Court Rules Jim Thorpe’s Remains Stay In Borough

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JIM THORPE -- A federal appeals court ruled on Thursday against family members who wanted the remains moved from Carbon County to tribal lands in Thorpe's native Oklahoma.

The federal Third Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower court's decision allowing Jim Thorpe's sons to move his remains to Oklahoma.

For the past few years, the borough named for Jim Thorpe has been fighting to keep him there and now they have won a major victory in that battle.

Thorpe's remains will not be moved from the borough bearing the name of the famous Native American athlete and Olympian.

For 60 years the burial site along Route 903 has been a stop for visitors and now that will continue.

"I'm just so excited, I'm trying to work and I can't. I'm just very excited about it," said Jim Thorpe resident Anne Marie Fitzpatrick.

Fitzpatrick's business helped raise money to support the borough's legal expenses. She has also organized events marking Jim Thorpe's birthday every year for two decades. She feels the community has lived up to its promise to Jim Thorpe's widow to change its name and care for his remains.

"Just let him alone now and let him rest in peace, that's the way we feel about it."

Last year, surviving sons of Jim Thorpe won a lower court battle to move the Native American's remains to tribal land in Oklahoma.

But some of his grandchildren and many in this community were determined to keep him here.

"He's been here quite a while. We honor him every year and we maintain his site over there. We have the greatest respect for him and I think he belongs here," said Jim Thorpe resident Michael Guy.

The court ruling calls it "absurd" that a federal law protecting the remains of Native Americans be used to settle what is, in effect, a dispute within the Thorpe family. It says Jim Thorpe's wife clearly wanted him buried here and he should stay here.

"I'm ecstatic. I'm very happy. I read this decision and it essentially ratified every position we had," said William Schwab, attorney for the borough.

Schwab led the fight for the borough. He's glad the appeals court ruled this is not about a community taking a Native American's remains from tribal lands for burial. Instead it was a wife picking a place where her legendary husband would be honored.

"I would love to see this be the end. Jim Thorpe in his life had many unusual chapters. This is one that should be put behind him."

Schwab says this is likely the last stop for this case. Jim Thorpe's sons can appeal, but their only options are rare, including the U.S. Supreme Court.

This legal fight for Jim Thorpe borough will cost about $15,000 to $20,000.

Schwab is only charging for his expenses, not legal services.

16 comments

  • William Heaney

    I’m pro Indian, believing the Washington Red Skins and Cleveland Indians are wrong keeping a logo offensive to the people who owned the land the team plays on and all the land their fans live on, but with the Jim Thorpe controversy, I’m with the town. They kept their bargain and have honored a gifted athlete and Indian, and they can honor him in Oklahoma without his body. Most Indians, from what I’ve read, believe in a spiritual here-after, and all of the Americas are Indian land, he’s not buried in Europe or India.

  • JD

    Let’s all take a step back. My understanding is for all of these years, Grace Thorpe, the oldest sister would not allow the family or the tribe to pursue moving Mr. Thorpe’s body. She use to come here almost every year for his birthday and other celebrations because she believed the town did a great job of keeping his namesake alive. It wasn’t until her death that two brothers and the tribe decided they wanted is body returned and rumor has it relocated near a soon to built casino. The last part came directly from the John Thorpe. I will post the link at the end of this vent.
    So, in actuality, a majority of the family, per the article, wanted Mr. Thorpe to remain where he is resting today. It came down to two brothers and a Indian Tribe that wanted him relocated.
    Just my two cents….

    Here is the link to the article – http://www.vice.com/read/deceased-native-american-athlete-jim-thorpe-is-big-business-in-some-small-towns

    For those who do not want to read through the article, here is John Thorpe quote –
    John Thorpe is aware that Jim Thorpe (the town) may have transparent economic motives, but he worries that his uncles—who, he said, waited for his mother and aunts to die before filing suit—have more opaque ones.
    “They want to put him by a casino in Oklahoma, and we really don’t want that to happen. He was very shy. He didn’t like to have a lot of attention drawn to himself. Putting him in front of a casino doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.”

  • Michael Cotten-Ward

    im glad that it’s over but it’s ridiculous that the town fought this in the first place. They should have given them back. I wouldn’t call this a victory.

  • Frank Z

    I’d hate to break it to you folks, but nothing they can ever do in the town of Jim Thorpe or anywhere in this country for that matter will ever make up for what was taken from these people to begin with! Perhaps they, as his family, look at things much differently than you do considering their history and see this as an insult and maybe they know more about how he would have felt than you do. Just saying. I get that you want to protect your town, but it seems like even in death you’re taking from the NATIVE AMERICANS because his wife “made a deal” How sad, think about that statement for a moment before you judge! Like every other time, someone made a deal and robbed them! What did Jim get out of this? What did his family get out of it? Oh, a nice marble tomb? Come on, really?

  • Sharon

    He was buried here when he died because at the time the then town of Mauch Chunk was looking to change their name and his wife struck a deal with the town. He was an olympic hero who lost his medals because he was paid a small amount for playing baseball. Why did it take 50 years for his family to decide that he should be buried in Oklahoma. The people of Jim Thorpe have given him a beautiful resting place which by the way is totally free to visit so their is no revenue to gain from his burial site. The town is a very pretty and quaint place to visit and a tourist attraction on its own. Let him rest in peace!

  • michele

    My understanding is that he had 3 wives. The last wife had him buried in Jim Thorpe. It was only one of the wives children that wanted him moved. The other 2 families we ok with him staying where he’s been.

  • Pardee

    A circuit judge in Philadelphia decides….yeah, that’s typical. The heck with his family’s wishes in returning his remains to Oklahoma, they’re only Indians…The town and state need the tourist revenue, that’s the bottom line. Disgraceful.

    • mel

      Really disgraceful you say. They did not care about this man for over 50 years. This town did more in his memory than his own family. As far as revenue people who visit Jim Thorpe they come for many others reasons. If they decide to see the monument there is no fee or charge. But maybe you can volunteer some time to help up keep the grounds, but i am sure younhave better things to do

  • Your mama

    Why all of a sudden did they want his body back. Is this where he wanted to be buried? Just wondering. The most important question though is “WHY NOW!? WHY DO they all of a sudden want him moved? I think it’s odd. Besides that you shouldn’t disturb the remains of someone, esp after they have been there in that resting place and at peace there for 50 years. Come on!!!! Get real! I’m so glad the judge decided against disturbing him.

    • Terri

      Jim Thorpe never set foot in the town where he was buried. He lived in Carlisle only because he was sent to Indian boarding school, but throughout his life he lived in many other places, including his birthplace of Oklahoma. His third wife grabbed his casket in the middle of his burial in Oklahoma, put it on a truck, and brokered a deal with a destitute town after several other Pennsylvania towns rejected her. The Repatriation Act was put into place specifically for this type of unethical, insensitive regard for the history and culture of Native Americans.

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