James Francis Thorpe of the Sac and Fox Tribe, was born May 22, 1887, on the Sac and Fox Indian Reservation, Prague, Oklahoma. His Indian name is "Wa-Tho-Huk" which meant "Bright Path."
Being Indian brought some challenges with it in his early life. When Jim started primary school, he hated it because of the discipline. "The government believed that the only way to break in Indians to white culture was through a strict regime" (Richards 21). The discipline was used if Indians used Indian language, were caught roughhousing, came late to meals or had a sloppy appearance (Richards 24). Those years were not fun for him. He only enjoyed the game of baseball. Jim and his twin brother Charlie, who died of pneumonia when Jim was nine years old, had outdoor adventures like swimming, fishing, camping, hunting and Indian games like "Follow the Leader", "Fox and Geese" (Richards 20). "That kind of life-style was the foundation of Jim's athletic development," says Gregory Richards. There were no organized sports or any coach to train him at that time. So he learned what agility, stamina, and endurance meant in competition by these games.
When Jim turned eleven, he was sent to Haskell Institute in Kansas to face tough challenges like living alone, and learning to be an Indian in the society. He also met with a new white man's game that let him rise above the rest, was football. His mother passed away when he was seventeen years old. He left Kansas and signed up for Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania. Then his father passed away. So he had no parents to go back to Oklahoma. The government found him a guardian to help his payments. He took part in the "outing system," which was placing Indian students to white citizens for a few months to learn more about white's way of life. "He cleaned the house, helped out the kitchen but it was not a happy situation for someone who enjoyed outdoors so much" (Richards 34). Jim had to do house work instead of practicing baseball or football because of his economical status. Three years was enough for teenage Thorpe in the program, he had to play football, so he ran back to Carlisle in 1907.
He made track squad and worked hard for football after he came back to school. In 1908, he was the main player of the football team. He also won gold medals with track field program. In the summer, instead of going to home, he went to North Carolina to play baseball. He found a team in Eastern Carolina Leagues that paid him fifteen dollars a week. He loved baseball enough to forget about the low pay. He enjoyed playing baseball and did not return to Carlisle. When he heard that team was not doing well, he went back before the season games started. He had very a successful season that even the newspapers say "the star of the meet". Once, Thorpe and the rest of the Carlisle football team didn't think they stood a chance against the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, which was a much more accomplished team. Then the Carlisle coach reminded the team that the fathers and grandfathers of the West Point players made up the army that had fought and defeated the Indians. Carlisle won the game, twenty-seven to six.
That same year Jim met with Iva Miller. Everything was going very well with him. He was probably country's most famous college football player. Then he made it to the United States Olympic Team when he was twenty-four years old, when he entered the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm. By the end of a week's Olympic activity, he had become the world's most acclaimed athlete as well (Halberstam).
Reporting for the New York Herald Tribune in 1953, Red Smith wrote that in the pentathlon, Jim had won the broad jump, and the 200-meter hurdles. He broke the records in 1,500-meters. He also was second in the discus throw, 1,500 meter run and was third in javelin throw, in pole vault and 100-meters. In the decathlon he was first in the high hurdles, the shot-put, the high jump and the 1,500. He also placed...
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