Judge Sides With Sons About Jim Thorpe's Remains

Apr 20, 2013

Jim Thorpe's tomb in Jim Thorpe, PA - October 20, 2009
Credit Doug Kerr / Flickr Creative Commons

A federal ruling is clearing the way for Jim Thorpe's two surviving sons to have his remains removed from the Pennsylvania town that bears his name and reinterred on Native American land in Oklahoma.

U.S. District Judge Richard Caputo ruled Friday that Jim Thorpe borough in northeastern Pennsylvania amounts to a museum under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.

A lawyer for Bill and Richard Thorpe says the men will pursue the legal process to have their father, a groundbreaking athlete, returned to Sac and Fox land in central Oklahoma.

When Jim Thorpe died 60 years ago last month, his widow Patricia felt slighted by Oklahoma not erecting a monument she felt appropriate for her husband’s legacy. She made a deal with two Eastern Pennsylvania towns – if they built a “suitable memorial,” they could have his body. Mauch Chunk (Lanape for “bear mountain”) and East Mauch Chunk would merge into one town called “Jim Thorpe, PA.” 

Jim Thorpe at the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden
Credit Wikimedia Commons

Jim Thorpe's son Jack told The Wall Street Journal in 2010 "the bones of my father will not make or break your town."

"Many locals agree. Tourists 'very seldom come here because they want to learn more about Jim Thorpe,' says John Drury, a Philadelphian who moved here two decades ago after buying a run-down hotel, now smartened up and known as the Inn at Jim Thorpe. 

Instead, tourists go white-water rafting, gaze at turning leaves in the fall or tour mansions built for 19th-century coal and railroad barons."

The brothers and the tribe sued the borough and local government officials. The ruling was first reported by The Legal Intelligencer, although the article is behind the site's paywall.

Jack Thorpe is a former chief of the Sac and Fox Nation. He told The New York Times if he wins the legal battle, his father would more than likely be laid to rest in the northeast corner of Garden Grove Cemetery in Pottawatomie County.