The Two Threepersons Indians
Updated: Nov 20
My correspondents will know that I've written the story of Tom Threepersons, Texas lawman, far too many times. But this is the obvious place to bring it up at least one more time. And this is not a complete retelling of the tale that is very, very complicated.
There were two men who used the name Tom Threepersons. Both were Indians but only one used the name from birth and he was a British citizen in Alberta Canada.
The man that we know best who used the name, didn't use it until 1912 when the original man became famous for winning the Calgary Stampede as Bucking Bronc Champion of the World. In that sense he was an imposter pretending to be this man in Alberta, the celebrated Tom Three Persons, Blood Indian of Canada:
The most sanitary biography of 'our' Tom Threepersons is posted on the BATFE site. There they acknowledge that we know nothing of Tom until his first appearance in 1916 at a rodeo in Arizona. From there he joined the Army using that name -- Tom Three Persons -- and we know heaps and heaps about him from then on.
The stories that you know, then, are entirely stories made up by dime novelists Eugene Cunningham of TX and his successor Oren Arnold of AZ. With a lot of help from Tom's second wife, Lorene Tritthart Nichols Threepersons!
This was big business in those days and it was a large part of how Tom and Lorene made their living: selling the false story of Tom Threepersons, Texas lawman and winner of the Calgary Stampede. He definitely was the first man but he was not the second. And Lorene was a compulsive liar who went to the trouble to call an El Paso columnist on Friday 13th to tell him that she and Tom were not afraid of the date because she was born on Friday 13th and they were married on one too. Except that's false; the '13th' part is true but she was born on a Monday and they were married on a Thursday. Why bother telling the lie? For publicity.
Lorene, with all due respect because I've not walked a mile in her shoes, was a dodgy one. We've only just learned today, that, divorced from Frank Nichols she appears in the 1920 Census as Lorene Nichols (she was born a Tritthart, a German rancher) but has the surname Kirby when she and Tom wed in 1923: a second marriage we didn't know about!
Tom Three Persons of Alberta was of the Blood tribe that is closely related to the Blackfoot tribe of Montana, and a horse rancher. Quite a successful one, he was born in 1889 there and in 1912 won the Bucking Bronc championship in Calgary that is in Alberta (the movie Buffalo Bill and the Indians was filmed there and I attended some of its filming in 1975(?).
Suddenly, though, there was another Tom Threepersons; this one in Texas and he, too, had won that same championship. But they were two different Indians: 'our' Tom first appeared as a 'local' Indian from Arizona, then as a Choctaw, then finally, as we know him best, a Cherokee. These are important distinctions because the Cherokee and the Choctaw were two of the Five Civilized Tribes that comprised the Eastern half of what is now Oklahama and known then officially as Indian Territory.
The Western half, comprised of the other 'lesser' tribes, was called Oklahoma Territory and included famous gunmen such as D.A. Jelly Bryce who was half Kiowa; and one of the several owners of S.D. Myres Saddle company named Colonel James Spurrier who was half Osage. For Spurrier being a half-blood was a BIG deal -- only full- and half-blood Osage were entitled to the incredible wealth of the Osage after oil was discovered on their lands, under a doctrine called 'head rights'.
No one knows who our Tom really was. Not his birth date or place or name or tribe or even if he was Indian at all. There would have to be an exhumation to ever find out for sure. Even his tombstone in New Mexico disagrees with his death certificate (say 1889) about his birth year! There is a researcher now working for Cherokee Nation who is convinced that she has found or will find our Tom's family there in the Nation but it's simply not possible. For that to happen he would have to have been actually born with the very same name in the very same year; then taken the identity of the Blood Indian out of coincidence rather than with intent to deceive. It wasn't uncommon at the turn of that century and when you look up on Wiki, as I did, about a form of identity theft called 'ghosting'; there you'll read about other, more celebrated cases of taking a living person's identity at that very moment and masquerading as him/her.
We can be certain from the thousands of bits of information that we have, that Lorene Threepersons was Cherokee and she was from Vinita OK as Tom also is reputed to be. She variously claimed to be half Cherokee but instead was only the minimum blood to qualify for grants of money and land from the Federal government.
I don't make an issue of that except to point out that Lorene, and truth, were mutually exclusive and she was an intemperate publicity hound. Tom himself was illiterate and spoke very little so it was Lorene who gave all his interviews, notably in many articles while he was in the kitchen doing the dishes!
The real Tom Three Persons (above) was died in Alberta after a stampede (ironic, eh?) of his own horses in 1949; so almost exactly 20 years before our Tom Threepersons died of a heart attack in Arizona. So two different men, who died in different years, in different places, and buried in those two different places.
The Canadian Indian is remembered for his win on the horse Cyclone that he had to ride to a standstill then vs the way it is done now (minimum time). But our Tom is really only relevant to the 21st century for his holster and I doubt anyone would be writing about him at all otherwise.
Our Tom did serve as a lawman for several agencies -- the above belonged to him but is not his actual Treasury badge that was similar and returned to the Treasury department, too! -- in Texas during the 1920s for just the 7 years 1920 to 1927. It has been said that he moved around for more money and retired to ranching because he was all busted up; but a review of the record shows instead, like the fictional James Bond, he was simply a 'blunt instrument' and kept killing people with his Colts; and the agencies had enough of that.
His famous partner, who was Doc White of Treasury with him but better known as being Captain Hughes' sidekick in the Texas Rangers -- who perhaps was the inspiration for Tonto because Hughes is known to have been The Lone Ranger -- and also for his service in the FBI including shepherding Machine Gun Kelly at Kelly's trial after being captured. The above image depicts White behind Kelly who is standing with his wife.