Posts Tagged ‘Oklahoma’

Like Father, Like Son

December 5, 2011

The title of this message is a bit misleading. Like parents, like son would be more accurate. Rob Wheeler is the son of Robert W. “Bob” Wheeler and Florence “Flo” Ridlon and, like the proverbial apple, didn’t fall far from the tree. Bob is perhaps best known as the author of the definitive biography of Jim Thorpe. Flo is not well known for her greatest discovery, but should be. It was Flo who found a long-lost copy of the rules for the 1912 Olympics misfiled behind a row of books on a shelf in the stacks of the Library of Congress. The rules made possible the restoration of Jim Thorpe’s Olympic medals. Bob and Flo should be better known for their efforts and ultimate success but probably won’t be. Their only child, Rob, has undertaken the task of getting Jim Thorpe’s remains moved to Oklahoma. Philadelphia lawyers are hereby on notice that Rob is on the case.

Rob Wheeler is a senior at MIT double-majoring in Aeronautics and Aerospace Engineering AND Physics, so cannot devote full time to the effort as his parents did for some years in their effort. Fortunately, he doesn’t have to do it all himself as Thorpe family members are heavily involved. It is because of one particular Thorpe that Rob is so dedicated to this task, but you will have to visit Rob’s website,, to learn the details of that relationship.

Rob conceived, designed and maintains the website. His Phi Sigma Kappa brothers, David Somach and Arkady Blyakher, assisted in creating the website. Michael Lehto  provided vital encouragement and technical expertise. Since the website was put on-line, Rob has been interviewed by Native News anchor for, Paul DeMain. That interview can be viewed at

Don’t be surprised if we read more about Rob Wheeler in the news.

Carlisle’s Attempt to Land Jim Thorpe’s Remains

August 2, 2010

John Luciew (pronounced Lucy), a reporter for Harrisburg’s Patriot-News, contacted me last week about the court case in which Jack Thorpe is trying to have his father’s remains brought to Oklahoma in perpetuity. Luciew was most interested in what I knew about Carlisle’s attempts, if any, to have Thorpe’s remains placed here back in 1953. I hadn’t looked into that before, so I had to do a little research. Freddy Wardecker, proprietor of Wardecker’s Menswear (formerly Blumenthal’s), gave me some information to go on and I was off to the races.

Jim Thorpe renewed acquaintances in 1951 when he was in Carlisle for the premier of his biopic, Jim Thorpe– All American. When he died just two years later, Carlislians wanted to honor him by locating his memorial here. A committee was formed, headed by attorney John B. Fowler (now deceased). The committee negotiated a location for the grave and monument near Indian Field at Carlisle Barracks where the young athlete made a name for himself when that facility was Carlisle Indian School. When Mauch Chunk entered the picture, Carlisle demurred, not wanting to get in a bidding war. In 1982, Sports Illustrated quoted Fowler as saying, “Pat wanted too much money. We felt like we were getting in a bidding war. We tried even after he died, but her price was too high.” Whether the Mauch Chunk group outbid others isn’t clear. What is clear is that they were actually able to raise the money and built the monument that stands there today.

Carlisle eventually placed a historic marker on the square next to the old courthouse. Some people think he is buried there but his remains are in the borough currently known as Jim Thorpe. Here is a link to the article Luciew wrote:

Photo by William Fischer, Jr.

Native All-Star Football Game July 24, 2010

July 6, 2010

The Native All-Star Football Game is for Native American and Alaska Native high school football players along with Canadian Aboriginals who will graduate in 2010 that are able to prove their Native heritage by holding a tribal identification card from a federally recognized Native American Indian Tribe or a Canadian Indigenous Tribe.

Since 2002, this game has given young Native American men the honor to finish out their outstanding high school careers, many of whom go on to compete at the collegiate level, and others who begin new endeavors outside of football.

The original idea and concept of the game started with a man named Jeff Bigger. He was the founder of the Native All Star Idea. The first season the two coaches asked to coach in the game were Carl Madison and Herman Boone. Bigger stumbled across them both as friends of an acquaintance and both were also US Army All American Bowl coaches. Carl was one of the first head coaches in the game as well as the winner of the first Native All Star Game. 

There has only been one year (2006) where the game was not under the direction of either Jeff Bigger or John Harjo. That year the name of the game was played in Lawton, OK and renamed the Jim Thorpe Indian All Star Football Classic. It pitted former Muscogee (Creek) Chief and former Jenks head coach Perry Beaver up against former Miami of Ohio coach Jim Wachenheim. Perry’s team walked away with the game with a score of 35-0. While the score was lopsided the game seemed closer and was exciting to watch. 

In 2007 John Harjo retook the reigns of the game and moved it back to Lawrence, KS once again and Haskell hosted the closest ever NAS finish. Dave Brown and his East team won with no time left on the clock with a 2 pt conversion. The final play of the game the running back for the West took the ball back into his own endzone to secure the win even giving Brown and company the safety, but he did not take a knee or run out of the endzone. Quick thinking by a corner from the East took the ball from him tying the game as the horn went off. The play was never called dead and it resulted in a game tying touchdown. Eventual Game MVP and Choctaw Central runningback Joshua Parkhurst punched in the 2 pt conversion and helmets went flying in an unforeseeable upset.

