Jim Thorpe was a world class athlete and a member of the Citizen Potawatomi, Sac and Fox, and Kickapoo nations. He was the son of Hiram P. Thorpe, who was Irish and Sac & Fox, and Charlotte Vieux, who was a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation and Kickapoo. He was born on his family’s ranch near present-day Prague, Oklahoma. Thorpe had seven siblings one of which was his twin brother Charlie who died at the age of nine from pneumonia. His mother died on November 17th, 1901 and was buried in the Scared Heart Cemetery. When his twin brother died, he ran twenty-three miles home away from the Sac and Fox Agency School in Stroud, Oklahoma. His father then sent him to what is now known as Haskell Indians Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas. From there he went to Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania where he started his legendary athletic career. Thorpe broke the school’s high jump and became a key member of the Hockey, Lacrosse, Ballroom Dancing, and Football teams.
Amateur Athletic Career:
After attending the Carlisle Indian Industrial School Jim Thorpe went on to the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm, Sweden. There he won the Olympic Gold Medal in the Pentathlon and the Decathlon while setting a world record of 8,412 points out of 10,000 in the Decathlon which would not be broken until 1948. At the age of 25 Thorpe became the first Native American to win gold at the Olympics. At the Olympic Medal Ceremony, he met King Gustav of Sweden who said to him, “Sir, you are the greatest athlete in the world.” To which Thorpe replied, “Thanks King.” However, after the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) discovered he had been paid to play baseball they stripped him of his medals and records even after he wrote a letter to them pleading his case.
Professional Athletic Career:
Jim Thorpe started his professional career one year after his Olympic win in Baseball. In 1913 he signed to play baseball for the New York Giants. He would go on to play for the Cincinnati Reds and the Boston Braves during a six-year career. During some of those years he would play professional football as well, in 1915 he signed with the Canton Bulldogs which went on to be the Unofficial World Champions in 1916, 1917, and 1919. The Canton Bulldogs were one of the fourteen teams that made up the American Professional Football Association (APFA). Which would become the National Football League (NFL) that Thorpe would serve as president during one season. After Playing for the Bulldogs, he organized the Ooragn Indians an all-Native American Football Team which he coached as well as played for from 1922 until 1923. The team’s owner, Walter Lingo, made the team perform racist and stereotypical dances and other “rituals” to entertain the Audiences. After that Thorpe would play in the NFL through 1928 for teams like the Cleveland Indians, Rock Island Independents, New York Giants, and the Chicago Cardinals. Thorpe also played professional Basketball and Hockey for a brief time.
After Retiring from professional sports Thorpe went on to have seventy-one acting credits most of which were uncredited stereotypical Native Americans but one short film “Always Kicking” shows him talking as a Kicking Coach. Along with acting he also several odd jobs to earn money. Thorpe then formed his own casting company with the intention to pressure Hollywood into casting authentic Native Americans. Then he fought the federal government to get back land for his Sac and Fox Tribe. He did this with money he got from public speaking. However, due to alcoholism he was driven to near poverty.
Death and Legacy:
On March 28th, 1953 Jim Thorpe passed away. His family legacy was carried on by his three wives and eight children. Thorpe was then buried in a town he never actually visited but was two hours away from Carlisle, now called Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania. His legacy however was not diminished. In 1963 he was a part of the first class inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In 1982 his records and medals were restored in Olympic record books listing him as Co-Winner of the 1912 games. In 1986 the Jim Thorpe Association was established which created the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame that is now housed in the Jim Thorpe Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The Associated Press named Thorpe as the greatest Athlete and American Football Player of the first half of the 20th century. In 2000 an ABC sports poll ranked him as the Best American Athlete of the Century.
• Olympic Gold Decathlon
• Olympic Gold Pentathlon
• 1911 All American in Football
• 1912 All American in Football
• Olympic World Record in Decathlon, 8,412 points
Daniels, Patricia. “Biography of Jim Thorpe, Native American Athlete and Olympian.” LiveAbout, 2020. https://www.liveabout.com/jim-thorpe-1779819#:~:text=Thorpe%20and%20Iva%20Miller%20married%20in%20October%201913.,the%20Cincinnati%20Reds%20and%20later%20the%20Boston%20Braves.
Editors, Biography.com. “Jim Thorpe.” Biography.com. A&E Networks Television, October 14, 2020. https://www.biography.com/athlete/jim-thorpe.
Encyclopedia, Britannica. “Jim Thorpe.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., 1998. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Jim-Thorpe-American-athlete.
Jim THORPE | Olympics.com
Jim Thorpe Museum (oklahomasportshalloffame.org)
Sacred Heart Cemetery, Pottawatomie County, Oklahoma (okcemeteries.net)