Title: Wa-Tho-Huk: portrait of Jim Thorpe
Material: Oil on wood
Kill the Indian, and save the man. – Captain Henry Pratt, Carlyle Indian Industrial School
The Sac and the Fox Indians formed the Mesquakie Nation, and the Mesquakie Nation produced the athletic genius, Jim Thorpe. The “C” on his uniform could stand for his professional football team the Canton Bulldogs, or for the same town’s Football Hall of Fame, of which he is an inductee, or it might stand for his alma mater, the Carlyle Indian boarding school.
Some years ago, I visited the U.S. Army’s ‘Carlyle Barracks’, hoping to learn more about the Indian School that once existed there, but there was no trace of it other than a baseball uniform in a tiny museum in the former brig. Given disproportionate space in the museum was a life-size diorama showing a mannequin of a doughboy sitting on his jail cell cot with a black eye and a hangover. We’ve all been there. I asked the guards if there was more on the Indian school somewhere else, and they referred me to someone in town who they thought might give a damn, and then they offered me a look at a real Sherman tank (Ironically named for the genius who proposed poisoning Indians with yucky blankets) and a tour of the Omar Bradley Museum. I didn’t have the time or the interest. In fact, I was irked. But outrage alone won’t solve the world’s problems.
That is how this painting drew me in the Boarding School direction, resulting in a youthful Thorpe with his bad, boarding-school haircut, Indian ledger paper drawing, and Western-art style tree in the background.
Carlyle had a great football team. They had an unstoppable play that was eventually outlawed, in which Carlyle running backs would carry the ball hidden in a pouch sewn onto the back of their uniforms so the defense never knew who had the ball. Sounds fair to me.