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October 18, 2023 47 mins

When gold medalist Jim Thorpe was dubbed "the world's greatest athlete" at the 1912 Olympics, it wasn't hype. Football, baseball, lacrosse, even ballroom dancing ... Thorpe was the world's first multi-sport superstar. But when the Native American icon had his Olympic medals unjustly stripped from him, he faced his toughest hurdle yet. Mo talks to biographer David Maraniss about Thorpe's meteoric rise from Oklahoma Indian territory to global celebrity, and his surprising third act in Hollywood. Plus an interview with granddaughter Anita Thorpe. And Mo visits Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania, a town with a history as startling as the man himself. 

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Episode Transcript

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Speaker 1 (00:04):
There are so many ways we can memorialize the greats.

Speaker 2 (00:09):
Welcome to the Jim Twlly Tour.

Speaker 1 (00:11):
Certainly a special tour today.

Speaker 3 (00:14):
All right, we're gonna roll over the Lehigh now beautiful.

Speaker 1 (00:17):
There are murals, TV specials, parades, even podcasts.

Speaker 4 (00:23):
Of that incline is where they would drag the empty
coal cars and then leaves.

Speaker 1 (00:27):
But naming a town after someone, that's next level.

Speaker 5 (00:32):
Well, there's a Jim Thorpe neighborhood bank, there's Jim Thorpe trolley.

Speaker 1 (00:35):
There's a Jim Thorpe inn And we're standing in front
of the field for which high school?

Speaker 5 (00:40):
Jim Thorpe Perry High School.

Speaker 1 (00:42):
And the name of the team is the Jim Thorpe Olympians.
That's Michael J. Sofranco. He's the mayor of jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania. Yes,
the town is named for the legendary Native American athlete
and hero of the nineteen twelve Stockholm, Sweden Olympics, Jim Thorpe.
And yes, I know that Pennsylvanians call their towns burrows,

and that their state is not a state, it's a commonwealth.

Speaker 5 (01:08):
In nineteen seventy we go somewhere and they'd say where
you're from, and I'd say Jim Thorpe. They'd say, I
don't want your name, I want to know where you live.

Speaker 1 (01:15):
It's a beautiful town, nestled in a valley of the
Pocono Mountains and nicknamed the Switzerland of America, and it's
graced with more than just Jim Thorpe's name.

Speaker 5 (01:27):
I think that there's one thing you can say having
Jim Thorpe's body here, it has brought a community together.

Speaker 1 (01:35):
That's right on the east side of town. Thorpe is
buried in a red granite mausoleum emblazoned with images of
his spectacular triumph at the Olympics. It was a high
point for Thorpe, as he'd later.

Speaker 6 (01:49):
Recall Mann, the greatest athlete of the world, but a
kiss Layton, I think is one of my great moments
in my life.

Speaker 1 (01:56):
The Hillside memorial draws fans still in awe of Thorpe's achievements,
not just in track and field, but also in baseball
and football.

Speaker 7 (02:06):
I'm an old football fan, and my dad loved Jim Thorpe.

Speaker 8 (02:09):
He was the world's best athlete as far as I'm concerned.

Speaker 1 (02:13):
He still is nothing. He couldn't do anything he could do.
Don't you wish you had? Those powers?

Speaker 9 (02:18):
Are just some of them?

Speaker 1 (02:20):
Now, if you're wondering what relationship Jim Thorpe, the man
has to the town named for him, you're not alone.

Speaker 2 (02:27):
How many of you guys know how long Jim lived
in this town?

Speaker 6 (02:31):

Speaker 2 (02:32):
That's correct, Jim?

Speaker 6 (02:33):

Speaker 9 (02:34):
Really, he had never set foot in Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania.

Speaker 1 (02:39):
Did you know that he never actually set foot in
here before he was buried here?

Speaker 9 (02:44):

Speaker 3 (02:45):
You know, I thought that this was where he was from,
to be honest with you, went that's the history of it. Huh.

Speaker 1 (02:52):
That Jim Thorpe ended up in a town he never
lived in is only the final twist in a roller
coaster life.

Speaker 10 (02:59):
To me, he as a young person, he was like
a Hercules or even like a superman.

Speaker 1 (03:06):
From becoming the world's first sports superstar.

Speaker 9 (03:10):
No one has had that triad of being an All
American football player, a winner of the gold medal in
the decathlon and the pentathlon, and a Major League baseball player.
And he was great at ballroom dancing, lacrosse ross. People
said he was good at marbles.

Speaker 2 (03:26):
Is it true?

Speaker 9 (03:26):

Speaker 1 (03:28):
Just surviving modern sports. First scandal Jim thort an American Indian,
the only winner of both Pentathlon and the Katla.

Speaker 2 (03:37):
Later for playing semi pro baseball before the games. His
name is erased from the role of the victories.

Speaker 1 (03:44):
To his surprise third act in Hollywood.

Speaker 2 (03:47):
Jim Poor, All American, the main of Bronze who became
the greatest athlete of all time. It's Burt Lancaster as
Jim Port.

