ANNUAL CELEBRATION: Mary Thompson, a longtime member of the Pocahontas Club, stands with Todd Branson, who will serve as the Parade Marshal for the Will Rogers Days parade, to be held Sunday, Nov. 6.
Will Rogers Memorial Museum opened Nov. 4, 1938, three years after the death of the man who remains Oklahoma’s most recognizable native. On that day, thousands of people dotted the hillside of the native limestone Memorial, streets were teeming with horses and floats for a giant parade, and there was gridlock on the highway between Tulsa and Claremore.
Will Rogers Days have been observed every year since that date except for early war years.
“Today, events surrounding Nov. 4, the date of Will’s birth on an Indian Territory ranch near Oologah, remain one of the state’s largest Will Rogers events,” says Tad Jones, the museum’s executive director.
Plans are currently underway to combine a number of events going on in Claremore and all of Rogers County during Will Rogers Days, to be held Nov. 3-6, including museum activities, that will return the celebration to the excitement of those days, he says.
From the Hammett House Chili and Bean Cook-off in Will Rogers Park, the Pumpkin Festival at Shepherd’s Cross and plans for downtown Oologah and the Birthplace Ranch to the J.M Davis Arms & Historical Museum, there promises to be plenty of excitement.
Then, there will be Art on the Hill and the 19th Annual Native American Festival at Rogers State University as well as the usual Will Rogers Days festivities at the museum, which opened and was dedicated to Will Rogers on his birthday in 1938.
“Will was always about community,” says Jones. “He wrote about coming home to family gatherings and feasts, visiting downtown Claremore, Oologah and Chelsea, and going to rodeos and ropings.”
Indian Women’s Pocahontas Club has never missed honoring Rogers during the celebration, and horses have always played a part in the activities, as they will again this year.
The Will Rogers Days Finale will feature a parade down Will Rogers Boulevard, the street named for him in 1948, and the American Cowboys Rodeo Association Finals at the Claremore Expo Center.
Palomino Horse Breeders Heritage Foundation, with Todd Branson riding a Palomino, will lead the Sunday afternoon parade. In 1948, the same year a Will Rogers three-cent commemorative stamp was issued, more than 100 members of the Palomino Association rode in the parade onto the grounds where 69 mounted riders (in honor of Roger’s 69th birthday) rode down the steps to the Rogers’ family tomb and placed a wreath. Comanche, one of Will’s favorite mounts, was a Palomino.
Branson will ride to the tomb at 12:30 p.m. prior to the parade and with members of the Pocahontas Club and place a wreath at the tomb.
Family members, friends of Rogers, actors, sports stars, Indian chiefs, politicians, bands, the famous and the infamous have all participated in Will Rogers Days in the past 78 years. The one constant through all of those years has been the Pocahontas Club, founded in 1899, which has annually placed a wreath at the tomb in honor of the friend and neighbor who they accepted as an honorary member.
Prior to the wreath-laying, Pony Express Riders from the Will Rogers Roundup Club and Stampede Rodeo, will hand over saddle bags carrying first day issue cancelled stamps dated Nov. 4, 1948 and donated by the late Ed and Melba Livermore.
Will Rogers Days special events:
• Pumpkin Festival, Shepherd’s Cross, Nov. 3- 5, 9 a.m.-6:30 p.m.
• Children’s Day at Museum (Invitational), Nov. 3, 10 a.m.-2 p.m., featuring trick roping, magic tricks, roping, games and Cherokee storyteller
• Will Rogers Birthday Party at the Birthplace Ranch, Oologah Public Schools, Nov. 4, 10 a.m. (headlining: Kowboy Kal and Oologah elementary students)
• Art on the Hill, Rogers State University, Nov. 5, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Nov. 6, noon-4 p.m.
• American Cowboys Rodeo Association Finals, Claremore Expo Center, Nov. 4, 5, 7 -10 p.m.; Sunday, Nov. 6, 1:30-4:30 p.m.
• Indian Women’s Pocahontas Club, Wreath-Laying Ceremony at Museum, Nov. 5, 12:30 p.m., followed by Hats Off to Will Gala, 5-7 p.m., Claremore Convention Center
• Hammett House Chili and Bean Cook-off, Will Rogers Park, Nov. 5, 8 a.m.-1:30 p.m.
• Native American Festival, Powwow, Rogers State University, Nov. 5, 10 a.m.-10 p.m.
• Route 66 Cruisers Car Show, Will Rogers Memorial Museum, Nov. 5, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
• Street Shopping, Oologah Cooweescoowee Avenue, Nov. 5, 2-9 p.m., Pop-Up Shops, Oologah Chamber
• First Saturday Downtown Claremore Shopping, Nov. 5, 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m.
• Will Rogers Hotel, Nov. 5, 2 p.m., birthday cake to celebrate Roger’s 137th birthday, sponsored by Claremore Chamber of Commerce
• J.M. Davis Arms & Historical Museum Wild West Shootout, Nov. 5, High Noon
• Palomino Horse Breeders Association and Pocahontas Club join for wreath-laying at Will Rogers Memorial, Nov. 6, 12:30 p.m.
• Pony Express Ride, Nov. 6, arrive 1 p.m., at Will Rogers Memorial from North on Highway 88 from Sageeyah Northwest Fire Station
• Will Rogers Days Parade, Nov. 6, 2 p.m.
For details on events and to obtain a parade entry form visit willrogers.com.