tv National Book Festival - David Maraniss Path Lit by Lightning CSPAN September 3, 2022 10:00pm-10:46pm EDT
person, your work is a lifeline. as a grateful reader, i thank you and i think david mccullough . i am only sorry i didn't say it sooner. [applause] david: good morning and welcome to the history of biography state at the national book festival. the theme of this year's book festival, books brings us gather , let me say how wonderful it is to see you all here together in person for the first time since we gather here last in 2019. [applause] we are thrilled that c-span's
book tv viewers are also joining us. so welcome. [applause] c-span will be here throughout the day recording the events on the stage. this stage has a long history of being one of the festivals -- festival's most popular stage and we will delve into the role women played in the civil rights movement, america's relationship with the bald eagle, and a more complete accounting of the mexican revolution, and the strange history behind the search of the source of the nile river and many other topics. you learn a lot here at the history and biography stage and we hope you will visit us at the library of congress to do research about subjects you are interested in to expense the beauty of the thomas jefferson
holding or attend one of our life at the library events. most thursday nights we keep most exhibits open until 8:00 p.m. and host dynamic, free events for visitors. on september 15, and actress and podcast sisters will join us for a discussion. determine 22nd, mosaic theater will present a preview of the upcoming series of plays. novelist ian mcewan will talk about his new novel, "lessons." our first event will feature the undersecretary for museums and culture at the smithsonian institution and a conversation with two-time pulitzer prize winner david maraniss
about his new biography about jim thorpe. please sit back, enjoy, and have a wonderful day at the library of congress national book festival. david: it is my honor -- >> is my honor to be here. why did you choose jim thorpe? david: i think of this as a third book in a trilogy of sports figures who transcend sports the first was vince lombardi, who is not only a great football coach but representative of the mythology of competition and success of american life and what it costs. the second was roberto clemente, who so many athletes are called
heros and he was in the way he died in a plane crash delivery military aid. it seems the national -- natural third trilogy that he was not only a stunning athlete but also offered the opportunity through his life to explore the native american experience from 1887 to his death in 1953, such critical years in the lives of all native americans. i am honored to be here with you. it means a lot to me. kevin: so very important in federal policy and you described it in your book. david: 1887, the year jim thorpe was born was one of the crucial years in the government policy
towards native americans, and that it was the passage of the act which was an effort to take away the sense of communal property that native americans had and send them onto small parcels of land that were often then taken away and they had to prove over 25 years that they deserved to have that land. that was part of the long process of trying to turn indians into white people in different ways and jim thorpe endured that in many ways throughout his life. kevin: and then in 1953, the termination policy was enacted. david: which was the same thing, trying to terminate reservation life. luckily that one didn't prevail. kevin: if i started reciting the
things i did not know, the review here until midnight. blackhawk. david: blackhawk, i start with the parallelism between black, and jim thorpe, because they are both from the same tribe, same clan or band, and it is a little bit unclear whether jim thorpe was actually a descendant but there is some indication blackhawk's great-niece was jim thorpe's grandmother. his mother often told him he was the reincarnation of blackhawk. what i found fascinating was away to explore how both of these famous men, native americans, or treated by white
society. lockout, in 1833, after the blackhawk war as it was called but it was really a massacre when blackhawk tried to leave, 1000 members of his trying over the mississippi into their homeland, the military chased them back and killed many of them. adjusting, -- interestingly, three future presidents were involved in that. abraham lincoln was in the illinois militia. zachary taylor was an officer fighting against blackhawk. jefferson davis worked under the president of the confederate states of america and work under taylor and took while caulk down to saint -- blackhawk down to
st. louis. once blackhawk was captured, he was taken east and he became sort of an iconic figure in white america. huge crowds would come out. that represented the notion of indians being romanticized and diminished at the same time. i found paralleling that trip of lack of to cincinnati, pittsburgh, washington, d.c., norfork and up to new york, it paralleled jim thorpe after he won the olympic gold medals and being taken on parades into new york and philadelphia and carlisle. he wasn't a prisoner of war of fame. they were both equally being
