It’s hard to imagine Washington State drawing three straight coaches from the premier football school in the country, being the toast of football fans in the West, and winning the Rose Bowl. One of those three men coached the only victory Washington State ever took in the New Year’s Day classic. He counted the legendary Jim Thorpe, Pop Warner, and Knute Rockne among his friends.
This man also coached the NFL team that became the Washington Redskins. In fact, the controversial nickname is said to honor him. He was also an artist and an entrepreneur.
Keep A-Goin’, by Dr. Tom Benjey, sometime software developer, college teacher, and a weapons control maintenance man who lives in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, tells the story of the coach, William Henry “Lone Star” Dietz, and considers the many mysteries that surround the man.
Arriving in Pullman in the fading days of the administration of President Enoch A. Bryan, Dietz installed the single-wing offense he had learned as a player and coach under “Pop” Warner at Carlisle Indian Industrial School and led Washington State to an undefeated season and a berth in the first modern-day Rose Bowl football game.
After WSC won the game at Pasadena, the New York Times reported that California and Nebraska were among the teams seeking to woo Dietz away to be their coach.
Dietz was good copy wherever he went, from his arrival in Pullman on the train in 1915 right down to his visit to the Rose Bowl reunion in 1956 and a last trip to Pullman that same winter.
Benjey is particularly interested in the mysteries surrounding two parts of Dietz’s life. One is whether Dietz was the Native American he claimed to be.
Less than a week after WSC played in the Rose Bowl, the Los Angeles Times quoted an Oregon Journal sportswriter as saying Dietz was not an Indian and that Lone Star was “but a stage name.” But John Ewers, writing in the magazine Montana in 1977, accepted Dietz’s claim from a 1912 issue of the New York Sun that he was Indian. Then in 2004, Linda Waggoner, who was teaching at Sonoma State, wrote in Indiana Country Today that Dietz was definitely not Indian.
Benjey believes Dietz’s claim, arguing that at a time when native-born whites harbored negative attitudes toward Indians, Dietz wouldn’t have invented such a background. But he lets readers in on enough of the controversy that ultimately they will be able to decide for themselves.
Whether Dietz was Native American or not, his claim contributed to his being indicted in 1919 of falsifying his draft registration in claiming that he was Indian. Indians did not have to serve in the military. In the highly charged atmosphere that had developed during World War I, shirking the draft was not a good idea. After a hung jury the first time around, Dietz ran out of money and had to plead no contest. He was sentenced to a month in the county jail.
Dietz later coached at Purdue, Louisiana Tech, Wyoming, Haskell Institute, and Albright College, as well as in the NFL, but his star had been tarnished. He died in 1964, virtually penniless.
Sometimes Benjey tells us more than we want to know. Sometimes his evaluation of the historical evidence is doubtful. But he tells a good story and includes lots of illustrations. His excitement about Lone Star Dietz is infectious.
Dietz’s WSC team beat Brown, 14-0 in a driving rain in that first Rose Bowl game in Pasadena, which was virtually the national championship game.
When the Cougars get to the Rose Bowl next time, let’s remember that first time and that first victory. Thanks to Benjey’s book, we can do that.
—Owen V. Johnson ’68
Johnson teaches journalism and history at Indiana University.