Tom Three Persons

Pinepound Reflections - A History of Spring Coulee and District page 21

From Lethbridge Herald


The shell of his ranch house is still on the flatlands just below the St. Mary's Dam spillway on the southeast portion of the Blood Reserve.

The barn is gone. just a pile of old sun-greyed siding remains.

But the memories of the first Indian world champion saddle bronc rider are still vivid in the minds on Blood residents.

The legend of Tom Three Persons is as alive today as the day he won the saddle bronc riding at the Calgary Stampede in 1912.

Three Persons was six-foot-two, handsome, lithe, athlete, the hero of his people.

Born in 1896, a year before the signing of Treaty 7, Three Persons was 26 when he went to Calgary to enter the saddle bronc riding at Guy Weadick's first-time extravaganza - The Calgary Stampede, billed as the greatest outdoor show on earth.

He went there virtually unknown - known only to family and friends as a good bronc rider. He left the Stampede as world champion and established a name that would live forever in rodeo history.

Three Persons had done reasonably well on his first broncs at the Stampede, but on the final day he drew the great bronc Cyclone, owned by the Blanchard family. Cyclone ranked right up there with Midnight and Steamboat as the best of the best.

Cyclone was said to be unrideable and had left about 130 top riders sitting in the arena dust, attesting to the fact he was one rank bronc. The big black bronc's favorite move was to rear wildly, balancing on his hind legs seemingly about to topple over, and then return to the earth with a bonejarring thud as the front legs hit the ground. He would sun fish, dip and dive, shedding riders as he went. Until he met Tom Three Persons.

In 1912 the broncs were snubbed and held as the cowboy climbed on in mid arena. They were not saddled and mounted in bucking chutes as they are today.

Three Persons checked the cinch, pulled it tight, swung his long legs over the bronc's back, secured his highcrowned cowboy hat and said "Let him go."

A ride wasn't eight or ten seconds then; it lasted until the cowboy was bucked off or the bronc quit bucking.

That September afternoon, Tom Three Persons took everything Cyclone had to offer and rode the great bronc to a standstill.

Weadick was quoted in the Canadian Cattleman magazine years later as saying Three Persons "hit him (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 at every jump. The horse finally quit bucking and stood still," Weadick said.

The ride was over. The crowd erupted. A new world champion saddle bronc rider and hero, was crowned.

Along with the standing ovation and adulation that lasted the remainder of his life, Tom Three Persons received $ I ,000.00, a medal, a hand-made trophy saddle, a championship belt and a gold and silver mounted buckle.

He returned to the Stampede again in 1923 - Weadick did not produce another "greatest show on earth" until that year - but he never did match the success he attained at the first Calgary Stampede.

Father time had taken his toll.

Tom Three Persons

Pinepound Reflections - A History of Spring Coulee and District pages 22 - 23

by Marie Barr, Cardston Chronical, August 8, 1989


Tom Three Persons is an Indian who made his people proud. He was the World Saddle Bronc Champion in Calgary in 1912.

During his career as a cowboy he stayed glued to the back of many horses, according to his son, Wilton Frank. "I guess he had natural ability. It was natural for Indians in those days."

One of the feats was to ride the wild horse, Cyclone, to the finish. The horse had thrown 129 previous riders. Frank said he didn't ever remember his father getting bucked off.

Three persons was named to the Cardston Hall of Fame during the Cardston centennial as an automatic inductee. He is also the first contestant inductee in the Canadian Cowboy Hall of Fame. His induction was held July 11, 1983.

Three Persons started out in the Indian residential Dun-bow School in south-east Calgary. His ability with stock determined his direction in life, according to Frank. "He tried to get some cattle but the Indian agent (on the Blood Indian Reserve) was against him." Frank said he went across the line and worked for Jack Galbraith where he saved some money. "I was in school (St. Paul's Mission, Old Agency) then." Three Persons returned to Canada in 1923.

Frank said Three Persons bought some cows when he got back from the States, about 300 to 400 head. He said they also ran race horses and some bucking stock. Some of the stock was used in Lethbridge and Cardston. "I was against it. I was using them to work."

During this time Three Persons also worked for the RCMP in Standotf. Frank said there used to be a detachment just north of Standoff where the Standoff Hutterite Colony now stands. Frank said Three Persons had a uniform.

Frank said Three Persons was a good father. "He came to visit me one evening just after he came back from the States. He raised me. We were in boarding school. " Frank said Three Persons would take him home during the summer holiday, which lasted only a month.

Frank said although there are no records Three Persons claims to be his father. Three Person's first wife was Frank's mother.

