William Penn Adair Rogers was born to Clement “Clem” Vann Rogers and Mary America Schrimsher on November 4, 1879 in Cooweescoowee District, Cherokee Nation, Indian Territory (near Oolagah). Will was the youngest of eight children and grew up in a happy home on his family’s ranch until 1890 when his mother died.
Growing up on a ranch, Will learned how to rope cattle at a young age. But it wasn’t long before his roping skills surpassed the basic ranching necessity and became an art form. He was even listed in the Guinness Book of Records for throwing lassos around a moving horse’s neck, legs, and rider all at the same time.
In 1905, after trick rope jobs in Wild West shows, Will Rogers made his vaudeville debut in New York City. The audience liked the rope tricks but they loved the humorous monologues he delivered during his act. His “everyman” brand of political commentary became very popular and a star was born. Will Rogers went on to become a Broadway star, act in over 70 films (both with and without sound), become a well known radio commentator, write thousands of syndicated newspaper columns and six books, and visit the White House.
My ancestors didn’t come over in the Mayflower–they met the boat.
Will Rogers used to say that he never met a man he didn’t like, and it seems that everyone liked him as well. He was the most popular celebrity of his day and in 1934 he was voted the most popular male actor in Hollywood. He was loved by World leaders and everyday people alike. His unique brand of political commentary was delivered in simple, humorous language that everyone could understand and appreciate.
I am a Cherokee and it’s the proudest little possession I ever hope to have.
Though he was a big-time star Will Rogers never lost touch with reality or family. He donated his own time and money to aide in disaster relief and helped to raise funds for organizations such as the Red Cross and Salvation Army. Will Rogers was a loving husband and father. He and his wife Betty, along with their children, had homes in both California and Oklahoma. He never forgot his Cherokee roots and often socialized with his fellow Cherokees. He and his wife hosted the Pocahontas club (a Cherokee women’s club) several times in their home. Rogers was proud of his heritage and was billed as both “The Cherokee Kid” and the “Indian Cowboy.”
Rogers loved horses and spent much of his time on the ranch riding and roping. He also loved aviation and flying. Tragically, at the age of 55 Rogers was killed in a plane crash on August 15, 1935 in Alaska with his good friend Wiley Post, a celebrated aviator.
Will Rogers is still much loved and his memory lives on. In 1977, he was inducted into the Aviation Hall of Fame. The Will Rogers Institute conducts lung disease research in his name. In Oklahoma, tourists can visit the Will Rogers Memorial in Claremore, and the Will Roger’s Birthplace, aka the Dog Iron Ranch, a living history museum in Oolagah. Both are open 365 days a year.