Saul Halyve was a Hopi distance-running champion raised near Grand Junction who exploded onto the athletic scene in the early 1900s. Although Halyve would never compete in an Olympics due to a multitude of factors, his accomplishments match and possibly surpass those of other famous Native American athletes at the time, including the legendary Jim Thorpe. Halyve’s life and accomplishments were not well-documented outside of Colorado during his life, and his legacy is one of success in the face of constant adversity, caused in large part by the US government’s attempts at “civilizing” Native Americans.
Halyve came from the Hopi Reservation, a 3,863-square mile section of Arizona high desert described in 1900 by acting Indian agent Charles Burton as “a veritable arid waste.” To the Hopi, the region was a remnant of the tribe’s tutsqua, ancestral land. A 1900 census counted 1,832 people living in seven mesa-top towns. Halyve’s childhood coincided with a critical period in modern Hopi history. Burton, exhibiting turn-of-the-century federal paternalism, reported in 1900 that “Quite a large percent of the inhabitants of the second, third, and Oraibi mesas are hostile to the schools and the efforts to civilize them.”
The pejorative “hostiles” referred to self-described traditional Hopis who opposed US government efforts to ban tribal ceremonies, including sacred rituals with footraces. Conflicts between so-called “friendlies”—those who accepted government changes—and those who did not culminated in 1906 when traditionalist leader Yokioma left Oraibi and founded the village of Hotevilla. How Halyve and his family felt about the growing conflict remains unclear, though Burton later became superintendent of the Teller Institute and may have brought Halyve and other Hopis with him to Colorado.
Native American Athletics
The Teller Institute, a federally funded off-reservation boarding school for American Indian children, may not have regarded distance running as a way for students to follow in the footsteps of their fathers, but Halyve and his fellow competitors likely did. Some sources indicate that, in general, American Indians participated in boarding school sports for personal reasons that had nothing to do with the federal government’s cultural agenda. Most contemporary policy and opinion makers—politicians, bureaucrats, and newspaper editors—thought of sports as assimilation tools, or extensions of the “civilizing” process. By succeeding in structured athletic activities, they argued, American Indians proved that they could adapt their skills to situations governed by the dominant culture. In short, if Indians could excel in sports, they could prosper in mainstream society.
American Indian athletes had their own reasons for participating, apart from any agenda of Anglo-American politicians and administrators. They did it for fun, to demonstrate athletic prowess, and to earn respect by beating the white man at his own game. Whatever Halyve’s own motivation for running, one reason he excelled is clear: because running had long permeated Hopi life, each stride he took in Grand Junction brought him closer to the traditions of his clan, village, and tutsqua.
First Official Race
Just after 2 pm, May 29, 1909, Saul Halyve joined six other boys and young men at the starting line of the Daily Sentinel Modified Marathon, a ten-mile race in Grand Junction. The Sentinel had promoted it as the “great athletic event of the year.” Four of Halyve’s competitors were fellow students at the Teller Institute. Locals Rex Barber, Paul Burgess, and J. G. Carothers rounded out the field. The Sentinel touted Barber as “the finest young runner in the city,” while mentioning the Hopi Saul Halyve as a “surprise” entrant and possible contender, though few outside of the Teller Institute had heard of him. One hour, four minutes, and thirty-three seconds later, Halyve was well on his way to becoming a city hero and world-class distance runner.
After the starting gun, the 111-pound Halyve sprinted into the lead, causing some fans to question his tactics. The Sentinel reported that “many of the old time athletes who followed in automobiles were of the opinion that the pace was too outrageously fast.” Barber and Burgess, running second and third after a mile, thought so too. When Halyve opened up a 100-yard gap, they let him go. The conditions called for caution; a hard afternoon rain had turned the course to mud. Sloppy roads had little effect on Halyve or on Burgess. Barber did not fare so well. Suffering from a locked jaw and an inability to breathe, the favorite dropped out of the race around mile three. Halyve, followed by tired horses whipped into lather by overzealous mounted fans, lengthened his lead as he ran past the Teller Institute’s dormitories.