2008-The original 2008 game was to be held on the Soboba Reservation near Hemet, CA. Tragedy and turmoil on the reservation caused game officials to quickly change the location of the game and move it to the home of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians near Philadelphia, MS. Miko Denson and A.D. Walt Wilson were very receptive and helpful in allowing the game to played at Choctaw Central. 6 months of planning and organizing were squeezed into 4 weeks and the NAS Football Game was given new life.  Dave Brown held off a 4th quarter offensive explosion by Coach Raymond and company for the victory.

In 2009 the head coaches were two former head coaches Bryan Raymond (Cherokee) and Jim Sandusky (Colville).  Both coaches lost in previous years and are great coaches and highly competitive.  Coach Raymond and the White team’s physical defense held the Red team’s prolific offense to 0 points.  Every time the Red’s got near the endzone the White team would tighten up in a bend but don’t break effort by a defense anchored by Matt Billy from McAlester, OK.  Billy, who won the Defensive MVP of the game, was also an Oklahoma All-State Selection. 

To find out more about this year’s game which is being played on July 24 at Bacone College in Muskogee, OK or the game’s history, check out

Problems with Proofs

July 4, 2009

Proofs for the text and cover of Oklahoma’s Carlisle Indian School Immortals arrived Thursday. The purpose of the proof is to determine that everything is perfect before printing the batch of books. The cover looks great to me. The colors are vibrant and Bob Carroll’s drawings of the players’ faces provides an attractive background for the text on the back cover. There is a problem with the text, however.

Rather than taking up space in the narrative with dry demographic about the players, I put this information in boxes, one for each player. The boxes were shaded in light gray for visual interest. Herein lies the problem. Five of the fifteen demographic data boxes appear to have no shading. The boxes looked perfect in the advance reading copies (ARCs), but those were produced by a different printer. Panic set in immediately. The PDFs sent to the printer look perfect. The printer’s technician informed us that the shading was done at 9% and they accept nothing below 15%. That doesn’t answer the question as to why two-thirds of the boxes were shaded correctly.

As it turns out, the boxes that printed correctly have graphics with transparency on the same page but the bad ones don’t. It appears that the printer’s software or equipment does something different in these cases. Be that as it may, I have to submit new PDFs with 15% gray shading. That means that I will probably have to pay the graphic designer for his time and the printer fees for resubmitting a new PDF and for a new proof. I also have to wait several days to see if this solves the problem.


Oklahoma, Land of Red People

June 25, 2009

I just came across an explanation of the origin of the name “Oklahoma:”

Oklahoma is a word that was made up by the Native American missionary Allen Wright. He combined two Choctaw words, “ukla” meaning person and “humá” meaning red to form the word that first appears in a 1866 Choctaw treaty. Oklahoma means “red person.”

Doing a little research, I then learned that Allen Wright was 7/8 Choctaw, originally from Mississippi, and was a Presbyterian minister who had been educated at Union Theological Seminary. After fighting for the Confederacy during the Civil War, he was made principal chief in 1866 while away in Washington, where as one of the five delegates of the Choctaw Nation, he was negotiating a treaty to restore amicable relations with the United States.

During those negotiations, he referred to the Indian country as Oklahoma, meaning Territory of Red People. Oklahoma Territory wasn’t established by the treaty but the name stuck. Later, there would be an Oklahoma Territory and, later yet, the State of Oklahoma.

I also learned that decades earlier a nephew of the great Choctaw chief Pushmataha was named Oklahoma, but that was a happy coincidence. What we know as Oklahoma was not named after that man but was named by Rev. Allen Wright to mean land of red people. This is another example of Indians referring to themselves as red men long ago.

I verified the accuracy of this with Smithsonian Linguist Emeritus Ives Goddard and Bill Welge, Director of the Archives Division of the Oklahoma Historical Society. More information about this topic can be found in History and Civics of Oklahoma by L. J. Abbott, LL.B., M. A. and in “Chief Allen Wright” by John Bartlett Meserve in Chronicles of Oklahoma, Vol. 19, No. 4, December 1941. Both documents are available on-line. They can be found at


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Chief Allen Wright

Indians Don’t Speak of the Dead

June 9, 2009

Whilst talking with the granddaughter of someone about whom I have written, she shared the difficulty she was having in getting information from family members about her grandmother. What makes it particularly difficult for her is that her grandmother died young, well before she was born. Something that further frustrates her is that her grandmother had an unmistakable influence on her large family. One would think that some of her nine children would reminisce about her, or at least the older ones who had stronger memories of their mother. But no, they said almost nothing about her.

The granddaughter’s clue that her grandmother had an interest in the arts appeared to her at an early age when she visited her grandfather who was a very quiet man. It struck her as odd that a piano sat in the living room of her grandparents’ simple Oklahoma farmhouse thought to be located on her Sac and Fox grandmother’s allotment. That piano was surely an extravagance for that large family in the Great Depression in the Dust Bowl. She later observed that her aunts, uncles, siblings and cousins had artistic talents ranging from music to drawing to writing. In recent years she has located some of her grandmother’s writings that shed a little light on the person who undoubtedly influenced her children greatly.

Along the way while asking questions to learn more about her family, she was told that “we don’t speak of the dead for a year after their death.” Obituaries are a great information source for biographers and historians. Without them, we would know less about our subjects. Not talking about a person for a year likely puts people in the habit of not thinking, talking or remembering things about them. While researching an entirely different person, I learned that the Pawnees do not talk about their dead. It may well be that this is true of many tribes. If so, much information will be lost forever. In a 2002 National Graphic article about an isolated Venezuelan tribe, Scott Wallace wrote that “the Yanomami consider it taboo to speak of the dead.” Perhaps this custom was widespread throughout the Americas.