Speaker 1 (03:55):
From CBS Sunday Morning and iHeart I'm Morocca. This is
mobituaries this moment Jim Thorpe, March twenty eighth, nineteen fifty three,
death of an All American.

Speaker 9 (04:25):
While the rocks are from visitors, probably most of them
from Native people's totems and sort of symbols of respect
for Thorpe, the great one.

Speaker 1 (04:35):
I'm standing in front of Jim Thorpe's mausoleum with historian
David Marinus. David wrote a biography of Jim Thorpe called
Path lit by Lightning, which is one English translation of
Jim's birth name Wathaux Hawk. That name was given to
him because when he was born it was said that
lightning struck the ground outside. What do you think of this? Site.

Speaker 9 (04:59):
I have mixed feelings about it. I mean, I think
it's a beautiful little place. It's a nice granite tombstone,
really beautiful sculptures.

Speaker 1 (05:07):
Does his being here make some sort of sad sense?

Speaker 9 (05:11):
Sure, I mean, dislocation is part of the story of
Native Americans, so it has a certain sick logic to it,
I guess. But the most spiritual sense would be that
he's buried where he started, along the North Canadian River
in Oklahoma.

Speaker 1 (05:29):
That's where Jim was born in May of eighteen eighty
seven on the Sack and Fox Reservation in what was
then Oklahoma Indian Territory. Jim was Sack and Fox Indian
on his father's side, Potawatammee and French and Irish on
his mother's side. As a boy, his mother told him
he was the reincarnation of the great Sack and Fox

warrior Blackhawk. His father was known as an Indian cowboy.
He had five wives and eighteen kids. What is his
outdoor life like growing up?

Speaker 9 (06:03):
Well, that really is Jim Thorpe enjoying life the most.
He wasn't playing football or baseball yet. He was just
hunting and fishing, mostly with his father and his father
was kind of a oh never do ill might be
too strong, but you know, he sold bootleg liquor from
the back of a wagon. But he was also, Jim

would say, the strongest person he ever knew. And Jim
would tell a story about going hunting with his dad
when Jim was maybe nine or ten years old, walking
twenty miles, his father shot a couple of deer, put
one on each shoulder, and walked them back all the
way back home. That was his dad.

Speaker 1 (06:42):
I'm exhausted hearing that.

Speaker 10 (06:47):
I can imagine my grandfather wanting to be something like
his father, maybe having a farm or even handling horses,
fishing and running and jumping, and mostly spending time outdoors
and not inside.

Speaker 1 (07:05):
That's Jim Thorpe's granddaughter, Anita Thorpe. Anita grew up in
the same part of Oklahoma. She believes that her grandfather's
connection to the land he was raised in was key
to his success.

Speaker 10 (07:17):
He was able to visualize something, and he got that
at an early age from watching horses and watching animals
and hunting. Visualization is key to his story.

Speaker 1 (07:32):
But while Jim's boyhood may have been happy, loss was
a part of his story from the beginning, starting with
his twin brother, Charlie.

Speaker 9 (07:41):
Most people don't know Jim had a twin who died
when they were nine years old when a disease swept
through the Second Fox School.

Speaker 1 (07:49):
When Jim was fourteen, his mother died after burying her
eleventh child. When he was sixteen, his father died, most
likely from poison from a snake bite. By that time,
Jim had been sent east to the Carlisle Indian Industrial
School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. And if you're thinking that this
is why he was buried in Pennsylvania, Nope, Carlisle is

over one hundred miles from Jim's final resting place. Now,
Carlisle was the flagship of what were a series of
US government run Indian boarding schools. This Indian boarding school system,
what was that?

Speaker 9 (08:27):
I mean, it was partly a scam, partly matter of
forced assimilation. Once the students got there, many of them
were not kept there, but sent to farms in the
area to work as basically indentured servants.

Speaker 1 (08:41):
The students came from eighty eight different tribes, but you
wouldn't know it once they were enrolled at Carlisle.

Speaker 9 (08:48):
If they had long hair, their locks were shorn. They
were not allowed to speak their native languages or practice
their native religions.

Speaker 1 (08:57):
The school's motto killed the Indian, save the man. In fact,
at least one hundred and eighty six of the students
sent to Carlisle died there, buried in a cemetery behind
the athletic grandstands. And how were these kids dying?

Speaker 9 (09:14):
They were dying from all kinds of diseases, some that
were alien to their homelands. Of all the places I
went for this book, the most visually haunting was to
go to that cemetery and see row after row of
gravestones of young Native Americans who went there and never

got home.

Speaker 1 (09:39):
But while these schools were abhorrent in many ways, the
effects on students' lives were more complex. Some graduates went
on to become prominent doctors, lawyers, writers, and activists. Now,
when Jim showed up at Carlisle, he wasn't exactly imposing
at age sixteen, just five feet five inches tall and

weighed one hundred and fifteen pounds. Three years later he'd
grown to five nine one sixty. It was then, while
walking across campus one day, that he was discovered.

