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Tom Three Persons

Tom Three Persons at the 1912 Calgary Stampede where he won the bareback competition. Tom Three Persons is perhaps best described as Alberta's most famous cowboy. Born in March 1888 to Ayakohtseniki, Double Talker, a Blood woman, his natural father was a white trader and bootlegger by the name of Fred Pace. When Pace left Ayakohtseniki prior to the birth of their son, she soon married Three Persons, a young widower from her tribe. Tom Three Persons was originally given the name Mutsi-i-kitstuki, or Handsome Offering, and baptized as Moses Three Persons but known to all as Tom. Tom spent his youth on the Blood Reserve as part of the Three Persons Family and never knew his natural father. He spoke only Blackfoot and became, by all accounts, an outgoing, athletic, and enigmatic young man.

As was custom, it was his uncle that taught him the ways of his people: how to hunt, how to make war, and, most importantly, how to ride.He also held many odd jobs during his youth, working as a mail carrier for the Indian Agency, as a scout for the Northwest Mounted Police, and even as a cowboy on roundup crews for local ranchers.

After concluding a series of treaties with the Indian populations, the federal government tried to encourage them to take up farming - with little success. Many Natives, including those of the Blood tribe, actually preferred a ranching lifestyle, which was more in line with their traditional lifestyle of following the buffalo herds across the prairies than did the farming and harvesting crops. However, some tribes, particularly the Bloods, succeeded at this new agricultural life, and possessed a herd of nearly 15,000 cattle by the turn of the century. One of these successful ranchers was Tom Three Person's stepfather. When his stepfather died in 1899, Tom inherited his herd and his uncle, Bobtail Chief, adopted him.But Tom left the ranch in 1903 when his mother sent him to attend St. Joseph's Indian Industrial School at Dunbow. Over the next three years he learned to speak English, became educated in the Catholic faith, and married his first wife, Eliza Frank.

A view of St. Joseph’s Industrial School in Dunbow, Alberta, 1897.

After graduating from St. Joseph's, Tom brought his new bride back to his stepfather's farm where they had planned to settle down. Throughout his life, Tom would prove himself to be a hard worker, an excellent rider, and an astute business man. In 1907, after he lost the majority of his own herd in the disastrous winter of 1906-07, he was hired as a cowboy for the fall roundup of government and Indian cattle. His skill as a roper so impressed his employers that he was considered one of the best men on the roundup that year. However, it was his riding abilities that most amazed his friends, who, by 1908, had convinced him to enter the bronc-busting competition at the Lethbridge Fair. An impressive second place finish launched his new career. For the next few years, Tom juggled rodeo competitions with life on the round-up, winning first place at the 1909 contest in Lethbridge.

The rodeo was slowly gaining in popularity in the west, and when an entrepreneur by the name of Addison Day began his travelling wild west show in 1911, he offered Three Persons a spot in his troupe. By the end of that year, Tom Three Persons had become recognized as one of the leading bronc riders in the West - "the famous Indian rider." In 1912, yet another entrepreneur, Guy Weadick, was looking to capitalize on the popularity of the rodeo.Weadick had convinced four southern ranchers to help him finance a stampede as a tribute to the Old West. The first ever Calgary Stampede attracted competitors from all over North America and was held in August 1912 at Calgary. At the end of the six day event, and in front of a very large and distinguished crowd, Three Persons became the only Canadian to win a top award. He was crowned the world's bucking horse champion, beating out many experienced American professional cowboys.

Three Persons had been the only Canadian to achieve a championship in a major event at the Stampede and his victory made him an instant celebrity. He remained on the rodeo circuit for most of his life and became known as much for his drinking and carousing as for his riding skill. Tom Three Persons inspired generations of Blood Indians to success in the rodeo arena.

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