A local athlete you might not have heard of (outside his community) is Ellison Brown, born on the Narragansett Reservation in 1914.
A mind-boggling distance runner, Brown was known publicly as “Tarzan,” although members of the tribe called him “Deerfoot.” Tarzan won the 1936 and 1939 Boston Marathons, and was on the historic 1936 US Olympic team that competed in Berlin, but was unable to race due to an injury. But to his credit, reports were that injury didn’t keep him from getting into a fight with some of Adolf Hitler’s Nazis at a local beer garden.
A stonemason and shellfisherman, Brown ran distance races barefoot, and if you’re an avowed masochist, try that on for size. He would also disappear into the South County woods for days at a time, getting back to nature in his own way.
He overcame a great deal of racism, and according to reports, once said he had to get his hair cut in New London because the barber in Westerly wouldn’t do it.
Tarzan Brown has long been a legend in South County and deservedly so. And his duel with the Boston running star John Kelley in the 1936 Marathon, which Tarzan won, led to the christening of “Heartbreak Hill” toward the end of the 26+ miles. (see Fest at motifri.com/TarzanBrown)
P & J live in The Biggest Little by choice, which we hope is true of all residents. Jorge’s ancestry in our state goes back to the 1600s, while P. is a newcomer who got here in the late 1960s and has always come back after stints in London, Boston and New York, making him relish the beaches and beauty of Vo Dilun.
We used to think John Casey’s National Book Award winner, Spartina, was required reading by anyone coming to the state. But we shifted gears and now tell anyone we know that the must-read for locals is Nathaniel Philbrick’s Mayflower; A Story of Courage, Community, and War. It details everything from the first colonists coming to Little Rhody to the very intricate interchanges with the Native American tribes such as the Pokanokets, Narragansetts and Massasoits. And while it is not very pretty, it tells some amazing tales.
(Note: P&J don’t claim to be the definitive experts on Rhode Island history and would suspect that some of the region’s Native Americans might take issue with some of Philbrick’s observations and reportage. But in all, it seems like a very fair portrayal of the years of the earliest settlers in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, and since we weren’t on hand for the action in those days, we’ll take Philbrick’s accounts as truth.)
Mayflower sketches out the very intricate and involved relationships between the colonists and those between the local tribes. And people like Miles Standish, a name known to most Americans, is revealed to be a midget autocrat, who had no problem impaling Native Americans’ heads on spikes outside the Plymouth Bay Colony.
After reading Mayflower, you will never look at Rhode Island the same way again. Everyone already marvels at the back-breaking effort that must have been put in to construct the stone walls that line many properties. But there are also stories about the Battle of Treaty Rock in Little Compton, when with the colonial soldiers pinned down next to the Sakonnet River, boats were sent from Aquidneck Island to rescue them, with neither the colonists nor tribes losing a man. And the horrific tale of the Great Swamp Massacre, where soldiers marched from Wickford to Kingston in a blizzard, some with shoes practically made of cardboard, to commit atrocities that the Narragansetts have every right to remind us of even today.
So as you drive through Little Rhody today, look at the swamps and brush that line the road, and imagine these being the home of the Indigenous people, who fought bravely over their land being usurped. And spare a thought for the farmers who cultivated their property after humping out huge stones to craft their walls. They are all parts of the same puzzle that was being worked out on the fly, some for better, some for worse. And you’d do yourself a favor to go down to King Philip’s Chair in Bristol for a firsthand look at the area the Massasoits once ruled. We can’t tell the stories, but Nathaniel Philbrick has done so beautifully.
P & J, and many of our friends, wonder just what hold President Pussygrab has over big girl’s blouse Sen. Lindsey Graham.
Graham condemned the Orange Orangutan during the Republican presidential primary, yet now sucks up to the prez at the snap of the fingers. If Trump has the photos on Graham, we would hope he shares them to show why Little Lindsey is bending over at the drop of any criticism of his lying, gutless leader.
POP, Darren Hill’s “Emporium of Popular Culture,” art gallery and performance space at 419 West Park Street in Providence (near the old Coca Cola bottling plant) is having an event on Friday, November 22 featuring a band from New York City called SUSS that P&J highly recommend. If you have any interest in the Providence music scene from the 1980s, you should know that two members of SUSS (Bob Holmes and Gary Leib) were key members of Rubber Rodeo, the well-known Providence-based band who had early videos on MTV back then. Another band member is Jonathan Gregg who was in The Mundanes, another popular Providence-based band from that era. They describe their music as having an “ambient country” sound. Their recent recordings have been receiving airplay on a number of New York stations.
Along with the music there will be an exhibition of art works from Tom Deininger. If you’ve been to any of the shows at POP in the past few years, you know how good they are.