Speaker 9 (10:16):
It sounds like a myth, but everything I can determine
is that has really happened. He's working at the school
in his overalls, a woolen shirt, and he walks through
the athletic field. See some guys at the high joke
pit trying to clear the bar. They're failing. In his
work clothes. He easily clears the bar, you know, and

the word gets to the coach and he's on the
track team, and pretty soon he's on the football team,
and his rise to athletic brilliance starts there.

Speaker 1 (10:47):
Here's Jim Thorpe himself describing that.

Speaker 6 (10:49):
Day I entered, cry why Poplomer having the horse me
jumping over the high boy at five to seven or
eight inches where the members couldn't do it now?

Speaker 1 (10:59):
In that sound by Jim mentions a name that looms
large in his story, Pop Warner. Glenn pop Warner coached
track and field at Carlyle. He was also the head
football coach, and this is no exaggeration. In innovator of
the sport itself.

Speaker 9 (11:17):
He was involved in everything about modern football.

Speaker 1 (11:20):
He introduced the three point stance, you know, that crouch
thing they do at the start of a play with
one hand touching the ground, and Pop Warner was one
of the first coaches to experiment with the spiral pass,
something I am determined to achieve before I leave this earth.
Of course, it helped that his team, the Carlyle Indians,

were fast, fearless, and every bit as creative as their coach,
as Pulitzer Prize winning sportswriter Sally Jenkins wrote in her
own history of the team, before Carlyle, football was a
dull and brutal game, wedges of men pushing one another
around in the dirt. Under Warner, the Indians found new

ways to win, and they transformed the game into the thrilling,
high speed chase it is now. But what about Pop
Warner as a person, Well, that was a bit more complicated.
He was kind of shady, betting on games, selling complimentary
tickets in the lobby of hotels, and keeping the proceeds

for himself. And he would ultimately abandon Jim Thorpe at
his time of greatest need, but that was years away.
In his first season with the team, Jim seized national attention, running, catching, throwing,
and kicking. He did it all and with a kind
of ease. Sportswriter Grant blund Rice would later write that

Jim moved like the breeze off the field. Jim was
equally charismatic, with a wide open face that pulled you in.
When he smiled, he grinned so hard his his eyes
would close. You'd feel that warmth and magnetism. One of
his relatives said, he didn't have to talk, you'd feel it.

Alas Jim starred him at Carlisle didn't translate into money,
and so Jim left the school to play semi pro
baseball in North Carolina, making about thirty dollars a month.

Speaker 9 (13:23):
Scores, if not hundreds of college athletes were going to
play baseball in the summer. Most of them were playing
under aliases. There were so many aliases in the league
Jim played in the Eastern Carolina League that they called
it the Pocahonnest League because everybody was named John Smith.

Speaker 1 (13:40):
Most collegiate athletes played under fake names since their schools
prohibited them from playing pro sports, but Jim didn't play
under an alias.

Speaker 9 (13:50):
He played under the name Jim Before. He didn't know
that he was doing anything wrong, so he wasn't trying
to hide what he was doing.

Speaker 1 (13:58):
Meanwhile, Pop warn and his Carlisle football team were hurting
without Thorpe.

Speaker 9 (14:04):
Warner wrote him a letter saying, if you come back,
you can train for the nineteen twelve Olympics while you're here,
and so all of that prompted Thorpe to come back.
If he hadn't, we wouldn't even know who he was.
He would not be a name today.

Speaker 1 (14:18):
On the other side of the break, Jim Thorpe makes history.

Speaker 9 (14:22):
I call nineteen twelve the greatest single year any athlete
has ever had.

Speaker 6 (14:39):
You folks want to Egypt bit of order.

Speaker 1 (14:43):
That's the voice of Abel Kiveat. In nineteen eighty two,
he took a CBS news crew to his favorite diner
in his New Jersey community.

Speaker 6 (14:52):
It's a fish sandwich. I've what kind, how, when and why?
I don't know What's a little schmeer on it.

Speaker 5 (14:59):
It's a.

Speaker 7 (15:01):
Could they know you pretty well?

Speaker 10 (15:02):

Speaker 6 (15:02):
Huh? Don't ask the questions while I got the fisherman
mouth might take a bite of me.

Speaker 1 (15:07):
But CBS wasn't there just to get tips from Abel
on where to eat. Seventy years before this interview, Abel
was a celebrated middle distance runner, a medalist at the
nineteen twelve Olympic Games in Stockholm, Sweden, where he was
the roommate of Jim Thorpe.

Speaker 6 (15:25):
I roomed with him, the best natured guy in or
where he was so nice, so pleasant, big overgrown country
kid in a way. But Hutton's seventy five a hot
and eighty script five foot eleven in a fraction, and
they said he had a neck of nineteen quarter inches
like a wrestler, and he walked that way just out.

I think the Thorpe was the greatest athlete that ever lived.
There isn't anything he couldn't do. When he had to
see someone do something, he'd hesitate, look and it almost
duplicates almost instantly.

