A federal judge in Pennsylvania ruled Friday that proceedings should begin to return the body of Olympic athlete Jim Thorpe to Oklahoma, a major step in a decades-long battle that Thorpe’s sons and his Native American tribe have waged to return his body to the place where he grew up.
Thorpe is buried in Jim Thorpe, Pa., a small town that renamed itself to convince his widow to bring his body there shortly after his death in 1953 in hopes of launching a tourism industry. Patsy Thorpe and city officials signed a contract and Thorpe’s body has lain in a mausoleum in a tiny park ever since.
But the 32-page ruling by U.S. District Judge A. Richard Caputo rejected the city’s bid to keep their namesake, ruling that the federal Native American Graves and Repatriation Act mandated that the body be returned.
Caputo noted that his decision overriding the contract “may seem at odds with our common notions of commercial or contract law,” but said that Congress passed the law “against a history of exploitation of Native American artifacts and remains for commercial purposes.”