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Texas Jack Junior & The Cherokee Kid

Unveiling a Rare Gem: Texas Jack Junior and The Cherokee Kid, Will Rogers, in South Africa, 1903.



The Will Rogers Memorial Museum in Claremore, Oklahoma, holds a treasure trove of artifacts and photographs documenting the life and career of one of America's most beloved humorists and entertainers. Among these is a rare and captivating photograph that has never been made available online until now.


This newly unveiled photograph offers a fascinating glimpse into the early careers of two legendary figures: Texas Jack Junior and his protégé, Will Rogers, known then as "The Cherokee Kid." Taken in 1903 during their time in South Africa, this image captures a moment of dynamic interaction between mentor and student, showcasing their skill and camaraderie.


The black-and-white photograph presents a vivid scene set against the backdrop of the South African landscape.


  • Will Rogers on Horseback: At the center of the image, Will Rogers sits confidently on horseback. He is captured mid-action, performing an impressive lasso trick. His right arm is raised high above his head, spinning the lasso in a wide, graceful arc. The loop of the lasso is large enough to encircle both Rogers and his horse, demonstrating his exceptional skill and control.

  • Texas Jack Junior: To the right of Rogers, Texas Jack Junior is caught in a moment of motion. He is leaning back, seemingly ducking out of the way to avoid the sweeping lasso. His posture and the angle of his hat suggest a mix of attentiveness and playful caution, highlighting the dynamic and interactive nature of their performance.

  • The Setting: The background features the expansive, open terrain typical of the South African plains, adding a sense of adventure and vastness to the scene. The ground appears dry and dusty, emphasizing the rugged environment in which these entertainers showcased their talents.


This photograph not only captures a remarkable trick performed by Will Rogers but also the lively spirit of their performances, which captivated audiences around the world. It serves as a testament to the early days of these legendary entertainers and their enduring impact on the world of show business.


Will Rogers: The Journey to South Africa


Will Rogers' path to stardom was as unconventional as it was inspiring. Born in 1879, Rogers left home with the aim of becoming a cowboy rather than an entertainer. In early 1902, he and his friend Dick Parris decided to try their luck as cowboys in South America, which led to an adventure that would take Rogers a world away from his Oklahoma roots.


Will Rogers

Their journey began with Rogers selling his share of the family cattle business and traveling through Hot Springs, Arkansas, and New Orleans before reaching New York City. From there, Rogers sailed to Southampton, England, and then embarked on a lengthy voyage to Buenos Aires, Argentina. After a few months in Argentina, Rogers' quest for cowboy work led him to board a boat carrying beef steers to feed the British Army in Durban, South Africa, in August 1902.


By November, Rogers was driving mules to Ladysmith, South Africa. It was in Ladysmith that he encountered the Wild West show of Texas Jack Junior on December 5, 1902. Demonstrating his roping skills, Rogers impressed Texas Jack Junior, who immediately offered him a job. This marked the beginning of Rogers' illustrious career in entertainment.


Left to right: Texas Jack, Lily Dunbar Jack (his wife), Clarence Welby Cooke, and Will Rogers


Texas Jack Junior: Wild West Star


Texas Jack Junior's story was equally fascinating. Rescued from a Comanche raid as a young boy by the original Texas Jack, John B. Omohundro, Junior was raised among cowboys and eventually became a prominent figure in Wild West shows.


Mexican Joe Shelley (left) and Texas Jack Junior (right). Taken on a visit to England.

He toured England with Mexican Joe Shelly before starting his own show and touring in Europe, Australia, and eventually South Africa. Known for his exceptional roping skills and charismatic stage presence, Texas Jack Junior was a natural mentor for the young Will Rogers.



Under Texas Jack Junior's mentorship, Rogers learned the nuances of entertaining audiences and the technical skills of roping. Rogers later said that it was Texas Jack Junior who taught him the importance of engaging the audience and "always leaving them wanting more," lessons that would serve Rogers well throughout his career.


The Significance of the Photograph


The photograph from the archives of the Will Rogers Memorial Museum is a testament to the early days of these two legendary figures. Taken in South Africa in 1903, it captures a moment of camaraderie and skill between Texas Jack Junior and Will Rogers. This image not only documents their shared history but also highlights the global reach of Wild West shows at the turn of the century. This photograph provides a unique opportunity for historians, enthusiasts, and the general public to appreciate the early career of Will Rogers and his connection to Texas Jack Junior, enriching our understanding of the formative experiences that shaped Rogers' journey from cowboy to beloved entertainer.


Conclusion


The Will Rogers Memorial Museum's collection is a vital resource for understanding the life and legacy of Will Rogers. This photograph of Texas Jack Junior and Will Rogers in South Africa offers a rare glimpse into a pivotal moment in their lives. As we explore this fascinating image, we celebrate the mentorship and friendship that helped launch Will Rogers' career and honor the enduring legacy of Texas Jack Junior. Visit the Will Rogers Memorial Museum in Claremore, Oklahoma, to discover more about these iconic figures and the rich history they represent.



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