50 years after the U.S. Cavalry drove the last hostile Indians out of the Panhandle
an Indian from New York made page-one news in Pampa
and across the nation.
His name was James Garfield Brown, but he
was much better known simply as “Indian Jim.” Born in the 1880s (the exact date
has not been determined) on the Oneida Reservation in central New York State,
Jim stood six-feet-one and weighed 180 pounds. Educated at the Carlisle Indian
School in Pennsylviania and Ontario Agricultural College, he had been a standout
football player – strong and fast. Incredibly fast.
Like Jim Thorp, Brown
could have become a professional athelete, but that didn’t pay much in those days.
Instead, he turned to the building trades, eventually specializing in laying paving
bricks. With a muscle memory that must have been off the charts, he evolved into
a human brick-laying machine who began attracting attention whereever he went.
Oil is what
brought him to the High Plains. The petroleum boom that started in Hutchinson
County and led to the development of the new town of Borger
quickly spread 28 miles southeast to Pampa,
which had started when the Santa Fe Railroad came through the Panhandle
in 1888. By the spring of 1927, the Gray County seat, fueled by the burgeoning
Panhandle oil industry, was transforming
itself from town to city. And that meant paved streets.
Fly As ‘Indian Jim’ Brown Loafs With 33,000,” the Pampa Daily News noted on April
29, 1927 as the city’s streets were being paved with heavy red bricks shipped
in by rail from Kansas and Mineral
Wells in Texas. According to the front-page story,
Brown “placed more than 33,000 brciks in less than 8 hours and did not seem to
be hurrying. Twelve men could not keep him supplied with bricks.”
engineer A.H. Doucette timed the Indian, finding he averaged placing three bricks
per second. If he kept that up for eight hours, the engineer calculated, the total
would be 80,000 bricks. That pace would break Brown’s own world record set on
a job in Olathe, Kansas when on September 12, 1926 he put down 64,644 paving bricks
in 7 hours and 48 minutes.
to that spring, now-bustling Pampa
had not had a single paved street. But on March 3, the Wichita Falls-based Stuckey
Construction Co. began a project to get Pampa
“out of the mud.” By that November, 24.5 city blocks extending along 11 streets
had been paved with bricks, the bulk of the work accomplished by one man – “Indian
the Pampa Daily News came out with a special “Paving Edition” on Nov. 13, it ran
a photograph of a big-hatted Brown in a typical pose setting three-inch bricks
in wet concrete. “‘Indian Jim’ Brown, world’s champion bricklayer, quickly and
efficiently covered the concrete base on Pampa’s wide streets. He was very intersting
to watch,” the caption read.
who was Indian Jim?
years later, newspapers around the nation carried a Ripley’s “Belive It Or Not”
cartoon featuring a drawing of Brown noting that “Indian Jim Brown – full blooded
Oneida Indian – lays 58,000 payving bricks a day – 207 tons…This is his daily
average. He challenges any man.”
Despite all the publicity he garnered,
perhaps because he was a Native American, newspapers did not dig particularly
deep into his background. When he went to work for Stuckey is not known. Neither
does there seem to be any information on whether he had a family, though there
is some indication that he suffered from alcoholism.
What is known is
that by the time he came to Pampa,
Brown had been laying bricks for at least six years. In the summer of 1921, research
shows he had helped pave the streets of Goodland, Kans.
There, with six
men using metal tongs constantly bringing him bricks (which weighed nine pounds
each,) Brown could lay 125-150 bricks a minute. He did the work leaning over from
a standing position. Wearing leather pads to protect his hands, he placed bricks
ambidextoursly at a pace of two to three bricks a second.
“His back seemed
never to tire as he stooped over the smooth sand cushion and dropped bricks with
mononous regularity,” one newspaper observed.
Brown left Pampa
after laying nearly a million bricks. More than 80 years later, many of them are
is what finally proved faster than “Indian Jim.” By the early 1930s, though brick
paving had been the industry standard since the turn of the century, concrete
had proven to be less labor-intensive, easier to spread and cheaper.
the time the drawing of Brown appeared in Ripley’s “Believe It Or Not,” the use
of brick paving was well past its prime. And so was Brown, his body doubtless
beginning to show signs of wear after working – and drinking -- as hard as he
What became of him is not known. The Oct. 1, 1953 edition of the
Ukiah, CA News notes that on Sunday, Sept. 27, “Rev. DeFord took an aged Indian,
Jim Brown, to the hospital.” Whether that was the former champion brick layer
is not known, but an online search of thousands of digitized newspapers reveals
no further mention of “Indian Jim.”
Cox - February
13, 2012 column
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