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  • Red Nichols, Holstorian

Post 14: The Two Threepersons Indians

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.

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.

Tom Three Persons of Alberta was of the Blood tribe that is closely connected 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(?). He tells the story in interviews of someone asking him for his autograph in the heads there; that was me at age 25; what did I know about propriety at that age?).

Suddenly there was another Tom Threepersons, though; this one in Texas and he, too, had won that same championship. But they were two different Indians and 'our' Tom first appeared as an Indian from Arizona, then as a Choctaw, then 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 a half blood from a very rich tribe in the north of Oklahoma (the 'half blood' is not the demeaning term it sounds like; in his tribe especially one had to be at least half blood to qualify for what were called 'head rights' and so to the enormous wealth of the Osage when oil was discovered there).

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 definitely was Cherokee and she was from Vinita OK as Tom is reputed to be. She variously claimed to be half Cherokee but 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 was killed in Alberta by a stamped (ironic, eh?) of his own horses in 1949 so died in Canada 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 which he had to ride to a standstill then vs the way it is now; but our Tom is really only relevant to the 21st century for his holster. 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 which was similar but different -- and was returned to the Treasury department, too! -- in Texas during the 1920s; for just the 7 years 1920 to 1927 and certainly not into the 1930s as he is reputed to have done. 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 that 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 -- perhaps was the inspiration for Tonto because Hughes is known to have been The Lone Ranger -- and 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.

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