romanticized and mythologized. path lit by lightening -- kevin: path lit by lightning. david: the story is there was a thunderstorm on the night that -- and he was a twin -- he had a brother that died at age nine in a boarding school of disease. the night they were born along the north canadian river in oklahoma, there was a thunderstorm and jim thorpe was given a name which is often translated as bright path, but i side more poetic which was path lit by lightning. and i thought that eliminates everything and that is how i chose the title of the book. kevin: great name. so jim thorpe is like a great
many native americans during that time in history, is raised in very difficult circumstances but eventually ends up at the carlisle indian industrial school. david: that was the third boarding school he was sent to. he kept running away and eventually his father who had five wives and 18 children altogether, and the wife he was married to at that point, she didn't want anything to do with jim and they sent him away to carlisle, the flagship government school of all of the scores of indian boarding schools in the nation. it was founded in 1879, only three years after the battle of
little bighorn. most of their fathers fought against custer and in the indian wars of the mid-century. with her standing bear was one of those and he later wrote a book about all of his experiences and he said he thought he was going east to die , to show his bravery and die. the motto of the boarding school was killed the indian, save the man. that was the notion of the founder, who thought he was doing good, sort of saving the indians from the genocide of the past and that the only way they could survive was by being forcibly, thoroughly assimilated into white society. it was a cruel and traumatic
process for many indians sent their. -- sent there. especially in the early years of the boarding school, many of them died, literally died at the school had the most hunting experience of my research was going up to carlisle, where much of the school is still there although it is now the army were -- war college and the indian cemetery is there. looking at the gravesites of young indians who were taken there against their will mostly and died in the process was really a hunting experience. that is the school jim thorpe and about 8000 young native americans over the course of the school's existence endured. kevin: it seems an odd place for a college football team. david: it does.
it wasn't really a college, it was an industrial school, yet it had a fabulous football team that played against the big football powers of that era, it wasn't alabama, lsu, oklahoma, it was harvard, princeton, yale, penn, and west point. as part of i would say the acculturation process, football which was an eastern elite sport in that era would help the young native athletes. they had a brilliant football coach, pop warner, who was taking these really great athletes, many before four. there, -- before four. there, --
before thorpe got there. there were all these fascinating formations and he loved to philip trick plays. i love that in that early era of football, warner devised a kangaroo pocket to hide the football in an no one knew where the football was here he also had a play where they line up by the sideline and go around the opposition bent and go around the other side to catch a pass. but yes, carlisle is playing against the great teams of college football in that era and beating them thoroughly. kevin: including famously the team from west point. david: i consider that game in
november of 1912 the greatest act of athletic retribution in american history. it was on the plains of west point and it was the indians against the army, and it was a level playing field at last. it was jim thorpe and gus welch and a family us -- a fabulous team against west point that had dwight eisenhower linebacker, omar bradley on the bench, and the indians won, 27-6. eisenhower in one of his teammates, before the game, football is always been a violent sport, it was even more violent then. eisenhower would acknowledge that he and teammate were plotting and how to knock jim
thorpe out of the game because he was the greatest player in america. they had one play where they hit him high and low, but he got up and capped playing -- and kept playing. kevin: that came just a few months after stockholm. david: yes. kevin: how did jim thorpe end up in stockholm? david: first of all, he was the greatest all around athlete, so he was not only playing football for carlisle but was also their trakstar. the carlisle track team was also dominant, so much so that jim thorpe, who could compete in events of all sorts -- the motto
of the olympics involves jumping, running, and throwing weights, and he could do all of those things. he and his teammate, a long-distance runner, literally beat entire track teams by themselves. both of them competed in tryout to go to stockholm and they were selected. they went over with pop warner who was their coach, and jim thorpe dominated their -- there. imagine competing in 17 events in two weeks. the decathlon is 10 events, the pen tackle on his five events, and he competed in the high jump and long jump and he won two gold medals. during one period of the decathlon competition, he
couldn't find tissues. -- find his shoes. the mythology is that they were stolen but i can't corroborate that. he had to find some shoes to compete in the high jump. define a mix matched -- they found a mix matched pair of shoes with one too big and he had were several socks but he won the event. at the event -- at the end of those limbic's, king of sweden -- of those olympics, the king of sweden was handing out the metals -- medals can trophies, and he said you are the greatest in the world. the mythology is that he responded, "thanks, kid." it is funny but also the condescending in a way.
