Will Rogers’ Weekly Articles

1 October, 1933 - Current

Oct 1, 1933


Do you know anything about cattle out on an open range? Well Arizona and New Mexico are two great range states. That is, there is lots of government land and there is lots of big ranches. Don’t let anybody tell you there is no big ranches anymore, because that is only in magazine stories. In the last 15 to 20 years ranches have gotten bigger.

You see here is how it happened. Away back from the ninty’s and the 1900 to 1910’s, why there was an epidemic of alleged “Farmers” going out to settle the West. Well they went out O.K. and they settled it O.K. but from then on the initials turned to N.G. (no good). There was the land and there was the “Wide Open Spaces”, and it was plenty wide open. Never was there so much space, and so little water. Never was there as much openess and as little vegitation. Now to set back East and hear about our Government giving you a homestead that is maby 160 acres, maby much more, depending on the state and type of Country, well to tell a person you are going to give him a whole farm for nothing, why no better “Ballyhoo” was ever built up. It sounds like Santa Claus had really arrived with the old rain deers.

But to make a long story short, it’s the bunk. There just ain’t any way you can make a living out of it. If there was any water on the place why somebody would be on there, for they have been hunting water in the West much longer than they have gold and buffalo’s. If a wonderful spring come out of a mountain side, men left gold, silver and copper mines to come and grab that spring. Water ain’t gold in the West, water is diamonds and platinum. So all these poor folks starved out. Their little scratched out plots of ground, and remnants of log or sod huts, or old chimneys, are nothing but tombstones of a lost hope and ambition, all led on by government advertising.

That as I say happened along 15 to 30 years ago. At that time it did look like the ranchman, on a big scale, was doomed. But these poor missguided souls dident lose nerve or get homesick. They actually starved out. They just had too and in most instances had to pick up and leave, maby not getting a thing in return for their work for a year or so in living on the place. Well we had thought that that foolishness had pretty well died out, but no, this year it springs up again. The Government decides that the West should be settled again. The first settling on unoccupied land dident take so they would, as we say in the movies, try a “Retake.” So now they have issued an ultamation, that every ranchman shall take down all his “Drift” fences, all his pastures that are on government land, and give the old add reader in the papers another chance to starve to death. Principally they offer it to ex-soldiers. War wasent tough enough, they are going to dare ’em to live on a government claim and make the old cowman run his cattle right out on the open range. If a good sized blizzard comes, he finds his cattle just going into Mexico City.

The government has made ’em do away with all enclosures, and “Drift” fences. A “Drift” fence is one that goes across a stretch of country, that is put there to help hold cattle back in a certain radius. An old government law said there couldent be any fences on government land, but the law was outlawed. It was found that fencing was an absolute necessity so the old law in regard to fences was outlawed by necessity and popular demand. It’s still on the books, but so is a law against witchcraft in New England. Now mind you these cow men pay for the use of this Government land, either by so much a head or by the amount of land occupied. They don’t get it for nothing and they do themselves pay for the fencing of it.

Now every cowman there is broke. He hasent even got the money to move his fence off, if he was forced too. The R.F.C. has got loans on everything with horns on down there and in their loan contracts they stipulate that the stock mortgaged must be kept within an enclosure and be ready to be shown and counted at any time.1 Now part of this cowhand range is on the Government preserve. What are you going to enclose ’em with? Give each cow a map and let her see for herself how far she can go? Some of these cattle have been dipped in a medical preperation for diseases and some havent. If they are all on the range togeather, how you going to tell which has, and which hasent? Have to ask ’em, I guess. How is the man that wants to breed up his herd and have good bulls going to have any protection from the fellow next to him with some old sun, and brindles, and speckles? How about your weening of calves? Cut ’em off from their mothers and night herd ’em I reckon. There is a guard I would like to stand.

I could go on by the hour and enumerate reasons why the old cowman ought to be let alone and helped, and not hindered in his trying to climb back to about his first mortgage. But this ruling is throwing a skunk right in his bedroom and it ain’t going to not only hurt the cowman, but it’s going to be sure starvation to the poor devil that tries to homestead an old dry piece of land. A cow can walk further to water than a “Nestor” can. Then who in the world wants to sentence some woman away out there, with maby some children. That’s downright cruelty to animals.

Mr Ickes, the Secretary of the Interior, means the best in the world.2 What he is doing sounds rather liberal, and in favor of the poor man with no home. But if Ickes had ever passed a homesteaders house on a cold windy day, no wood, no water, wind blowing his little crop right out of the ground, he would be the most guilty man that ever lived for being responsible for bringing that poor devil out West. The West has got lots of open country but none that you can live on.

1Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC), a government lending agency established in 1932 to provide financing for banking institutions, life insurance firms, railroads, and farm mortgage associations.
2Harold Le Clair Ickes, United States secretary of the interior from 1933 to 1939 and administrator of public works from 1933 to 1939.

