By John Powers GLOBE CORRESPONDENT APRIL 13, 2016
When Ellison M. "Tarzan" Brown won the 1939 Boston Marathon, the crowd at the finish line was smaller — and the prize money was nonexistent.
The fact and fable long since have become indistiguishable. Did Tarzan Brown jump into Lake Cochituate in the middle of a Boston Marathon or not? Hardtop historians may disagree, but most of the enduring lore and legend about the man comes with witnesses.
Brown definitely tossed aside his shredded shoes in the 1935 race and ran the final 5 miles barefooted. He undoubtedly ran and won marathons on consecutive days in New York and New Hampshire. And Heartbreak Hill, the course’s most iconic point, was so named after he broke Johnny Kelley’s heart there 80 years ago next week.
There were prominent Native American runners before and after Brown who left their footprints on the world’s most famous road race. “Mohawk Bill” Davis finished second in 1901. Tom Longboat shattered the course record in 1907 when a freight train cut off the leaders from the rest of the field in Framingham. Andrew Sockalexis was runnerup in 1912 and 1913. And Patti Lyons placed second in 1979-81. (With the 120th Boston Marathon set for Monday, Harvard will host a conference this Friday afternoon on Native American running at its Science Center.)