Native Americans in 1904 Olympics – Part I

News outlets are now getting interested in Native Americans’ participation in past Olympics, so I should share a little of that history in case the media should overlook important contributions. Everyone knows about the incomparable Jim Thorpe’s triumphs in the 1912 Stockholm Olympics, but Native Americans were involved much earlier than that. There was too much earlier involvement to cover in one message, so I’ll break this topic into installments beginning with the 1904 games held in St. Louis as part of the World’s Fair (more properly called the Louisiana Purchase Centennial Exposition). Pairing the Olympic Games with a world’s fair was not unusual at the time because the 1900 games were co-located with the Paris World’s Fair. Including events that we moderns wouldn’t consider appropriate as Olympic events wasn’t unusual either.

The 1904 Summer Olympics, officially known as the Games of the III Olympiad, conducted what must have been the most bizarre athletic contest ever. Some 3,000 native people from around the globe were brought to the fair for the Anthropology Exhibit. These people lived on the fair’s ground in traditional dwellings and wore traditional attire. Finding appropriate food for them presented a bit of a problem. Legend has it that the neighborhood known as Dogtown got its name as being the place Igorots captured a favorite meat. Included in the Anthropology Exhibit were a number of Native Americans who represented several tribes. Adjacent to their tipis was the Model Government Indian School which was populated by Chilocco Indian School students and faculty. Having all these different “primitive” ethnic groups at their disposal was just too tempting for Fair and Olympic organizers.

On August 12 and 13 Ethnology Days were held. The Indian School Journal, which was printed in the Model School, had this to say about those games:

Our Indians Easy Winners

 The athletic games held yesterday for members of the various races in the Anthropology Exhibit furnished one of the most unique entertainments imaginable. A remarkable collection of peoples were gathered together in the Stadium to vie with one another in contests of speed and endurance. There were wild-eyed Ainus, heavy-bearded and gorgeously clad; great, tall lumbering Patagonians; stockily built Moros; slender, tawny-skinned Syrians; long-haired Cocopas, wild and savage of aspect; and last but by no means least, pupils of the Indian School, clad in the conventional athletic habiliments of the white man.

And the winners were:

100-yd dash – 1. George Mentz (Sioux)

120-yd low hurdles – 1. Leon Poitre (Chippewa), 2. George mentz

High jump – 1. George Ments, 2. Black Whitebear

440-yd run – 1. George Mentz, 2. Simon Marques (Pueblo)

Mile run – 1. Black Whitebear

Baseball throw – 2. Frank Moore (Pawnee)

Lone Star Dietz qualified for the finals in the shot put, but apparently did not win the event.

Prizes of $50 or more were given to the winners. Apparently, the Indians did not participate in the mud-throwing and pole climbing events. From the results of these events, AAU Secretary James E. Sullivan, concluded that the results “prove conclusively that the savage is not the natural athlete we have been led to believe.”

The distance-running Pierce brothers and the 1904 Olympics next time.

Ainu at 1904 St. Louis World's Fair

Ainu at 1904 St. Louis World's Fair


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2 Responses to “Native Americans in 1904 Olympics – Part I”

  1. Native American Sports Advocate Says:

    Thanks for writing this post. I think a lot of people do not know how much Native Americans have contributed to this country – both through their military service but also sports. Currently, however, they are struggling to be included in the Olympics, although there are several campaigns to have Native representation in the 2012 Olympics.

  2. 2008 Olympics Results Says:

    2008 Olympics Results…

    The summer games are finally underway and I am soo excited. I am an olympics junkie…

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