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Jim Thorpe: World's Greatest Athlete
Publisher: University of Oklahoma Press | ISBN: 0806117451 | edition 1981 | File type: PDF | 320 pages | 2,8 mb
On February 8, 1982, my wife, Dr. Florence Ridlon, and I founded the Jim Thorpe Foundation dedicated to the restoration of the Olympic awards of Jim Thorpe and the education of the public about his accomplishments. What had previously been a labor of love over a fifteen-year period then became a full-time occupation for both of us. With a projected 2 1/2 billion viewers slated to watch the Los Angeles Olympic Games in 1984, the timing was perfect to launch an all-out, albeit last-ditch, effort to restore the Olympic honors and, indeed, the integrity of the American Indian Jim Thorpe.
During my research for this book I was able to document three pieces of evidence that were crucial to Jim Thorpe's case. First, it was the Amateur Athletic Union, not the International Olympic Committee, as many believed, that stripped Jim of his medals. The AAU restored his amateur standing in 1973, thus making it reasonable for the IOC to follow suit and save face at the same time. Second, in 1913, Jim Thorpe was a ward of the United States government. Despite his status he was not provided with a lawyer to defend him against the charges leveled by the AAU. Third, Joe Libby, Jim's teammate at Carlisle Indian School confirmed that he, Jim, and Jesse Youngdeer were sent to Rocky Mount, North Carolina, to play summer baseball by the Carlisle coach, Glenn S. (Pop) Warner.
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Tells the life story of athlete Jim Thorpe, star of the 1912 Olympic Games and member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Written in graphic-novel format.
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Tells the life story of athlete Jim Thorpe, star of the 1912 Olympic Games and member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Written in graphic-novel format.Jennifer Fandel
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Time to Remember
PROFILE: JIM THORPE, 1888-1953
Triumphs and turmoil mark great athlete's life
by Whit Canning, Fort Worth Star-Telegram
" Sir, you are the greatest athlete in the world." - King Gustav V of Sweden.
"Thanks, King." - Jim Thorpe
When the above exchange took place on an Olympic stage at Stockholm in 1912 it was perhaps more notable for its cultural irony than a celebration of athletic excellence.
The laconic youth conversing with a European monarch was a Sac and Fox Indian, born to modest circumstances on a farm near Prague, Okla. on May 28, 1888.
His birth preceded by 12 years the advent of "The American Century" - and came two years before the slaughter at Wounded Knee in South Dakota ended, forever, the native American dream of independence.
Yet, before a generation had passed, Jim Thorpe was the idol of a nation fast becoming obsessed with sports and sports heroes.
Thorpe's achievements during the second decade of the 1900's make him perhaps the greatest all-around athlete of the century.
A storied football All -American on Glenn "Pop" Warner's teams at the Carlisle Indian School and a double gold medal winner in the 1912 (Olympics, Thorpe - who later played baseball for the New York Giants and became a founder of the NFL - was indeed an American hero.
"He had an exceptional life," said Bill Thorpe, 70, a retired aircraft worker living in Arlington, Texas, and one of four children from Thorpe's second marriage. "I think that, because of his great athletic achievements, he never personally suffered any discrimination from being an Indian. And because I was his son, neither did I."
In 1950, three years before his death of a heart attack, Thorpe was voted the greatest American athlete of the century's first 50 years in -a poll of sports editors conducted by the Associated Press. Babe Ruth finished second.
Grace Thorpe figures the result should be the same for the century as a whole. The youngest of four children from Thorpe's first marriage, she has drafted a petition and resolution presenting her father's case as the greatest athlete of the century.
"I think I have pretty good evidence," said Thorpe, 77, who lives in Prague, near where her father grew up. "Name somebody else who played Major League Baseball and professional football and won two gold medals in the Olympics.
"Go up to the Pro Football Hall of fame in Canton, and the first thing you see when you walk in is a statue of my father - like he's coming right at you." Thorpe's life, however, was hardly a grand procession of triumphs.
