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The Grave of Isaac Seneca

by Randy Snow

Original to www.theworldoffootball.com, Thursday, April 27, 2023


When someone mentions the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, two names immediately come to mind; Pop Warner and Jim Thorpe. But there was someone else who made a name for himself by playing football there before Warner or Thorpe arrived. This is Gridiron Grave visit #48.

Isaac Seneca was born in the Seneca Nation on the Cattaraugus Reservation in Western New York. He came to the Carlisle school in September 1892 and graduated in 1900. His time at the school was not continuous as he came and went during this time.

The Carlisle school was founded in 1879 and began playing intercollegiate football in 1894. While it was not technically a college, they played schools like Michigan, Harvard, Yale and other powerhouse college teams of that era, and played very well against them. Seneca was a star halfback on the football team for several seasons during the late 1890s.

Once, when the Carlisle team was playing a game in Oklahoma, a 10-year-old Jim Thorpe had a chance to see Seneca play.

Pop Warner arrived at the school in 1899 to coach the sports teams and was also the school’s athletic director. He was at the school from 1899-1903. He left after having a falling out with the school’s superintendent, Colonel Richard Henry Pratt. Warner returned to the school in 1907 after Pratt was gone and stayed through 1914. Jim Thorpe arrived at the school in 1904 at the age of 16.

Seneca was named a first team All-American by Walter Camp in 1899. He was the first ever player from Carlisle to be named to the first team. Seneca was in very good company as the four other schools who had players named to the 1899 team were from Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Penn. 

The team posted an 8-2 record that year and was ranked #4 in the country. It was also Warner’s first season as head coach of the team.

Isaac Seneca's brother, Victor Seneca, also played football for Carlisle. Tragically, on the train returning from a game against the University of Pennsylvania in 1897, Victor was killed when he put his head out the window of the train and was struck by a telegraph pole.

After graduating from Carlisle, Seneca briefly played professional football for the Greensburg Athletic Association in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. He went on to be a blacksmith instructor at the Chilocco Indian School in Oklahoma. This was a skill he learned as a student at Carlisle.

So, the next time you hear people talking about the Carlisle football team and the names of Pop Warner and Jim Thorpe come up, remind them of the school’s first All-American player, halfback Isaac Seneca, in 1899.   

Finding the Grave

Isaac Seneca is buried in the United Missions Cemetery in the Seneca Nation in Western New York. It is located on Route 438. Use the address 1538 4 Mile Level Road, Irving, NY 14081 on your GPS. The cemetery has three entrances. Use the middle entrance. At the top of the hill, his headstone will be on your right. The roads in the cemetery are not paved, so if the ground is wet and muddy, I hope you have a vehicle with four-wheel drive!




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