Best of all, though, was another game I had never seen or heard of before. It was called football. I loved it from the first moment I saw it.
Football had only come to Haskell two years before, but our team was already real good. They played a schedule of six games, which was all they could get. It was hard for the other teams, none of which was all-Indian like ours, to keep up with us. All of us had been running and playing rough games since we were little, so we were always stronger and in better shape than most of those non-Indian teams. And I think some of them were afraid of us because we were “wild Indians.”
That’s one reason why I got so excited about the rumor that went around the school one January day…”The Carlisle Indians are a-coming.” The Carlisle Indians weren’t a tribe, but they were real Indians all right, and they were our heroes. They were the football team from the United States Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. The best football team of all…They were so strong, they beat the best white college teams. It was like all the old warriors…had come back to life in those young men from all the different tribes who stepped out onto the football field to do battle. They made us proud.
Jim Thorpe, one of the world’s all-time great athletes, was born into the Sac and Fox tribe in 1887, in Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). From the start, he was a vigorously athletic boy, and just as fiercely stubborn. Running, riding horseback, shooting his bow — this is what delighted him.
As a young boy, Jim was placed in a school by his father where he was introduced to the athletics that would change his life. One of the most versatile athletes ever, Jim took an immediate liking to baseball, track, basketball, and football. Eventually he was recruited by the Carlisle School in Pennsylvania. This school was an incredible, athletic powerhouse, and Jim had just the sort of outstanding potential they wanted. Among his other feats, under the coaching of Pop Warner, Jim became a legendary football star. At the same time, he began breaking records in numerous track and field events. Thorpe went to the Olympics in Sweden in 1912, winning both the pentathalon and the decathalon. All his life, he made these tremendous accomplishments amid the painful realities of prejudice and abysmal treatment of Native Americans.
After the Olympics, some of the most difficult events of Thorpe’s life occurred, culminating in his being stripped of his Olympic medals. They were re-awarded to him, his name returned to the Olympic record books, thirty years after his death.
Joseph Bruchac has written a compelling story of Jim Thorpe’s life, anchored in the influence of his family and culture on his life, and providing a front-row seat to Thorpe’s enthusiasm for sport and incredible accomplishments. Using Thorpe’s own voice in his first-person narration, Bruchac draws us into the high-energy, competitive, family-centered, humorous man that Thorpe was. Sports-lovers in particular will enjoy the play-by-play accounts of Thorpe’s football career at Carlisle and wish they could witness in person the jaw-dropping dominance of that team! Beyond the athleticism, the story also stings with the racism and ill-treatment experienced by Native Americans — a history far under-told in our children’s literature.
An Author’s Note summarizes Thorpe’s life after the Olympics as well as briefly accounting for numerous other athletes we meet in the story. A number of historic photographs are included, as well as a nice annotated bibliography for those wanting to explore these topics further. Note that this story is fictionalized only in that Bruchac put the story in Thorpe’s voice. Ages 9 and up; obviously this book holds great appeal to many boys.
Here’s the Amazon link: Jim Thorpe, Original All-American