The son of Hiram and Charlotte Thorpe, his Indian - name Wa-Tho-Huk - meant "Bright Path," and in the beginning, Thorpe had a great friend and playmate; a twin brother, Charlie. They were inseparable, and the first great blow of Thorpe's life came at age 9 when CharIie dies of pneumonia.
"He told me once that he thought some of that tremendous energy he had might have rightfully belonged to his brother," Grace Thorpe said. "He felt he had somehow taken it away from Charlie, and it haunted him."
As a teen-ager, he lost both of his parents and eventually was sent to the great Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pa.
"The Indian schools of that day were the brainchild of Richard Henry Patt," Grace said. "He was army lieutenant back in the 1870s who captured a large number of Apaches and was amazed at how quickly they picked up the English language.
"He eventually founded Carlisle, and the idea was to create a comfortable atmosphere for assimilating the native peoples into the white culture .The schools were remarkably successful in their purpose, but they also totally destroyed the family."
At Carlisle, Thorpe found a mentor in Warner, a future bride in class-mate Iva Miller and great fame as America's premier athlete
Warner's Carlisle teams were among the most amazing in history: famed far annually taking on a gauntlet of Eastern powers - then the cream of collegiate football - and defeating all but one or two per year. 'Their triumphs were legendary; a 1911 victory over mighty Harvard and a 27-6 victory in 1912 army team featuring halfback Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Extremely swift and noted for a running style that sometimes knocked opposing tacklers cold, Thorpe was an All-American in 1911 and 1912 when he scored 25 touchdowns and 198 points.
In between those two seasons, he represented his country in the Summer Olympics. Traveling with him was Carlisle teammate Louis Tewanima, a distance runner so formidable he once won a 2-mile race after running the 18 miles to Harrisburg, Pa. for the event.
But it was Thorpe who excelled in Stockholm, winning the Games most grueling events - the pentathlon and decathlon. To win the two medals that would soon be taken from him, Thorpe had to compete in 15 events - five in the pentathlon (broad jump, javelin, discus, 200 meters and 1,500 meters) and 10 in the decathlon (100 meters, broad jump, high jump, shot put, 400 meters, 110-meter hurdles, discus, javelin, pole vault and 1,500 meters).
Thorpe accumulated enough points - including 8,412.96 points in the decathlon, then a world record - to win, two golds and the admiration of a king.
In the years after his departure from Carlisle, Thorpe played six major league seasons - mostly with John McGraw's Giants - and 15 years of pro football with the Canton Bulldogs, Oorang Indians, Chicago Cardinals and others. He was the first president of the league that eventually became the NFL. Two marriages dissolved, and he filled his later years with work in Hollywood and speaking engagements.
Bill Thorpe remembers his father as "happy-go-lucky,'' a generous man with many, many friends. Grace has a different recollection.
"He really had a rather unhappy life," she said, "very sad personally, if you think about it. His twin brother died as a child, and he never completely got over it.
"He lost his mother when he was 15, and later, when his father died, he was away at school and no one even bothered to tell him. He became an orphan, and later his own first-born son (Jim Jr.) died as a child. He married the love of his life my mother - but she' finally left him, and so did Freeda (Bill's mother). He had a lot of sadness."
In 1913, Thorpe was stripped of his Olympic records and medals because he had received money for playing semi-pro baseball. Although the rules of the day were -- "Basically, they used me as a guinea pig to make up the rules," Thorpe once said - the decision stood until long after his death March 28, 1953.
"The notion that he was a 'professional' at the time of the Olympics is ridiculous," Bill Thorpe said. "He competed in athletics for the sheer exhilaration of it. He was a natural athlete and he just loved doing it - all of it. He grew up in the country, breaking wild horses and playing a kind of follow-the-leader game with the other boys, in which they all learned to excel at a lot of different things."
