A member of the Snipe Clan of the Seneca Indians, Lewis Bennett showed extraordinary capacities as a long-distance runner in his youth. In fact, on the Cattaraugus Reservation in New York State, where he perfected his skills under his nation's traditional system of physical training, his speed and endurance gave rise to the legend that a horse had died of exhaustion after being outpaced by him for some thirty or forty miles. By the mid-1850s, Bennett was running professionally, and in 1861 he went to England to compete with the best runners in the British Isles. He lost his first contest there, but was soon winning on a regular basis and finding himself lionized in sporting circles. In the spring of 1863, his times for ten-to twelve-mile runs set new records that lasted well into the twentieth century. This photograph was taken in England at the height of Bennetts' fame there. As this picture indicates, Bennett reveled in reminding his English fans of his Indian origins, and he ran his races clad in wolf skin and a feathered headband. He is buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery, Buffalo, NY next to the grave of the Seneca orator Red Jacket. For generations, Native Americans have taken pride in running and in being fleet of feet. The Song of Hiawatha, attributed to the 19th century American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, described these traits:
Out of childhood into manhood,
Now had grown my Hiawatha,
Skilled in the craft of hunters,
Learned in all the lore of old men.
In all youthful sports and pastimes,
In all manly arts and labors,
Swift of foot was Hiawatha.
He could shoot an arrow from him,
And run forward with such fleetness,