AL ZAGOFSKY/TIMES NEWS FILE PHOTO Michael Koehler, the son of Charlotte Thorpe and the grandson of Jim Thorpe, is troubled by last week's decision in the Jim Thorpe repatriation lawsuit. The photograph of Michael Koehler was taken in front of Thorpe's mausoleum in Jim Thorpe during Jim Thorpe birthday festivities in 2011.
Michael Koehler is troubled by the ruling in the Jim Thorpe lawsuit. Koehler is Thorpe's grandson and spokesperson for the progeny of Thorpe's first wife, Margaret Iva Miller.
Late last week, federal Judge Richard A. Caputo declared, "The borough of Jim Thorpe is a 'museum' under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act and subject to the requirements of the Act, including those provisions governing repatriation requests."
Although the language suggests that the decision favors repatriation of Jim Thorpe's remains, it may alternately be interpreted to simply open the door to a repatriation request. If so, such a repatriation request will finally bring to light the disparate views of horpe's heirs. The heirs of his second wife favor repatriation to Oklahoma, while the heirs of his first wife want him to rest in peace in Jim Thorpe, the town named for him.
The following is Michael Koehler's reply to the ruling:
"I just received news of the decision regarding the disposition of my grandfather's (Jim Thorpe) remains. Apparently, they are to be returned to Oklahoma as determined by a Federal judge and the particulars of the Native American Repatriation Act.
"As his eldest grandson, I have several reactions. One, the lawsuit was initiated originally by Jim's youngest son, Jack, who, having been the principal chief of the Sauk and Fox at one time, determined in his own mind that his grandfather deserved a Native American burial and that he should be buried in the family plot of HIS side of the family, apparently disregarding the concerns of the lineal descendants of the first half of the family, those of us from Jim's first marriage to my grandmother, Margaret Iva Miller. Midway through the lawsuit, Jack died, and his brothers Bill and Dick, along with the Sac and Fox tribe of Oklahoma, agreed to continue the suit.
"Shortly after their decision, my brother John and I heard that Bill Thorpe, the oldest brother, admitted to feeling uncomfortable with legal goings-on and asked Bob Wheeler, the author of a less authoritative biography of Jim, to handle the case for him. At that point, my brother John called Wheeler to ask him what the plan was for the burial of my grandfather's remains should their side win the lawsuit. In essence, John asked if my grandfather would be buried in the family plot of the second marriage or the family plot of the first marriage, my side of the family. Wheeler told John that he would be buried in neither cemetery but instead would be re-interred near a monument that was to be erected near the administrative offices of the Sac and Fox nation.
"So, in essence, here's just one of the things that happened. My grandfather's remains and any decisions involving them are to be made by NON-FAMILY members. I find it hard to believe that the provisions of NAGPRA returned the remains of Native Americans to the tribe for burial decisions when LINEAL DESCENDANTS WERE ALIVE to make those very decisions. The intent of NAGPRA was to return unidentified Native American remains currently housed in museums to the appropriate tribe for burial. I don't deny the validity of such a provision. In fact, I applaud it as the descendant of thousands of Indians who suffered the indignities of philosophies like Manifest Destiny and found themselves consistently dispossessed of ever-changing homelands, all changes based on the whims of an ambitious White Settlement who desired the millions of acres that spread invitingly before them and promised bright futures for them and their children. ANYTHING that opposes the continuation of such arrogant policies is applauded by someone like me and certainly thousands of others who regret the cavalier treatment of Native Americans.
"This, however, is not such a case. My side of the family assured the fact that my grandfather would receive a Native American burial ritual and HE DID, in spite of anything the other half of the family may claim. My Aunt Grace, a member of the Sac and Fox, performed the ritual in conjunction with several chiefs from the Jim Thorpe area of Pennsylvania. We are of the opinion that he lives in sanctified ground and that, beyond all that, were he to comment on the legal silliness taking place in Pennsylvania, his current level of spiritual transcendence would provoke one question: "What's wrong with you people?" He then would have assured everyone that his current level of Spiritual development in the AFTER LIFE has elevated him to the point where he no longer cares about such mundane things as bodily remains.
"Frankly nor do I. That's why my only position throughout this entire suit has been to simply let him rest in peace. Not so with Wheeler's website, which calls itself some variation of "rest in peace" but seeks the disinterment of Jim's remains, the destruction of everything the good people of Jim Thorpe PA have done to perpetuate his memory and his legacy, the forcible removal of him back to Oklahoma to be buried according to the decisions of a man who finds a sense of ego satisfaction in his continued association with the Thorpe name and a tribe who wanted little to do with him prior to this lawsuit.
"In fact, I visited the administrative offices of the Sac and Fox a few years ago and saw very little reference to Jim Thorpe and was even shocked when I asked the receptionist if the had much information on the village of Saukenak, the birthplace of Black Hawk and the reason behind the Black Hawk War, a confrontation between Black Hawk's band of Indians and the Illinois militia which, in reality was little more than a series of skirmishes but that resulted in the massacre of most of his band of Indians.
"I told her that I was thinking of writing a book on my grandfather and, when I asked specifically if she could provide information on Saukenak, she said, 'What?' I said, 'Saukenak,' and she said, 'Never heard of it.'
"To make matters worse, I asked my Aunt Grace, Jim's youngest daughter, why she wasn't seeking the assistance of the tribe to raise money for a museum she was planning for her father in Yale, Oklahoma, the site of his only home. She told me that the Sac and Fox were tired of hearing about their association with Jim Thorpe, that they felt that they had a much richer history without constant reference to him. When he died in 1953, they failed, just as sorrowfully as the state of Oklahoma, to volunteer the resources to construct some kind of monument to honor his memory. They did nothing. In fact, my aunt used to claim that, 'Oklahoma had its chance' and fell down on the job.'
"Now the tribe wants him back, 60 years later. I can't help but wonder "WHY?" Nor can I help but wonder why the judge denied my half of the family any kind of hearing before he made a decision regarding the disposition of my grandfather's remains.
"Folks, we have as much right to be involved in those decisions as anyone on the other side of the family. If the town of Jim Thorpe, PA can find the will to continue the good fight, my brother John and I stand ready to stand side by side with them. If they lose heart, my response is "So be it" and, like my grandfather, wonder why the incessant meddlings of so many people chose to disturb his eternal rest. He and his people were pushed hither and yon in life and, now, finally at rest, he is being pushed around again.
"Please just leave him alone."
Grandson of Jim Thorpe