Sports History Saturday: Lone Star Dietz – Part 2

dietz headdressAfter Billy left MacAlester College, he set off in search of his roots.  In 1904, he took a job supervising a native art display at the St. Louis World’s Fair (or Louisiana Purchase Exposition).  The federal government had commissioned an Indian Education Exhibit to show off its accomplishments in Indian education.  By that year, the Bureau of Indian Affairs had opened over 250 schools and was educating hundreds of Indian children.

The exhibit included the model Indian school building — called The Hall of Revelation.  Students were brought in from established Indian schools to be part of the display, working and studying.   Indian artisans were rotated so that the exhibit remained fresh, the only exception being that Geronimo made bows and arrows throughout the entire fair. The Indian exhibit was so popular that a fair railway station was built near the exhibit.

This was Billy’s first chance to fully embrace his Sioux heritage.  He contributed to a mosaic made of grains and even met his namesake, One Star (and his future wife).  By the end of June 1904 Billy had been publicly acknowledged as a Sioux with a reference in the Indian School Journal, referring to him as “Lone Star”.  This, I think, is where some people believe the “myth” started of his Indian heritage.  Whether he knew it was true or not and decided to play it up anyway, I do not know.

Billy also met his future wife, Angel DeCora, a Native American artist.  She and the headmaster of one of the Indian schools recognized his artistic talents.  Col. McCowan, the headmaster of the Chilocco Indian School arranged for Billy to further his education in art there (and also play football).  According to author Tom Benjey, it wasn’t clear whether Billy traveled back and forth from the school to St. Louis because Billy continued to work at the fair at least through September 1904.

Billy eventually ended up at the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania where he played football with future Olympian Jim Thorpe and was coached by the great Glenn Scobey “Pop” Warner from 1909 to 1912.  Angel DeCora had been asked to run the art department at the school so she and Billy re-connected and were married in July 1908.

After playing for Carlisle, Dietz remained on staff as an assistant coach from 1912 to 1914.  Controversies arose in 1914 around the football program and Coach Warner left to coach at the University of Pittsburgh.  Meanwhile, the Dietz headed west and took the head coaching job of Washington State College.  His wife joined him a year later; however, they soon divorced and she died in 1919 after contracting pneumonia.

The Washington State team hadn’t had a winning season in awhile but on January 1, 1916 they played Brown University in the Rose Bowl.  Dietz led his team on the field wearing a stovepipe hat, striped pants, Prince Albert cutaway coat, yellow gloves, spats and a walking stick.  In a picture taken that week, Dietz was pictured in full Native American dress.  The Washington State Warriors defeated Brown that day 14-0.

rose bowl dietzDietz continued coaching at Washington State until 1918 when the athletic program was suspended due to World War I and the draft.  He promised to return, but never came back because he was indicted by a grand jury in 1919 for lying on his draft registration, claiming that he was a non-citizen Indian and therefore should be exempt.  He received a thirty day sentence in jail after pleading “no contest” in a second trial.

In 1921, Dietz became the head coach at Purdue.  After one season, his record was an abysmal 1-6-0; his only victory was against Northwestern 3-0.  Dietz, accompanied by his new wife Doris Ohm, moved on to Louisiana where he coached at Louisiana Polytechnic Institute (Louisiana Tech) for two seasons (1921-1923), compiling a record of 11-3-1.

Dietz once again headed west to coach for Wyoming — after four years his record there was 14-18-2.  After leaving Wyoming, he headed to California and worked some in the film industry with some coaching on the side.  In 1929 he re-entered the Indian school system and headed to Haskell Institute in Lawrence, Kansas.  In four seasons at Haskell he compiled a record of 30-9-0.  He caught the eye of football owner George Preston Marshall (Boston Braves), who convinced Dietz to come and coach his NFL pro team.

During the first season of coaching the Boston team, Marshall moved the team to Fenway Park and renamed it “Boston Redskins”, famously doing so in honor of his coach being (at least partially) of Native American heritage.  After two lackluster seasons, Lone Star took a job at Temple University, working again with Pop Warner.  While at Temple he coached the freshmen team to a 13-0-1 record.

In 1937 Dietz took the last coaching job of his career at Albright College in Reading, Pennsylvania.  That first year the team went undefeated for the first time ever.  He remained at Albright through the 1942 season and compiled a record of 31-23-2.  In 1943 the football program was closed due to another war, World War II.

Dietz embarked on various endeavors in the years after his coaching career ended, but nothing ever worked out.  By 1957 he and his wife had returned to Reading, but he was without a job and broke.  He tried to make a living with his art again, but in the end he spent his last years living on public assistance and died on July 20, 1964 of cancer.  Lone Star was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2012.

There is no doubt that William “Lone Star” Dietz was a colorful character and he was overall a successful football coach.  I’m not sure when the controversy over his Native American heritage arose .. probably long after he was gone before it became a hot debate topic.  I ran across a piece done by Rob Jackson (The Coffin Corner, “Lone Star”, Vol. 26, No. 1 (2004)) about Lone Star.  I found some details that I had not previously read.  Here are a few:

William Henry “Lone Star” Dietz was born near Cut Meat, on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation in South Dakota. The actual year of his birth is in question. The date given on his headstone in Reading Pennsylvania is August 16, 1885, yet his enrollment papers from the Carlisle Indian School which are dated September 17, 1907, and now preserved in the National Archives, say he was born August 17, 1884.

According to Lone Star himself, in an interview with a New York Sun reporter in 1912, his father was a young German engineer and a member of a surveying party that was laying out a railroad line over the plains. The party was attacked and besieged by the Sioux Chief, Red Cloud. With the camp’s provisions running low each day, his father took action.

Alone, without arms, and with a few days rations, the engineer set towards the Indian camp. He was captured and taken before the chief. While his captors introduced him with mutterings, he stepped forward with outstretched hand toward the chief.

His plan worked. The chief met his captive with the trust the civil engineer displayed. A lodge was assigned to the white man and he took an Indian woman as his wife. Although United States troops put an end to the uprising and rescued the other engineers of the party, the young German remained with Chief Red Cloud’s tribe and his Indian wife gave birth to two children. The second child, a boy, was named Wicarhpi Isna/a, or Lone Star.

When the boy was between two and three years old his father, who had become wealthy as a trader and agent between the two peoples, left the plains and returned East where he remarried to a former girlfriend. After five years away he returned to the reservation and retrieved his son and enrolled the now eight-year-old boy in grade school at Rice Lake, Wisconsin, under the name of William Henry Dietz.

Jackson goes on to say that Lone Star maintained a relationship with his mother’s people through his uncle, One Star, who sometimes worked for Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.  The account above was Lone Star’s given in a 1912 interview, however, critics today claim all along he was faking his heritage and maybe just making it up as he went along.

Was Lone Star of Native American heritage?  I still don’t know the answer to that question, but Dietz’s name is regularly invoked these days in the debate over whether the Washington Redskins should change their team name — colorful in his day and controversial today.

Discussion Topics:

Opinions anyone?

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

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