The records and medals were restored in 1982 through the efforts of the Thorpe family and others - notably Robert Wheeler, who became president of the Jim Thorpe Foundation and author of the book Thorpe, World's Greatest Athlete.
"I asked him about it once," Grace said, "and all he said was, 'I never wrote a letter to anyone trying to get them back.'
"But his eyes burned when he said it, and it obviously bothered him all of his life. When the metals were finally restored, we all had a great feeling of accomplishment."
The breakup of her parents' marriage, Grace says, was an early manifestation of a now-familiar syndrome.
"Let's just say that a profession athlete does not usually make a great husband," she said. "On the road, he would go out and drink with the others after a game - so did McGraw for that matter - and because they were famous men, there were always women available. It was just tough an my mom, and she' finally ended it."
Thorpe's relationship with John McGraw was never easy either, and his career with the Giants ended because - take your pick - he drank too much and was not ready to play; McGraw wanted him to give up football; or, the relationship ended one day when Thorpe chased McGraw around the field after the famous manager called him a "dumb Indian."
Grace Thorpe simply remembers that, "McGraw's wife, Blanche, was very kind to my mother and remained her friend for years.'' As far her father, she said, "He didn't talk much normally, and you had to pull things out of him.
"He was an honest, serious man. stoic. who worked hard to take care of his family. The most money he ever made a- an athlete was maybe $10,000 - it's ridiculous what they make today - and there were always financial needs."
At the moment, Grace Thorpe's world revolves around making sure that the 1950 vote holds true for the century. "Well, he never had a big PR machine back when he was alive," she said, or he might have made more money flow. Right now I'm it - a 77-year-old lady livin' on Social Security. But I get a lot of mail. "The other day, a guy from Japan sent me a book he wrote about my dad. It looks good, but it's written in Japanese, so I realy can't read it."She also has received a call from Tom NcNabb, author of Donovan's Run. Who is working on a new book.
"The hero of the book is a black track star," she said, "trying to win the greatest race of his life.
"Running against the ghost of Jim Thorpe."
Athlete of the Century Campaign
James Francis Thorpe accomplished arguably what no other athlete in history has. The Sac and Fox Indian won gold medals in the pentathlon and decathlon in the 1912 Olympic games in Sweden and played both professional football and professional baseball. His feats on the football field put him on the 1911 and 1912 All-American football teams. In 1920 he became the first president of the American Professional Football Association (later to become the NFL).
Jim Thorpe, the football star and Olympic legend whom Sweden's King Gustav V called "the greatest athlete in the world." was named, in 1950, by the Associated Press the greatest football player and greatest all-round athlete for the first 50 years of this century. Grace Thorpe believes that there will be a naming of the greatest athlete of the century.
When others fail to give her father his due, Grace Thorpe doesn't hesitate to take them on.
In 1982, Grace won her five-year battle to get the International Olympic Committee to return the two gold medals - for the decathlon and pentathlon - that her father had won in Stockholm in 1912. The medals were stripped from him after it was discovered that he had played semiprofessional baseball as a student at Carlisle Indian Industrial School.
"The modern day Olympics started in 1896, and they had no hard and fast rules on mixing professional and amateur sports. They sort of made the rules on Dad," said Grace.
With four years to go until the year 2000, Grace Thorpe doesn't think she started the athlete-of-the-century drive too soon.
"Things take a long time." she said, "I don't want any mix-ups like the one where they've proposed having the 1996 Olympic Torch Relay-Run coming through Yale, which they had been calling Dad's birthplace. Dad's birthplace was near the town of Prague (Oklahoma)."
As she travels around the country to Indian ceremonies and environmental gatherings, she frequently sets up booths and asks people to sign two petitions - one declaring her father athlete of the century and another for a ban on nuclear activities. Grace, whose Indian name is No Ten O Quah (Wind Woman), is president of the National Environmental Coalition of Native Americans (NECONA) which fights efforts for the burial of nuclear wastes on Indian Lands.
