by Levi Rickert, editor-in-chief in Native Challenges. Discussion »
ARLINGTON, TEXAS - Eighty-two year old, William Thorpe has many fond memories of his father - the legendary “World’s Greatest Athlete” Jim Thorpe.
“He took me and my brothers hunting and taught us how to track - the Indian way,”
recalls Thorpe (Sac & Fox/Potawatomi).
William Thorpe - Sac & Fox
Thorpe recalls going coon (raccoon) hunting with his father and getting tired late into the night. Thorpe chuckles as he tells the story, “I would get so tired - maybe about one in the morning - and my dad would say: 'The car is that way' and he would keep on hunting. My dad was quite a character. He was a jokester.”
William Thorpe is one of two of Jim Thorpe’s eight children who are still alive. His brother, Richard, lives in Waurika, Oklahoma. William Thorpe retired after working 26 years for Vought Aircraft Industries of Grand Prairie, Texas.
William and Richard Thorpe recently joined a federal lawsuit to have their father’s remains returned to tribal land on the Sac & Fox Nation in Oklahoma for a proper burial. They joined the lawsuit after the unexpected death on February 22, 2011 of their brother, John (Jack) Thorpe.
“We were backing him all the way,” said William Thorpe to the Native News Network from his home in Arlington, Texas. “Jack was the one always out in front. He even served as tribal chairman. We let him do a lot of this type of work.”
“This is not about publicity for the Thorpe family,”
commented Stephen R. Ward, an attorney at Conner & Winters of Tulsa, Oklahoma, who is serving as legal counsel for the Sac & Fox Nation, which also joined the lawsuit. “These are very sincere men. They were adults when their father died. They know the particulars of his death and the burial. They protested what happened back then.”
William remembers vividly the circumstances by which he and his brothers lost control of Jim Thorpe’s casket. He tells the story of how after his father died in California in 1953, his body was brought back to his home state for burial. Jim Thorpe was to be buried near where he grew up near Shawnee, Oklahoma.
The funeral events was going well. His father was given a Catholic funeral and then turned over to the traditionalists who were performing a burial ceremony when Jim Thorpe’s third wife, Patricia “Pasty” Thorpe - a non-Native - shows up during dinner hour with police officers who had a court order to turn the casket over to them. Even though they protested, they had little recourse then, and watched in disbelief and hurt as their father’s casket was taken away.
Jim Thorpe married Patsy, after she looked him up in his later years. “They reportedly had one date when my dad attended Carlisle and never forgotten him. Of course, he became famous,” commented William Thorpe. “She had no likings for Indians,” according to Thorpe.
After gaining the legal control of the body, Pasty Thorpe then literally “shopped” her husband’s body to various towns and cities in Pennsylvania, including Philadelphia, to be buried. At the time, she was allegedly looking for a town that would agree to memorialize her deceased husband.
Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania
During 1954, she found two towns that were merging: Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk, Pennsylvania that were willing to name the newly created town, Jim Thorpe and build a monument in his honor. She allowed her deceased husband to be buried there. The town has attempted to build a legacy around the great athletes name ever since - even though he never visited there.
In June 2010, Jack Thorpe filed a federal lawsuit to have his father’s remains back to Oklahoma for a proper burial. The basis of his lawsuit was the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990 that allows American Indian descendants to determine and have control over their ancestral human remains.
In early February of this year, Federal District Judge A. Richard Caputo ruled partly in Jack Thorpe’s favor. He was, however, informed his lawsuit could continue if he were to get his two brothers and the Sac & Fox Nation to join the suit. Jack Thorpe died just over two weeks later after his partial court victory.
Earlier this month, on May 2, his two brothers and the tribe joined the lawsuit.
“The way they took his body, there is no way his spirit can be at rest,”
said a determined William Thorpe about his father. “We are thrilled the tribe is involved and we want my father to be given a proper burial.”
“This is about correcting a long-standing injustice,”
posted May 20, 2011 7:19 am et
revised May 24, 2011 9:11 am et
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Rightful Indian burial
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I know what you been through and feel bad that your dad didn't get his rightful Indian burial. Non natives don't understand that we have our traditions...
Resident, Jim Thorpe, PA
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As a resident, born and raised in Jim Thorpe, I have mixed emotions about this issue. On one hand, I can appreciate the families desire to have their...
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