Tuesday, May 28, 2013

May 28 (1830, 1887) Pres. Andrew Jackson Signs Indian Removal Act; "The World's Greatest Athlete" is born

Jim Thorpe honored posthumously on the cover of Wheaties, (2001)

On this day in 1887 (though the exact year is debated), the man once dubbed "the greatest athlete in the world," James Francis "Jim" Thorpe was born in Indian Territory near Prague, Oklahoma.  His parents had both European and Indian ancestry, and Jim was raised as a Sac and Fox Indian with an Indian name of Wa-Tho-Huk, translated as "path lit by great flash of lightning" or simply "Bright Path." He was also raised Catholic, a religion he practiced his entirely life.

Jim Thorpe was the hero of the 1912 Olympics, and went on to successfully compete in both professional baseball and football.  A statue of him rests outside the football hall of fame in Canton Ohio. In his New York Times obituary, written in 1953, Jim Thorpe was describe as "probably the greatest natural athlete the world had seen in modern times."

Also on this day in 1830, President Andrew Jackson signed into law the Indian Removal Act, which authorized the president to exchange unsettled lands west of the Mississippi for current Indian lands within existing state borders. Approximately 4,000 Cherokees died when forced to relocate to Oklahoma, a march that became known as the "Trail of Tears."

In his address to Congress, President Jackson had this to say about his new law:

"It gives me great pleasure to announce to Congress that the benevolent policy of the Government...in relation to the removal of Indians beyond white settlements is approaching a happy consummation...

By opening the whole territory between Tennessee on the north and Louisiana on the south, to the settlements of the whites it will incalculably strengthen the southwestern frontier. 

It will relieve the whole State of Mississippi and the western part of Alabama of Indian occupancy, and enable those states to advance rapidly in population, wealth and power...

It will separate the Indians from immediate contact with settlements of whites; free them from the power of the states; enable them to pursue happiness in their own way, and under their own rude institutions; will retard the progress of decay, which is lessening their numbers, and perhaps cause them gradually, under the protection of the Government, and through the influence of good counsels, to cast off their savage habits, and become an interesting, civilized, and Christian community."

Further Reading

President Andrew Jackson's full address to congress

Jim Thorpe's Obituary in the New York Times

Biography of Jim Thorpe

National Park Service commemoration of the Trail of Tears

Smithsonian's conservation of the Jim Thorpe "Wheaties" box

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Flannery O'Connor

You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you odd.