GRANTS PASS – The historic “Redwood Empire Indian Marathon,” which occurred in 1927, will be honored with an official marker in downtown Grants Pass at the site of the marathon finish line. The marker is scheduled to be dedicated at a ceremony 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, July 21.
Chairman of the Karuk Tribal Council Russell Attebery and other members of the tribe will be present for the dedication, along with local dignitaries and members of a reenactment of the marathon that occurred in 1987.
“We believe that an attractive historical marker such as they are proposing would be an attractive and appropriate addition to our historic district,” said Ward Warren, chair of the city’s Historical Buildings and Sites Commission.
The purpose of the original marathon was to promote the route through the Redwood Empire, a newly-paved highway at the time, beginning in San Francisco and ending in Grants Pass. The event was an actual foot race between 11 Native American participants. The route traversed each of the towns and cities along the 480-mile Redwood Empire route. The finish line was at Sixth and G streets in downtown Grants Pass.
Participants had to run or walk they entire distance but could stop for rest or sleep as they wished. Each participant was allowed a support car. John Wesley Southard was the first to cross the finish line June 21, 1927, with a time of seven days, 12 hours and 34 minutes.
The marker will be constructed with funds obtained by the Umpqua Joe Chapter of the E. Clampus Vitus historical society through a grant from the Four Way Foundation.
To commemorate the 60th anniversary of the marathon in 1987, Grants Pass High School cross country and track coach Wayne Morrow led five other GPHS alums in a reenactment of the marathon. When they crossed the finish line in Grants Pass, the 83-year-old Southard was there to congratulate them.
There has also been discussion of re-staging the marathon to commemorate its 100th anniversary in June 2027. Warren reports that the Oregon Department of Transportation has expressed interest in assisting in the development and facilitation of an appropriate route if a commemorative run finds community support.
“The HBSC believes that this event was significant to the development of tourism along the Redwood Empire route and carries with it a historical event of great interest,” said Warren.