This information was compiled from articles printed in People Weekly Magazine, 01/08/96 Vol.45, No.1 and Tulsa World Newspaper, 12/10/95.
"Jim Thorpe, World's Greatest Athlete" by Gregory Richards. Foreward by Grace Thorpe who is spearheading a campaign declaring Jim Thorpe "America's Greatest All Around Athlete of the Century". Excellent for Jr. High ages up. Personally autographed and inscribed by Ms. Thorpe to the recipient. Hard cover. $23.00 (tax/mailing included) Proceeds go toward the "Jim Thorpe for Athlete of the Century" Campaign.
Send check or money order to: NECONA, 2213 W. 8th St. Prague, OK 74864, ph(405) 567-4297, Chickasaw Nation.
National Environmental Coalition Of Native Americans NECONA
American track star and professional football and baseball player Jim Thorpe was the hero of the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm, Sweden, but had his gold medals taken from him for his status as a professional athlete.Athletic youth
James Francis Thorpe (Native American name, Wa-tho-huck, or Bright Path) was born south of Bellemonta, near Prague, Oklahoma, on May 28, 1888. He was the son of Hiran P. Thorpe, of Irish and Sac-Fox Indian descent, and Charlotte View, of Potowatomi and Kickapoo descent. He grew up with five siblings, although his twin brother, Charlie, died at the age of nine. Jim's athletic abilities showed at a very early age, when he learned to ride horses and swim at the age of three. Thorpe first attended the Sac-Fox Indian Agency school near Tecumseh, Oklahoma, before being sent to the Haskell Indian School near Lawrence, Kansas, in 1898.
When Thorpe was sixteen, he was recruited to attend a vocational school (a school to learn a trade) for Native Americans, the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania. His track potential was obvious in 1907, when he cleared the high jump bar at 5 feet 9 inches while dressed in street clothes. Glenn S. "Pop" Warner, the school's legendary track and football coach, asked him to join the track team. That fall Thorpe made the varsity football team, playing some but starting the next year as a running back. In 1908 Thorpe was awarded third team All-American status, the highest honor for a collegiate athlete.
Following the spring of 1909, when Thorpe starred in track, he left the Carlisle school with two other students to go to North Carolina, where they played baseball at Rocky Mount in the Eastern Carolina Association. Thorpe pitched and played first base for what he said was $15 per week. The next year he played for Fayetteville, winning ten games and losing ten games pitching, while batting .236. These two years of paid performances in minor league baseball would later tarnish his 1912 amateur Olympic status.
Thorpe had matured to almost six feet in height and 185 pounds and led Carlisle to outstanding football seasons in 1911 and 1912. In 1911, against Harvard University's undefeated team led by the renowned coach Percy Houghton, Thorpe kicked four field goals—two over 40 yards—and the game ended in a stunning 18-15 victory. Carlisle lost only two games in 1911 and 1912, against Penn State and Syracuse University, but conquered such teams as the U.S. Army, Georgetown University, Harvard, and the University of Pittsburgh. In his last year he scored twenty-five touchdowns and 198 points, and for the second year in a row he was named All-American by football pioneer Walter Camp (1859–1925).Star of the 1912 Olympics
During the summer of 1912, before Thorpe's last year at Carlisle, he was chosen to represent the United States at the Stockholm Olympics in the decathlon (ten track events) and the pentathlon (five track events). He was an easy victor in the pentathlon, winning four of the five events (broad jump, 200 meter dash, discus, and 1,500 meter race), losing only the javelin. In the decathlon Thorpe set an Olympic mark of 8,413 points that would stand for two
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decades. King Gustav of Sweden addressed Thorpe as the "greatest athlete in the world" and presented him with several gifts, including one from Czar Nicholas of Russia (1868–1918)—a silver, 30-pound likeness of a Viking ship, lined with gold and containing precious jewels.
