Dog Iron Ranch, the birthplace of Will Rogers, opens its gates to a variety of events
Christmas is a time of the year when families search for new, child-friendly experiences. One excellent place to visit is Dog Iron Ranch in Claremore, Okla., the birthplace of renowned entertainer and humorist Will Rogers.
Will Rogers was born in 1879 in what was then Indian Territory. One of eight children, Will was born to a wealthy family with his father Clem working as a rancher, farmer, businessman and politician. Will was one quarter Cherokee and “button-proud” of his Indian heritage.
He once said, “My ancestors didn’t come over on the Mayflower, but they met the boat.”
While Will and Clem often did not get along because of their strong personalities and Will’s more easy-going nature, Clem served as a model for leading a successful life that also helped others. The death of Will’s mother Mary when he was 10 years old also contributed to his strong independence. One result was Will leaving home as a teenager to study, travel and find his true calling. That calling was entertainment and journalism liberally spiced with gentle humor, humanitarian philosophy and a willingness to challenge what he saw as political ineptness demonstrated when he said, “A flock of Democrats will replace a mass of Republicans. It won’t mean a thing. They will go in like all the rest of them. Go in on promises and come out on alibis.”
Coming of age at the turn-of-the-century, Will built a multifaceted career. Working on the family ranch gave Will ranching skills such as riding and roping. He began his career in South Africa as a trick rider with a Wild West show. He eventually migrated to Vaudeville, where his roping tricks were soon overshadowed by his Southwestern drawl when he said things such as, “Swinging a rope isn’t bad, as long as your neck isn’t in it.”
Will then transitioned from Vaudeville to the famous Ziegfeld Follies on Broadway quickly leading to a movie career beginning in 1918 with the film “Laughing Bill Hyde.” By 1934, Will was the highest paid actor in Hollywood with his wife Betty from Rogers, Ark., keeping him grounded and true to his gentleness and values. The couple had four children, including one who passed as an infant.
In addition, Will’s radio career launched in 1922, progressed to regularly scheduled broadcasts in the 1930s and culminated in “The Gulf Headliners,” which was among the top 15 U.S. radio programs. The written word was another natural venue for his skills and viewpoints. He wrote columns totaling over 2 million words which were published in more than 600 newspapers. Will’s influence, humane insights and humor evoked hope in a country ripped by the Great Depression. In 1935, Will Rogers died unexpectedly in a plane crash just after takeoff in Point Barrow, Alaska, where he and famous pilot Wiley Post were touring.
A man as kind and influential as Will Rogers needs to be remembered and honored in a world now even more cynical and troubled. One man can make a difference, and Will Rogers certainly did. His Dog Iron Ranch is both a restored museum and a working ranch.
Because the Rogers family raised Longhorns, the museum in Claremore and ranch in Oologah wanted to supplement visitor experience by raising the same breed of cattle as the Rogers. The herd is currently 26 head with 15 mommas and one bull. The ranch uses natural breeding and changes bulls every two years in order to keep the bloodlines clear.
If weaning has not occurred naturally, the calves are weaned at 9 to 12 months with heifers kept as replacements and bull calves are sold. The herd is grass and hay fed along with free choice mineral blocks fed though supplemented with 20 percent protein cubes during the winter. The ranch is composed of 400 acres, 150 acres of which are leased from the Army Corps of Engineers. Grazing pastures are mostly Bermuda with some clover, while 35 acres are set aside as hay meadow.
The ranch is on property allotted to Clem Rogers and his children at the time of the Dawes Commission Cherokee rolls where it was located on land now inundated by waters of Oologah Lake. Will’s widow deeded the house to the state of Oklahoma and it was moved to the top of a scenic hill overlooking the lake where Longhorns can often be found drinking as part of the ranch’s water source.
“Growing up around here, every child learns about Will Rogers,” ranch manager Jacob Krumwiede said. “Will Rogers became really important to me, so working at the museum provided me a way to share with others the story of a man who should never be forgotten.”
Dog Iron Ranch offers special events throughout the year including a three-day Frontier Day Kids Camp, Family Day, Will Rogers/Wiley Post Fly In and the always favorite Will’s Country Christmas. The Christmas celebration features a hay ride which goes down into the valley where Western reenactments are staged. Another family favorite is a decorated horse drawn carriage similar to what Will Rogers may have used on the ranch when young. Pony rides, food vendors and crafts are also popular as well as a blacksmithing demonstration.
“We decorate the exterior as they did during Will’s childhood and plan to expand the decorations this year. Different organizations and businesses have adopted rooms inside and Santa and his helpers are on hand for photos and Christmas wishes,” Jacob explained.