‘Common Like the Rest of Us,’ Will’s Oologah Saddle Pal Says
BY Walter Biscup Of the World Staff
Aug 17, 1935
7/18/12 at 2:06 AM
Oologah, Aug. 16. The dilapidated billboard bore a faded poster. It advertised Will Rogers’ last motion picture in a neighboring town, “Life Begins at Forty.”
A bare-footed urchin stared intently at the weather-beaten lithograph and scrawled, “A great guy.” It was an honest sentiment written on impulse.
This small community echoed it as only Rogers’ birthplace could.
Oologah, once an important outpost in the far-flung cattle empire of the territorial days has not kept step with the rapid march of progress. Its five telephones were not busy today.
Mrs. H.M. Mynatt, who operates the café, was first here to hear of the tragedy. The word carried swiftly. Soon the 350 residents knew what the world at large had been appraised of two hours earlier.
People who earn their living from the soil are not expressive when sorrow strikes them. There wasn’t any weeping in spite of the severe shock.
A home town boy had died.
His life-long friends in Oologah were proud of his national renown – his with and philosophy – his writing and acting – his unestimated wealth.
But their expressed esteem was not for such material things but for Will Rogers, the Oologah boy who wanted to ramble.
A Cowhand to Them
Rogers, to them will always be the happy-go-lucky cowboy riding in here on his pony, “Comanche,” shouting a “Hi-Ya” and then heading for the little post office.
It’s a picture of him that was indelible stamped in their memories 40 years ago and one that time cannot erase.
Charles Harris, a fellow cowhand still lives here. He was busy cutting hay two miles north and a section east. He could see no reason for an interview. Mr. Rogers was killed yesterday, he was told.
“So Will died in the saddle, did he?
“I kinda figured it would be that way. Will would have wanted it so.”
Just a Ranch Hand
“The years have rolled along with us. I’m 54 years, pretty near Will’s age. I worked for his dad, Clem Rogers, five miles from here. Will was going to school at the Willie Halsell college at Vinita then. H was home three months each year and worked as a hand. We bunked in a log cabin north of the ranch. Me and Will and Spy Trent, his cousin. We herded about a thousand head of cattle.
“Will pitched hay one day. Guess it was the only day’s work I’d ever seen him do. He wasn’t lazy. Just naturally wanted to stay in the saddle and ride.
“He was a good ball player and could play a trombone. Matter of fact he played the trombone in the Oologah band. One night he lost his horn mouthpiece. It fell out of his saddle bag. Will found it a week later and said there was near a thousand hoof prints on it. Said he could always taste a steer when he played that horn.”
Owned Smartest Horse
Harris said Rogers’ cow pony “Comanche” was the envy of the territory. “Smartest damn horse I ever saw. He was cream colored and weighed about ten-fifty pounds. We were in Memphis 34 years ago when Will roped a steer in a show. He jumped off Comanche and ran to throw the steer when the steer jumped up, Comanche whirled around and tightened the rope causing the steer to throw itself. I told Will he ought to let Comanche ride him instead. They’d get farther that way.
“I sure like Will. He was common like the rest of us. I know he went to the White House and talked to kings and queens and millionaires, but he talked our talk when he came here. He was our kind of folks and we were his folks.
“Spy and Will decided to run away from home 32 years ago. They thought it was a good idea. So did Clem. He gave them the money to leave.
How He Started Rambling
“That’s when Will got the rambling habit. Guess he’s rambled every where.
“Once, guess it was 35 years ago, Oologah was quarantined on account of smallpox. Will went to town to get his mail and the marshal, John Kirk, arrested him. Mayor Bill Sunday fined Will $5 for breaking that quarantine.
“Will was always popping off, saying smart things. He was bashful around the girls until he got a little older. He was a good steer roper on the prairie, but was too anxious to make time in contests.
“There ain’t 10 foot of ground around here that Will hasn’t ridden over,” sighed Harris.
“This country will miss him. I’ll miss him.
“I’ll walk back in town with you. I feel like doing it now.”
Sam Taylor, who has farmed here 40 years, doesn’t remember of the time when he ever saw Rogers in short trousers.
The town has 11 tradesmen, J.K. Carlson, real estate man; George Lamerson, grocer; W.A. Scrubbs, merchandise store; Mrs. Sam Taylor, café owner; J.L. Mynatt, grocer; Afton Mynall, grocer; Tom Bea, lumberman; Marvin Denny, postmaster; Bill Hogue, barber; Leon Powell, grocer and John Jones, filling station operator.
They told scores of anecdotes concerning Rogers. They remembered how he dropped in at the Missouri Pacific railroad station here and met the agent’s sister who was visiting from Rogers, Ark. The girl’s name was Betty Blake. The romance culminated in a happy marriage.
They related how hundreds of tourists visited the Rogers’ birthplace near here that a nephew, Herb McSpadden, is now ranching there, recalled Rogers’ numerous anonymously donated charitable acts.
School children five years ago built a model replica of the Rogers’ ranch and placed it at the intersection of the town’s main street and state highway 16. It had a miniature flag at half-mast today. The consensus here was that Rogers lived without malice.
Mrs. Maud Bea, said the Ladies Aid society was planning a surprise gift for Rogers’ next birthday, November 4. It was going to be an Indian quilt of gray, white, red and black colors. All the women in Oologah were working on the gift.
“I don’t know what we’ll do now,” she said.
Rogers’ old friend of the saddle days sat on the curb. He stared at the ground.
“Will had everything in this world but one thing – I think he would like to have been president of the United States.”