he was the greatest athlete in the world at that point and world-famous. kevin: it brings this to mind when you talk about the mythology. one of the things i heard was that for one track meet they arrived at the stadium and it was just pop warner and jim thorpe. david: that is one of the myths. in any case, it is not true, but it might as well have been because they won all of the events. kevin: let's talk about pop warner. david: as i said to come he was an incredibly innovative, brilliant coach, but not a reputable human being. his coaching -- he became so famous at carlisle and pitt where he won two national championships, and then at
stanford. he is in the college football hall of fame. some might know that football is the pop warner league, but when you really study what he did at carlisle, it is not so good. that is putting it mildly here there was an congressional investigation in 1914 of the school, and among the many things he found was that warner was betting on games, selling tickets in lobbies, and mentally and physically abusing his students, many of whom turned on him at that point. the critical moment of jim forbes life -- jim thorpe's life when the metal medals were taken -- medals were taken away, pop warner turned on him. kevin: the fact that jim thorpe
had played minor league baseball comes to life. david: he played in the eastern carolina league for two summers, 1909 and 1910. for about $30 a month, scores of college athletes were playing minor league baseball then, but using aliases to preserve their amateurism. dwight eisenhower played in the kansas stately under the name wilson. the eastern carolina league where thorpe played for the rocky mountain railroaders and the highlanders, has so many playing with aliens because -- that it was called the pocahontas league. jim thorpe played as jim for and
he never tried to hide it. there are several key factors. one is that all of the powerful white figures who were involved in jim losing his medals, knew exactly what he was doing, starting with pop warner, who had been sending indian athletes to play baseball for years, whose close associate in pennsylvania was the scout who brought jim and his teammates and matt with thorpe at least twice -- and met with thorpe at least twice while playing baseball. once they went hunting in oklahoma. after the story broke that jim thorpe had played baseball, the story broke in worcester, massachusetts in the "worcester
telegram." a reporter in worcester heard one of jim's former managers was in town and talked about how he managed jim thorpe. he wrote the story and it became a big deal and got to new york. warner was asked about it and denied new anything about it here he was just lying. james e. solomon, the head of the american lipid committee and on the board of advisors of the carlisle athletic association, he knew and he lied about it to save his reputation. the superintendent at carlisle, moses friedman, who there are documents of letters urging him not to play baseball, he lied and said he didn't know about it. pop warner even wrote a letter
of confession and in its, in the most condescending way, he basically made the argument in jim thorpe's words that he was just an ignorant indian and didn't know any better. in all of those ways, pop warner was disreputable and disappointing, as with the other people who basically just saw thorpe as an easy target. the two other aspects to the amateurism part of it, one is technical, the rules said that to have a challenge to someone's amateurism, the challenge had to be filed within 30 days of the end of the olympics. the story broke six months afterwards, and it was too late. sweden even said when sullivan and warner took the medals back, it was too late. the committee eventually agreed
and took the medals away. it was morally reprehensible, not as for the reasons of hypocrisy of those people, but the notion of amateurs that it was a sham. another member of the 1912 a lipid team was george s. patton, the future general here he competed in the modern pen tackle alone, a group of military even, target -- in the modern pen tackle on -- pentathlon. jim thorpe played baseball and had nothing to do with the events he was in. the entire swedish team was on leave from there job to train for the olympics but getting full pay for their jobs is that amateurism or professionalism? in so many ways jim thorpe was the victim of all of that sham
of amateurism. kevin: that brings us to david breckinridge. and something i never knew coming in the 1912. -- avery brundage, and something i never knew. david: i always envisioned him as a fat cat traveling the world and staying in posh hotels. he was a did kathleen -- deca thlete himself. brundage had just competed and it doesn't matter what nation you're from come he was so humiliated he quit after eight events -- what nation you are
from, he was so humiliated, he quit after eight events. brundage rose to power and consistently denied jim thorpe's do and refused to give back the medals. kevin: after the olympics, these days, afterwards you are on the covers and making lots of money for endorsements. did that happen for jim for russian mark -- four jim thorpe? -- for jim thorpe? david: jim thorpe after he lost his amateur status did signed to play baseball with the new york giants for $5,000. he later played professional football making $300 a game. he was never able to make the money out of athletics that
modern athletes do. he was still world-famous. one of the reasons he was signed to play baseball for the new york giants was because at the end of the 1913 season, they were going to go on and world tour with the white sox. they would to japan, china, philippines, australia, egypt, and europe. there are a lot of famous american baseball figures on that tour, including john mcgraw, the manager of the giants, charles comiskey, the owner of the white sox and other hall of famers, but the rest of the world didn't know them. a new jim thorpe. wherever they went, everybody wanted to see jim thorpe. even as he lost the medals and it went against them for the rest of his life, he never lost the fame and admiration from the
