A visit to Jim Thorpe's birthplace
AL ZAGOFSKY/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS In 2007, on a cross-country drive from Las Vegas to Lehighton, Ruth and Neil Bush, visited the birthplace of Olympian Jim Thorpe outside Prague, Oklahoma.
In 2007, on a cross-country drive from Los Vegas to Lehighton, Ruth and Neil Bush visited the birthplace of Olympian Jim Thorpe outside Prague, Oklahoma.
"I knew Jim Thorpe came from Oklahoma," Ruth said. "We had driven across the country several times. We usually take Rt. 40. It's pretty direct and we knew the route."
They picked up brochures along the route and found a map to Jim Thorpe's birthplace. They exited from Rt. 40 and headed for Prague.
"We were on a small road when we got to a town," she noted. "It wasn't large enough to be a town, perhaps it was a little burg. We came to a sign that read Jim Thorpe Boulevard.
"There was a big field with trees and a nice monument with information," she said. "I didn't realize that Jim Thorpe had a twin brother that died when he was eight.
"It was a neat feeling to find it," she continued, "a peaceful feeling with a sense of how he grew up. The area was not terribly wild. The land was flat with green fields, trees, bushes, shrubs and birds."
According to the Oklahoma Historical Society, there are two Jim Thorpe birth monuments.
Jim Thorpe was born on a farm outside Prague, Oklahoma. The marker in Potawatomi County was placed by the Potawatomi tribe at an intersection that describes his birthplace as a farm outside of Prague, and claims him as a Potawatomi. The marker in Lincoln County was placed by the Sac and Faux tribe at an intersection that describes his birthplace as a farm outside of Prague, and claims him as a Sac and Faux.
These rival markers each claim Jim Thorpe as a member of their tribe. Both are correct. He is usually considered to be Sac and Fox (alternate spellings Sauk, Faux), although he also had Potawatomi, Menomini, and Kickapoo, as well as Irish and French, ancestry.
Thorpe was born near Prague, Indian Territory, on May 28, 1888. No birth certificate has been found. Some controversy exists concerning his birth year, as his estate cites 1887.
His parents, Hiram and Charlotte Vieux Thorpe named him, Wa-Tho-Huk, translated to "Bright Path." He was christened "Jacobus Franciscus Thorpe" in the Catholic Church.
He was born before either Prague nor Oklahoma existed. Oklahoma would be formed by the combination of Oklahoma Territory and Indian Territory in 1907.
Czech immigrants came to Oklahoma from Iowa and Nebraska for the 1889 and 1891 Land Runs following the Indian Appropriations Act of 1889 in which previously restricted lands were opened for homesteading on a first-arrival basis. Those arriving on land before the run were called "sooners", an expression that led to Oklahoma becoming the "Sooner" state. In 1902, the city of Prague was founded.
Prague is centrally located between Oklahoma's two largest cities, Oklahoma City, 50 miles east, and Tulsa, 65 miles southwest. Prague's current population is approximately 2,200.
One interesting fact about Prague is that the Oklahoma song that graces the Web page of the Prague Chamber of Commerce is none other than "The Chicken Dance", the iconic festival song in northeastern Pennsylvania (see: www.praguechamber.org.)
The Prague Chamber added the Chicken Dance music to their Web site this year. Since the 1950s, on the first Saturday each May, Prague runs a Kolache Festival, named after a Czechoslovakian fruit-filled sweet roll. Until recently, it was not unusual to hear Czech spoken on the streets of Prague.
The Chamber refers to the area where Jim Thorpe was born as "Garden Grove."
A Sac and Fox reservation where young Jim Thorpe first went to school is about 10 miles north of Prague.
"The story goes that Jim Thorpe didn't want to go to school. When his father took him there by buggy, Jim ran home and get there before his father returned," a chamber representative said.