Sixty years ago today, March 28, 1953, Jim Thorpe, Sac & Fox, died of a heart attack in California at the age of 66. Wa-Tho-Huk, the Indian name his mother gave him, which means “Bright Path,” remains the best known American Indian athlete today.
Through the 60 years since Thorpe’s passing, the 1912 Olympic gold medals he won in the decathlon and pentathlon and had removed have been resinstated (in 1982), but not the Olympic records he set in winning those medals. His remains were buried in a town in Pennyslvania that has since named itself Jim Thorpe, while members of his family have sued to have his remains returned to Oklahoma.
The athletic prowess of Thorpe has been well documented, discussed and dissected, and it continues to be so. For recent articles, see: Sally Jenkins of The Washington Post declaring “Greatest Olympic Athelete? Jim Thorpe, not Usain Bolt.” And Ron Flatter writing for ESPN.com to remind us that “Thorpe Preceded Deion, Bo.” Oh, and Team USA itself proclaiming: “Jim Thorpe: ‘The Greatest Athlete’ a Century Later.“
Much of Thorpe’s history we know. But did you know that he had a twin brother? He did, his twin brother Charlie died at age nine. And did you know that Thorpe once hit three home runs into three different states in the same game? During a semi-pro game in a ballpark on the Texas-Oklahoma-Arkansas border, he hit his first homer over the leftfield wall, landing in Oklahoma. His second dinger went over the rightfield wall and into Arkansas. His third homer stayed right in Texas, where the field was: It was an inside-the-park home run. Did you know that Native artist and filmmaker Steven Judd, Kiowa/Choctaw, painted LEGO Jim Thorpe? He did:
We’ll soon have the Jim Thorpe Native American Games to follow again: They’ll be played June 9-15 at locations in Oklahoma City and Shawnee, Oklahoma. The Games feature 11 sports and more than 2,000 Native athletes will come to compete.
But today, we honor the man. There’s a treasure of excellent documentaries on Wa-Tho-Huk, and we’ve selected the best to present here. Enjoy.
Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian Presentation: Jim Thorpe: World’s Greatest Athlete
Documentary film, presented by Native American Public Television: Jim Thorpe, the World’s Greatest Athlete, Part 1
Jim Thorpe, the World’s Greatest Athlete, Part 2
Jim Thorpe, the World’s Greatest Athlete, Part 3
Jim Thorpe, the World’s Greatest Athlete, Part 4
ESPN Classic SportsCentury’s Jim Thorpe, Part 1
Jim Thorpe, Part 2
Jim Thorpe, Part 3
Jim Thorpe, Part 4
OETA-The Oklahoma Network’s Centennial Stories: Jim Thorpe