Wa-Tho-Huk: A Bright Path The Lightning Makes

BY Taylor Rebhan

In collaboration with the Thorpe family and The Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame’s Jim Thorpe Museum, Shinola is honored to serve as a platform for the story of the greatest athlete the world
has ever seen.


The Greatest Athlete in the World was born a fraternal twin on May 22, 1887 in a cabin three miles south of Bellemont, Oklahoma, close to the North Canadian River. In the Sac and Fox tradition of the Thunder group of Black Hawk, James Francis Thorpe was given the name Wa-tha-sko-huk or Wa-Tho-Huk, translated as Light After the Lightning, A Bright Path the Lightning Makes, or simply, Bright Path.

By adolescence, Thorpe already demonstrated raw athletic ability in running, vaulting, jumping, and baseball. After he was orphaned at the age of 16, he transitioned from track to the football field at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania. Over the next few years, Thorpe would make a name for himself as an astonishing all-around athletic talent.

After a stint in the minor leagues of baseball, he returned to Carlisle to finish his development into a football phenomenon. It was then the opportunity arose to measure his ability on a world stage. In 1912, Thorpe travelled to Stockholm, Sweden, to participate in the Olympic Games.

With the world as his witness, Thorpe became the first Native American to win a gold medal for the United States. Thorpe became the only athlete in history to win gold in both the decathlon and the pentathlon, a record he holds to this day. And yet, even at the height of his notoriety in 1912, he had to receive permission from the Indian affairs office of the U.S. government to receive income from leasing his land. The world knew Jim Thorpe’s name, but not all Native Americans were recognized as U.S. citizens.

“Thrills were mostly hard work for me.”

– Jim Thorpe


“I went to play baseball in North Carolina for a couple of summers and paid for it for the rest of my life,” Thorpe once said of the controversy that surrounded his life post-Olympics. His participation in “amateurism” led the International Olympic Committee to strip Thorpe of his medals and give them to the second-place winners—an act tainted with bigotry that was sadly par for the course.

Thorpe endured fierce inquiry, exploitation, and abuse for his Native identity from the moment he was born to his time at boarding school and the stripping of his medals. He was astutely aware that everyone from Hollywood, to professional sports, to the international sporting community were playing their own game.

But his passion was, above all else, for his game.

Until his retirement at 41, Thorpe was a star, a pioneer athlete, and a director for professional sports. Among many accomplishments, he was a major league baseball player for the New York Giants; a two time All-American; an assistant football coach at Indiana University; the first president of the American Professional Football Association, predecessor to the NFL; a championship-winning professional football player for the Canton Bulldogs of Ohio; and, according to recent research, a formidable basketball and hockey player. Every year, the best defensive back in collegiate football is presented the Jim Thorpe Award.

After his athletic career, Thorpe remained an activist and educator off the field. He faced the Great Depression and a tumultuous battle with addiction until he died in 1953. Thirty years after his passing, he was re-awarded his medals on the Olympic Record—as co-winner. This year, 110 years after his victory, the International Olympic Committee finally and fully righted this century-old wrong.

The historic record now officially reflects Jim Thorpe as the sole champion of the 1912 Olympic Decathlon and Pentathlon, recognizing the bright path of the World’s Greatest Athlete.


Shinola’s Great Americans Series is a collection of limited-edition products that honor American icons who’ve helped shape our culture and made a lasting mark on the country’s history.

Beautifully crafted by our skilled team of artisans and collaborators, we pay tribute to those who have been a source of inspiration for so many through storytelling, craftsmanship, and design.

Jim Thorpe’s raw athletic talent, steady leadership, and dignified perseverance in the face of racial inequality forged new paths for Indigenous Peoples and players the world over. It’s no wonder that his many accolades include the title of the World’s Greatest Athlete.

This limited edition 45mm Runwell Automatic is our homage to his legacy, meant to be passed on for generations to come.

With a commanding case body and a richly printed dial, the Jim Thorpe Runwell Automatic has a presence and grit all its own. Dusty blue and burgundy pay tribute to his Olympic and athletic achievements. Heavy stitching, padding, and burnishing on the special leather strap in Bulldog Brown harkens to Thorpe’s passion for the game of football. A case back window with a unique enamel fill reveals the powerful automatic movement inside and an etched record of his accomplishments.

The story of Thorpe’s life is lovingly rendered through a limited-edition package that includes a felt banner, a football-inspired leather watch pouch, a commemorative card, and a booklet celebrating his achievements.

We extend our endless gratitude to the Thorpe family for their collaboration in bringing this story to life.

In his life and legacy, Jim Thorpe truly embodies his name, Wa-Tho-Huk: A Bright Path the Lightning Makes. He remains a thunderous beacon of pride for the Sac and Fox tribe and Americans everywhere who believe in the power of fair play. May this timepiece and its platform remind generations to come of the tremendous valor and talent he brought to the world.

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