The gold medal ceremony for the decathlon, Thorpe said, was the proudest moment of his life. A half-year later charges against Thorpe for professionalism led to Thorpe's confession that he had been paid to play baseball in North Carolina in 1909 and 1910. (Actually, Thorpe had been paid cash by coach "Pop" Warner as an athlete at Carlisle before that.) Shortly thereafter the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) and the American Olympic Committee declared Thorpe a professional, asked Thorpe to return the medals won at the Olympics, and erased his name from the record books.
Thorpe, a great athlete but not a great baseball player, almost immediately signed a large $6,000-per-year, three-year contract with the New York Giants, managed by John J. McGraw. Thorpe was to be mainly as a gate attraction. His six-year major league career resulted in a .252 batting average with three teams: the New York Giants, the Cincinnati Reds, and the Boston Braves. He batted .327 in 1919, his last year in the majors.
Thorpe signed to play professional football in 1915 with the Canton Bulldogs for the "enormous" sum of $250 a game. Attendance at Canton immediately skyrocketed, and Thorpe led Canton to several championships over its chief rival, the Massillon Tigers. In 1920 he was appointed president of the American Professional Football Association, which would become the National Football League. Thorpe was the chief drawing power in professional football until Red Grange (1903–1991) entered the game in 1925.The campaign to restore his medals
Honors for past athletic achievements kept coming to Thorpe. At mid-century the Associated Press (AP) polled sportswriters and broadcasters to determine the greatest football player and most outstanding male athlete of the first half of the twentieth century. Thorpe outdistanced Red Grange and Bronko Nagurski (1908–1990) for the title of the greatest football player. He led Babe Ruth (1895–1948) and Jack Dempsey (1896–1983) for the most outstanding male athlete, being paired with Babe Didrikson Zaharias (1914–1956), the outstanding female athlete.
This recognition, however, did not influence the United States Olympic Committee to help restore Thorpe's Olympic medals. There had been an attempt in 1943 by the Oklahoma legislature to get the AAU to reinstate Thorpe as an amateur. Thirty years later the AAU did restore his amateur status. In 1952, shortly before his death, there was an attempt by Congressman Frank Bow of Canton, Ohio, to get Avery Brundage, president of the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) to use his good offices to restore Thorpe's medals to him. This effort failed. Following Brundage's death in 1975, the USOC requested the International Olympic Committee to restore Thorpe's medals, but it was turned down. Not until 1982, when USOC president William E. Simon met with the International Olympic Committee president Juan Antonio Samaranch, was the action finally taken.
Outside of athletics, Thorpe's life had much more tragedy than two gold medal losses. Besides his twin brother Charlie's death when he was nine years old, his mother died of blood poisoning before he was a teenager. Four years later, shortly after Thorpe entered Carlisle, his father died. Following his marriage to Iva Miller in 1913, their first son died at the age of four from polio, a life-threatening disease that affects development in children. Twice divorced, he had one boy and three girls from his first marriage, and four boys from his second marriage in 1926 to Freeda Kirkpatrick. His third marriage was to Patricia Askew in 1945. His place in sports history, though, was established well before he died of a heart attack on March 28, 1953 in Lomita, California, at the age of sixty-four.For More Information
Birchfield, D. L. Jim Thorpe, World's Greatest Athlete. Parsippany, NJ: Modern Curriculum Press, 1994.
Farrell, Edward. Young Jim Thorpe: All-American Athlete. Mahweh, NJ: Troll Associates, 1996.
Lipsyte, Robert. Jim Thorpe: 20th-Century Jock. New York: HarperCollins, 1993.
Richards, Gregory B. Jim Thorpe, World's Greatest Athlete. Chicago: Children's Press, 1984.
Wheeler, Robert W. Jim Thorpe: World's Greatest Athlete. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1979.
Updated July 01, 2016.Who Was Jim Thorpe?
