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Thorpe case can proceed

Published November 26. 2011 09:01AM

A federal judge in Scranton has ruled that a lawsuit having the body of Jim Thorpe moved from the town named after him to Oklahoma, to be interred on sacred tribal ground, will proceed.

U.S. District Judge A. Richard Caputo rejected a request filed on behalf of Jim Thorpe borough and 11 individual defendants to have the case dismissed.

The case seeking to have Thorpe's body removed from a mausoleum in Jim Thorpe and moved to Oklahoma was originally filed by John Thorpe, a son of the athlete, on June 24, 2010.

On Feb. 22, 2011, John Thorpe died, and the proceedings were stayed for 67 days.

The legal counsel for John Thorpe filed an amended complaint on May 2, 2011, adding Richard and William Thorpe, the sole surviving sons of Jim Thorpe, and the Sac and Fox nation. This brought objection from the defendants, who asked the judge to dismiss the case.

Judge Caputo ruled that the newly added plaintiffs to the case after John Thorpe's death "have a legitimate claim to the remains of Jim Thorpe. Thus, these newly added plaintiffs are not interlopers, and their joinder was proper."

The judge also ruled that the Thorpe siblings have clarified "that they do not seek to enjoin the defendants to return the remains directly to them," but rather to comply with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA).

The borough of Jim Thorpe had sought to have the case dismissed, arguing it does not come under NAGPRA. Judge Caputo said he has already rejected this claim in a previous order on Feb. 4 and will not revisit the argument.

In the "factual history" portion of the appeal ruling, it was stated:

"Jim Thorpe was a famous athlete, an enrolled member of the Sac and Fox Indian tribe, and an advocate for the rights of Indian people.

"Upon Jim Thorpe's death in 1953, his remains were taken to Shawnee, Okla. for burial near his birthplace.

"Before the completion of the traditional Sac and Fox memorial service, Jim Thorpe's third wife ordered that his casket be removed. She proceeded to 'shop around' his remains until a deal was made to bury them in the boroughs of East Mauch Chunk and Mauch Chunk, Pennsylvania."

It adds that "although Jim Thorpe is never known to have visited the town, the borough hoped that the erection of a monument in Jim Thorpe's honor would attract tourists."

It also states that the Thorpe brothers "have repeatedly asked the borough to repatriate their father's remains so that they can bury him within his tribal homeland in Oklahoma, but the borough has refused."

An article in the Tulsa World newspaper states bluntly, "the borough of Jim Thorpe, Pa. essentially bought the famed athlete's remains from his widow in 1953."

Thorpe was born on May 28, 1888 in Oklahoma Territory, a descendant of the Thunder Clan of the great Sac and Fox chief, Black Hawk. Court proceedings state "he remained an advocate of the rights of his tribe and Indian people throughout his life."

Along with being a football and track star at Carlisle Indian School, Thorpe became the hero of he 1912 Olympic games at Stockholm, and was given the designation of "World's Greatest Athlete."

He came back from Stockholm with $50,000 worth of trophies but his Olympic medals were stripped from him in 1913 after it was revealed that he had played minor league baseball for $2 a game.

Thorpe died on March 28, 1953 in his trailer home in the Los Angeles suburb of Lomita, Calif. He was eating dinner with his wife when he suffered a heart attack.

His medals were restored in 1983, 30 years after his death. His children gave them to the state of Oklahoma, where they were put on display under Thorpe's portrait in the Oklahoma state house.

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