Cowboy Heroes

by Jim Olson

“Tom Threepersons – The Story of Two Persons

Tom Threepersons was an Indian who became famous. Research reveals numerous stories claiming he was a Cherokee, or perhaps a Blood (Kainai) Indian; He was born in Oklahoma (1889) or perhaps Canada (1888); he was a mounted policeman, tracker and rodeo star in Canada; a famous lawman and prohibition officer in El Paso, Texas; a cowboy in New Mexico and a successful rancher in Canada; he had a leather gun holster named after him and won the World Bronc Riding Championship of 1912; his name was spelled “Threepersons” or perhaps “Three Persons” and he died poor in 1969, in Arizona, or possibly a rich man during 1949 in Canada.

Many accomplishments (and contradictions) for only one man! How did he do so much, making his name a permanent part of Western history and lore? A closer examination of the facts reveals there were—ironically, TWO different “Tom Threepersons,” alive and making headlines at the same time. Their stories are often mistakenly jumbled into one. One was a rodeo star, who had a few encounters with the law—the other was a lawman, who had a few encounters with rodeo. First let us look at the rodeo star.

Tom Threepersons the rodeo star was actually “Tom Three Persons,” a Canadian-born, Blood Indian (often referred to as “First Nations” people in Canada) whose primary language was Blackfoot. His birth father was said to be an Anglo whiskey peddler and trader who abandoned his mother when it was found out she was with child. His mother, a Blood, soon married another and Tom was raised by his stepfather, “Three Persons,” also a Blood. He grew up on the reservation where he learned to hunt, fish, farm, ranch and—ride wild horses. When he was a teenager, his mother sent him to an Indian boarding school where he learned the English language and was baptized into the Catholic faith.

After graduation, Tom married his high school sweetheart and returned to the reservation to settle down and raise cattle. However, during the many roundups held across the reservation, he became known as an outstanding cowboy, a fine roper, and most particularly, a superb bucking horse rider. It was because of these skills friends encouraged Tom to enter his first rodeo at Lethbridge, Canada in 1908. He placed well and returned the next year, winning first. A new career—rodeo, was now in the cards for Tom.

It has been written that the lawman, Tom Threepersons, once served in the Canadian Royal Mounted Police. Research shows there was never any “Threepersons” or “Three Persons” enlisted with them. However, Tom Three Persons, the rodeo cowboy was said to have worked for them as a tracker at times. He was also reportedly a regular “customer” of theirs behind bars as he liked his whiskey and fun—sometimes a little too much. He was supposedly in this exact position (incarcerated for drinking too much) in late August of 1912 when his life was changed forever.

Guy Weadick, an American rodeo and wild west show producer was putting together the very first Calgary Stampede to be held in the first part of September, 1912. It was quite a production, with the best ropers and riders from Canada and the United Stated invited to see who would be the “Worlds Champion” in each event.

Weadick had heard of Tom Three Persons (or probably knew him) because by then, Tom was a well-known local bronc rider. At the time, Tom had been traveling with the Addison Day Wild West Show and was billed as “The Famous Indian Rider.”

When it came time for the Calgary Stampede, it has been said that Weadick sprung Tom from jail so he could compete. Other reports claim the Mounties just let him out because they knew he was a great bronc rider (he often broke rank horses for them while in jail). Whatever the case may be, Tom would leave the Stampede as the first ever World Champion being of Indian (First Nations), and also of Canadian descent.

In those days, there was a famous bucking horse called Cyclone who had gone unridden in over one-hundred attempts. He had thrown off the very best American and Canadian cowboys every time they drew him. After advancing to the final round, as fate would have it, Tom Three Persons (relatively unknown to the world) would draw Cyclone, the world-famous bucking horse. At the end of a legendary ride, still talked about to this day, Tom would become the World Champion Bronc Rider and forever be remembered in rodeo history. He was now a celebrity!

Years later, Weadick was quoted by the Canadian Cattleman magazine, “Three Persons hit Cyclone in both shoulders with his spurs—and hard. Cyclone wasn’t used to such treatment. He reared high and went into his usual pattern of bucking, but Three Persons kept applying the steel. Cyclone got mad and really started in to buck and did everything on his list to try and unseat the rider who kept hitting him with his spurs every jump. The horse finally quit bucking and stood still.”

For many years after that famous ride, Tom continued to rodeo with success, becoming legendary north of the border. He invested his winnings wisely, building up a large herd of cattle. He also raised and trained Thoroughbred race horses. As a testament to his success, at the time of his death in 1949, it is reported his estate was worth over eighty-thousand dollars, a whopping sum for the day!

Tom Three Persons remains one of the best-known Canadian Cowboys to this day and is often referred to as “Alberta’s most famous Cowboy.” He remains an inspiration to generations of Canadian Indians and was posthumously inducted into the Canadian Cowboy Hall of Fame and the National Multicultural Western Heritage Museum and Hall of Fame (in Fort Worth, Texas).

Much of what Tom Three Persons, the Canadian rodeo star, accomplished in his lifetime however is often attributed to Tom Threepersons the famous Texas lawman. Next month we will look at the other of these “Threepersons” who was actually “two persons.”