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"My ancestors didn't come over on the Mayflower, but they met 'em at the boat"
Will Rogers was first an Indian, a cowboy then a national figure. He now is a legend.
William Penn Adair Rogers was born on a large ranch in the Cherokee Nation (Indian Territory) on November 4, 1879, an area of land that later would become known as Oklahoma. His father, Clem Rogers, was a sucessful rancher, cattleman and banker. The Rogers ranch and Will's birthplace still stand and is now a tourist attraction near Oologah, Oklahoma. There were eight children born to Will Rogers' parents, but only four reached adulthood on the rugged frontier of 19th Century Indian Territory.
Known as the "Indian Cowboy" from the Cherokee Nation, Will was to become the most popular and best loved American of his time...the entertainer of kings and commoners alike. Born in 1879 on a large ranch in the Cherokee Nation near what later would become Oologah, Oklahoma, Will Rogers was taught by a freed slave how to use a lasso as a tool to work Texas Longhorn cattle on the family ranch.
As he grew older, Will Rogers' roping skills developed so special that he was listed in the Guinness Book of Records for throwing three lassos at once: One rope caught the running horse's neck, the other would hoop around the rider and the third swooped up under the horse to loop all four legs.
Will Rogers' unsurpassed lariat feats were recorded in the classic movie, "The Ropin' Fool."
His hard-earned skills won him jobs trick roping in wild west shows and on the vaudeville stages where, soon, he started telling small jokes.
Quickly, his wise cracks and folksy observations became more prized by audiences than his expert roping. He became recognized as being a very informed and smart philosopher--telling the truth in very simple words so that everyone could understand.
After the 10th grade, Will Rogers dropped out of school to become a cowboy in a cattle drive. He always regretted that he didn't finish school, but he made sure that he never stopped learning--reading, thinking and talking to smart people. His hard work paid off.
Will Rogers married Betty Blake in November 1908 after an 8 year courtship. He would say, "When I roped her, that was the star performance of my life". One son, actor-entertainer Will Jr., played his famous father in "The Story of Will Rogers" in 1952.
Will Rogers began an additional career in 1922 as a syndicated columnist. He would write his weekly "little piece for the papers" until his death in 1935. In 1926 he began writing a daily column "Will Rogers Says". He had a knack for showing the ridiculous side of current events... exaggerating the facts to the amusement of his readers. In all, he wrote over 2,800 daily articles. Will's daily telegrams and weekly articles to the New York Times became so popular that they appeared in more than 500 American newspapers everyday. H.L. Mencken once called Will Rogers "the most dangerous man alive" because of the power of his political comments.
In the spring of 1926, the popular magazine Saturday Evening Post sent Rogers to Europe to write a series of articles as a "Self-Made Diplomat to His President". It was on this trip that he began to earn the title "Good Will Ambassador " or "American Ambassador to the World".
Will Rogers would talk with many of the greatest dignitaries of Europe and "get their angle" so that he could report it to the folks back home. Included were meetings with the King of Spain, the Prince of Wales, and then dictator of Italy, Benito Mussolini.
In 1930, Will began yet another phase of his career in Radio. Between his radio addresses and newspaper columns, he reached out to over 40 million Americans a week. This was when the total population of the United States was 120 million.
Will Rogers was the star of Broadway and 71 movies of the 1920s and 1930s; a popular broadcaster; besides writing more than 4,000 syndicated newspaper columns and befriending Presidents, Senators and Kings. After the advent of sound, Rogers rapidly became a top box office attraction. In 1934 he was voted the most popular male actor in Hollywood.
Will's popularity spread to other media, notably radio and the press, in which his political commentary carried much weight among citizens and politicians alike. He declined a nomination for the governorship of Oklahoma, served as mayor of Beverly Hills, and was instrumental in the election of FDR as President in 1932.
During his lifetime, he traveled around the globe three times-- meeting people, covering wars, talking about peace and learning everything possible.
He wrote six books. In fact he published more than two million words. He was the first big time radio commentator, was a guest at the White House and his opinions were sought by the leaders of the world.
Inside himself, Will Rogers remained a simple Oklahoma cowboy. "I never met a man I didn't like," was his credo of genuine love and respect for humanity and all people everywhere. He gave his own money to disaster victims and raised thousands for the Red Cross and Salvation Army.
At home, either on his ranch in Oklahoma or California, he always enjoyed riding horseback, roping steers or playing polo. He would scratch his head, grin and quip that he figured there was something wrong with anybody that didn't like a horse.
He always thought of himself as first a caring member of the human race, American, then a Cherokee Indian; a faithful husband and a father. Even though he was the top-paid star in Hollywood, he was a family man. Will Rogers was very close to his wife, Betty, and their four children.
Will Rogers Jr., 1911-1993, starred as his Father in two feature movies and was a war hero, a successful actor and a Congressman.
Mary Rogers, 1913-1989, was a Broadway actress.
Jim Rogers, 1915-2000, after starring in some cowboy movies as a young man, spent his life as a horse and cattle rancher.
Betty and Will Rogers's youngest son, Fred, died of diphtheria when he was two.
While a fast horse thrilled Will Rogers, he also loved flying. It was on a flight to near Point Barrow, Alaska in August 1935 with his good friend, aviation legend Wiley Post in 1935 that their plane crashed and both men lost their lives. He was working on his final weekly article at the time of the crash...ironically, the last word he ever typed was "death".
In mourning, the world reflected on Will Rogers' words:
"Live your life so that whenever you lose, you're ahead."
"If you live life right, death is a joke as far as fear is concerned."
by Joseph H. Carter