Jim Thorpe is remembered as one of the greatest athletes of all time and one of the most celebrated Native Americans in modern times. At the 1912 Olympics. Jim Thorpe accomplished the unprecedented feat of winning gold medals in both the pentathlon and the decathlon.
However, Thorpe's triumph was marred by scandal just months later when he was stripped of his medals due to a violation of his amateur status prior to the Olympics.
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Thorpe later played both professional baseball and football, but was an especially gifted football player. In 1950, Associated Press sportswriters voted Jim Thorpe the greatest athlete of the half-century.
Dates: May 28, 1888* -- March 28, 1953
Also Known As: James Francis Thorpe; Wa-tho-huk (Native American name meaning "Bright Path"); "World's Greatest Athlete"
Famous Quote: "I am no more proud of my career as an athlete than I am of the fact that I am a direct descendant of that noble warrior [Chief Black Hawk]."Jim Thorpe’s Childhood in Oklahoma
Jim Thorpe and his twin brother Charlie were born on May 28, 1888 in Prague, Oklahoma to Hiram Thorpe and Charlotte Vieux. Both parents were of mixed Native American and European heritage. Hiram and Charlotte had a total of 11 children, six of whom died in early childhood.
On his father's side, Jim Thorpe was related to the great warrior Black Hawk. whose people (the Sac and Fox tribe ) had originally come from the Lake Michigan region. (They had been forced by the United States government to resettle in the Oklahoma Indian Territory in 1869.)
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The Thorpes lived in a log farmhouse on the Sac and Fox reservation, where they grew crops and raised livestock. Although most members of their tribe wore traditional native clothing and spoke the Sac and Fox language, the Thorpes adopted many customs of white people. They wore "civilized" clothing and spoke English at home. (English was the only language Jim's parents had in common.) Charlotte, who was part French and part Potawatomi Indian, insisted that her children be raised as Roman Catholics.
The twins did everything together -- fishing, hunting, wrestling, and horseback riding. At the age of six, Jim and Charlie were sent to the reservation school, a boarding school run by the federal government located 20 miles away. Following the prevailing attitude of the day -- that whites were superior to Native Americans -- students were taught to live in the manner of white people and forbidden to speak their native language.
Although the twins were different in temperament (Charlie was studious, whereas Jim preferred sports), they were very close. Sadly, when the boys were eight, an epidemic swept through their school and Charlie fell sick. Unable to recover, Charlie died in late 1896. Jim was devastated. He lost interest in school and sports and repeatedly ran away from school.A Troubled Youth
Hiram sent Jim to Haskell Indian Junior College in 1898 in an effort to discourage him from running away. The government-run school, located 300 miles away in Lawrence, Kansas, operated on a military system, with students wearing uniforms and following a strict set of regulations.
Although he chafed at the idea of being told what to do, Thorpe made an attempt to fit in at Haskell. After watching the varsity football team at Haskell, Thorpe was inspired to organize football games with other boys at the school.
Thorpe's adherence to his father's wishes didn't last. In summer of 1901, Thorpe heard that his father had been seriously hurt in a hunting accident and, in a hurry to get home, left Haskell without permission. At first, Thorpe hopped on a train, but it was unfortunately headed in the wrong direction.
After getting off the train, he walked most of the way home, hitching rides occasionally. After his two-week trek, Thorpe arrived home only to discover that his father was greatly recovered yet very angry about what his son had done.
Despite his father’s fury, Thorpe chose to stay on his father's farm and help out instead of returning to Haskell. Only a few months later, Thorpe's mother died from blood poisoning following childbirth (the infant died as well). Thorpe and his entire family were devastated.
After his mother’s death, tensions within the family grew. After an especially bad argument -- followed by a beating from his father -- Thorpe left home and headed to Texas. There, at the age of thirteen, Thorpe found work taming wild horses. He loved the work and managed to support himself for a year.
