CHARLESTOWN, R.I. — As a young man, Ellison “Tarzan” Brown ran the wooded trails and back roads of Charlestown, training to become a two-time Boston Marathon champion.
As a member of the Narragansett Indian Tribe, Brown faced more discrimination and received less recognition than many of his white contemporaries. But over the weekend, his relatives joined in a dedication ceremony for a 3-mile loop trail named in his honor at the Nature Conservancy’s Carter Preserve.
“It is wonderful to see Uncle Tarzan and his family be acknowledged here today,” said his great-nephew, Thawn Harris. “It has been far too long since the town, the state, people recognized or acknowledged that we are still here.”
Thawn Harris speaks at Saturday's dedication ceremony for a trail named after his great-uncle, Boston Marathon winner Ellison "Tarzan " Brown, at the @TNC_RI 's Carter Preserve in Charlestown pic.twitter.com/R3GOh0tZKF— Edward Fitzpatrick (@FitzProv) May 21, 2023
Relatives ranging from a 6-month-old to a 91-year-old gathered around for the unveiling of a plaque embedded in a boulder at the trailhead.
“This trail honors the life and legacy of Ellison M. ‘Tarzan’ Brown, a member of the Narragansett Indian Tribe and a resident of Charlestown,” the plaque reads. “Known as Deerfoot, he won the Boston Marathon in 1936 and 1939, and competed for the United States in the Olympic Games in Berlin, Germany in 1936.”
“This boulder is not going anywhere,” Harris said. “And neither are the Narragansett people. For as long as people will be in this place, we will be here as the stewards and keepers, as well, of this place.”
The Nature Conservancy in Rhode Island and the Charlestown Parks and Recreation Commission funded the project.
John Torgan, state director of the Nature Conservancy in Rhode Island, said the group is grateful to be able to remember Brown “as a marathoner, as a family man and leader, and as an important member of this community” – and to do so here in Charlestown, “a place he loved, a place he lived for many years.”
“That boulder is permanent. It is here forever,” Torgan said. “Your grandchildren and their grandchildren will have the opportunity to come here and remember their ancestor, Tarzan Brown, long after we are gone.”
John Torgan, state director of the @TNC_RI, speaks during dedication ceremony for a 3-mile trail loop in the Carter Preserve named for Ellison "Tarzan" Brown, the Narragansett Indian who won the Boston Marathon twice pic.twitter.com/8f1XulnIEV— Edward Fitzpatrick (@FitzProv) May 21, 2023
Torgan said the Carter Preserve is important both to the Nature Conservancy and to Charlestown.
“At one time, developers wanted to build a golf course on this land,” he said. “Fortunately, the Nature Conservancy was able to conserve it, most of it coming in 2001, with additional land protected in 2014 in conservation, in perpetuity. It consists of 1,100 acres of pine and oak forest, open fields, babbling streams, and lush swamps. So much of the biodiversity of South County is reflected here.”
Torgan noted that the preserve shares a mile-long border with the Narragansett tribal lands.
“The birds and wildlife move back and forth across that border every day — nature sees it as one shared place,” he said. “I hope the connections that we are celebrating today will unite us through nature, and open doors to stronger partnerships between the Nature Conservancy and the Tribe in the future.”
Saturday’s ceremony began with a song sung by Attaquin Weeden-Machado, who played a hand-held drum, and his father, David Weeden.
“I am glad that we are acknowledging such an excellent man,” Weeden-Machado said of Brown. “The song that I will be singing is a traveling song — we call it ‘The Longest Walk.’ And this man ran marathons, so I only see it’s right.”
Attaquin Weeden-Machado introduces a song at a ceremony for a trail named for Ellison "Tarzan" Brown, saying the song, "The Longest Walk," is an appropriate tribute for a Narragansett Indian who won two Boston Marathons pic.twitter.com/XwSFE5Rqo5— Edward Fitzpatrick (@FitzProv) May 21, 2023
Theodore Pahiea Ellison Brown, a stonemason who is “Tarzan” Brown’s grandson, worked on the project, and during the ceremony, he unveiled the finished product along with Jeffrey Monroe, another of Brown’s grandsons. After removing a covering from the boulder, Monroe, wearing a Boston Marathon jacket, raised his arms as if at the end of a long race.
Theodore Pahiea Ellison Brown, left, and Jeffrey Monroe -- grandsons of Ellison "Tarzan" Brown -- unveil boulder with plaque at @TNC_RI trailhead in Carter Preserve in Charlestown pic.twitter.com/zBNZco3b64— Edward Fitzpatrick (@FitzProv) May 21, 2023
Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @FitzProv.