world. kevin: so, one of the things that struck me, i had no idea how mobile he was. he saw the world. david: he did. he saw the world in 1913, all of those places. he saw it again at age 57. in world war ii he joined the merchant marines. he wanted to participate in world war ii. of his four sons, they were involved in the military. the army would not take him, even though he is great with rifles. so he joined the merchant marines and saw the world again. went through the suez canal for a second time. up through egypt for the second time. in his -- in america after his athletic career was over he was
constantly struggling to find footing come and he lived -- i documented -- in 20 different states. he took jobs ranging from at one point digging ditches in los angeles during the heat of the depression, to serving as a greeter in bars and taverns, to working for the chicago athletic youth association, to the most interesting period i think was when he was in los angeles and he was on the fringes of the hollywood studio industry and was an actor in about 70 movies. he was directed by john ford and frank capra. he was acting with all of the famous hollywood stars of that era. but most importantly, it was in that period he found his identity again as a leader of native americans and really helped organize them to get the jobs in all of the westerns as indians, which were going to
white people dressed in greasepaint. he became the spokesman for that, as well as fighting to get the stereotypes, the negative stereotypes in those movies, removed. kevin: in a phenomenon that has not entirely ended, actually. there was a line in your book that really rang huge for me. he pointed out the duality of honoring his ancestry while performing has a white man's version of an indian, was a situation jim had dealt with his entire adult life. david: he certainly did at carlisle. where these -- the carlisle indian team was the most popular team -- traveling team. they did not play at home. so here you have these exotic indians playing against all of these teams for a school that is trying to rid them of their indianess, right? from the professional ranks he
played for two years for unbelievably there was an nfl team called the indians based in a small town in ohio. they would have to perform at halftime all of these -- in headdresses and just different rope tricks from all of this. it was a constant in his life, the expectations of indians playing the stereotypes of what whites think of indians. most of he and his teammates and colleagues understood that dichotomy, and they would play to it but understand what was going on, and trying to take advantage of it in different ways without the white people knowing what they were doing. kevin: that was always -- that became clear to people like me, that seeing what they were doing and going, why would they -- compared to menstrual -- minstre lsy at one point.
the circumstances under which they were living at the time, and indians, he began to see it and understanding a little bit during -- little bit. so we are going to run out of time before too long and i don't want to miss this question. how did burt lancaster end up playing jim thorpe? [laughter] david: well, he is a movie star. not an indian, right? he was 37 years old. this was 1951. a movie was made called "jim thorpe: all-american," and it had starred burt lancaster and it was directed by lancaster's, who is better known for directing "casablanca." even today it is hard to -- it is starting to happen with some great things that are organically native american, but
in that era they needed a movie star, so it was burt lancaster. it is 37 -- he is 37 years old, playing jim thorpe at 16 for starters. but lancaster was a good athlete. give him that. he could not do the polevault, but neither really good for up -- could thorpe, because he was so brave the poor -- she was so big the pole would break. it is a sympathetic movie. many people have talked to about thorpe have said i read about him in four great -- fourth grade, or i saw the movie. that got me fascinated in his life. but the movie itself, like most biopic's, is completely wrong in almost every small respect. you know, it has these big mountains in oklahoma, right? [laughter]
among many, many other things. but it is also wrong in one crucial respect. which is that the narrator of the movie is pop warner. he is the white savior. he is the one who comes to jim's -- tries to shake jim out of his trauma and with a notion that, you know, jim, if only you had listened to me and thoroughly assimilated into white society would not have had the problems later in your life that you had. and, you know, it is just so wrong that i cannot get past that to see the larger, you know, the other side of the movie, which is sympathetic to him. kevin: and pretty much every indian at the time who did not meet somebody else's expectations are that same thing said to them. -- expectations heard that same thing said to them. how did jim thorpe's body end up
residing in a mountain valley in pennsylvania? david: this is another unbelievable story. jim thorpe died of a heart attack at age 65 in california. he was living with his third wife. he had told his children that he wanted to be buried in oklahoma, in the fox region. he was brought back to oklahoma, his coffin was. it was the beginning of a ceremony. you know, a very important spiritual ceremony. patsy thorpe interrupted and took his coffin away because they were unhappy with how oklahoma was going to honor him. she eventually sort of put them up to the highest bidder. she took the coffin to tulsa, then to -- you know, she tried to get pittsburgh and philadelphia interested. she was in philadelphia watching television and saw a report about these two struggling coal towns in the pocono mountains.
