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July 22, 1889|
Vinita, Indian Territory
|Died||April 2, 1969
|Cause of death||Cardiac Arrest and pneumonia|
|Occupation||Gunfighter, lawman, soldier, U.S. Customs inspector, blacksmith, rancher and hunting guide|
|Known for||Inventor of the "Tom Threepersons holster"|
Tom Threepersons (July 22, 1889 – April 2, 1969) was a Cherokee lawman. He is considered to have been one of the last of what were considered gunfighters of the Old West, although his career did not begin until the early 20th century. He invented the "Tom Threepersons holster."
Threepersons was born in Vinita, Indian Territory on July 22, 1889, to John and Bell Threepersons. His family and the family of his friend, Bill White, both moved to the Montana-Alberta border. He attended Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. After returning from school, Threepersons rode the rodeo circuit throughout Oregon, Washington, and Wyoming.
In 1907, his and White's fathers were killed during a fight with cattle rustlers. The suspects were arrested, but released on bond. Threepersons tracked them to a saloon, where he confronted both suspects, and killed them during a shootout. He was arrested for murder, but was acquitted.
Career as a lawman and soldier
He and his friend Bill White reportedly joined the Royal Northwest Mounted Police, and were stationed near Calgary; however, no records show a Threepersons serving in the mounted police. Shortly thereafter the two were assigned to capture a gang of outlaws who had murdered an entire family. Threepersons and White tracked the suspects for five days through heavy snow, toward the Yukon River in Alaska, having to abandon their horses and continue on foot, carrying their weapons and backpacks. On the fifth day, they encountered the gang of three men, and engaged them in a shootout, during which Bill White and one of the outlaws were killed. The other two fled. Threepersons buried White, then continued after the outlaws. Several days later, at a small settlement called End of the Trail, Threepersons located them. Rather than confronting them in the town, he located the cabin where they were staying outside town, and waited for them there. When they arrived, a shootout ensued during which both outlaws were killed.
He moved to Douglas, Arizona around 1914, where he worked as a cowboy. In 1916, he joined the U.S. Army, and served under General Jack Pershing in pursuit of Pancho Villa in Mexico. He was later assigned to Fort Bliss, on the Texas–New Mexico state line. In the 1920 census for El Paso, his profession is listed as blacksmith. While at Fort Bliss, he was injured when kicked in the head by a horse, causing him severe headaches for the rest of his life. He was discharged from the army in 1920.
He worked for two years for the El Paso Police. He was partnered with officer Juan Escontrias, and the two were involved in two shootouts during that time with smugglers, resulting in four suspects being killed, and Threepersons being shot and wounded in the chest during one incident in 1921. On June 10, 1922, Threepersons was appointed as a Federal Probation Agent for El Paso, but he kept the job only a few months, resigning to manage the "Cudahy Ranch" in Durango, Mexico. During his brief employment for the ranch he killed two rustlers during a shootout. He was arrested by Mexican authorities for the shooting, but escaped and returned to the United States.
In July 1923, Threepersons accepted a position as a Mounted Inspector for the U.S. Customs Service. That same year he was run-over by a bootlegger's vehicle during an arrest, which resulted in injuries, none serious. From 1925 he worked for both the El Paso County Sheriffs Office and the El Paso Police Department. Locally, Threepersons was well known for his exploits, and starting in 1925, the S.D. Myres Saddle Co., of El Paso, began advertising the "Tom Threepersons-style holsters". The holster, which included a cutaway top exposing the pistol hammer and trigger guard, became popular and was copied by several other manufacturers.
Threepersons was offered a job in Hollywood, California, in the film industry, reputedly at a salary of $700 per month, which he declined.
Death and legacy
By 1929 Threepersons was suffering severe headaches from his head injury, and he left law enforcement to start a ranch near Gila, New Mexico. In 1933, he traveled to New York City to have corrective surgery for the injury. Following the successful surgery, he moved to Silver City, New Mexico, and spent the rest of his life working as a rancher and hunting guide.
- Conley, Robert J. A Cherokee Encyclopedia. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2007. ISBN 978-0-8263-3951-5.