In all of its reporting about the race, the Sentinel never commented on the Hopi boy’s background outside of the Teller Institute, except to clarify his tribal affiliation. Instead, Halyve became a poster child for the city, put on display at every opportunity. Somewhere between miles four and six of the Sentinel’s modified marathon, Halyve’s status in Grand Junction changed from “the” Indian to “our” Indian. Turning north past his school’s property, Halyve took advantage of drier road conditions and extended his lead to three-quarters of a mile. The other runners were well out of view when he turned back west toward town. With victory assured, Halyve could have slowed and cruised to the finish line. Instead, he accelerated, posting a seventy-two-second quarter mile during the race’s seventh mile. The remarkable surge indicated that he could likely keep pace with the fastest distance runners of the world.
Spectators cheered as Halyve dashed through the streets, breaking the tape in front of the Sentinel’s offices at a time of one hour, four minutes, and thirty-three seconds. The three other Teller students all finished before Burgess. Halyve had no time to savor his win. That night he caught a train to Denver to compete in the Rocky Mountain Amateur Athletic Union Marathon scheduled for Monday, May 31. Burton and second-place finisher Don Atokuku went with him. Halyve thought that he had fewer than two days to recover, but rains forced officials to postpone the marathon for five days as newspapers hyped the race daily. The papers always referred to Halyve as a representative of Grand Junction, Colorado, or the West. At the same time, Indian regularly accompanied his name in print. These descriptors followed Halyve more closely than his competitors ever did.
First and Second Marathons
As the least-experienced runner in a world-class, invite-only race, Halyve was a dark-horse entry. At the gun, Halyve held second place for the first two miles, but his conservative strategy ended there. Halyve sprinted into the lead in the second lap of the third mile, demoralizing the field by running a race of attrition. Two of the local entries dropped out after eleven miles while Olympian Sidney Hatch quit at the sixteenth mile with stomach problems. Halyve won the race with a time of three hours, one minute, and fifty-three seconds, finishing over a mile ahead of Joseph Forshaw, another Olympian. Halyve’s time was only six minutes slower than the winning time at the previous Olympics, which were held at sea level in London.
After the Denver marathon the Sentinel quickly touted Halyve as a potential Olympian. Though he had won only two races, it was a reasonable notion, as Forshaw compared Halyve to Lewis Tewanima, another Hopi who ran during the 1908 Olympics. Denver held its third marathon in as many months on June 20, 1909. The race boiled down to a battle between Halyve and Joe Erxleben, a runner in the previous marathon. Halyve won thanks to a brutally difficult push late in the twenty-fifth mile that left him 200 yards ahead of Erxleben. Halyve’s second consecutive marathon victory reignited talk of the Olympics, but multiple factors would converge to deny him the Olympic stage.
In 1908 Congress attempted to shut down all off-reservation boarding schools. Although the bill was defeated, it signified a shift in the government’s Indian education policy. While Halyve was busy making a name for himself in 1909, Colorado’s congressional delegation was begging for appropriations to keep the state’s two federal Indian schools open for one more year. Then, the International Olympic Committee cancelled its 1910 off-year games, leaving Halyve with few options for advancing his racing career. There is no evidence that he ever went to college, as the Teller Institute was designed to turn young American Indians into workers, not university freshmen. As an American Indian without property, money, or even citizenship, he probably could not have joined any of the athletic clubs that developed amateur talent, but he was left with one other option—turning pro. On August 19, 1910, the Sentinel announced a twenty-mile race between Halyve and Danish runner William Stanley. He handily beat the Danish distance specialist, but by competing for prize money, Halyve forfeited his amateur status and future Olympic eligibility.
Halyve stayed in the Grand Valley after the Teller Institute closed in 1911 and continued to run local races. Though records are very sparse, an area resident recalled that Halyve married, had four children, and “had a hard time making a living.” Two of the children died in Colorado, and the other two died after Halyve returned to Arizona. Halyve never went to the Olympics and never stood next to a fellow Indian at a medal ceremony, and his name does not grace the pages of any record books. Nonetheless, he remains one of Colorado’s greatest marathon champions.
Adapted from Ben Fogelberg, “Saul Halyve, Forgotten Hopi Marathon Champion,” Colorado Heritage Magazine 26, no. 4 (2006).