Speaker 1 (16:03):
It's true. Jim could observe others doing something, then visualize
himself doing it, and then do it, a psychological approach
that athletes today practice, except Jim Thorpe was doing it
over one hundred years ago. In June of nineteen twelve,
Jim and the rest of the US Olympic team, including

Pop Warner, who was coaching Jim, boarded the USS Finland
in New York City for Sweden. The ship, which also
served as their Olympic village, was reconfigured with a cork
track so that the athletes could train on the way.
Over Weight throwers would throw the discus off the ship.
It was tied to a rope and pulled back each time.

It was Jim's first time on an ocean liner. We
don't know if he was nervous, but it's worth noting
this was only two months after the Titanic went down.
We know what the Olympics mean today, they're the Olympic.
What did they mean in nineteen twelve.

Speaker 9 (17:02):
I would say that the nineteen twelve Olympics in Stockholm
were the first sort of world Olympics.

Speaker 1 (17:09):
That's biographer David Marinis. Again.

Speaker 9 (17:12):
It was called the Sunshine Games. Everything just sort of
clicked in those Olympics.

Speaker 1 (17:17):
Footage of the opening ceremonies exists, and it just looks
so grand.

Speaker 9 (17:23):
It was really glorious. I mean, you had all these
men in top hats and waistcoats, and women with fancy
dresses and hats, and these boy scouts with their big
old hats, and you just feel the excitement of that
moment coming into the stadium.

Speaker 1 (17:40):
I'm trying to see this through his eyes. I mean,
was that like going to another planet?

Speaker 9 (17:46):
Definitely going to another planet. The people in Europe sort
of romanticized Native Americans. They'd never seen one. So there's
this scene where Jim is out in the practice field
and three Swedish girls come by, and you know, he
doesn't quite look like their stereotype of an Indian, so

he pretends he is one. You know, he does some
war whoops and it scares the heck out of you know,
just to play into that sort of stereotype.

Speaker 1 (18:17):
A couple of fun facts. The Swedish smorgasborge was introduced
to America by the nineteen twelve Games, and these same
games were the last when the gold medals were solid gold.
Jim won the first of his two golds in the Pentathlon.
Then came the ten events of the Decathlon, which was

held over three days. It was on day two, when
it came time for the high jump that any doubts
about Jim Thorpe's greatness were silenced.

Speaker 8 (18:47):
He was going out to participate, started looking for a
hue and couldn't find him.

Speaker 1 (18:52):
That's Jim Thorpe's son, Bill Thorpe, in an interview from
twenty fifteen.

Speaker 8 (18:57):
So he started looking around and asking questions. People just said, oh,
we don't know. We don't know.

Speaker 9 (19:04):
Earlier that day his shoes went missing, kind of a crisis.
So he and Pop Warner I think they found one
shoe in a trash can and another shoe somewhere else.
There were different sizes. He had to wear, you know,
two pairs of socks on one foot, you know, to
make them work. And he still won the high jump.

Speaker 1 (19:25):
To be clear, Jim Thorpe won the high jump wearing
two random mismatched shoes. There's a picture of him just
standing there like, Yeah, what's the big deal, I'm wearing
shoes I pulled out of a trash can five minutes
before the competition. Big whoop. Now, while Jim and his
teammates were playing to win, they were also young guys

in a foreign country. They were going to have some fun. Apparently,
Jim liked to wrestle when he drank. According to one account,
Jim was ordinarily a quiet guy. Once he had a few,
couldn't get him to shut up. By the end of
day three of the decathlon, Jim Thorpe hadn't just won gold.
He done so by almost seven hundred points, an astonishing margin.

Sweden's King Gustav the fifth awarded Jim his two gold medals,
along with two magnificent trophies, a three foot tall bronze
bust that took two attendants to carry, and a thirty
pound silver replica of a Viking ship. And can I
just say, even if you don't like the idea of royalty,

they definitely make a medal ceremony even more exciting. Here's
a reporter John Erling speaking with Jim's son, Bill Thorpe.

Speaker 10 (20:43):

Speaker 4 (20:44):
He received his from the Swedish King Gustav. Several sources
recount that when awarding the prize, King Gustav said, you, sir,
are the greatest athletes in the world.

Speaker 8 (20:57):
That's what I understand that he said.

Speaker 4 (20:59):
To which your father said.

Speaker 8 (21:01):
Thanks King.

Speaker 1 (21:05):
What are you say?

Speaker 8 (21:05):
Yeah, I mean an Indian that came from an Indian school,
and that would just be his way of it and
their way.

Speaker 1 (21:14):
But that story, says David Marinus, was invented by the press.

Speaker 9 (21:18):
Thanks King, which is a great lie. But he didn't
say it. He said thank you. But you know that
was supposed to be you know, the good old country
boy who didn't care about anybody's royalty, and that was
part of the press mythology about the sort of the
ignorant Indian in a sense.

Speaker 1 (21:37):
Throughout his life, the press depicted Jim Thorpe in a
way that was simultaneously sympathetic and belittling.

Speaker 9 (21:45):
It's the stereotype that starts with a noble savage and
then continues into the notion of this person that we're
going to romanticize, but he's not really one of us,
so we're going to diminish him at the same time.

Speaker 1 (21:59):
After the Olympics, Jim returned to the US a hero.

