A Surprising Foot Race

Many community celebrations and smaller gatherings in early Nebraska included foot racing. The popularity of foot racing as a competitive sport is revealed by a photograph from the John Nelson collection at the Nebraska State Historical Society depicting men racing barefoot on a muddy road. Taken about 1907-17, the picture includes numerous onlookers. Such contests between local runners or between locals and outsiders (sometimes with shady reputations) once attracted much attention, with considerable sums wagered on the outcomes.

The Nebraska State Journal (Lincoln) on September 23, 1890, reported one such “sprinting match” that ended in a surprise victory for a local contender: “A typical foot race occurred yesterday afternoon at the fair grounds in the presence of about a hundred ‘dead game sports.’ The contestants were F. J. Brezee, a local sprinter of some repute and a taxidermist by profession, and an unknown.

“Local sports who are posted and claim to know say that the ‘unknown’ is not entirely unknown, but has a national reputation as a champion, being none other than the famous Harry Bethune of San Francisco. This and the fact that the champion lost the race on very moderate time, leads local sports to the conviction that it was a ‘typical’ foot-race, such a thing as an honest sprinting match being practically unknown in modern sporting annals.

“For several days Lozier, the well known Council Bluffs foot runner, has been hibernating in Lincoln for some purpose not fathomed. Suddenly the unknown dropped in upon the scene of action and with him came a sportive and well-heeled gentleman from Seward whose name was not learned. He is somewhat lame and is reputed to be connected with a Seward bank. He came along as the backer of the unknown. Unless the opinion of local sports is at fault, he is the victim of misplaced confidence.

“A race was made with Brezee, who was formerly from Council Bluffs. It was a seventy-five yards dash for $125 a side. There was some betting on the side. Much to the surprise of those who claim to know the unknown to be Bethune, the local champion came in about two feet ahead and the Seward backer is reported to be out about $600 in consequence.

“If the unknown is Harry Bethune the race was undoubtedly thrown as the time made was considerably above eight seconds. However, Lozier contends that the unknown is not Harry Bethune, but very curiously fails to remember who he is. Suckers are warned to roost high while Lozier and the unknown are in sight. Whether or not Brezee was on [in] the deal is not apparent. He may be congratulating himself on having thrown dust in the eyes of an honest but misguided contestant.”

An interesting footnote to the incident is that Lozier, who already had a shady reputation in 1890, in January of 1894, narrowly escaped a lynch mob in Council Bluffs, where he had been imprisoned in the Pottawattamie County Jail for an alleged criminal assault.

Become a Member!

Our members make history happen.

Join Now

Other Publications

The Bachelors’ Protective Union of Kearney

When the Bachelors' Protective Union gave a gala reception for two of its newly married, former members and their brides in March of 1890, the social club for young, ...

U.S. Weather Bureau in 1890s Nebraska

The U.S. Weather Bureau was established by an act of Congress on October 1, 1890. It took over the weather service that had been established in the office of the Chief ...

Canning the Way to Victory

During American participation in World War I the U.S. Food Administration, under the direction of Herbert Hoover, launched a massive campaign to persuade Americans to ...

The Shoemaker’s Ashes

"Edward Kuehl, one of the most peculiar characters that ever lived in Omaha, or anywhere else, was found dead in his bed last night in the back room of his place of ...

Crazy Horse Surrender Ledger Foreward

Red Dog, an Oglala Lakota who lived at the Red Cloud Agency, Nebraska, 1876-77 (Nebraska State Historical Society   In the summer of 1876, following the ...

Darryl F. Zanuck

Darryl F. Zanuck Darryl F. Zanuck (1902-1979), a native Nebraskan, produced some of Hollywood's most important and controversial films. He helped found 20th Century Fox ...

The Burlington’s Profitable Pork Special

Nebraska railroads were much concerned with developing an adequate economy in the areas they served. The Burlington, for example, had a long history of caring for the ...

Bungalow Filling Stations

After the giant Standard Oil Company was broken into thirty-four separate companies in 1911, the newly independent Standard Oil of Nebraska dominated the state's market ...

The Bull Fight

This is the perfect time of year for a visit to the old fishin' hole. But a group of fisherfolk from Plainview discovered that this bucolic pastime sometimes has ...

Buffalo Soldiers West

African-American soldiers on the western frontier are the focus of an exhibit at the Nebraska History Museum in Lincoln. Buffalo Soldiers West, on loan from the Colorado ...

Protection for Buffalo

The extermination of the buffalo on the Plains occurred largely between 1870 and 1885. The Nebraska State Journal of Lincoln on February 1, 1874, editorialized in vain ...

Buffalo Hunting

In late October 1877 young Rolf Johnson and three friends left their homes in Phelps County, Nebraska, for a buffalo hunt in northeastern Colorado. The hunt was not very ...
About History Nebraska
History Nebraska was founded in 1878 as the Nebraska State Historical Society by citizens who recognized Nebraska was going through great changes and they sought to record the stories of both indigenous and immigrant peoples. It was designated a state institution and began receiving funds from the legislature in 1883. Legislation in 1994 changed History Nebraska from a state institution to a state agency. The division is headed by Interim Director and CEO Jill Dolberg. They are assisted by an administrative staff responsible for financial and personnel functions, museum store services, security, and facilities maintenance for History Nebraska.
Explore Nebraska
Discover the real places and people of our past at these History Nebraska sites.

Upcoming Events

View our new and upcoming events to see how you can get involved.

Become a Member

The work we do to discover, preserve, and share Nebraska's history wouldn't be possible without the support of History Nebraska members.

History Nebraska Education

Learn more about the educational programs provided at our museums, sites, and online.

History Nebraska Programs

Learn more about the programs associated with History Nebraska.

Latest Hall of Fame Inductee

The Nebraska Hall of Fame was established in 1961 to officially recognize prominent Nebraskans.

Listen to our Podcast

Listen to the articles and authors published in the Nebraska History Magazine with our new Nebraska History Podcast!

Nebraska Collections

History Nebraska's mission is to collect, preserve, and open our shared history to all Nebraskans.

Our YouTube Video Collection

Get a closer look at Nebraska's history through your own eyes, with our extensive video collections.

Additional Research Resources

History Nebraska Research and Reference Services help connect you to the material we collect and preserve.

Support History Nebraska
Make a cash donation to help us acquire, preserve, and interpret Nebraska’s history. Gifts to History Nebraska help leave a legacy and may help your taxes, too! Support the work of History Nebraska by donating to the History Nebraska Foundation today.

Volunteers are the heroes of History Nebraska. So much history, so little time! Your work helps us share access to Nebraska’s stories at our museums and sites, the reference room, and online.