While many people are familiar with the Sacagawea Dollar that was released in 2000, fewer are aware that since 2009 the reverse of the coin has been changing yearly to celebrate the contributions of Indian tribes and Native American individuals.
Previous examples include the Trade Routes of the 17th Century (2012) and the Code Talkers of WWI and WWII (2016). This year’s Native American Dollar celebrates athlete Jim Thorpe.
The coin depicts the face of Jim Thorpe along with the inscription of “Jim Thorpe” and his Sac and Fox Tribe native name “Wa-Tho-Huk” (“Bright Path”). The foreground features Thorpe as a football player and an Olympian.
Thorpe was a star athlete in football and track at Carlisle Indian Industrial School. He, along with head coach Glenn Scobey “Pop” Warner, led Carlisle to a historic 18-15 victory over a top ranked Harvard team in 1911 (Thorpe scored all 18 points) and a NCAA championship in 1912. Thorpe played as a running back, defensive back, placekicker, and punter, and received All-American first-team honors in 1911 and 1912.
At the 1912 Stockholm Summer Olympics, Thorpe competed in the new multi-event Pentathlon and Decathlon. He took home gold medals easily in both, placing first in 8 of the 15 events comprising the Pentathlon and Decathlon.
Thorpe played professional football (NFL), baseball (MLB), and basketball in the following decades, often boosting attendance numbers wherever he played.
To give some context of Jim Thorpe’s legacy: A 1950 Associated Press poll of sportswriters and broadcasters voted him the greatest athlete of the first half of the 20th century. Nearly 50 years later, a 1999 Associated Press panel looked at the entire century and determined the top 100 athletes. The top three spots were Babe Ruth, Michael Jordan, and Jim Thorpe.
Perhaps you, like me, had only heard the name Jim Thorpe in the context of the Jim Thorpe Award (given to the top defensive back in college football since 1986) and were unaware of his accomplishments and Native American heritage. Hopefully this coin will lead to a few others being educated as well.
Old Pueblo Coin currently has a number of uncirculated Native American Jim Thorpe Dollars (available in “P” Philadelphia and “D” Denver mints marks) for $2 each.
Native American Jim Thorpe Dollars can be found with a proof finish in the 2018 US Mint Proof Set, currently available for $35 each.