Native Americans in 1904 Olympics – Part II

Jerry, Frank and Tom Pierce were Senecas who lived, at least part of the time, in Irving, NY around the turn of the last century and ran distance races, often in the U. S. In those days athletes often trained and competed under the auspices of athletic clubs. They were the younger brothers of Bemus and Hawley Pierce, the famous Carlisle Indian School football players. The boys also claimed to be grandsons of Deerfoot, aka Lewis Bennett, the world champion Seneca runner of the mid-19th century, who ran races in England while clothed in a wolfskin and feathered headband for effect. The Pierce brothers were affiliated with the Pastime Athletic Club out of Syracuse, New York. In 1901 Jerry Pierce led Pastime A C to the national AAU Junior Championship at a meet held in Buffalo by running his opponents off their feet in the five-mile run. The next day he was winded after the four-mile mark in the senior meet and did not win that race. On July 28 Jerry’s teammates carried him on their shoulders after he fought out a victory in the 3-mile run at the Metropolitan Association of the AAU meet which was also held in Buffalo. On Labor Day, he won the 3-mile run by 40 yards at the Knickerbocker Athletic Club meet held in Bayonne, NJ. Later that year he won the national cross country championship.

Jerry’s success continued in 1902. In late August, his younger brother, Frank, paced him in the Metropolitan Association meet held this time at Celtic Park. Jerry won easily, but Frank, exhausted from setting a fast pace in the 3-mile race, finished fourth. Jerry was suspended by the AAU in September for having accepted a suit of clothing for winning a race. He was soon reinstated but his appetite for racing was waning. His brothers’ weren’t though. Frank was improving and some observers thought Tom, the youngest, was the fastest of the lot. Commentators attributed their success to unorthodox training methods. The Pierce brothers reputedly got in shape by hunting moose and deer on their reservation in Canada.

In 1904 Frank qualified to run in the marathon at the Olympics to be held at the St. Louis World’s Fair that year. In the days before the race, he was listed as one of the favorites. On the day of the race, the temperature was in the 90s in the shade, of which there was none, the humidity was high and the race course ran along a dusty road over which race officials drove automobiles immediately ahead of the runners. The runners had nothing but dust to breathe. Frank was forced to drop out of the race before the 20-mile mark as were several others. Thomas Hicks, the eventual winner was given a concoction of strychnine and brandy by his trainer to give him the energy to finish the race. He almost died after finishing the race.

We’re not done with Native American participation in the 1904 Olympics yet. Next time we’ll look at lacrosse and football.

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