Six Photographs of Tom Threepersons, Cherokee Lawman

Six Photographs of Tom Threepersons, Cherokee Lawman

Threepersons, Tom (1889 – 1969). Six photographs of the Cherokee lawman, 1929. 8 x 10 or smaller. Each image titled and with a dated stamp from the Newspaper Enterprise Association (N.E.A.). Some wear, but generally very good or better.


            Considered one of the last gunfighters of the Old West, Tom Threepersons appears in many popular books on Cherokee history, on law enforcement during the Prohibition era, and on the Old West. He claimed to be born in Vinita, Indian Territory, to have attended the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and to have served with the Royal North-West Mounted Police. Some internet researchers have challenged each of these claims (see his biography on Wikipedia). He was at any rate a very colorful figure offering extensive fodder for pulp historians.


After several years on the rodeo circuit, Threepersons signed on in 1916 with General Jack Pershing as a scout in Mexico in pursuit of Pancho Villa. He was captured by Villistas and sentenced to death by firing squad but he escaped. In 1917 he enlisted in the army, where he broke in horses. In 1920 he joined the El Paso police department as a patrolman. In 1922, he was appointed a Federal Prohibition Agent and was involved in many shootouts. Relying on his Colt single action army pistol, he designed a holster for quick access. Threepersons reportedly was so feared by bootleggers that they put a $10,000 bounty on his life. With the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, Threepersons settled in Silver City, New Mexico, as a rancher and hunting guide. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) honors him on their website and various artifacts from his career are preserved at the Gene Autry Western Heritage Museum in Los Angeles, California.


oakland-tribune-sun-oct-6-1929.jpg

These photographs were used in a syndicated profile of Threepersons. This example is from the Oakland Tribune, 6 October 1929.


These images are from the files of the Newspaper Enterprise Association (N.E.A.), and each bears the agency’s stamp and the date of September 11, 1929. The images were used to illustrate a profile of Threepersons by Oren Arnold that ran in a number of newspapers in the fall of 1929. One of the photographs -- a sepia portrait of Threepersons with touchups -- is credited on the verso to Arnold and dated February 13, 1929. The photographs are titled thus:


  • Tom Threepersons, champ cowboy [photo by O. E. Arnold]

  • Tom Threepersons, champion cowboy [N.E.A. copy of above]

  • Tom Threepersons as an El Paso policeman

  • Tom Threepersons bulldogging

  • Tom Threepersons bulldogging [copy of above]

  • Tom Threepersons on wild steer


A nice gathering of photographs of this legendary figure.



Selected References


ATF, “Tom Threepersons: Prohibition Agent and Law Enforcement Legend,” Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, 22 September 2016. https://www.atf.gov/our-history/tom-threepersons

Conley, Robert J. “Tom Threepersons,” A Cherokee Encyclopedia. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2007.

Cunningham, Eugene. “Tom Threepersons,” Fawcett’s Triple-X Western Adventure Magazine, vol 7, no. 8 (July 1927)

Dempsey, Hugh A. “Tom Three Persons: legend of an Indian cowboy,” True West, August 1975

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    Six Photographs of Tom Threepersons, Cherokee Lawman