Frank said Three Persons had one problem, he liked his whiskey. It was the root to most of the problems he experienced in his later life, according to his son.

Frank said he won his championship because Guy Weadik, trom the Calgary Stampede. bailed him out of jail so he could ride in 1912.

Part of his life he spent as part of the the Wild West Show in Winnipeg and Toronto.

Frank said Three Persons owned three places on the reserve. One near Bullhorn, one near St. Mary's and one near Spring Coulee. which Frank still runs. The moves were made to accommodate the larger herds Three Persons raised. Frank said they have been in Spring Coulee since 1929 which was before he finished school in 1931.

Frank said he and Three Persons went to Calgary some summers to take in the Calgary Stampede. He said his father roped and acted as a a pick-up man in the later times. He also acted as a judge at some smaller rodeos.

Frank said he remembers one time when he was 15 or 16 years old and he had the horses all bedded down for the night when he got the message his father wanted him to enter the Indian race at the Calgary Stampede. He said for entering, the person got $2.00 and for winning, it was $15.00. He said he didn't want to enter but the message was, "Tom said you have to."

He entered the race and won but he said he never saw
the prize money. When he asked about it the next day
he was told the money went to his father. He laughed,
as he told the story, and said that was where they
were wrong.

Frank said the last time he remembers seeing his father ride a bronc was in Raymond in 1928. He said although his father was drunk he managed to stay on his horse. He said it was yet another example of his father's ability on a horse.

Frank talked about four of he and his father's horses, Kicking Star. Flying Devil, Two Bits and Goldy. Kicking Star and Flying Devil were bucking horses while the other two were race horses. Frank said Goldy was blind in one eye and as a result hugged the rail.

Frank said Three Persons was an exceedingly kind person. He was generous to a fault. Frank said many of the things his father won have long-since been given away or sold for whiskey later in his life and are now lost to not only the family but the rest of the rodeo world.

One exception is, Charlie Ivins, another old-time cowboy, has Three Persons' bridle and spurs hanging in his livingroom in a place of honor.

Frank said his father bled to death in 1949 when he was 69 years old. "He was strict with us but I wish I'd listened to him more."

What greater praise can a son give his father?

TO Norman Manyfingers message on main page

Tom Three Persons

Pinepound Reflections - A History of Spring Coulee and District pages 339 - 340

From Lethbridge Herald

It's the big high-heeled cowboy boots and the way Tom Three Persons carried himself as Lyman Turner, 76, of Magrath remembers best.

Three Persons would regularly visit Magrath Trading Company store, where Turner was hardware manager, years after the tall straight-backed Indian bronc rider had made his mark at the famous Calgary Stampede. "He was very striking to look at," says Turner. "Tom used to come into Magrath a lot back in the 1940's."

In 1912 Three Persons was just one of many native bronc riders, calf ropers and steer riders from the Bloods, Stoney, Peigan, Sarcee and Siksika nations invited to take part in the first Calgary Stampede.

Three Persons grew up riding wild broncs and he was always partial to wearing almost knee-high cowboy boots with high heels, pants tucked into the tops of the boots. He also liked to wear bright neck scarfs and when riding donned red angora chaps.

After taming the great Cyclone to win the world saddle bronc championship at Calgary, Three Persons continued to compete in rodeo and won almost every rodeo he attended during his prime. He was making good money in rodeo and had invested wisely in cattle and made a profit at horse trading.

Turner says the wild grass on Three Persons' home ranch, just below the St. Mary's Dam spillway today and a few kilometres west of Spring Coulee, was ideal for the large cattle herds he raised. The corrals were the best quality, the house was large for its time and the barn was ideal.

Rodeo and ranching were dangerous occupations, though, and Three Persons was always being treated for broken arms, ribs and other assorted aches and pains. Despite the injuries, he was one of the most successful raisers of thoroughbred horses and purebred Herefords in southern Alberta. At the time of his death in 1949 his cattle holdings alone were worth $80,000.00.

In 1946 Three Persons suffered a serious accident from which he never recovered, leading eventually to his death in 1949 at the age of 63.

"There was a horse stampede on his ranch and the horses knocked down a gate on top of him,'' says Turner. "Many of the horses jumped or galloped across the gate and when they were finished, Tom was broke up pretty bad. That was the beginning of the end for Tom as far as his health was concerned."

The rodeo champion never really recovered from the broken pelvis and other injuries. Most of his final years he carried a poplar staff to serve as a walking cane. In the summer of 1949, he took ill and Blood Indian Agent Ralph Regan took him to a hospital in Calgary. A month later he was dead.

Hundreds of people, white and Indian, attended his funeral at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Cardston, laying to rest one of rodeo's great legends.

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