Speaker 9 (22:04):
He becomes a globally famous figure, the most well known
athlete from America around the world. I mean, the whole
team was created in New York City. Everybody else there
were tudo a car. Thorpe was the only one in
his car and it was the first car, you know,
going through the confetti of Fifth Avenue.

Speaker 1 (22:23):
So he's indisputably the star, is the star of the Games.
In Philadelphia, his trophies were on display at the famed
Wannamaker's department store. And then Jim made a triumphant return
to Carlisle. The kids must have gone nuts when he
came back.

Speaker 9 (22:39):
They did. There was a huge celebration and that's where
President Taff sent a telegram congratulating him for being an
honorable American citizen, not knowing that he wasn't even one.

Speaker 1 (22:50):
That's right, Jim Thorpe, the American hero of the nineteen
twelve Olympics, wasn't an American citizen. It wasn't until nineteen
twenty four all Native Americans were granted citizenship. This was
a divisive issue. Many Native Americans were understandably concerned that
they'd lose even more autonomy pledging allegiance to the United States.

But Jim did want citizenship rights, and he'd finally be
granted them after the Games in nineteen sixteen. Now, for
mere mortals, winning gold at the Olympics would be enough
for one year, but Jim Thorpe was no mere mortal.

Speaker 9 (23:27):
I call nineteen twelve the greatest single year any athlete
has ever had. Not only does he win two gold
medals in Stockholm, but then comes back and has a
brilliant final year of football at Carlisle with one game
that I call the greatest act of athletic retribution in

American history, which is the game against Army at West Point.

Speaker 1 (23:55):
Now, why this is so fraud this game.

Speaker 9 (23:58):
Well, it's the me against the Indians on a level
playing field at last. You know, most football games, it's
just football. This one had a larger resonance to it.

Speaker 1 (24:10):
The Carlisle players were well aware that only twenty two
years had passed since the massacre at Wounded Knee, when
three hundred Lakota men, women, and children were slaughtered by
the US Army, effectively marking the end of Indian resistance.
This season, both football teams were formidable. Carlisle had its

most talented team in the school's history with Jim at
running back.

Speaker 9 (24:37):
Army had a good team. They had a sophomore running back,
linebacker Dwight Eisenhower.

Speaker 1 (24:45):
Yes, that Dwight Eisenhower, the future Supreme Allied Commander and
thirty fourth President of the United States. Omar Bradley, another
future World War Two hero, sat on the bench. Eisenhower
would later back in awe at Jim and we.

Speaker 2 (25:02):
Buying just without the side of his bawn.

Speaker 10 (25:04):
It the football on, you take it out sixty yards
to punt.

Speaker 1 (25:09):
That's from an interview Eisenhower did years later. And it's
true Jim could punt more than sixty yards in normal
weather conditions. Ninety five yards if the winds were right,
we where's.

Speaker 6 (25:21):
By this man?

Speaker 11 (25:23):
Feed and they which you got.

Speaker 1 (25:25):
Last Ike understood that if Army didn't take down Thorpe,
they might as well wave the white flag.

Speaker 9 (25:33):
They said, we're gonna knock Thorpe out of the game,
hit him high and low at the same time, and
knock him out. In the third quarter, they eventually were
able to make that kind of tackle, and he was
on the ground groggy for a minute or so, but
he got up and soon thereafter knocked Eisenhower out of
the game. The Carlisle Indians clabbered Army twenty seven to six.

It was an unforgettable movement.

Speaker 1 (25:56):
They could defeat the Axis Powers, but they couldn't defeat
Jim Thorpe, fan Carlyle.

Speaker 9 (26:01):
It's a good way to put it. Book.

Speaker 1 (26:02):
As if that weren't enough, Jim won the Intercollegiate Ballroom
Dancing Championship that year. He would have crushed Dancing with
the Stars. Nineteen twelve had been a year of victories
for Jim Thorpe. Nineteen thirteen began very differently. In late January,
the Worcester Telegram newspaper reported that Jim Thorpe had played

minor league baseball in North Carolina back in nineteen oh
nine and nineteen ten. Now, remember how we said hundreds
of other college athletes had done the same. Incidentally, they
included Dwight D. Eisenhower. But the disclosure that Olympic hero
Jim Thorpe had played semi pro Bowl quickly blew up
into a major story. Back then, Olympic athletes were required

to be amateurs.

Speaker 9 (26:52):
Amateurism was basically an idea foisted upon athletes by wealthy
aristocrats in Europe who developed this noble sense of the
purity of sports, and then it became part of the
Olympic spirit and system that this would prevail.

Speaker 1 (27:12):
But says David Maronis, it was an unrealistic ideal.

Speaker 9 (27:16):
Most athletes come out of the working class and money,
you know, That's how they've survives through their athletic talents.
So it was a conflict between those two.

Speaker 1 (27:26):
Things and it was unevenly enforced.

Speaker 9 (27:30):
The entire Swedish team was given a leave of absence
from their jobs for six months before the Olympics at
fau pay. Were they professionals or amateur Jim Thorpe played
baseball for about a dollar a day in a sport
that had nothing to do with any of his events,

and yet he was the one who suffered because of this.
There were so many hpocrisies involved in this.

