Highlighting a Pawnee Tribe member and Nebraskan that impacted early roller skating
*We recognize that many indigenous peoples have been displaced throughout the United States and we encourage our readers to join us in recognizing the history of the Pawnee tribe, especially in relation to the land we currently live on and benefit from. As citizens of Nebraska, the Museum Staff acknowledges that the land we reside on is the homeland of the Pawnee, Arapaho, Cheyenne, Kansas, Lakota, Dakota, Missouria, Omaha, Otoe, Pawnee, and Ponca tribes.
Fred “Bright Star” Murree was a major figure in early roller skating and one of the fastest roller skaters of his time. He was a member of the Pawnee tribe and was born outside of Omaha, Nebraska. Murree’s skating was heavily influenced by his Indigenous heritage. He often wore Pawnee garments and many of his routines related to his culture and experiences regarding the Pawnee Tribe. He knew how to entrance audiences with his raw talent as a speed skater and his flow and style as a trick skater. In a Letter from Marjorie McLauchlen, May 2, 1988, she described Murree as “very proud, very small in stature, but big in appearance.”
Murree grew up during the 1860s in the midst of the Civil War. Many conflicts affected Native Territory and Indigenous Americans were displaced, injured, and killed as a result of the Civil War. The Pawnee Tribe and many Native Tribes were forced into relocation (Pollard). In his reminiscences, published in the 1937-38 Yearbook of the Arena Gardens Roller Skating Club of Detroit Michigan Murree said, “If you recall your history of 1861, the government herded all the different tribes of Indians and tried to get them all on one reservation in Oklahoma. My dad knew that country very well and did not like it or the idea. Therefore, instead of going to Oklahoma, we drove east to Massachusetts.”
Murree's family arrived in Boston, Massachusetts with nothing more than a few personal belongings and three ponies that they would immediately sell for a place to live and minimal furniture. As an Indigenous person in a largely white community, Murree was bullied for his race and his late entry into the American school system throughout his time in Boston. However, he was able to find a job changing skates at the Institute Rink with one of his classmates. (1937-38 Yearbook of the Arena Gardens Roller Skating Club of Detroit Michigan)
After working there for many months, Murree participated in a five-mile race put on by the rink. A set of skates was made for him and he won the race, setting the record for fastest in a five-mile race at the time. After seeing his performance, Mr. Frank Clayton promised Murree a contract. Even though Murree won 284 five-mile races under his contract, Clayton never paid Murree and largely overworked him. (1937-38 Yearbook of the Arena Gardens Roller Skating Club of Detroit Michigan)
During this time, roller skating grew in popularity. Many major cities had their own roller rinks and Murree ran away from Clayton at the age of 21 but then returned to his management after he was promised $100 a week and all expenses paid. Murree was winning about 50% of his races, but just as he was making it roller skating fell out of popularity. So, Murree toured Europe and South America where skating was still popularized. He also shifted his focus from speed skating to trick skating. Murray participated in vaudeville but he emphasized the importance of maintaining roller skating as a sport. Eventually, he returned to the United States and finished out his career there. Murree continued to skate until the late 1940s. He died on March 6, 1950. (1937-38 Yearbook of the Arena Gardens Roller Skating Club of Detroit Michigan)
Fred “Bright Star” Murree impacted early roller skating by being one of the most talented skaters at the time and introducing Pawnee culture to people around the world via the sport. The National Museum of Roller Skating is proud to highlight Murree’s as a Nebraskan and roller skater via our blog and a physical exhibit dedicated to him. The museum is open from 12 p.m. - 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. Please consider donating so we can expand exhibits like these and continue to highlight impactful members of the roller skating community.
Anne P Diffendal, ed., “Fred ‘Bright Star’ Murree: Pawnee Roller Skater,” Nebraska History 70 (1989): 158-163
Pollard, Bryan. “How the US Civil War Divided Indian Nations - HISTORY.” HISTORY, https://www.history.com/news/civil-war-native-american-indian-territory-cherokee-home-guard. Accessed 6 May 2022.