The two surviving children of sports great Jim Thorpe won a critical ruling Friday in federal court that could clear the way for his remains to be removed from a mausoleum in the Pennsylvania town that bears his name and reinterred on American Indian land in Oklahoma, reports the Associated Press.
U.S. District Judge Richard 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 borough may appeal the decision.
Meanwhile, the brothers' attorney, Stephen R. Ward, of Tulsa, Oklahoma, told the AP they will now pursue the legal process to have their father, known as the "Greatest Athlete in the World," returned to Sac and Fox land in central Oklahoma.
“They and their brothers and other members of the family have wanted this and have worked for this for a long time,” Ward said. “They well remember how the wishes of the Indian members of the family were not respected concerning their father’s burial.”
After Jim Thorpe died without a will in 1953 at age 64, third wife Patricia Thorpe made a deal with two merging towns in the Poconos, Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk, to have the new town named for him. His remains have been kept for the past six decades in a borough-owned roadside memorial along the Lehigh River.
Caputo wrote that the result may seem at odds with notions of commercial or contract law.
“Congress, however, recognized larger and different concerns in such circumstances, namely, the sanctity of the Native American culture’s treatment of the remains of those of Native American ancestry,” the judge said in his decision. “It did so against a history of exploitation of Native American artifacts and remains for commercial purposes.”
Related story: The Battle Over Jim Thorpe's Remains