Speaker 1 (27:57):
Now, the press and the public were largely on Jim's side,
after all, he brought home gold for Team USA, the
second place finishers in the pentathlon and to Catalon. Both
Scandinavians were on his side too, But the US and
International Olympic committees were less forgiving, and so Jim turned

to his coach Pop Warner, who knew full well that
Jim had played semi pro ball.

Speaker 9 (28:23):
The most damning thing about Pop Warner was that at
the moment of Jim Thorpe's crisis, after he'd won his
gold medals, when because it was revealed that he'd played
minor league baseball in North Carolina for two years, Pop
Warner lied and said he knew nothing about it to
save his own reputation.

Speaker 1 (28:43):
Instead, Pop Warner ghost wrote the letter that Jim Thorpe
sent to the Amateur Athletic Union, portraying Thorpe as an
ignorant Indian who didn't know better and accepting blame. Jim
Thorpe was stripped of his medals. His name raced from
the record books the medals and trophies sent back. But

if Jim was bitter about it, it didn't show. As
he would throughout his life, he would just keep moving forward,
pushing against gale force headwinds. It helped that he had
just married his Carlyle sweetheart, Iva Margaret Miller, and they
would soon welcome their first child, Jim Junior. Jim would

later write about this period quote, while my castle fell
around me, the American people, the student body of Carlyle,
and my girl Iva remained loyal. I adopted a fantastic
viewpoint and considered the episode just another event in the
Red Man's life of ups and downs.

Speaker 11 (29:57):
In the NNY All the President the United States.

Speaker 1 (30:02):
In July nineteen thirty two, over one hundred thousand people
packed LA's Memorial Colisseum to watch one of the nation's
most highly regarded Native Americans preside over the opening of
that city's first Olympic Games.

Speaker 2 (30:19):
I have to play open.

Speaker 11 (30:22):
The Olympic Games of Los Angeles, celebrating that tenth Olympian
on the monern area.

Speaker 1 (30:34):
No, that's not the voice of Jim Thorpe. That was
Herbert Hoover's vice president, Charles Curtis, a member of the
kaw Nation and the first person of color to serve
as vice president. Jim Thorpe, the hero of the nineteen
twelve Games, wasn't even invited to attend these Games. In fact,

Jim was living in Los Angeles. When Vice President Curtis,
who had worshiped Thorpe, read in the Los Angeles Times
that Jim had been shut out, he arranged for passes
to be sent to him. When Jim got those passes,
he remarked, it had to be another Indian who finally
got me the invitation. The last twenty years had been

turbulent for Jim Thorpe. In nineteen eighteen, at the age
of three, Jim Thorpe Junior had died during the influenza pandemic.
The most precious trophy I had ever been awarded in
my life had been taken from me, Jim later said.
In nineteen twenty five, Jim's wife, Iva, filed for divorce,

claiming desertion. It was hard to blame her. Jim was
almost constantly on the road, and he was drinking heavily.
He would marry two more times and have eight children total,
but he was mostly an absentee father.

Speaker 9 (32:00):
Over the course of the final thirty years of his life,
he just kept moving. He lived in twenty different states,
most of the time out in California.

Speaker 1 (32:12):
When asked why he kept moving, he explained, a man
has to keep hustling when he has a family and
hustle he did. Within two years of his medals being
stripped from him, Jim Thorpe was playing both pro baseball
and pro football. He was named president of the organization
that would become the NFL. For a time, he even

played pro basketball. And here's something that surprised me even more.
For two seasons, Jim coached and played for an all
Native American football team called the Ourang Indians. Urang was
the name of the Ohio dog kennel that sponsored the team.
To draw in the crowds, the team would perform between halves,

showing off the kennel's airedales, performing ward dances, Jim would
wow spectators with his still spectacular dropkick. Now get this,
That show is generally considered the origin of today's NFL
halftime show. By the late nineteen twenties, age was taking

its toll on Jim he played his last football game
at forty one. When he was forty six, he played
his last baseball game. To make ends meet, Jim had
taken jobs as a security guard and bouncer, and by
nineteen thirty one he was digging ditches for the Los
Angeles Public Works Department, working for four dollars a day.

But Los Angeles was also a new beginning for Jim Thorpe.
He'd gone there to pursue a career in Hollywood, but
he visualized a better future in the industry for all
Native Americans.

Speaker 9 (33:55):
And there's another period out there where I sort of
see him finding himself and his meaning.

Speaker 1 (34:03):
That's biographer David Marinis.

Speaker 6 (34:05):

Speaker 9 (34:06):
He became the leader of the two hundred or so
Native Americans who were on the fringes of the studio
industry in Hollywood.

Speaker 1 (34:14):
Jim co founded the Native American Actors Guild. Native Americans
were barred from joining the Screen Actors Guild.

Speaker 9 (34:22):
You know, all of these Native Americans out there. Basically,
he was saying, you've got all these Westerns going on,
and you're hiring white guys and putting the war paint
on them higher us. You know, we're the real thing.

