Will Rogers was the homespun cowboy, humorist, political commentator, and actor who was known for his intellect as well as his skills with a lasso.
Rogers was honored with a Google Doodle for what would be his 140th birthday as part of Native American heritage month. According to Google, Rogers was known as “America’s Cowboy Philosopher” for insightful quips like the famous, “I never met a man I didn’t like.” He also joked, “All I know is what I read in the papers.”
Rogers took on power elites with humor, speaking for the common person in the down-to-earth language of the West. “Without rancor or design, Will debunked the mighty and reined in the foibles of government and follies of mankind. Humor was his tool,” Will Rogers.com explains.
Rep. Jed Johnson (D-Okla.) once said of Rogers, according to Politico: “The world well knows Will Rogers had many outstanding and loveable attainments. But probably the most outstanding of all was his love for humanity … He knew life. He was a friend of man of all walks of life. He was broad-minded, generous, and, undoubtedly, the most beloved citizen in the entire world.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Rogers, Who Was Born to Parents With Cherokee Heritage, Was Raised on a Ranch in What Is Now Oklahoma
According to Rogers’ official biography, he was born William Penn Adair Rogers on November 4, 1879 as one of eight children on Rogers Ranch in Oologah. That’s now in Oklahoma but it was then considered Indian Territory, and his parents, Clement Vann Rogers and Mary Schrimsher, had Cherokee heritage.
The young Rogers took to ranch life, riding and using a lasso as a child. He ended up in the Guinness Book of World Records because he threw three lassos at once, according to his website.
“One went around the horse’s neck, another circled around the rider, and the third flew under the horse, looping all four legs together,” the bio explained. Will Rogers.com reports that Rogers was raised in a home called “the White House on the Verdigris River.” His father was “a Cherokee senator and a judge who helped write the Oklahoma Constitution,” the site reports, and his mother was “descended from a Cherokee chief.”
Rogers was proud of his Cherokee heritage and is quoted by Will Rogers.com as saying, “My ancestors didn’t come over on the Mayflower, but they met the boat.”
According to Google, Rogers’ dad was a “Cherokee senator who raised Texas longhorns on his ranch.” The site quotes Rogers as saying: “A man that don’t love a horse, there is something the matter with him.”
2. Rogers Attended a Military School & Then Dropped Out to Become a Cowboy in Wild West Shows
Roger was sent to military school in Missouri, but, in 10th grade, he decided he wanted to be a cowboy, according to his website. He ended up in Wild West shows.
In 1902 and 1903, he found himself traveling in South Africa with “Texas Jack’s Wild West Show,” playing the “Cherokee Kid” and using his lasso. He joined the Wirth Brothers Circus and toured with it in Australia and New Zealand, his website says.
He returned to the U.S. and ended up on vaudeville until 1915. “Swinging a rope isn’t bad,” he once said, “as long as your neck isn’t in it.”
As Hollywood changed, so did Rogers’ career. He starred in silent movies and then talking films called things like They Had to See Paris (1929) and State Fair (1934). Altogether, he starred in 71 films, according to his bio.
3. Will Rogers Had Four Children With Betty Blake
In 1908, in the midst of his vaudeville career, Will Rogers took a wife. Her name was Betty Blake, and they would go on to have four children named Will Rogers Jr., Mary, Jim, and Fred.
“Betty was a loving and supportive wife to Will until his death,” his website says.
According to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas, Betty Blake Rogers helped manage the family’s finances and helped her husband pick film scripts. Her father was a miller who died when she was young. She had eight siblings and performed in theater. She met Will at her sister’s home, and they shared a sense of humor and “love of music,” the site reports, adding that Betty died of cancer in 1944, outliving her husband.
4. Rogers Was an Author & Political Commentator Who Was Known for His Sense of Humor
Rogers wasn’t just a cowboy mindlessly doing rope tricks. He peppered his routines with “intelligent and amusing observations about people, life, the country and the government in simple language that his audience could understand,” his website says, and audiences began looking forward to his humor.
He wrote 4,000 syndicated columns and six books, according to his website. He began commenting on politics. He was a joking candidate in Life Magazine’s satirical Anti Bunk Party.
5. Will Rogers Died Young in a Plane Crash
Rogers’ life was full of lasting accomplishment, but it didn’t last that long. He died at age 55, in 1935, on a plane trip to Alaska, his website says.
According to Politico, Wiley Post, a veteran aviator, also died in the crash. The two men “were pioneering a new air route from the U.S. West Coast to the Soviet Far East,” the site reports.
Today, he is buried with his wife Betty and son Fred in Claremore, Oklahoma. After Rogers’ death in the plane crash, Betty helped preserve his memory through the creation of a memorial and state park, according to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas.
An Associated Press dispatch from the time started, “Death reaching through an arctic fog, overtook Will Rogers, peerless comedian, and Wiley Post, master aviator, as their rebuilt airplane faltered and fell into an icy little river last night near this bleak outpost of civilization.”
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