Big Hawk Chief
Kootahwecotsoo Lelehoolashar, better known as Big Hawk Chief (1853–1895), was a Native American scout for the United States Army. He is best known for running the first sub-four minute mile, during his time in service. His run is not largely chronicled, because many believe the credit for the historic first sub-four mile belongs to another man. Big Hawk Chief was a citizen of the Pawnee tribe, and served in the Plains Indian Wars as a Pawnee Scout. His legacy as "the fastest man alive" is one shrouded in controversy despite first hand accounts of his run.
While little is known about Big Hawk Chief's childhood, there are documents that tell us his birth name and year, as well as the year of his death. Kootahwecotsoo Lelehoolashar, the name given to Big Hawk Chief, was born in 1853. He died at the age of 42 in 1895. Although his birthplace is unknown, as a Pawnee he was likely born in the central plains region. This region historically consist of states such as Nebraska and Kansas. Despite the lack of information surrounding his early life, it is known that he joined the armed forces to be a runner.
Native Americans were an important part of the American military, even since its begininning. Many of these natives were employed or recruited in order to help assist in colonist/ American conflicts with other Native Americans. Native scouts and runners were at their heights during "instances as the Pequot War from 1634–1638, the Revolutionary War, as well as in War of 1812." Some, such as Big Hawk Chief, even served during the Plains Indian Wars. He enlisted in the Pawnee Scouts in 1876. Although they peaked early on, the use of Indian scouts ended in the year 1947, with the retirement of the last active scout.
Big Hawk Chief served as a Pawnee Runner. During his time as a Pawnee Runner, he became the first person documented to run a sub-four-minute mile. The details of the event, as chronicled by a frontier scout named Luther North, clocked the mile at 3 minutes and 58 seconds. In his account, North describes the event.
"Black Hawk Chief... [sic] one of my favorites, was the fastest runner in the tribe, and I believe the world... while at Sidney after coming down from the Dull Knife expedition, another man and I timed him, both with stop watches. He ran the first half in 2 minutes flat and the second in 1:58 or the mile in 3.58 – so much faster than ever done before that we didn’t believe the track was right, and had it measured with a steal [sic] tape. I had him run again. To this day [written in 1930] no man has ever equaled it―my reason for believing that he was the fastest man on his feet. The army stripped him and went carefully over him, stating afterward that Big Hawk Chief was the most perfect specimen of man he had ever seen."
North's account of the event serves as a primary source on an event whose significance is often disputed. In having an official report of such a major event, North's retelling of the event is able to serve as proof that Big Hawk Chief was indeed the first man to run a sub-four-minute mile.
Despite having accounts of his historic run, Big Hawk Chief is not always credited as having been the first man to run mile in less than four minutes. This honor is often accredited to British athlete Roger Bannister. He ran his own sub-four mile at a track meet at Oxford, clocking his time at 3 minutes, 59.4 seconds on May 6, 1954. While nobody refutes the fact that he did run a sub-four minute mile, he is almost always accredited as having been the first to do so. Over time, the importance and significance of Big Hawk Chief's run has been forgotten, despite having immortalized accounts of the moment.
His identity as a Native American, and the ways in which his achievements are ignored, haven largely impacted the involvement of Natives in sports. Native American athletes are frequently passed over, mostly due to the lack of information accessible on them. The more information spread about Big Hawk Chief's run, the more individuals are able to debunk the myth of who ran the first sub-four mile.
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