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  • Matthew Kerns

I Never Met a Man I Didn't Like

Will Rogers was America. Born to a Cherokee Nation family in Oologah, Indian Territory (now Oklahoma), Rogers joked that though his ancestors didn't come over on the Mayflower, they "met the boat". Dog Iron Ranch, the property of Will's father Clement Vann Rogers, had as many as 10,000 Texas longhorns, and Will, the youngest of eight children, grew up in the saddle. An avid reader and good student, Will quickly decided that the saddle was more comfortable than the school desk, and, after dropping out of school in the 10th grade, worked his father's ranch full time.



When he was 22 years old, Will and a friend set off from Oklahoma to Argentina, sure that their cowboy skills would serve them well as gauchos on the Argentine Pampas. They bought a ranch and worked for five months before running out of money. Unwilling to return home and face his father's disappointment, Will boarded a boat to South Africa, where he got a job as a rancher at Mooi River Station.


Will Rogers

Soon, a Wild West Circus passed through the area and Will Rogers went to see the show, intent on asking for a job handling the shows livestock. Rogers would later tell a reporter for the New York Times:


"He [Texas Jack] had a little Wild West aggregation that visited the camps and did a tremendous business. I did some roping and riding, and Jack, who was one of the smartest showmen I ever knew, took a great interest in me. It was he who gave me the idea for my original stage act with my pony. I learned a lot about the show business from him. He could do a bum act with a rope that an ordinary man couldn't get away with, and make the audience think it was great, so I used to study him by the hour, and from him I learned the great secret of the show business—knowing when to get off. It's the fellow who knows when to quit that the audience wants more of."

A poster for Texas Jack (Junior)'s Wild West Circus

This Texas Jack was not John B. Omohundro. Actually, no one, not even the man himself, knew this Texas Jack's real name. He was born sometime between 1863 and 1867, and his parents had been killed when their wagon train headed west was ambushed, reportedly by a Comanche raiding party. The child had been taken captive, along with two young girls from another family's wagon, but were rescued by the cowboy Texas Jack Omohundro, who delivered the children to a Kansas orphanage, selling the Comanche ponies to provide funding for the children's education. The boy grew up not knowing his name or the names of his parents, only knowing that the man who rescued him was called Texas Jack. After Omohundro's 1880 death, this young man showed up at the Omohundro home in Palmyra, Virginia, asking for the family's blessing to use his rescuer's name as he set off on his own venture into show business.


Advertisement for The Cherokee Kid (Will Rogers) with Texas Jack's Circus.

Initially called Texas Jack Junior, by the time he had established himself as a performer in America and Europe, his show was billed as Texas Jack's Wild West Circus by the time Will Rogers asked for a job in Ladysmith, South Africa. According to Rogers, he asked the circus owner if he was really from Texas, if he was related to the famous Texas Jack from the dime novels, and if he had any jobs wrangling horses for the show. Jack Jr. asked the young man if he could put together a rope trick act. The young man said he believed he could and Jack Jr. hired him on the spot, suggested the young performer adopt the nickname “The Cherokee Kid”. Performing the same lasso act that Texas Jack Omohundro introduced to the world thirty years earlier, this was Will Rogers’ first job in show business.

Statue of Will Rogers at the United States Capital. Visitors and Presidents alike rub the statue's feet for good luck.

Will Rogers died in a plane crash in Alaska on August 15th, 1935. Before his death, the State of Oklahoma commissioned a statue of him to place in the United States Capital's National Statuary Hall collection. Rogers agreed on the condition that his statue face the House Chamber, so that Rogers could "keep an eye on Congress." Since the statue's installation in 1939, each President of the United States of America has rubbed the Will Rogers statue's left foot for good luck before stepping into the House Chamber to deliver the State of the Union address.

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