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Rogers was born on his parents' ranch in the Cherokee Nation of Indian Territory, near present-day Oologah, Oklahoma. Both his parents were of mixed-race and Cherokee ancestry, and identified as Cherokee.
Image:photo of Will Rogers with his wife Betty, 1928 ca.
Image caption:Will Rogers with his wife Betty, 1928 ca.
In 1900, while still living at his parents’ ranch, Rogers met Betty Blake at her sister’s home in Oollagah, Oklahoma. The young couple’s shared sense of humor and love of music fostered a friendship that gradually became a romance.
Will worked at his parents’ ranch until 1901, when he was 22 years old. In that year, he left home and eventually arrived in South Africa, where he was hired as a trick roper in "Texas Jack's Wild West Circus."
From South Africa, Rogers went to Australia, where he joined the Wirth Brothers Circus, and continued to perform as a rider and trick roper. During his travels, Will and Betty corresponded, keeping in touch by frequently exchanging affectionate letters and postcards. In 1904, Will returned to the United States, appeared at the St. Louis World's Fair, and for the next decade, told jokes and performed rope tricks on stage in New York City’s vaudeville theaters.
Image: photo of Will and Betty Rogers at train station
In 1906, Will proposed to Betty, but she, doubtful about a life in show business, refused him. A year and a half later, he proposed again, this time promising that they could settle down on a ranch in Oklahoma after a final tour. The couple married on November 25, 1908, in a simple ceremony at her family home.
Image:Program from the 1927 Ziegfeld Follies
Image source: Will Rogers Courtship and CorrespondenceBy Reba Collins
In the fall of 1915, Rogers began to appear in Florenz Ziegfeld's Midnight Frolic, a variety revue that began at midnight in the night club of Ziegfeld's New Amsterdam Theatre..
Image:Photo of Will Rogers with a group of Ziegfeld Follies girls
Image caption:Will Rogers with a bevy of Ziegfeld Follies girls
Rogers made numerous silent movies, including the classic “Ropin’ Fool.” With the arrival of sound in 1929, he became a top star. One of his most popular roles was in the first talking version of Mark Twain's novel “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court.”
Will Rogers is buried at the Will Rogers Memorial in Claremore, Oklahoma. He is remembered as the originator of an easy-going, homespun style of political humor and the representative example of the common man; a self-made man who believed in America, in progress and in the American Dream.
Books by or about Will Rogers In the UCO Archives Collection
Will Rogers says: Favorite quotations selected by the Will Rogers Memorial staff by Reba Neighbors Collins
Rogers-isms: The Cowboy Philosopher on Prohibition. Edited by Joseph A. Stout
Letters Of A Self-Made Diplomat To His President by Will Rogers. Edited by Joseph A. Stout
There's Not A Bathing Suit In Russia and Other Bare Facts by Will Rogers
Ether and Me, or Just Relax by Will Rogers
More Books by or About Will Rogers
Autobiography by Will Rogers. Edited by Donald Day
The Papers of Will Rogers: The Early Years by Will Rogers. Edited by Steven K. Gragert and M. Jane Johansson
Papers of Will Rogers : Wild West and Vaudeville by Will Rogers. Edited by Steven K. Gragert and M. Jane Johansson
The Papers of Will Rogers: From Broadway to the National Stage Edited by Steven K. Gragert and M. Jane Johansson
The Papers of Will Rogers: The Final Years Edited by Steven K. Gragert and M. Jane Johansson
Will Rogers and Wiley Post in Alaska: The Crash Felt ‘Round the World by Reba Neighbors Collins
Additional Books by or about Will Rogers
Will Rogers, his life and times by Richard M Ketchum
Will Rogers, his wife's story by Betty Blake Rogers
Willl Rogers, courtship and correspondence, 1900-1915 by Will Rogers. Edited by Reba Neighbors Collins
Never met a man I didn't like: the life and writings of Will Rogers by Joseph H Carter
Will Rogers: A Biography by Ben Yagoda
Will Rogers, ambassador of good will, prince of wit and wisdom by P. J O'Brien (Patrick Joseph)
Rogers-isms: The Cowboy Philosopher on the Peace Conference. Edited by Joseph A. Stout
More Books by or About Will Rogers
American original : a life of Will Rogers by Ray Robinson
Will Rogers, the Cherokee Kid by David Randolph Milsten
Daily Telegrams by Will Rogers
Will Rogers: Oklahoma’s Gift to America by C. W. “Dub” West
This is not a comprehensive list. For more materials relating to Will Rogers please visit the UCO Archives
The University of Central Oklahoma recognizes the university's main campus is located on the traditional lands of the Caddo and Wichita people. Visit the UCO Land Acknowledgement website to learn more.