Upon his return home, Thorpe discovered that he had earned his father's respect. This time, Thorpe agreed to enroll in a nearby public school, where he participated in baseball and track and field. With seemingly little effort, Thorpe excelled at whatever sport he attempted.The Carlisle Indian School
In 1904, a representative from the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania came to the Oklahoma Territory looking for candidates for the trade school. (Carlisle had been founded by an army officer in 1879 as a vocational boarding school for young Native Americans.) Thorpe's father convinced Jim to enroll at Carlisle, knowing there were few opportunities available for him in Oklahoma.
Thorpe entered the Carlisle School in June 1904 at the age of sixteen. He had hoped to become an electrician, but because Carlisle didn't offer that course of study, Thorpe opted to become a tailor. Not long after he'd begun his studies, Thorpe received staggering news. His father had died of blood poisoning, the same illness that had taken his mother's life.
Thorpe coped with his loss by immersing himself in the Carlisle tradition known as "outing," in which students were sent to live with (and work for) white families in order to learn white customs. Thorpe went on three such ventures, spending several months at a time working at jobs such as gardener and farm worker.
Thorpe returned to school from his last outing in 1907, having grown taller and more muscular. He joined an intramural football team, where his impressive performance gained the attention of coaches in both football and track and field. Thorpe joined the varsity track team in 1907 and later the football team. Both sports were coached by football coaching legend Glenn "Pop" Warner .
In track and field, Thorpe excelled in every event and often broke records at meets. Thorpe also led his small school to football victories over larger, more famous colleges, including Harvard and West Point. Among the opposing players he met on the field was future president Dwight D. Eisenhower of West Point.The 1912 Olympics
In 1910, Thorpe decided to take a break from school and find a way to earn money. During two consecutive summers (1910 and 1911), Thorpe accepted an offer to play minor league baseball in North Carolina. It was a decision he would come to regret deeply.
In the fall of 1911, Pop Warner convinced Jim to return to Carlisle. Thorpe had another stellar football season, earning recognition as a first team All-American halfback. In the spring of 1912, Thorpe re-joined the track and field team with a new goal in mind: he would begin training for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team in track and field.
Pop Warner believed that Thorpe's all-around skills would make him an ideal candidate for the decathlon -- a grueling competition comprising ten events. Thorpe qualified for both the pentathlon and decathlon for the American team. The 24-year-old set sail for Stockholm, Sweden in June 1912.
At the Olympics, Thorpe's performance surpassed all expectations. He dominated in both the pentathlon and decathlon, winning gold medals in both events. (He remains the only athlete in history to have done so.) His record-breaking scores handily beat all of his rivals and would remain unbroken for three decades.
Upon his return to the United States, Thorpe was hailed as a hero and honored with a ticker-tape parade in New York City.Jim Thorpe’s Olympic Scandal
At Pop Warner's urging, Thorpe returned to Carlisle for the 1912 football season, during which he helped his team achieve 12 wins and only one loss. Thorpe began his last semester at Carlisle in January 1913. He looked forward to a bright future with his fiancée Iva Miller, a fellow student at Carlisle.
In late January of that year, a newspaper article surfaced in Worcester, Massachusetts claiming that Thorpe had earned money playing professional baseball and therefore could not be considered an amateur athlete. Because only amateur athletes could participate in the Olympics at that time, the International Olympic Committee stripped Thorpe of his medals and his records were erased from the books.
Thorpe readily admitted that he had played in the minor leagues and had been paid a small salary. He also admitted ignorance of the fact that playing baseball would make him ineligible to compete in track and field events at the Olympics. Thorpe later learned that many college athletes played on professional teams during the summer, but they played under assumed names in order to maintain their amateur status in school.Going Pro
A mere ten days after losing his Olympic medals, Thorpe turned professional for good, withdrawing from Carlisle and signing a contract to play major league baseball with the New York Giants. Baseball wasn't Thorpe's strongest sport, but the Giants knew that his name would sell tickets. After spending some time in the minors improving his skills, Thorpe started the 1914 season with the Giants.
