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…






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