Tragic Deaths in Oklahoma

Last week I was fortunate enough to attend two celebrations in support of the Will Rogers Memorial in Claremore which got me thinking……

Welcome back.   It’s been 78 years since Will Rogers’ death and 75 years since the museum in Claremore was created to preserve his legacy. Thursday night was the time and the Will Rogers Museum was the place to celebrate this milestone anniversary. Former three time Governor George Nigh was there along with university presidents, judges, big name entertainers and over 400 of Will’s fans.

Family members in attendance included James K. (Kem) Rogers from Bakersfield, CA who was Will’s grandson and his daughter Jennifer Rogers Etcheverry who also lives in Bakersfield.  I’ve interviewed and written about these two before and their dedication to keeping Will’s memory alive both here in Claremore and in California at the Rogers’ ranch.

State funding for the museum has declined significantly in recent years and this fundraiser, called “The Event” , was organized to help cover this gap in the funding needed to operate the museum.  This was the first fund raiser of its kind at the museum and from what I could see it was a great success with plenty of high dollar sponsors and well known personalities who donated their time to help draw a crowd. The entertainment, highlighted by legendary fiddle player Jana Jay, was outstanding and the food was excellent. Visiting with the Will Rogers clan was also exciting but for me the real star of the evening was the museum itself. Every time I come to the museum it is like visiting an old friend. It is a pleasure to walk through the hallways reading about a man who truly had it all yet was always humble. As it says on his tombstone “He never met a man he didn’t like.” The museum is always open so check it out.

The fun didn’t end on Thursday as Friday night Cain’s Ballroom hosted day two of “The Event”. My friends the Red Dirt Rangers with fiddler player Randy Crouch opened for Jessie Colter. Jessie was Waylon Jennings’ wife and she is both a mean piano player and a very soulful singer. She and Waylon’s son Shooter, who closed out the night’s entertainment, had a big crowd going nuts all night and everyone was enjoying this celebration in honor of an Oklahoma legend.

Of course I couldn’t leave off talking about Will without mentioning the recently released memoir “I Called Him Uncle Will” in which the author, Will’s niece, reminisces about her travels with him. Now in her 90s, Doris “Coke” Lane Myers distinctly remembers her uncle’s whit and wisdom, as well as the love of country he inspired in his fans.

Governor Mary Fallin loved the book as did Cherokee chief Bill John Baker. Written by someone who was there when Will died and witnessed firsthand the effects of his death on people around the world. It’s a must read.

Another Oklahoma tragedy that has turned into legend is having an anniversary tomorrow on September 26. That night in 1970 was a typical September night, with a heavy dew falling that was so wet you could write your name in it. It was a night that made Oklahoma history and brought heartbreak to one of the state’s leading families. Stories were invented but the facts were few. A recent documentary claimed that the murderer told a private detective how it happened and that this evidence has been turned over to the law enforcement.

After 43 years will justice be done and myths put to rest based on the evidence that this investigator has? It remains to be seen. The murder of E.C. Mullendore II is another of Oklahoma’s most famous tragedies.

I’ll end this week with a favorite epigram of Waite Phillips’ written by  Will Rogers. Will and Waite were close personal friends and after Will’s death Frank and Waite were instrumental in the development of the museum.:

“A man only learns in two ways-one is by reading and the other is by association with smarter people.”

Till next week I’ll see you down the road…






Tommy Morrison, Charlie Mitchell and Other Favorites…..

I’m currently on the move: stay tuned

Welcome back.  The dictionary defines “biography” as a detailed accounting of a person’s life, highlighting the significant events that occurred during that lifetime.

Typically there are two approaches to these stories: the first is “autobiography” which is written by the person himself, with or without the assistance of another writer, sometimes called a “ghost writer”. The second approach is a biography written in the third person and there are many famous examples of this type of biography, particularly biographies of famous historical figures. If the biography is authorized by the subject, the subject frequently assists the writer by providing access to personal research materials and giving interviews.

I have written both types of biography and I am currently at work on a project for a private company that will include 50 authorized biographies of people from all over America.

Written biographies, as opposed to verbal story telling, began in the middle Ages when the written word itself became more common. Monks and priests used biographies to spread information about Christianity in an attempt to inspire converts. Usually these were stories about the lives of saints, popes and martyrs. With the invention of paper around 1258 written biographies became even more common and began to portray the lives of poets, artists and royalty as well as religious figures.

In the Americas biographies were seen as a way to create understanding about the “New World”. When Benjamin Franklin’s life story was published in 1791 it became a model for “modern” American writers because of its straightforward style.

By the 1920s biographies were extremely popular with the American people and Hollywood began producing films based on the lives of famous people, including many historical figures.

The book I am working on falls in between. The people I am writing about aren’t saints or monks but they are also not Hollywood celebrities or influential political figures. These are everyday people who still have a unique and often moving story of their own.

