This post continues my reporting from my trip to LA….
Down The Road with the Original Buffalo Dale
Welcome back. Every year over 250,000 people visit the Will Rogers Ranch in Santa Monica, CA and during my two day visit there I learned that this includes not only Americans but also folks from every other country around the world who flock to see the home of this famous cowboy from Oklahoma.
In 1928 as Will began working in movies more and more he moved to California and bought 500 acres of land just a mile from the shoreline and right off the soon-to-be-famous Sunset Strip. The first building on the property was a simple one story cabin but before long a second story was added with additional bedrooms for guests. That expansion was followed by the construction of another three bedroom home for the family which is connected to the first building by a patio. This is where Will and his wife Betty started raising their kids.
Will loved all the new gadgets that were invented during his era and he was the first in the area to have both a telephone and central heat for his home. His guests at the ranch were the “who’s who” of his time including film stars, business tycoons and six Presidents (past, present and future) as well as many plain working folks.
Earning $500,000 a year, Will was able to indulge his love of horses and he kept 20-30 head on hand for his guests’ pleasure. Even though he did not play golf, he built a golf course for guests which was clearly visible from the picture window in the living room of his house. Just to the right was a polo field and up the hill on the left was a massive set of barns with an indoor riding arena for use in bad weather.
Will loved to read and soon his personal library was filled with first edition books signed by the authors, including a copy of The Wizard of Oz. Many of the authors were also frequent guests at the ranch. The main house was decorated with original drawings and bronzes by Charles Russell along with gifts from Frank Phillips and fancy saddles from Leo Carrillo, all of which are still on display today. This collection is the second most valuable in the California parks system, topped only by the treasures in the Hearst Castle. Recently Leland Wilson, who had acquired every book written about Rogers, donated his entire collection of 2,000 books to the home adding to the spectacular library.
Will died in 1935 and as many of you know he is buried in Claremore on the grounds of the memorial there. But here are a few things you may not have heard about him:
His great grand daughter Jennifer Rogers who is the granddaughter of his youngest son Jimmy was a founding co-director of the Will Rogers Ranch Foundation and today she serves as the Treasurer for the Board. Jennifer travels around the country promoting the Ranch.
Will had two favorite horses, Soapsuds his roping horse who died in 1949 at the age of 32 and Bootlegger, his polo pony who also died in 1949 at the age of 33. Both horses are buried next to their stalls at his California ranch.
Will Rogers Jr. fought in the Battle of the Bulge with General Patton and served as a tank commander.
The famous singing cowboy and actor Roy Rogers named himself after Will.
Next week it’s the Joel McCrea ranch in Moorepark, CA just outside of Los Angeles. The ranch is not open to the public but I got a behind the scenes tour you won’t want to miss. Till then I’ll see ya down the road….