Yet another biography of Jim Thorpe is to be released soon. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. has announced that Native American Son: The Life and Sporting Legend of Jim Thorpe by Kate Buford will be released in October. Ms. Buford is the author of Burt Lancaster: An American Life. Buford’s reputation and history suggest that her book will be better than the other recent attempts at chronicling the great athlete’s life. Was she able to gain access to Jim Thorpe’s scrapbooks? It is believed that Robert W. Wheeler was the last Thorpe biographer to have them available for his research. They are now in the hands of a well-known collector of sports artifacts who doesn’t generally allow researchers to see them.
One thing that is sure is that the Kate Buford didn’t have access to the vast majority of the people Wheeler interviewed due to their demise during the intervening years. However, Wheeler taped his interviews on a bulky tape recorder that he lugged as he hitchhiked across the country to interview anyone he could find who had a relationship with Thorpe. He has made the recording of his interview with former West Point cadet Dwight David Eisenhower available to others, but even that hasn’t stopped other authors from writing inaccuracies about the 1912 Carlisle-Army game.
I am curious to learn more about Big Jim’s eye disease. Recently, I learned that he had eye surgery while at Carlisle. About all I have uncovered so far is that he was hospitalized for three days. Nothing was stated about the reason for the surgery. The medical records from his student file are long gone. Perhaps the person who took them or his descendants will return them or at least make their contents public. There are still things to learn about Jim Thorpe. This fall, we will see if this new biography shares any of them.