Barry Richardson has always been a fan of Jim Thorpe and now he is honoring Thorpe through a pow wow.
“Over the years I wanted to do a pow wow to honor Thorpe,” said Richardson, a member of the Haliwa-Saponi Tribe. “He has always been a hero of mine and I have always loved sports.”
Richardson, who has been hosting pow wows for 20 years, wanted to honor Thorpe because he feels that Thorpe is a very important part of American history as well as Rocky Mount history where the pow wow will be held.
“He was a great athlete that happen to be Native American,” said Robinson. “He is sort of like Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle, Jackie Robinson or Tiger Woods or Michael Jordan who broke barriers for us to be able to get alone with other races which enabled us to better function within main stream society.”
However, people have forgotten about Thorpe or simply don’t know who he is, said Richardson.
By having the pow wow Richardson hopes to keep his memory alive and educate people, young and old about the athlete.
“People don’t know about the contributions and sacrifices that the Native Americans have made to this country,” he said. “He (Thorpe) is a great man and a lot of people don’t know anything about him and we have to tell our stories because no one else will.”
James Francis Thorpe was born on May 28, 1887 in a one-room cabin near Prague, Oklahoma. His father, Hiram Thorpe was a farmer, and his mother, Mary James was a Pottawatomie Indian and descendant of the last great Sauk and Fox chief Black Hawk. Thorpe’s Indian name was “Wa-Tho-Huk” which meant "Bright Path," according to The Official Site of Jim Thorpe.
In 1904, Thorpe attended Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania and joined the football and track teams. He played left halfback and was coached by Glen ‘Pop’ Warner. In 1912 he took part in the Olympic Summer games in Stockholm, Sweden. Thorpe won the 200-metter, the 1,500-meter runs of the pentathlon and the broad jump among others. King Gustav V presented Thorpe with his gold medals.
“As stated in Bob Berontas' ‘Jim Thorpe, Sac and Fox Athlete’: ‘Before Thorpe could walk away, the king grabbed his hand and uttered the sentence that was to follow for the rest of his life.’Sir,' he declared, 'you are the greatest athlete in the world,' Thorpe, never a man to stand on ceremony, answered simple and honestly, 'Thanks King,'" according to The Official Site of Jim Thorpe.
In 1913, Thorpe surrendered his awards at the request of the Amateur Athletic Union to the Olympic headquarters in Switzerland. It had been discovered that Thorpe had played semi-professional baseball with the Rocky Mount, N.C., team of the North Carolina Eastern League from 1909-1910. In 1953, at the age of 64, Thorpe died of a heart attack. In 1982 his medals were returned to him, according to a press release.
“Winning the medals and representing his people in such a manner, all of that makes him an impressive individual for anyone to look at,” said Keith Colston, the director of the Maryland Commission of Indian Affairs and master of ceremonies for the pow wow.
Colston, who is Tuscarora and Lumbee, feels that Thorpe should not only be seen for the gold metals he won but the hardships of racism, health, poverty, and even stardom that transpired in his life that he dealt with and overcame. Colston describes Thorpe as a mentor for anyone and everyone. And Colston is happy that Richardson is hosting the pow wow to let people know about Thorpe.
“I think it is a great opportunity where we can represent our culture and history,” he said. “It is a great way to represent the truth.”
There will be 50 different tribes that will be represented at the Jim Thorpe Rocky Mount Pow Wow on June 24-26. Richardson said a lot of people have called from Arizona, South Dakota and Canada. And those who will be attending know about Thorpe and want to honor him.
Richardson has been trying to get in touch with Thorpe’s relatives to come to the pow wow. He said it has been difficult but hopes that he can get family members to attend.
Martha Lamm, director of Nash County Tourism said Thorpe has been honored in Rocky Mount, N.C. many ways but never with a pow wow that will educate young people about Thorpe’s accomplishments.
“It will give our community the opportunity to know what Jim Thorpe meant to his culture,” said Lamm.
Lamm believes that Thorpe in his own way made a big difference on how people look at different cultures. Not to mention, in the early 1900’s people did not celebrate Thorpe as the athlete that he became, she said.
“I like to think that he has not been forgotten, but his accomplishments were not applauded since the Native American athletics were not recognized, as they should have been,” Lamm said.
Lamm hopes the pow wow will be able to open tourists’ eyes and educate them about American Indian Culture.
“People sometimes have blinders on when it comes to different cultures and do not see what a positive effect they have brought to our lives,” she said.
She hopes the pow wow will become an annual event in Rocky Mount.
“I am very honored to be in a position where I can host a pow-wow to honor Jim Thorpe and let people know about him,” said Richardson.