Lonestar Played in the NFL

Not long ago, I learned that some Carlisle Indians other than the ones on the Oorang Indians also played in the NFL. Chris Willis’s book, The Columbus Panhandles, tells the story of one of the charter members of the NFL (called the American Professional Football Association when it was first formed in 1920). The 1920 Panhandles’ roster included one player that claimed Carlisle Indian School as his alma mater. That was Frank Lone Star. John Steckbeck’s classic about the Carlisle Indian School football teams, Fabulous Redmen, makes no mention of him playing football. An appendix to Willis’s book lists Frank as having played guard and tackle in three games in the 1920 season. A search of newspaper coverage for these games confirms Willis’s data.

Unfortunately, Carlisle’s school records don’t indicate that Frank Lonestar ever played football there—at least not on the varsity squad. Frank Lonestar, Chippewa from Shell Lake, Wisconsin, first arrived at Carlisle in August 1903. After completing the five-year term, he re-enrolled for a three-year term. Just before the end of that term of enrollment, he ran away but re-enrolled in September 1911. He ran away again, returned in March 1912, and left for good in May 1912. While at Carlisle, he learned the printing trade and could have played on the Printers’ shop football team. Shop teams received little press, so it’s not known for sure if he played for them. He kept in touch with the school while working in Cleveland, Ohio. He died at his brother’s home in Shell Lake on October 30, 1915.

Frank’s untimely death made it impossible for him to play for the Columbus Panhandles in 1920. Playing under assumed names was common in the early days of professional football, especially by people whose employment might be jeopardized if their employer learned they were playing football for money.

One possibility is Lone Star Dietz because he was looking for a coaching job at that time. He went by the name William Lone Star at Carlisle. That name is close to Frank Lonestar. Also, Dietz would have likely known that Frank was dead because his death was announced in The Carlisle Arrow. In addition, Frank’s hometown was in the county immediately north of Dietz’s. Tackle was his natural position, too.

In 1920, Lone Star Dietz was 36, an advanced age for an athlete in that era, a factor that would explain him playing only three games. Of course, it may not have been Dietz, but if it wasn’t, who was it?

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