100 Years Ago Today

A History Of Events And Happenings From Exactly One Hundred Years Ago

Native American Hailed As World’s Greatest Athlete

James Francis Thorpe was born sometime in May 1888 in Indian Territory near Prauge, Oklahoma. Both grandfather were of European heritage and he was raised by his Sac and Fox parents as a Roman Catholic. His Native American name is Wa-Tho-Huk – “path lit by great flash of lightning” or”Bright Path” but he was soon called “Jim”. After attending Indian Agency schools, 16 year old Thorpe decided to attend the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, the first off-reservation boarding school in the US, founded in 1879 in Carlisle, Pennsylvania with the goal of total assimilation for Indian children from over 140 tribes. “To civilize the Indian, get him into civilization. To keep him civilized, let him stay.” In 1907 Carlisle re-hired athletic coach Glenn Scobey “Pop” Warner who had left Carlisle to coach at Cornell. Warner recognized Thorpe’s athletic talents when he walked past the track and beat all the school’s high jumpers with an impromptu 5ft 9in jump still in street clothes! Thorpe played competed in football, baseball, lacrosse. In a 1911 football game Thorpe, playing running back, defensive back, placekicker and punter score all his teams points in an 18-15 victory over top-rated Harvard. In 1912 Thorpe scored a 92-yard touchdown which was nullified by a teammate’s penalty and on the next play rushed for a 97-yard touchdown against Army and a young Dwight D Eisenhower. Thorpe was named All-American in 1911 and 1912 as well as winning the 1912 intercollegiate ballroom dancing championship. In 1912 Thorpe started training for the Olympics. He had only trained in jumps, hurdles and shot-puts, but now added pole vaulting, javelin, discus, hammer and 56 lb weight. 2 new multi-event disciplines were included in the 1912 Stockholm Summer Games – the pentathlon and the decathlon. Thorpe won 8 of the 15 individual events comprising the pentathlon and decathlon as well as individual events. The 1912 Summer Olympics ended July 15 and the medals were presented to the athletes during the closing ceremonies of the games. Thorpe’s medals were awarded by King Gustav V of Sweden. When awarding Thorpe his prize, King Gustav said, “You, sir, are the greatest athlete in the world,” to which Thorpe supposedly replied, “Thanks, King.” On July 21, 1912 the Sunday NEW YORK TIMES echoed the sentiment of King Gustav V of Sweden by declaring Thorpe the greatest athlete in the world : Sac and Fox Indian a Marvelous Man in Many Forms of Sport http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=9E0DE0D81E3CE633A25752C2A9619C946396D6CF

Decathlon winner Jim Thorpe of the US receives a crown of laurel from Gustav V King of Sweden
July 14, 1912


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