CHC’s Will Rogers exhibit focuses on his early life, family
PARK HILL – The Cherokee Heritage Center has partnered with the Will Rogers Memorial Museum in Claremore to host an exhibit highlighting the early life of Will Rogers, who was a stage and motion picture actor, vaudeville performer, humorist, newspaper columnist and social commentator in the 1920s and 1930s.
“The Cherokee Kid: A Will Rogers Exhibit” opened Sept. 29 and will run through March 30.
CHC Curator Callie Chunestudy said the exhibit highlights his life in Indian Territory.
“He’s from Claremore, and of course, there’s a memorial to Will Rogers there, but we really wanted to bring out some of the facts about his life and his family and his predecessors that lived in Indian Territory and came over both on the Trail of Tears and as Old Settlers,” she said.
Old Settlers were Cherokees who moved to Arkansas in the early 1800s and then to Indian Territory, now Oklahoma, before the forced removal of Cherokees in 1838-39.
For the exhibit, she said the Will Rogers Memorial Museum has loaned one of Rogers’ saddles, hats, a lariat and a pair of cowboy boots. The exhibit also contains artifacts from the CHC’s collection.
A Cherokee Nation citizen, Rogers was born on Nov. 4, 1879, in the CN, in Indian Territory. The exhibit shares details about his Cherokee lineage. It also explores his entry into adulthood during the Curtis Act, which allotted Cherokee lands and brought about Oklahoma statehood.
“We have had the pleasure of partnering with the Heritage Center for several years now and are very excited for the opportunity to share more about Will Rogers in the capital of the great Cherokee Nation,” Tad Jones, executive director for Will Rogers Memorial Museum and Birthplace Ranch, said. “Our longstanding partnership continues to benefit both organizations and the communities in which we serve.”
Tribal Councilor Keith Austin attended an opening reception for the exhibit on Sept. 28. The Will Rogers Memorial Museum and the Will Rogers Birthplace Ranch Museum are located in his district, which includes part of Rogers County. Austin said he grew up hearing stories about the Rogers family.
“I actually tell people frequently that I represent the same soil as Clem (Will’s father) represented,” he said. “I grew up only a few miles from Will Rogers’ birthplace, and just a few miles from the place that was Clem Rogers’ home before he moved to the place that is the birthplace (above present-day Oologah Lake). I was frequently at the home as a child before it was a big deal to me. It’s something that is ingrained in me, and I’m extraordinarily proud to be from the same community and to represent the Will Rogers legacy…at the Cherokee Nation.”
He added that he was “excited” to see the exhibit at the CHC because even though Claremore “does a wonderful job” telling Will Rogers’ story, that story focuses primarily on Will Rogers after he became an adult and famous as a newspaper columnist, actor and radio star.
“This (exhibit) has focused on what made Will Rogers, his Cherokee legacy, his Cherokee heritage, and the movement of his people from our original homelands to Indian Territory,” Austin said. “What I’m excited about is it actually makes Will Rogers become a whole person. Rogers County is named for his father. Many people actually believe Rogers County is named for Will. Will was actually a very young man in 1907 when Oklahoma was named a state. His father’s importance to the Cherokee Nation, as a government official and to Oklahoma as an emerging state was very, very powerful at the time, so I’m very glad to see that story is told here.”
The CHC is located at 21192 S. Keeler Drive. For information, call 918-456-6007 or 1-888-999-6007, email firstname.lastname@example.org
or visit http://www.CherokeeHeritage.org