Speaker 1 (34:36):
Those Indian actors began calling Jim Akapamata caregiver in his
sack and fox language. The big surprise is how many
movies Jim himself ended up in.

Speaker 9 (34:49):
He was in more than seventy movies. He acted with
every famous actor you can imagine of that era.

Speaker 1 (34:57):
He's an extra I think in King Kong he's extra Kink.
He mostly played bit roles if he talked at all,
and usually as an Indian warrior. But in some movies,
like the nineteen thirty two comedic short Always Kicking, he
played himself and he was a highlight.

Speaker 6 (35:15):
I remember boys the art of draft kicking, to always
keep your eye on the ball and never look up
until the ball is in flag. All right, ken.

Speaker 1 (35:22):
But the film Jim Thorpe is best remembered for was
the one about him.

Speaker 2 (35:29):
Jim Thorpe, All American, The Man of Bronze, who became
the greatest athlete of all time, an Oklahoma Indian lad
who was on tame spirit gave wings to his feet
and carried him to immortality.

Speaker 1 (35:44):
Jim Thorpe, All American, the movie with Bert Lancaster for
its time, just to place it in its time. What
do you think of the movie.

Speaker 9 (35:54):
The movie is sympathetic to Jim Thorpe. It stars Burt Lancaster,
who is a great actor and a big star.

Speaker 3 (36:06):
There's one thing that really gets at sports. Do you
think a man can make a future out of them?

Speaker 9 (36:11):
You know, he was thirty seven when he played Thorpe,
but he had a training as an athlete and even
as an acrobat. In most respects the fact that he
wasn't a Native American. Other than that, he was not
a bad choice.

Speaker 1 (36:24):
And the director was Michael Curtiz, who years before had
directed Casablanca.

Speaker 9 (36:29):
It was a big deal in the star actor and
the director and the sympathy. But it's wrong in almost
every respect. You know, it's wrong in little ways where
the first scene you see Jim Thorpe running away from
school going back home in the home has a tpe
and the second fox didn't live in tpees. And then

in the background you see the San Gabriel Monsa, California.
You know, so that's are sort of little ways and
it's off. But what if I'm The most disturbing was
that the narrator of the film, and in some respects,
the hero is not Jim Thorpe. It's Pop Warner.

Speaker 1 (37:09):
Here's the Pop Warner character defending Jim for playing semi
pro baseball, something that certainly didn't happen in real life.

Speaker 3 (37:18):
I just want to say, gentlemen, an ignorance sometimes is
an excuse. All boys at colin I'll come to us
from the reservation. The government pays their expenses at school.
That doesn't make the professionals in the summer. When the
government stops paying their expenses, they have to win. They
keep somehow.

Speaker 1 (37:37):
Yes, the man who had sold Jim out in his
time of greatest need was presented on film as standing
up for Jim. The movie was yet another disappointment to Jim.
He'd turned over the rights to his life story and
made less than fifteen hundred dollars the same year the
film was released. In nineteen fifty one, Jim was diagnosed

with cancer. He seemed to beat it, but that wasn't
the end of his problems. Jim and his third wife, Patsy,
were broke living in a trailer in Lomita, California. On
March twenty eighth, nineteen fifty three, Jim Thorpe suffered a
heart attack while fishing at the Redondo Pier in California.
He died later that day, destitute. He was sixty four.

Only three years earlier, a poll of four hundred sports
writers had voted Jim Thorpe the number one athlete of
the first half of the twentieth century. Which brings us
back to the beginning of our episode and how Jim
Thorpe ended up where he is today.

Speaker 9 (38:45):
He had told his sons that he wanted to be
buried in his homeland in a woman in Second Fox.

Speaker 1 (38:52):
Territory, and it looked like that would happen. But Jim's widow, Patsy,
who was not Native American, had other ideas.

Speaker 9 (39:01):
It was in the middle of a Second Fox ceremony
on land not far from where he grew up that
she came in with a couple of tufts and took
him away because she was unhappy with how the Oklahoma
government was treating him and whether there would be enough
of a celebration, a mausoleum and a museum honoring him.

Speaker 1 (39:23):
Looking for a resting place for Jim's body, Patsy went
to Philadelphia to meet with a then NFL commissioner, and
here's where things get really weird.

Speaker 9 (39:34):
She's there in a hotel room watching television one night
and sees this story about these two down on their
luck coal towns up near the Poconos, mock Chunk and
East mock Chunk, were trying to figure out a way
to survive after the coal industry had died and tourism

had vanished. And it's called the Switzerland of America, and
it looks beautiful, and she comes up with this plan.

Speaker 1 (40:03):
Patsy contacted the editor of the local mock Chunk Times
and pitched him an idea to save the town.

Speaker 9 (40:10):
You'll get Jim Thorpe's body if you merge these two
little burrows into one town, renamed them Jim Thorpe. And
maybe we'll get a Jim Thorpe hospital, and I'll even
build a tepee hotel up here, and maybe the NFL
they'll set up the Hall of Fame in Jim Thorpe.

