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Native Americans campaign for return of athlete's remains

Native Americans launch effort to move famed athlete's remains to home state

Native Americans campaign for return of athlete's remains

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- A tribe in Oklahoma on Wednesday launched a campaign seeking to move the remains of renowned Native American athlete Jim Thorpe from Pennsylvania to his home state of Oklahoma.

Thorpe, an American football, baseball and track star who won the decathlon and pentathlon in the 1912 Olympics, died without a will in 1953 at age 64. He's considered one of the greatest athletes of his era and is one of the most celebrated Native American athletes ever.

The announcement came a day after Thorpe's surviving sons, Bill and Richard Thorpe, asked the U.S. Supreme Court to allow them to pursue reburial of Thorpe on Sac and Fox tribal land in Oklahoma. The sons did not attend Wednesday's announcement.

"This is his family's wish. This is his own personal wish," Sac and Fox Nation Principal Chief George Thurman said in announcing the "Bring Jim Thorpe Home" campaign. "To come home to Oklahoma, Sac and Fox country to be buried."

In a strange twist of history, Thorpe was laid to rest in Pennsylvania after Oklahoma's governor balked at the cost of a planned monument to the athlete. His third wife, Patricia, had Thorpe's body seized by police during his Native American funeral service and sent it to Pennsylvania. She struck a deal with two merging towns -- Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk -- to build a memorial and name the new town after him.

The borough of Jim Thorpe has found support from Thorpe's grandsons, who say it has done right by him. The town's attorney said Tuesday that many of the claims in the sons' Supreme Court petition are "folklore rather than facts," with well-established estate law giving Thorpe's wife the right to decide where he should be buried.

In 2013, a federal judge gave Thorpe's sons a victory, ruling the town amounted to a museum under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. The law requires museums -- defined as any institution or state or local government agency that receives federal funds -- and federal agencies possessing Native American remains to return them upon request of the deceased's family or tribe.

But an appeals court in Philadelphia said in October that Thorpe's body should remain in Jim Thorpe, determining that the act was misapplied by the judge.

It's far from certain the Supreme Court will hear the case. The justices receive thousands of appeals each year and reject the vast majority of them.

An attorney for Thorpe's sons, Stephen Ward, said the question is whether the language of the repatriation act should be strictly followed or interpreted by the courts.

Thurman said the town can keep the name Jim Thorpe and any recognition it received, just return the body for a traditional Sac and Fox burial.

He rejected the idea of a traditional burial taking place in Pennsylvania.

"That's not an option, simply for the fact it was Jim Thorpe's last wishes, that he told his kids, his children, he wanted to come back to Oklahoma."


Associated Press writer Michael Rubinkam in Philadelphia contributed to this report.

Updated : 2021-09-27 19:40 GMT+08:00