, Arizona, “just to see the trains [go by].”

Contrary to one contemporary writer who noted that Tewanima was “almost totally forgotten,” scholars have remained intrigued by his accomplishments, although they are often overshadowed by accounts of his Carlisle teammate, Sac and Fox athlete Jim Thorpe. While references to Tewanima grace the pages of many articles and books, further studies are needed, particularly ones that interpret his accomplishments within the contexts of Hopi and American sport culture.

In my article I argue that Tewanima’s story represents his ability to redefine Hopi running in the twentieth century and shows how he maneuvered within American and European perceptions of Natives and sports. His participation in running events also tells of a time when white Americans situated indigenous people on the fringes of U.S. society but embraced them when they brought honors to the country by representing the nation in athletic competitions at home and abroad.

Furthermore, Tewanima’s involvement in marathons and Olympic races demonstrates the ways Americans used his success to advance the ideals of U.S. nationalism as he simultaneously continued the long tradition of running among his people.

A number of individuals helped me along the way as I conducted research and revised the article for publication, especially my colleagues in the American Indian Studies Program, and the Department of History at the University of Illinois. I am also thankful for the assistance of various Hopi individuals, including Tewanima’s relatives, the remarkable editorial staff of the Western Historical Quarterly, the Journal’s three anonymous reviewers, and officials with the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office for their support of my work.

If you would like to download a copy of my essay, please visit the following link: http://beyondthemesas.files.wordpress.com/2012/09/marathoner-louis-tewanima-and-the-continuity-of-hopi-running-1908-1912-whq-autumn-2012.pdf

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2 Responses to ““Marathoner Louis Tewanima and the Continuity of Hopi Running, 1908-1912″ (Western Historical Quarterly, Autumn 2012)”


  1. 1 A Pueblo Woman of the Toad Clan September 2, 2012 at 10:50 pm

    I feel such pride in learning of historic accomplishments of our native people. Information such as this needs to be shared with our youth to build a hierarchy of pride for our history.


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© Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert and BEYOND THE MESAS, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert and BEYOND THE MESAS with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

About the author

Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert is enrolled with the Hopi Tribe from the village of Upper Moencopi in northeastern Arizona. He is an associate professor of American Indian Studies & History at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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Marathoner Louis Tewanima and the Continuity of Hopi Running, 1908-1912 (Western Historical Quarterly, Autumn 2012). Winner of Spur Award for Best Western Short Nonfiction, Western Writers of America (2013)

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