Speaker 1 (40:32):
And to be clear, when his body is brought here,
that is the very first time that Jim Thorpe comes
to this town.

Speaker 9 (40:39):
He had never set foot in Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania before
it became Jim Thorpe Pennsylvania.

Speaker 1 (40:46):
The plan was put to a vote and it passed.
Jim Thorpe Pennsylvania was born, and Jim Thorpe the man
was buried there. That's for the Hall of Fame, hospital
and TP hotel. None of that happened. Most of Jim's
family was outraged that he was buried in a town

he never lived in, and a suit to return his
body to Oklahoma was filed. It went all the way
to the Supreme Court, which ultimately refused to hear the case.
This really caused a rift in the family. I mean
so much pain and estrangement.

Speaker 10 (41:25):
Yeah, yes, I mean it's what divided us, and we've
been two separate families ever since.

Speaker 1 (41:31):
In nineteen ninety six, Jim's granddaughter, Anita Thorpe, took a
road trip with her father, Jim's son Richard. Their first
stop the Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, where
Jim Thorpe had been inducted its very first year.

Speaker 10 (41:47):
I remember going into the Football Hall of Fame and
my dad was he was really enjoying hisself.

Speaker 1 (41:54):
And then they drove on to Jim Thorpe Pennsylvania. It
was the first time either of them would see where
Jim was buried.

Speaker 10 (42:02):
And then we were at the mausoleum and my father's.
His whole demeanor changed from I'm having a really good time,
you know, I'm living this, having a time in my
life visiting these places, to a depression. A dark cloud

came over him, almost in an instant.

Speaker 1 (42:26):
Today, Richard Thorpe and all the rest of Jim Thorpe's
children are gone, and Anita Thorpe thinks it's time for
the newer generations to move on. Are you now getting
to know cousins that you were estranged from?

Speaker 10 (42:41):
Yes, you know, I hate to say, but it really
took all the children, you know, those that were fighting
to pass for the grandchildren to come and say, well,
let's do things together.

Speaker 1 (42:53):
Jim Thorpe's remains may never be restored to sac and
fox Land, but Jim Thorpe's Olympic leg has been restored.
In twenty twenty two, one hundred and ten years after
his humiliation, Jim Thorpe's name was officially reinstated as the
sole winner of the gold medals in the nineteen twelve

pentathlon and decathlon. That same year, Anita Thorpe delivered remarks
at the National Archives in Washington, DC. She spoke about
how her grandfather's story wasn't a tragedy. Instead, she told

this story illustrating how his extraordinary journey was an everyday
source of inspiration.

Speaker 10 (43:42):
Welcome everybody. I'm Anita Thorpe. I'm Jim Thorpe's granddaughter. I'm
going to tell a little story about my trip to Washington,
d C. This is my second time here. My first
trip was here in September. Everybody kept saying, take the metro,
That's how you get around this place. But I was

scared to death to get on the metro. And so
I leave the Hilton and I go downstairs, and I
was afraid to death, you know. I was afraid that
I was going to get on the wrong train and
never make it back. So I stepped aboard the train.
I sit down, And as soon as I sat down,

I thought about my granddad, and I thought about the
courage it took for each and every endeavor that he took,
going to the Olympics, being a star athlete at Carlisle,
being the first president of what is today the NFL.
And you heard the term doors open and close. One

door open, one door closes. And so while I was
riding that train today, I thought of my grandfather's courage
And if I could leave one bit of thing or
inspiration for Jim Thorb for young and old, is you know,
for everybody to have that courage in your life when

you're stepping on the platform to someplace unknown.

Speaker 7 (45:12):
That's what my grandfather had throughout his life, was the
courage to step up on the platform for whatever event
it was in the strength. Thank you.

Speaker 1 (45:38):
I certainly hope you enjoyed this mobituary. May I ask
you to please rate and review our podcast. You can
also follow Mobituaries on Facebook and Instagram, and you can
follow me on the social media platform formerly known as
Twitter at morocca. Here are all new episodes of Mobituaries

every Wednesday. Where you get your podcasts and check out Mobituaries.
Great Lives Worth Reliving the New York Times best selling
book now available in paperback and audiobook. It includes plenty
of stories not in the podcast. This episode of Mobituaries
was produced by Liz Sanchez. Our team of producers also

includes Chloe Choball, Young Kim and Me Moroka, with engineering
by Josh Han. Our theme music is written by Daniel Hart.
Our archivel producer is Jamie Benson. Fact checking from Amy Cronenberg.
Mobituary's production company is Neon Hum Media. Indispensable support from

Alan Pang and everyone at CBS News Radio. Special thanks
to Steve Razis, Rand Morrison, Michah Carlson, Alberto Robina and
Francisco Robina. Also to the voices of Oklahoma and I'm
a Sportsfile dot Com for archival tape. David Marinus's book

Path Lit by Lightning the Life of Jim Thorpe is
published by Simon and Schuster, which, like CBS, is part
of Paramount Global. Executive producers for Mobituaries include Megan Marcus,
Jonathan Hirsch, and Morocca. The series is created by Yours
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