Tarzan Brown...two time winner of the Boston Marathon, two time U.S. 25-kilometer champion, the man who broke the world marathon record twice and participant in the 1936 Olympics has inspired many young people to compete in sports that might not otherwise dare. You see, Ellison M. "Tarzan" Brown was a Narragansett Indian, raised in poverty on a reservation. "The economy in these depression times provided little for most Americans and nothing for Indians. They were a conquered people living on the margin... Ellison Myers Brown, born on the margin, saw running as his only way out of poverty." Those were the words of Tom Derderian in his work The Boston Marathon: The History of the World's Premier Running Event.
Brown was an incredible athlete, and keeping his prowess under control could be a problem. In the 1936 marathon, Brown took off so fast that the press cars were unaware he was out in front, and followed the second place runners instead. By the twenty mile mark, however, Brown was tiring, and Johnny Kelley overtook him on Newton Hill. As Kelley passed Brown, he reached out and patted him on the shoulder, thinking he had the race won. Brown, however, rallied and came back to win the race, while Kelley faded to a fifth place finish. It was this event, Kelley passing Brown and then losing the race, that resulted in Newton Hill being dubbed Heartbreak Hill by Boston Globe Reporter Jerry Nason. The name stuck, and Heartbreak Hill has been giving runners problems since, probably due to it's location late in the race. Brown also won the race in 1939, setting a new record of 2:28:51. He was the first American marathoner to run under 2 hours, 30 minutes. Brown's last Boston Marathon was in 1946, where he placed 12th. His career was ended by a double hernia.
Brown had to endure racial harassment and stereotypes throughout his career. The morning after he won the 1936 marathon, he was dubbed "Chief Crazy Horse" by a respected newspaper writer. Brown also never gained materially or career-wise by his amazing athletic abilities. When he returned to his reservation life after the marathons, Jerry Nason wrote "Tarzan would much rather learn to keep a good line of traps than to explore the alphabet". Despite this, Brown did serve as a role model to many young Indian athletes. Ted Corbitt, an 82 year old ultra-marathoner recently said in an interview in Vanity Fair that Tarzan was the person who first got him intrigued with long distance running.