Will Rogers Museum Honored as National Literary Landmark

A 19th Century photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

A 19th Century photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

TAHLEQUAH, Okla.-The legacy of a famous Cherokee continues to live on as the Will Rogers Memorial Museum was added to the National Literary Landmark Register Oct. 26 in Claremore.

Friends of Libraries in Oklahoma (FOLIO) partnered with the Cherokee Nation and other Oklahoma organizations to celebrate the contributions of Will Rogers to Cherokee and Oklahoma culture to make the Will Rogers Memorial Museum the seventh Oklahoma Literary Landmark to be listed on the national registry.

FOLIO's multi-year centennial project, "Oklahoma Literary Landmarks," began in 2001. This year's guest speakers included: Chad Smith, Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation; Steven Gragert, Will Rogers Museum director; Cara Cowan Watts, Cherokee Nation Councilwoman; Gerry Hendon, FOLIO first vice-president; Susan McVey, Oklahoma State librarian; Jane Bryant, Oklahoma Library Association; Jon Douthitt, Friends of the Will Rogers Library president; Fernando Este, Will Rogers Library director; Julia Brady Ratliff of FOLIO and a Will Rogers historian.

Noted author, Michael Wallis acted as master of ceremonies and the Cherokee National Youth Choir performed during the festivities.

"All of us at the Cherokee Nation are pleased to be a part of this celebration," Chad Smith, Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation said. "Will Rogers was a great Cherokee and was proud of his Indian heritage. He was once quoted as saying, 'I am a Cherokee and it's the proudest little possession I ever hope to have.' This man continues to inspire many today to see the world in a different light. It will be an honor to take part in an event that will commemorate the contributions that Will Rogers made to Cherokee and American culture, history, literacy and philosophy."

William Penn Adair Rogers is noted as being first a Cherokee Indian, a cowboy, a national figure and a legend. Rogers was born in 1879 near Oolagah to Clement Vann Rogers, a Cherokee senator and judge who helped to write the Oklahoma Constitution and Mary America Schrimsher Rogers, a descendant of a Cherokee chief. Rogers learned to rope and ride on his family's ranch.

As the years passed, Will Rogers' skills with a rope developed into a talent that would list him in the Guinness Book of Records, won him jobs trick roping in wild west shows and on the variety show stages where his wit and humor delighted audiences even more than his expert roping. Rogers would ultimately become recognized as being a very well-versed and smart philosopher by telling the truth in a simplistic manner that anyone could understand. In his lifetime, Rogers would star on Broadway, make 71 movies during the 1920's and 1930's, become a popular broadcaster, a writer and humanitarian, while never leaving behind his Indian territory roots and always being known as the "Cherokee Kid."

Rogers was also heavily influenced and involved in newspapers.

"All I know is what I read in the papers," became one of Rogers' trademark quips as he used the newspapers to reach millions of Americans. His witty and profound observations in his regular newspaper columns made Will Rogers a leading journalist of the early twentieth century.

The question often has been posed: Are only the Bible and Shakespeare quoted more often than Will Rogers? The answer, it would seem, could only come from the affirmative side.

Writing more than 2 million words, equal to 20 novels, Roger's syndicated weekly and daily columns were prized by 600 newspapers and reached a potential audience of 40 million readers. His written words spread wisdom and reflections that remain timely into the twenty-first century.

The Will Rogers Museum opened in 1938 and is spread across 20 acres that Rogers purchased in 1911 and was his planned retirement home site. However, after his untimely death, the land and parts of the collection were donated by his widow and children. Today the museum features a host of exhibits that include Will Rogers' artifacts, memorabilia, photographs, a research library and several other attractions that highlight the life of Will Rogers and the contributions that he made to society.

"I am honored to take part in this event," said Councilwoman Cowan Watts. "Will Rogers, son of Indian territory, the Cherokee Nation and Oklahoma, personifies humanitarian attributes which many Oklahomans still exhibit. For me, Will's literary talents have never been surpassed anywhere in the world and in my opinion it is only fitting that his museum be added as a literary landmark. I encourage everyone to come and out and help to celebrate this esteemed Cherokee writer."

FOLIO was established to promote and cultivate libraries in Oklahoma by assisting and encouraging citizens to support their libraries.

For more information contact Julia Brady Ratliff at (918) 743-5751 or by e-mail at JuliaBrady@cox.net.

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