Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

Editor: Gerry W. Beyer
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Friday, October 24, 2014

Jim Thorpe Remains in Jim Thorpe

Jim Thorpe

In an unusual case involving a dispute between the family of the legendary Native American athlete and a small Pennsylvania town named after him, a federal appeals court ruled that the remains of Jim Thorpe can remain in Jim Thorpe, Pa. 

The story began in 1953 when two Pennsylvania towns agreed to merge into one town named Jim Thorpe and erect a memoJrial in his honor.  The late athlete was from Oklahoma and likely never visited the area.  In exchange, Mr. Thorpe’s widow, Patricia, allowed the corpse to be buried there.  However, the descendants of the star football player protested that he should be reburied on Sac and Fox tribal land in Oklahoma along with other family members. 

Four years ago one of Mr. Thorpe’s sons filed a lawsuit in federal district court in Pennsylvania seeking the town to surrender the body.  While a trial court sided with him last year, a three-judge panel of the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed saying the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act “was not intended to be wielded as a sword to settle familial disputes within Native American families.”

See Jacob Gershman, Court: Remains of Jim Thorpe Can Remain in Jim Thorpe, The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 23, 2014.


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