Thorpe and Iva Miller married in October 1913. They had their first child, James Jr. in 1915, followed by three daughters over the eight years of their marriage. The Thorpes suffered the loss of James, Jr. to polio in 1918.
Thorpe spent three years with the Giants, then played for the Cincinnati Reds and later the Boston Braves. His major league career ended in 1919 in Boston; he played minor-league baseball for another nine years, retiring from the game in 1928 at the age of forty.
During his time as a baseball player, Thorpe also played professional football beginning in 1915. Thorpe played halfback for the Canton Bulldogs for six years, leading them to many major victories. A multi-talented player, Thorpe was proficient at running, passing, tackling, and even kicking. Thorpe's punts averaged an incredible 60 yards.
Thorpe later played for the Oorang Indians (an all-Native American team) and The Rock Island Independents. By 1925, the 37-year-old's athletic skills had begun to decline. Thorpe announced his retirement from pro football in 1925, although he did play occasionally for various teams over the next four years.
Divorced from Iva Miller since 1923, Thorpe married Freeda Kirkpatrick in October 1925. During their 16-year marriage, they had four sons together. Thorpe and Freeda divorced in 1941.Life After Sports
Thorpe struggled to stay employed after leaving professional sports. He moved from state to state, working as a painter, a security guard, and a ditch digger. Thorpe tried out for some movie roles, but was awarded only a few cameos, mainly playing Indian chiefs.
Thorpe lived in Los Angeles when the 1932 Olympics came to the city, but did not have enough money to buy a ticket to the summer games. When the press reported Thorpe's predicament, Vice President Charles Curtis, himself of Native American descent, invited Thorpe to sit with him. When Thorpe's presence was announced to the crowd during the games, they honored him with a standing ovation.
As public interest in the former Olympian grew, Thorpe began to receive offers for speaking engagements. He earned little money for his appearances, but enjoyed giving inspiring speeches to young people. The speaking tour, however, kept Thorpe away from his family for long periods of time.
In 1937, Thorpe returned to Oklahoma to promote the rights of Native Americans. He joined a movement to abolish the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), the government entity that oversaw all aspects of life on reservations. The Wheeler Bill, which would allow native peoples to manage their own affairs, failed to pass in the legislature.Later Years
During World War II, Thorpe worked as a security guard at a Ford auto plant. He suffered a heart attack in 1943 only a year after taking the job, prompting him to resign. In June 1945, Thorpe married Patricia Askew. Soon after the wedding, 57-year-old Jim Thorpe enlisted in the merchant marines and was assigned to a ship that carried ammunition to Allied forces. After the war, Thorpe worked for the Chicago Park District's recreation department, promoting fitness and teaching track skills to young people.
The Hollywood film, Jim Thorpe, All-American (1951), starred Burt Lancaster and told Thorpe’s story. Thorpe served as technical advisor for the film, although he made no money from the film itself.
In 1950, Thorpe was voted by Associated Press sportswriters as the greatest football player of the half-century. Just months later, he was honored as the best male athlete of the half-century. His competition for the title included sports legends such as Babe Ruth. Jack Dempsey, and Jesse Owens. Later that same year he was inducted into the Professional Football Hall of Fame .
In September 1952, Thorpe suffered a second, more serious heart attack. He recovered, but the following year suffered a third, fatal heart attack on March 28, 1953 at the age of 64.
Thorpe is buried in a mausoleum in Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania, a town that agreed to change its name in order to win the privilege of housing Thorpe's memorial.
Three decades after Thorpe's death, the International Olympic Committee reversed its decision and issued duplicate medals to Jim Thorpe's children in 1983. Thorpe's achievements have been re-entered into Olympic record books and he is now widely acknowledged as one of the greatest athletes of all time.
* Thorpe's baptismal certificate lists his birth date as May 22, 1887, but most sources list it as May 28, 1888.
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