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Will Rogers, an American Humorist

By:  Jack Swift

Johnson County Historian

Last week in this column I wrote about the great comedian Jack Benny and the great humorist Garrison Keillor. Both men were outstanding in their respective crafts. There were and are other great people who stand out when it comes to humor.

In this column I want to feature a man who was before my time but one that I am very interested in. The man was Will Rogers. Rogers was born in 1879 and died in 1935, only three years before my birth. From what I’ve read about him, I’ve learned that he was a genius who early on was depicted as a less than savvy person. In his younger days he was a rope-trick artist in vaudeville. He became more popular and later became a columnist and he authored a number or books. But perhaps his main claim to fame was in film as he appeared in a number of movies.

In studying about the life and times of Will Rogers, I am most impressed with his wit that was evident in his pithy sayings. Rogers was born in Oologah, Oklahoma on a ranch — once a part of Indian Territory. But he left the ranch when he was a teenager and joined a Wild West show. He went on to become a homespun philosopher with a number of sayings that delighted folks of all walks of life. Rogers died in a plane crash in Point Barrow, Alaska on August 15, 1935.

Here are some of his quotations. “An onion can make people cry, but there has never been a vegetable invented to make them laugh.” “Don’t gamble; take all your savings and buy some good stock and hold it till it goes up, then sell it. If it don’t go up, don’t buy it.” “On account of being a democracy and run by the people, we are the only nation in the world that has to keep a government four years, no matter what it does.” “Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.” “The farmer is an optimist or he wouldn’t still be a farmer.” “Chaotic action is preferable to orderly inaction.” “Too many people spend money they haven’t earned to buy things they don’t want to impress people they don’t like.”