Tom Threepersons Holsters

Tom Threepersons Holster

A classic Tom Threepersons holster with a traditionally tooled border, circa 1880

classic gunfighter holsters  hand made by the last best west

The Tom Threepersons Story

                                                      – by Longfellow, June, 2017

If you are unfamiliar with the Tom Threepersons story, it is one of the most confusing and convoluted in the history of the old west. Also one of the most fascinating. Because there were two Tom Three Persons who made their names in the North American west in the decades following the turn of the 20th century. One was a Blood/Blackfoot Indian, Tom Three Persons, born in Standoff, Alberta, Canada, in August 1888. And the other was a Cherokee Indian, Tom Threepersons, born in the Oklahoma Territory, USA, on July 22 1889.

Although the two men spell their names differently, the confusion comes when “Cherokee” Tom, his family, and the family of his friend Bill White move into the Calgary area sometime after 1900.  This closeness to each other helped the lines of history to blur, and some historians have even combined the 2 men into one larger than life personality. During their lives their exploits seemed to overlap and neither man seemed inclined to set the record straight. Or people just didn’t listen. . .even today their pictures are misidentified all over the Internet.

Tom Three Persons

Tom Three Persons, the legendary Canadian rodeo cowboy and Blood/Blackfoot Indian, on his iconic ride at the Calgary Stampede in 1912. Notice that this is truly a bareback ride: No halter, no belly straps. Tom is holding on with both hands to Cyclones’ mane, and jamming his spurs between the horses shoulder blades. Guy Weadick would later say that this spur technique of Three Persons was the key to his winning ride.

“Blackfoot” Tom Three Persons

“Blackfoot” Tom became a stand out rodeo/bronc rider and would win the very first Calgary Stampede in 1912. Amongst his winnings was the only trophy saddle ever awarded by the Stampede.

Canadian Tom Three Persons

Canadian Tom Three Persons

In his later years he became the first Blood native to introduce grain farming to the reservation, and even more importantly became one of the largest ranchers of Hereford cattle in Alberta.

Far left shows Tom in the midst of his winning ride on Cyclone, one of the greatest bucking horses in rodeo history. According to rodeo lore, Cyclone had never been ridden, and had bucked off over 130 cowboys! In those early days of rodeo there were no points for form, and no 8 second rule. The cowboy held on for as long as he could, any way he could, and who ever stayed on the longest was the winner.

On the day Tom Three Persons went down in rodeo history, he rode (“the bronc that couldn’t be rode by 133 men“) Cyclone to a standstill to win first prize and the claim of being the “World’s Champion Bronco Buster”. And Tom’s big day in September 1912 may never have happened, if not for the intervention of legendary cowboy promoter, Guy Weadick. Tom had made a name for himself on the rodeo circuit in western Canada and was one of it’s stars, but on the morning of the Bronc Busting finals, Tom was not to be found. Weadick knew Tom was fond of the ladies, and whiskey, so he checked the jail and found Tom and bailed him out. By the end of the day they would both end up riding into rodeo history.

“Cherokee” Tom Threepersons

Prohibition Officer, Tom Threepersons

Prohibition Officer, Tom Threepersons with the tools of his trade

Tom Threepersons

Many people say that Cherokee Tom was the last of the wild west’s great lawmen gunfighters.

Tom Threepersons was known as the “shoot first, ask questions later” peace officer who was in all likelihood the last, great, gunfighter lawman.

Tom was born in the Oklahoma Indian Territory in 1889, in the middle of the Old West, and lived a rough and tumble life. There are some missing years in his personal history, but the high points are mostly known.

In 1907 when Tom was eighteen his father and his best friend’s father, Bill White, were murdered by cattle rustlers along the Montana-Alberta border. The murderers were caught and then let go, for one reason or another, which set Tom Threepersons off on his life’s work. Barely a man, he fearlessly trailed the outlaws to a saloon and then quietly snuck in the back door, surprising the murderers. When the men went for their guns, Threepersons shot them both dead. He stood trial and was acquitted by a jury just minutes after deliberating, determining it was justified homicide.

