Sports History Saturday – Lone Star Dietz: Part 1

lone starAs promised, I will start a short series today about the legendary football player and coach, Lone Star Dietz. But before I start, I wanted to mention something more about the Washington Redskins name controversy which was last week’s introduction to this series.  I read some articles this week about one of the parties to the controversy.  Most of the opposition comes from the Oneida Indian Nation, led by Ray Halbritter.  It seems that Mr. Halbritter is not without controversy himself.

According to The Daily Caller, he is not a legitimate member of the Oneida Tribe.  New York Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney states, “He is not even technically an Oneida.  There is not one drop of Oneida in him.”  Just thought I’d mention that since, as we’ll see, the big controversy surrounding Lone Star is that he was not authentically Native American (therefore, opponents believe the claim that the team was named “Redskins” in honor of his being Native American is not a valid one).

Now on to the story of Lone Star Dietz.  Was he who he thought and said he was, a person of Native American descent?  After reading through various accounts and articles written about his life, I’m still not sure.  There are some who defend him … obviously, in a sort of back-handed way, the Washington Redskins defend him because they claim that the team was named in his honor, and I do believe they are serious about retaining the name.  There are some who vehemently oppose and claim that Dietz was a fraud.

William Henry Deitz (or “Dietz” as he later spelled his last name) was born on August 17, 1884.  His parents were William Wallace Deitz (“W.W.”) and Leanna Ginder.  They were married in 1879.  Author Tom Benjey (“Keep A-Goin’; The Life of Lone Star Dietz”) states that their marriage was a tempestuous one and that Billy was not born until 1884 (the one and only child of that marriage).

One thing I found curious about the record of Billy’s birth – his father did not sign his son’s birth certificate until 1889.  I’m not sure if that is or was common practice but it did seem a little odd.  I’m wondering if it had to do with the circumstances of Billy’s birth, discussed later in today’s article.

Young Billy was relentlessly teased in school because he looked like an Indian.  To a young child, of course, this was very hurtful.  Billy sought consolation from his mother, who told him “little boy, you are as good as anyone else.”  Billy discussed it with his father and was reassured it wasn’t true.

While Billy wasn’t considered a stellar student (mostly Cs and Bs), he did have a talent for art and entrepreneurship (setting up a popcorn stand in front of a bank in his hometown of Rice Lake, Wisconsin).  His father sold insurance and was a successful businessman.

Even though the Deitz family was fairly well off, Billy’s father was known to be abusive.  One evening Billy overheard his parents fighting and recounts their words:

The first time I knew that I had Indian blood was one night I went home late and heard my parents discussing it through an open door leading to their bedroom.  I went to Mother the next day and she sent me to Father, who declined to discuss it, saying not to bother him, as I was as good as anyone.  A week later I went to him and asked who my mother was and he replied that, “She was a long, long way from here.”  I asked if she was a Chippewa woman and he declined to answer.  (Keep A-Goin’, p. 7 of Google book excerpt)

Billy’s parents eventually divorced and he set out on his own at some point to find his Indian family presumably.  Benjey postulates that the search was probably futile for quite some time, however, Billy was industrious and talented as an artist and probably landed a job as a newspaper artist.  Billy enrolled in a prep school associated with Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota in September 1902.

Billy first played football while attending Macalester after completing his high school education, as well as continue to use his artistic talents.  He also dabbled in writing.  Even though Billy made these contributions to his college, he was still ridiculed for being Indian.  So Billy, tiring of the taunts, confronted his father:

Later when I went to Macalester College I was still persecuted and told my father that if I were an Indian I wanted to know and come out from under a cloud.  He then told me that I was of Sioux blood and that my right name was One Star.  (Keep A-Goin’, p. 13 of Google book excerpt).

Now Billy had more reason than ever to pursue his Indian heritage.

Next Week:  By this time, the Native American population had been subdued.  Many Native American children were sent away to boarding school, essentially to “Americanize” them.   Whole populations of Native American tribes had been moved to reservations.  Now that they were subdued, these groups became curiosities of a sort as well.  Billy left Macalester and continued his quest to find out more about his heritage.  Not long afterwards, he begins to fully embrace his Sioux heritage.

Everyone have a great day – someday it will be history!

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