OOLOGAH, Okla. – Cherokee Nation announced today plans to purchase the historic Will Rogers Birthplace Museum in Rogers County. A small signing ceremony was held at the museum on Nov. 4 to coincide with Will Rogers’ birthday and formalize the acquisition from the Oklahoma Historical Society.
“Will Rogers’ humor and his unique ability to make complicated political and economic issues easy to understand made him a powerful social critic and commentator. He captivated audiences around the nation because his humor never insulted or belittled anyone – he was simply telling the truth about people in positions of power,” said Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. “He was called ‘The Cherokee Kid’ in his early entertainment career and always embraced his culture and his tribe. No matter how popular he was, Will Rogers was always a Cherokee, and he talked about it. He reminded people every day that there are Native people of this land still alive and who remain a vibrant part of America’s tapestry. It is quite fitting that the Cherokee Nation will now have an opportunity to continuing telling this story from such a unique perspective.”
William Penn Adair Rogers was born to Clement Vann Rogers and Mary America Schrimsher on Nov. 4, 1879. He was the youngest of eight children and grew up on his family’s ranch in the Cooweescoowee District of Cherokee Nation. After leaving the ranch around 1905, Rogers pursued an entertainment career in Hollywood. Often referred to as ‘The Cherokee Kid’ and ‘Oklahoma’s Favorite Son,’ Rogers became one of the highest paid Hollywood actors in the 1930s. He appeared in more than 70 films, had a syndicated newspaper column and made numerous radio appearances.
“The Oklahoma Historical Society and the Cherokee Nation have a long history of mutual respect, cooperation and shared resources,” said Dr. Bob Blackburn, executive director of the Oklahoma Historical Society. “Every penny earned from this transfer will be invested in the Will Rogers Memorial Museum, located in the Cherokee Nation. Together, we will make sure the world will always remember the life and legacy of this famous Cherokee cowboy.”
By the late 1890s, the Curtis and Dawes Acts had reduced the ranch to about 140 acres. Throughout time, the family was able to purchase surrounding land but only regained 2,000 of the original 60,000 acres.
“Today is a good day to celebrate this historic site and all that has been accomplished here by those who acted as caretakers of the land for many decades, including the Oklahoma Historical Society,” said Deputy Chief Bryan Warner. “The story of Will Rogers is such an integral part of Oklahoma history and Cherokee Nation history. I want to thank the Oklahoma Historical Society for preserving this site and allowing folks from all across the world to get a glimpse of the famed Cherokee humorist who left a lasting impression on so many of us.”
Today, the property spans 162 acres, which includes the historic ranch-style home, a caretaker’s home and two outbuildings. The museum showcases what life was like on a late 19th century ranch in Indian Territory and shares details about Will Rogers’ Cherokee lineage and his family’s relocation to Indian Territory as Old Settlers. Special exhibits explore his early life, before his success as one of America’s most iconic entertainers, including his entry into adulthood during the Curtis Act, allotment, statehood and more.
“This is a proud moment for Cherokee Nation and the beginning of what I know will be a promising future for this treasured site,” said Keith Austin, Cherokee Nation Tribal Councilor. “I grew up just a few miles from here, and the Will Rogers Birthplace was an important part of my childhood. I spent a lot of time here, and it is a true honor to have the opportunity to share the Cherokee story of Will Rogers and the Rogers family ranch. Today, we celebrate part of our Cherokee roots being returned to the Cherokee people, and I’m proud and humbled to be part of it.”
The Will Rogers Birthplace Museum will continue operations under Cherokee Nation Businesses and be managed by the cultural tourism department beginning 2021. With this addition, the tribe now operates eight Cherokee Nation museums, two welcome centers and several retail operations.