she developed this scheme. she went up there and said, look, if you merge and rename yourselves jim thorpe, pennsylvania, you can have him. she was sort of like harold hill in "the music man." not only can you have him, but we will have a college named jim thorpe. a hospital. i might open a tipi style -- teepee-style hotel. none of which happen. but they did change the name to jim thorpe, pennsylvania, and they did get jim thorpe's body. i have nothing against the people there. it is not their fault, really, what he doesn't belong there. it is a nice park on the side of a road in a place he had never set foot in his entire life. kevin: to this day they resist returning the body? david: it went to court.
his sons filed suit, you know, based on the museum act, bringing artifacts back to where they belong. they won the first federal court, and then the appeals court overturned it. the supreme court upheld the appeals court. so, the legal part of it is over. jim thorpe, pennsylvania is taking some of its fame from him being there. they are not going to give it back. would take an act of real integrity and moral courage for it to be returned to where he belongs in oklahoma. i do not see it happening. kevin: not soon, but one thing we know about native americans is stashed david: they are patient. let's hope so. kevin: absolutely. jim thorpe continues to make news. david: i had nothing to do with it, but it was good timing.
his medals were taken away from him, and in july this year all of his records were restored after a long campaign from many, many people. anita france on the international olympic committee. robert hill and his wife, who were his earliest chroniclers. a lot of native american activists were fighting for this forever. and it finally happened. 110 years too late. the other way the story is in the news is, the indian boarding schools. here you had the pope going to canada only a few weeks ago to apologize for the way that the catholic church had handled indian boarding schools over the years and the trauma of that. we have this wonderful secretary of the interior, deb haaland, who has made it one of her causes to study both what happened in those schools, and
the intergenerational trauma that ensued from that. kevin: most of the boarding schools now are closed, and good riddance. david: yes. kevin: those that remain are largely run by tribes themselves. it is a fascinating legacy, because they were, as you point out, there were -- the failings were obvious, and yet the students found a way to persevere and make something of it. david: and the -- and a lot of those students and their children became the lawyers and activists who have fought against that whole system, right? including kevin gover. [laughter] kevin: well, i will say this. i did not go to -- actually, i went to a boarding school, but not one of these. that's right. i had relatives who went to the boarding schools. but i will say the native people who survived this period did what they had to do to survive this period, and really did in
so many ways lay the groundwork for current generations of native people who are doctors and lawyers and museum administrators and scholars of various types. and so we owe them a profound that. david: if i could say one last thing, that is the central threat of my book in the end. that person -- that perseverance that thorpe and bloom eyes, and the entire native population did as well, degree on how to survive through that. kevin: that is right. i will ask you if you can quote his daughter, grace thorpe, when addressing the question of whether jim thorpe was great? david: she gave a speech in 1968 where she dealt with that question. first of all, i thought of him as a father, not as this mythological figure, but, you
know, i'm terrible at remembering things precisely, but she basically took the dictionary definition of what it is to be great and in every possible definition of that jim thorpe was. for all of his -- all of the obstacles he faced, for some of his own doing he had trouble with alcohol, and he was constantly on the move. but in what he did he was the best at what he did for a long period of time. no one could match him, and in that sense he met the definition of greatness. kevin: remarkable in magnitude, degree, and effectiveness. he was great. we are at the end of our time, but i want to congratulate you on a wonderful book. i would point out it was produced during covid, which is quite extraordinary. but also to thank you very sincerely for such an insightful
prize-winning historical novelist geraldine brooks. the last time we saw each other was in 2018 when you did our in-depth program. >> i remember it well. it was a marathon and very enjoyable. i loved talking to the readers all over the country. >> we had talked about your books, but you have a new novel out called force. is it historical fiction? >> it is historical fiction, and the historical spine of the model concerns trouble be the greatest racehorse iam