There are gaps in the record for the next several years with many sources saying Tom served as a Royal Northwest Mounted Policeman, but there are no official records of his service. Considering the number of scraps and shootouts he’s said to have participated in as a Mountie, my guess is Tom was likely a civilian Scout for the Mounted Police. That might explain why there is no official record of his service.

At this time stories place Tom 50 miles from Calgary. Well exactly 50 miles from Calgary is one of the most famous ranches in all of the old west, The Bar U Ranch. Tom was a skilled cowboy (not quite at the level of “Blackfoot” Tom, but skilled regardless) and it isn’t a stretch to think he may very well have been working as a buckaroo at the Bar U and serving as a civilian scout when the Mounties asked.

What we do know for sure is that Tom was in Douglas, Arizona in February 1916.  He was working as a cowboy in the area, and riding in rodeos, when Black Jack Pershing organized his 5000 man force to enter Mexico and capture Mexican revolutionary, Pancho Villa. Threepersons joined the force as a civilian scout (sound familiar?) and had many scraps during this time with the “Villistas“. He would later be assigned to Fort Bliss, Arizona, where his duty was to break remount horses for the army during World War I. Tom continued breaking broncs for the army until about 1920. It was during this time that he was kicked in the head by a horse, which caused him severe headaches the rest of his life. Tom is well known for wearing a high crowned cowboy hat , and he did this to protect his head.

Border Town

El Paso Texas border town

In 1919 the US Congress passed the Volstead Act which outlawed alcohol, and set the stage for Tom Threepersons’ decade of service in the El Paso, Texas Sheriffs, and Police Departments, and several years of service fighting bootlegging along the Mexican border for the US Prohibition Service. El Paso is a border town and during the 1920s it may have been the most murderous town in North America.

It was said that at one point there were 236 straight nights of gunfights in El Paso, and the agents of the Prohibition Service and other lawmen were involved in most of them. These Agents of the 1920s who fought the war on booze were legends in their own time.  They employed a Frontier creed and mentality to the way they enforced the Prohibition Act that was necessary to fight the viciousness of the Mexican contrabandistas (Mexican smugglers).

It was known that Tom Threepersons was a shoot first, ask questions later type of lawman and he was so feared by outlaws that there are stories of men giving themselves up once they heard Threepersons was put on their trail. Are they true? May very well be. Tom was often described as completely fearless, and that he came on like three persons in a fight. During his years as a law enforcement officer, he was shot 5 times and, at the height of Prohibition, had a 10,000 dollar reward offered for his murder by bootleggers.

In his later years he gave a newspaper interview, in which he said, “I never had no desire to be placed in a class with Wild Bill Hickok, Billy the Kid, or any of the so-called Western bad men. My desire was, and still is, to be classed as a respectable officer of the law and its enforcement.”

The Tom Threepersons holster  – the first quick draw holster

Ford Model T

Ford Model T

In the early 1920s all levels of law enforcement were transitioning to automobiles, like the Ford Model T, to keep up with the criminals and outlaws they chased. Holsters that worked fine on horseback were neither comfortable nor was it easy to acquire your pistol in the tight confines of an automobile seat. This sent Tom on his redesign of the belt holster, to make it better for a fast draw and for wearing and accessing in an automobile. Another advantage to the belt holster was it was easily concealed beneath a coat.

He took his ideas to Sam Myers, an El Paso saddle maker, and Tom soon had a new holster made to his specifications. The holster became an instant success with his fellow El Paso officers, and within a few years Myers was advertising a “Threepersons, quick-draw holster” in their leather catalog.

Toms re-design of the belt holster cut around the trigger guard, exposing it completely, along with most of the top of the cylinder and all of the hammer. He tilted the holster backwards to put more of the butt of the pistol forward as well as placing it above the waist line while seated in an automobile, making the grip easy to grab quickly. The Threepersons holster design became the basis for the standard FBI holster, and indeed became known as the “FBI Tilt”

Most of today’s holster makers owe a nod of thanks to Tom Threepersons for the first innovative approach to gun leather design. And like most innovations it happened because of a need to adapt. The need was for a gun fighter to adapt to a new mode of transportation, and still keep the ability to draw fast on the bad men he chased. Tom Threepersons truly was the last of the great gun fighting old west lawmen.

We are excited to introduce a complete line of Tom Threepersons Holsters.

Modern 1911 Leather Holster