Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania, city leaders on May 17 filed a notice they will appeal U.S. District Judge A. Richard Caputo's decision last month, which would require the borough to begin the process of returning Thorpe's remains if it is upheld. Thorpe, the Sac & Fox Indian and "Greatest Athlete in the World," is interred in a mausoleum in the small Pennysvlania town. (Related: The Battle Over Jim Thorpe's Remains)
Caputo ruled in favor of sons Bill and Richard Thorpe and against Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania, a borough in the northeastern part of the state, saying the town itself amounts to a museum under the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. The interpretation of the law in the Jim Thorpe case has the potential to influence cases across the country.
It is expected that the city will question whether the Repatriation Act should apply, given the circumstances of Thorpe's burial. Some experts on the act say it depends on whether the mausoleum in Jim Thorpe is considered his original resting place. Thorpe was never buried in Oklahoma on his tribe's homelands before being buried in Pennyslvania.
Thorpe's 1954 burial in Pennsylvania was the product of a deal between civic leaders in the downtrodden Carbon County boroughs of Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk and Thorpe's third wife, Patricia. The boroughs would later change their names to a unified Jim Thorpe.
Bill Billeck, who runs the repatriation program at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette the Jim Thorpe case has the potential to have an effect on a wide range of organizations across the country.
For example, a cemetery where a prominent Native American is buried might be subject to the Repatriation Act, he said.
"That's what the debate is about," Billeck said. "It's [Thorpe's] gravesite, but there's an exhibit quality about the way that his importance is being featured in Pennsylvania."