Number Thirty Nine: Oklahoma

We went to Tulsa to ride the Osage Prairie Trail and inadvertently learned quite a bit about cowboys, Cherokee, Will Rogers, saddles, and the Indian Removal Act.

Will Rogers’ mother was one quarter Cherokee; his father Clem five sixteenths. That would make him nine thirty-seconds. There are many ways to get to that result but the simplest path would be to have nine Cherokee great great great grandparents. Although his parents were raised on the Reservation, Will grew up in “The White House” on a successful cattle ranch, which could have as many as 60,000 cattle.

(Rogers County, OK, was named for Clem, not his son, in spite of Clem having fought for the Confederacy. The Civil War was less than thirty years after the Trail of Tears, the forced relocation of the Cherokee; the four other “civilized” Nations and several smaller tribes had similar less well-publicized experiences. They all held the relocation against the United States, although it was primarily supported by and for the benefit of the Southern states. One of the most vocal opponents of the Removal Act was Tennessee Congressman Davy Crocket, which cost him the next election and was why he ended up in Texas at the Alamo.)

Clem wished the son could be more like the father, until the son started making lots of money. Will’s roping was extraordinary, including such stunts as using two ropes simultaneously to rope a moving horse and its rider separately, making a figure eight to rope the horse and rider, or roping famous people sitting in the audience within 50 feet of the stage. Will Rogers was taught to rope by an ex-slave who worked on his father’s ranch. He eventually ended up in Wild West shows and Vaudeville doing rope tricks. After he threw in an occasional ad lib, his wife told him to talk more and rope less.

“All I know is what I read in the paper.”

“I am entering Iowa. I haven’t been there in years; not since it moved to Long Beach.”

“I am looking over the future Californians. We are just picking the best. We aren’t letting ’em all come like they used to; it’s restricted immigration now.”

The Osage Prairie Trail, which is why we were in Tulsa, ran along the downtown river front and connected to a couple other trails. The primary points of interest are man-made. They are seriously into large bronze castings of wild life, which made for a lot of starting and stopping on our part.

The Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum was well worth an afternoon. This set of three paintings was one of six sets in one auditorium; Doré is in the foreground.

We also saw larger-than-life plaster-castings for sculpture “bookends” by James Earle Fraser for the ends of the Lincoln Highway. (They were supposed to be bronzed but WWI broke out.) One goes in New Jersey at the east end of the highway, and shows a pensive Lincoln sitting on a rock outside Washington. The other is the well-known “Trails End” at the west end. I’m not sure what the two together say about us.

On our way West, we stopped at the Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial, the site of a domestic terrorist attack in 1993 planned and carried out by three native-born, Euro-American, Protestant, Army veterans (three males and one female who may have helped plan). They will get no further acknowledgment from me.

The 168 empty chairs speak for  themselves.

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