Iva Miller’s Parents Objected to Jim Thorpe

I was surprised to read “He was in love with a Carlisle student named Iva Miller, but her parents forbade the marriage and she went home to California” on page 287 of The Real All Americans: The Team That Changed a Game, a People, a Nation by Sally Jenkins. The reason for my reaction was that it was my understanding that Iva’s parents died when she was quite young, a fact that made forbidding their daughter to marry Jim Thorpe over a decade later quite difficult. I wondered if Ms. Jenkins discovered that they had faked their deaths or found that they had risen from the dead. However, her book mentioned nothing of the sort. That earlier books on Thorpe reflected something considerably different from what Jenkins claimed prompted me to do some research. Jenkins sources for this discovery would provide a good starting point. However, unlike for many other points in her book, she provided no reference for this statement.

Iva Miller’s Carlisle Indian School records seemed to be a good place to start. They arrived this week and provided some interesting information. Her parents did not sign her enrollment papers; Grace Gray-Morris, who likely was her older sister or aunt, signed the papers and swore that Iva’s dead mother was half-blood Cherokee from North Carolina. Iva’s Physical Record indicated that her father was living and in good health as were three brothers and a sister. Another brother had died of pneumonia and consumption had taken her mother. Iva had attended Chilocco Indian School before coming to Carlisle and Ms. Gray-Morris probably assisted with her enrollment at that facility due to her geographic proximity in Arkansas City, Kansas, the town closest to Chilocco.

I haven’t found Iva’s father on censuses after 1900 but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t still alive and living in California in 1912 when Iva graduated from Carlisle and supposedly returned home to her parents. She may have visited family members in California for a bit but wasn’t held there because she was soon in Oklahoma. Her letters to Carlisle that were published in the school newspaper indicated that she spent the summer in Oklahoma and the fall working at the Otoe Agency. My findings differ significantly from what Jenkins published.

Iva Miller Thorpe's Wedding Photo

Iva Miller Thorpe's Wedding Photo

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18 Responses to “Iva Miller’s Parents Objected to Jim Thorpe”

  1. Robin Wildfang Says:


    Grace Gray-Morris was my great grandmother and the older sister of Iva Miller. Both Grace and Iva attended Chilocco as did three of their brothers. Iva alone went on to attend Carlisle, after Grace married Charles Gray-Morris. I have some place the dates of their parents’ deaths, but I know that the family didn’t object to Iva’s marrying Jim. I’d be very interested in corresponding with you about what you know about her time at Carlisle.
    Robin Wildfang

    • tombenjey Says:

      Thank you very much for writing, Robin. I am on the road now but will write you when I get home. I’m very much interested in knowing more about your family.


  2. Pat Roehr Says:

    Can you please tell me the names of her brothers?

    • tombenjey Says:


      According to the 1900 census they’re Robert, Denton & Clyde. I doubt if she had any more brothers (at least with her mother) because this census listed her father as widowed.


  3. Robin Wildfang Says:

    Robert, Denton and Clyde plus Lloyd who died as a two year old. Fine, Iva’s father died in1938.

  4. Al Chasan Says:

    My college lacrosse coach, Leon A. (Chief) Miller, told us that he attended Carlisle with Jim Thorpe and that his sister later married Thorpe. Seems to be some discrepancy.

    • tombenjey Says:

      Leon Miller was enrolled at Carlisle but, being away from my files at present, can’t say much more about him. His student file number was 5221 box number 133. He was supposedly Cherokee from Illinois. Obtaining a copy of his Carlisle student file may provide more information about him. I say may because the contents of these files vary greatly from almost nothing to quite a lot.

      Census information supports Robin Wilfang’s contention that Robert, Denton, and Clyde were her living brothers when she was at Carlisle. I doubt that Leon Miller was Iva Miller’s brother.

      I did find a 1916 newspaper article which listed Leon Miller as playing on the Carlisle second team in a game against Shippensburg State Normal School. So, he was probably a few years younger than Jim Thorpe and Iva Miller.

  5. Robin Wildfang Says:

    None of the brothers was named Leon, so there is some discrepancy there. He may have been a cousin of some sort, but there weren’t any family in Chicago as far as I know.

  6. Al Chasan Says:

    Leon (Chief) Miller was a full-blooded Cherokee from North Carolina–at least that what he said, and we had no reason to doubt him. On two occasions he brought Jim Thorpe to meet with us lacrosse players at CCNY. Thorpe lectured us on clean living. Miller was a legendary lacrosse coach and was inducted into the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 1960. Perhaps Iva wasn’t his sister, but a cousin. This gets interesting.

    • Robin Wildfang Says:

      Hi, our Millers are from Arkansas and were not Cherokee. Iva’s mother was but she was a McCarthy by birth and only married into the Miller clan. So I think your coach was perhaps making a good story better?

  7. Jean Leavitt Says:

    Hi, My maiden name is Miller. We have heard stories about my grandfather Denton Miller (Pops) being Iva’s brother. My Dad’s middle name was Denton. My Dad’s mother was Ethel. I am sure this was true, as we grew up giving book reports at school about our great aunt married to Jim Thorpe.

  8. Jean Leavitt Boulware Says:

    Hi, My maiden name is Miller, from California. We have heard stories about my grandfather Denton Miller (Pops) being Iva’s brother. My Dad’s middle name was Denton. My Dad’s mother was Ethel. I am sure this was true, as we grew up giving book reports at school about our great aunt Iva married to Jim Thorpe.

  9. Dennis R Parrish Says:

    Leon Millers school application at Carlisle says his mother was Nora Miller 1/2 Cherokee, EVANSTON iLL,,father-William H Miller/white.

  10. tombenjey Says:

    I see from above that Leon was a cousin from North Carolina. It’s been so long since I looked into this I can’t remember all the particulars. Always keep in mind that applicants to Carlisle had to be at least 1/4 blood, although not necessarily from one tribe. So, accepted applications would necessarily reflect 1/4 blood. Record keeping at the reservations was so poor that Carlisle couldn’t investigate applicants’ claims to any extent. Often they had to rely on statements from agency officials. Also, students often didn’t know the precise details of their parents’ backgrounds. So, don’t hang your hat on any single piece of data. Sometimes conflicting information can be found. Something I tried to do for the people I researched was to look through their siblings’ records. Quite a few families sent more than one of their children to Carlisle. Generally, I ended up with a picture that was more like Swiss cheese as there was usually a lot missing. Good luck.

  11. Jean Miller Boulware Says:

    My granfather was Iva’s brother named George, who had a son mamed Jack, who was my father.

  12. Krose420 Says:

    I am pretty sure I have a photo of some of these people mentioned on this page. Its an old (1900s?) group photo with Leon and Iva and a few others.

  13. Miss Miller – Somiya Chapman Says:

    […] Miss Iva Miller […]

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