America’s Cowboy

elizname2smallWill Rogers died before I was born.  I never saw any of his movies or heard his voice on the radio.  But I feel as if I knew him because he was my dad’s favorite movie star.  Dad talked about him a lot, especially on long car trips. 

Most movie cowboys were city boys with pretty faces.  Born in 1879 on the Dog Iron Ranch in Oklahoma’s Indian Territory,willrogers1 Will was the real thing.  Both his parents were part Cherokee (Will once quipped that his ancestors didn’t come over on the Mayflower, but they met the boat).  The youngest of eight children, Will quit school after the 10th grade.  He was more interested in being a cowboy than in reading, writing and arithmetic.  A freed slave taught him how to use a lasso to work Texas Longhorn cattle on the family ranch.  As he grew older, Will’s roping skills were so remarkable that he was listed in the Guiness Book of Records for throwing three lassos at the same time:  One rope caught the running horse’s neck, the other would loop around the rider and the third swooped up under the horse to loop all four legs. 

After some early adventures abroad, will returned to America and went into show business as “The Cherokee Kid.”  His skills won him jobs trick roping in wild west shows and on the vaudeville stages where, soon, he started telling small jokes.  Quickly, his wisecracks and folksy observations became more prized by audiences than his expert roping.  He became known as an informed philosopher, telling the truth in simple words so that everyone could understand.  Here are some examples:  

“A fool and his money are soon elected.” 

“Advertising is the art of convincing people to spend money they don’t have for something they don’t need.” 

“Buy land.  They ain’t making any more of the stuff.” 

“Even if you’re on the right track you’ll get run over if you just sit there.” 

“If stupidity got us into this mess, then why can’t it get us out?” 

And my favorite–“We will never have true civilization until we recognize the rights of others.” 


Will starred on Broadway and in 71 movies and was also a radio broadcaster.  He wrote more than 4,000 newspaper colums and six books.  Presidents, senators and kings sought his opinions.  Inside himself, Will Rogers remained a simple Oklahoma cowboy. “I never met a man I didn’t like,” was his credo of genuine love and respect for humanity and all people everywhere. He gave his own money to disaster victims and raised thousands for the Red Cross and Salvation Army.   

Will was also a devoted husband and father of four.  He married Betty Blake in 1908 after an 8 year courtship.  He would say, “When I roped her, that was the star performance of my life.”  In 1935, at the age of 55, Will took off on a flight around the world with a legendary pilot named Wiley Post.  The plane crashed in Alaska.  Both men lost their lives.  The outpouring of national grief over Will Rogers’s passing is generally regarded to be the greatest such show of national mourning since the death of Lincoln some seventy years earlier.   Will has been honored with postage stamps and monuments, including a statue in the U.S. Capitol building.  And his wise, simple words are still with us. 

Will Rogers was America’s cowboy for an earlier generation.  Who would you nominate for the title today?  Do you have a favorite Will Rogers saying? 

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21 thoughts on “America’s Cowboy”

  1. I found these two-

    Diplomacy is the art of saying “Nice doggie” until you can find a rock.

    Don’t let yesterday use up too much of today.

    If I could nominate someone as today’s American cowboy? Gosh..Sam Elliot, Tim McGraw.

    Tough to choose! ;o)

  2. To make the nominations easier, let’s include cowboys who’ve passed away in the last few decades, whose movies we still see, or whose songs we still hear. A lot of the really great ones are gone.
    Who would you nominate as America’s cowboy?

  3. I love Will Rogers’ sayings. They’re chock full of truth and humor. I just wonder what he’d say about the politicians today if he were still alive!

    I think America’s cowboy of my generation would be John Wayne. And I have no clue who’d take the title today. All the cowboys seem to be hiding. The only ones might be on the rodeo circuit. Hmmmm, I’ll have to get my thinking cap on. 🙂

  4. Hi Elizabeth, I never knew much about Will Rogers, but he sure was an interesting man! His quotes are great. Maybe your dad’s love of Will Rogers had an effect on you, loving Westerns and being a Western writer? My favorite cowboy is Clint Eastwood. I smile just thinking about him. 🙂 I saw his latest movie, Gran Torino, and although it’s set in modern-day Detroit, Clint came across will all the bold attributes of a cowboy. He’s a real hero in the movie. I loved it. It’s a bit different with the topic of Asian gangs, but it’s riveting from the opening scenes.

    Well, there I go…on and on about Clint… LOL Elizabeth, great post!

  5. You can’t say that civilization don’t advance, however, for in every war they kill you in a new way.

    Communism is like prohibition, it’s a good idea but it won’t work.

    Be thankful we’re not getting all the government we’re paying for.
    Will Rogers

    Don’t squat with your spurs on.

  6. I actually use a Will Rogers quote in one of my recent books (Not historical)
    (about a naughty little boy)
    “You know how Will Rogers never met a man he didn’t like?”
    “Well, Will Rogers never met Jeffie.”

  7. Back after some errand running. What great comments. When I was looking up Will Rogers quotes, Linda, one thing that crossed my mind was that much of what he said would be as true today as it was then. Will did a great job of cheering people through the Great Depression. Wish we had him now.
    And John Wayne was such a towering figure wasn’t he? My cousin actually met him and gave him the scrapbook she’d made about his life. He seemed genuinely touched.

  8. Thanks for your comment, Kate. I owe my father for a lot of things. He passed away 3 years ago at the age of 91. While I was writing this blog, I kept thinking of how much he would like it.
    And who would’ve thought that cute young cowboy in “Rawhide” would grow up to be a genius? Clint is truly one of the great ones. And still handsome.

  9. Love your quotes, Mary. They’re funnier than the ones I found. Wonderful that you’re referring to him in your book. Will deserves to be remembered, and kids these days probably don’t even know who he was.

  10. It’s so fun that you picked Will Rogers because I actually had a conversation about Will Rogers over Christmas. My brother-in-law was going off about what a skilled roper he was. And how he was so famous for the comedy but the trick roping is what made him famous, back in the vaudville and Wild West Show days.

    But that’s almost a lost fact about him.
    I didn’t know he was a Cherokee either. Interesting post.

  11. His rope skills were amazing, Mary. There’s one story I looked for to verify and couldn’t find. He was performing at a rodeo when this huge bull got loose and charged into the stands. Will was able to get enough ropes on it to stop it and save lives. That incident garnered national attention.

  12. Favorite Cowboy? Depends upon who you ask in this house! Honey would say definitely Roy Rogers. I
    would say a variety: Dale Evans, Roy Rogers, Gene
    Autry, John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, and Tom Selleck.

    Pat Cochran

  13. I so love Will Rogers — I love that quote — “A fool an his money are soon elected…”

    My vote for cowboys goes to Gene Autry and Roy Rogers. Love both of them — have many of their old movies.

  14. Thanks for the nominations, Ladies. We’ve got Tim, Roy, Gene, John, Sam, Clint and Tom.
    I would add Paul Newman who wasn’t always a cowboy but whose good works and universal appeal compared to Will Rogers’.

    Sorry to be absent so much, I’m getting a dinner party ready for my friends. Spaghetti and garlic bread. Wish you all could be here.

  15. Clint Eastwood was big when I was little and he does do a cowboy well. I guess when I think cowboy the first to come to mind would be John Wayne. Sam Elliott is great I looooooooooove his voice.

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