The themes in their lives are universal: coping with tragedy, love of family and faith in God. Like so many people, they all working hard to get ahead.  They range in age from the early twenties to well over sixty and are spread out geographically from coast to coast and border to border.

The hope is that these stories will encourage others facing obstacles in their lives. I know they are an inspiration to me as I criss cross from California to New York with many stops along the way, seeing American through the eyes of working people.

Over the past nine years I’ve had the opportunity to write about several of my friends in this column and I thought I’d wrap up with a few “bios” of my own. I first met the late Tommy Morrison in Tulsa in 1991. At the time Rocky V was just coming out and Tommy was a big star in Tulsa. Our meeting took place at what was then the hottest sports bar in town called the Outback Sports Café. The Outback was run by another sports celebrity in Tulsa whom I’ve also written about, Charlie Mitchell.

A person of his status could have been a bit stuck up but Tommy wasn’t that kind of guy. He was friendly to everyone which was good news for me. I was working for Mitchell at the time and with the best upper cut in boxing, Tommy could have been trouble but he was just fun to be around. Even after defeating George Foreman and winning the heavy weight title of the world two years later, Tommy didn’t change.

Another man I’ve mentioned in past articles is Virgil Gaede who for years served as the Chairman of the Bi-Plane Expo. It also wouldn’t be right if I didn’t mention his wife Lavonne. Together they served on many committees, volunteering hundreds of hours for the good of our community.

I have also written about Alan Carlson, Bill Creel, Craig Woods, Leva Dunlap and many more who have left us. They are all history now but they are people whom many of us knew and still miss.  My hope is that they will never be forgotten.

Till next week I’ll see ya down the road…..


Randy Owen and The Big Event

Cattle sales are a western tradition but this one is unique. Photos to come.

Welcome back.  This week as promised it’s a report from last weekend’s major cow sale in Yukon, OK. which is a few miles southwest of Oklahoma City. You may have heard of Yukon before because it is the hometown of several notable Oklahomans, including Garth Brooks.

This cow sale is not your ordinary run ‘em through the ring, sell ‘em to the highest bidder and on to the next cow kind of sale. This my friends is what Express Ranches calls “The Big Event”, and it is. Preparations begin several days in advance as a small army of workers arrives to set up tents of all sizes, including one that is large enough to hold a football game in. Then they arrange tables, chairs and decoration in the tent where over 1,000 guests will enjoy a specially prepared shrimp and steak dinner, cooked on the premises by Chef Ralph Knighton and his crew. Ralph is known around the world and I’ll get to him a little later.

On Friday morning hotels are filled and the party begins as cattlemen from all over the country arrive to preview the cattle that will be auctioned off over the next two days. Express Ranches are the country’s largest seed stock operation so there are folks from coast to coast and all points in between here to check out the cattle that, by the way, are as pampered as my own daughter. Beautiful registered Black Angus cattle fill dozens of pens outside the sale barn and inside there are rows of bleachers all with a view of several big screen TVs. There is also a horseshoe shaped table filled with computer terminals to accommodate off site bidding. The cattle sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars, and like race horses, many of them are purchased by syndicates which can include many individual and even corporate buyers. This is truly big business but built on the American values of individualism, hard work and devotion to country. Many a deal is still done with a hand shake here despite the large amounts of money being exchanged.

Things really got going at 6PM on Friday when customers, ranch employees, friends and family were invited to a gala dinner.  The evening kicked off with a recording of Clem McSpadden’s reading his famous cowboy prayer, followed by two sky divers one carrying the  stars and stripes and the other carrying the state flag. The two landed within moments of each other in front of a cheering crowd. Then a company of soldiers dressed in fatigues entered carrying a huge American flag while we all sang the national anthem. After the anthem we feasted on a wonderful steak and shrimp dinner served under the watchful eye of Ralph Knighton.  Ralph was Governor Keating’s personal chef for the two terms he was in office as well as several other high profile people. As you might imagine, the food was five star from start to finish.

Governor George Nigh was the emcee for the evening, introducing the luminaries in the crowd such as retired Lt. General and former astronaut Tom Stafford who is from Weatherford and the Oklahoma Speaker of the House T.W. Shannon. There were many heartfelt tributes to our servicemen and women and to the joys of being an American as well as a moment of silence for everyone impacted by last springs’ violent tornadoes. Ranchers, celebrities, politicians and professional cowboys like Billy Etbauer all rubbed shoulders throughout the night.

The legendary Randy Owen from the band Alabama wrapped up the evening with two hours of great music. For those of you who don’t remember, Alabama was the country band in the 1980s with Randy leading the group. On this night Randy’s band played both well known songs he has recorded and new ones and soon had the crowd on their feet. In addition to being a Country Music Hall of Fame artist, Randy also operates a working cattle ranch and it was obvious he was right at home at The Big Event.

All in all it was another extremely successful two day event for Express Ranches and for Oklahoma which benefits so much from the presence of operations like this which attract peope from all over to our great state.

Till next time I’ll see ya down the road……