The Cowboy Philosopher Will Rogers

On November 4, 1879, William Penn Adair Rogers was born on a ranch in Cherokee Indian territory.  His birthplace was near what is now Oologah, Oklahoma.  The family called the young boy by the name “Will,” and he would grow up to be beloved by the country as Will Rogers.

In 1898, the young man left home to work as a cowboy, and in 1902 began his show business career when he joined Texas Jack‘s Wild West show as a trick roper and rider. Before long, Rogers realized that audiences loved his humor and cowboy philosophy, eventually becoming a national celebrity through movie roles, magazine and newspaper articles, and in-person and radio appearances.

Bacon, Beans, and Limousines

Rogers’s honest humor struck a chord with America as it went into the Great Depression. In 1931, President Herbert Hoover’s Organization on Unemployment Relief asked him to address the nation. Rogers delivered what became known as his “Bacon, Beans, and Limousines” speech, where he addressed unemployment and the causes of the Depression.

Check out this video of the October 18, 1931 speech from the Will Rogers Memorial Museums.

Death

Will Rogers, however, did not get to see the end of the Depression, as he passed away on August 15, 1935. Rogers was an advocate for the early aviation industry, and he died in a plane crash while traveling in Alaska with renowned aviator Wiley Post. Many mourned the passing of one of the most beloved Americans whose life overlapped with another rising Oklahoma philosopher, Woody Guthrie (1912-1967).

TV and Film

The weekly television show Man of the Year paid tribute to Will Rogers when it looked back on the year 1935. The interesting episode features a lot of video footage of Rogers.

The video covers the life of Will Rogers, and around the 12:20 mark, the host introduces humorists Steve Allen and Fred Allen to discuss the importance of the cowboy philosopher.

Several actors have portrayed Rogers in movies, including Keith Carradine (who also played Woody Guthrie in a film). I recall first learning about Will Rogers from the 1952 film called The Story of Will Rogers, where Will Rogers, Jr. portrayed his father.

Many today may not know much about Will Rogers, but he was significantly influential in his time and worth remembering on this anniversary of his birth.

Public domain photo via Library of Congress. What is your favorite Will Rogers story? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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