Oct 8, 1933


One of the pleasant things connected with working in the movies is that you are all the time running into actors and friends from the stage days, folks you havent seen maby in years, but that you used to know and play on the bill with in Vaudeville, or in a show. There is just any amount of them live out here in Cal., for when you wipe out a whole great industry the greatest creative branch that amusement ever produced. No line of entertainment ever enjoyed the enthusiastic indorsement of audiences that Vaudeville did. Hammersteins’s Victoria on 42nd St. and Broadway was the peer of them all in those days, they and the Percy Williams’ houses in New York.1 But Hammerstein’s had a following and a type of audience that no theater before or since ever had. It knew its Vaudeville like a cow knows its calf. Acts that were favorites year in and out, big importations from Europe and all the world.

In my last released picture called “Dr. Bull” worked with me an old timer, one of the unique characters of not only one amusement line but two. He was not of the stage, he was drafted from another line of recreation. He had become the best known base ball player of his generation, he it was who really introduced so called “color” into our national pastime. A ball player was just a man with a suit on, and a bat, but when Mike Donlin joined the Giants away along about 1904 or thereabouts, he was the Babe Ruth of his time.2 He couldent knock as many balls out of the park as Babe, but he could knock more men out of it. He could take a short arm jab, and bunt some boisterious spectator from the front row to the last.

In those days of the McGraw team you played one inning and fought two.3 When you slid into a base you slid into a fight. An umpire waved you out with one hand and warded off a swinging bat with the other. When an umpire yelled you are out, he had to look quick to tell who was out, him or the player.

College degrees hadent entered base ball then, but degrees in language had. Well that was when Mike Donlin was supreme, he was a quiet orderly fellow, but he has licked more men than the First Division.

We had a great stage comedianne in those days, Mabel Hite.4 I think Mabel was from Kansas City originally. Well there is a few funny women. Come to think about it there is few funny men, but there has always been a scarcity of women commediannes. Mabel was big favorite, in musical comedy the greatest of her time. She fell in love with Mike at the heighth of his wonderful career. She had a sketch in Vaudeville with Walter Jones, a splendid comedian.5 I played on the bill with them with my old pony, and Buck McKee, an ex Oklahoma sheriff that rode the pony across the stage for me to rope at, and lives on a ranch in Cal. today.6

I hadent married Mrs. Rogers then. She was still a girl of sound mind, in Rogers, Ark. Mike and Mabel married. America’s most popular commedianne, to America’s most popular ball player. It was the most popular wedding New York ever had. She put him on the stage in a Vaudeville act, I saw their opening at Hammerstein’s theater on a Monday afternoon. In my 30 years in all branches of show business I never heard such a reception. It’s always lingered in my memory, and when dear old Mike was playing with me in my last picture “Dr. Bull” I used to tell him about it.

Along about that time Betty Blake down in Rogers, Ark., had a mental relapse and said “Yes” after several solid years of “No’s.” She threw her lot with “Buck” and I, and the pony “Teddy.” From cheap hotels to dark stage door entrances, she trudged her way. We met Mabel and Mike. We played on the bill with ’em, they the big headliners and drawing cards, my act put in just to make it so it read “Ten acts of Vaudeville.”

Now my wife reminded me of this the other night. They invited us up to their apartment in New York. It was the first time we had ever been in a swell apartment. It was the first time big actors had ever invited us out. We went up on the street car. This was in the winter of 1908. We had just been married, but I had been on the stage since 1905. Mabel liked my wife. An awful lot of people do. She showed her, so Betty was telling me the other night, beautiful dresses, and a fur coat that cost I think it was maby two thousand dollars. It was a fairyland night for the rope throwing Rogers’.

Mabel is dead, died just a few years after that, at the heighth of her career, but my wife will never forget her kindness to us, for you must remember there was “class” in Vaudeville as well as in society, and for an “Act” to visit a headliner was an event.

Mike carried on as best he could. Bad health, bad luck, but always that something that made him the real fighter. He was tremendously fortunate in his next marriage.7 A girl much younger, beautiful girl, daughter of one of the stage’s shining lights of their day, a great Vaudeville team, Ross and Fenton.8 She stuck with Mike through many ups and downs, and an awful lot of downs among the few ups. He did some splendid things on the stage. He was always natural in anything he did.

He has been out here in pictures for years. Everybody liked him. Everybody used him when they had the chance. Everything he did was O. K. To see him sitting around day after day on our “Set” (as we call the place where we happen to be working). Here was sometimes maby a hundred people there with him, all kinds and all types of folks on a movie “set” yet there he sat, joking and laughing. Health very bad. Maby in actual pain. There was out of that hundred, perhaps ninety or more people that never heard one speck of applause, (for them personally) in their lives, yet here sat this fellow, who maby meant nothing to them, who had day after day, year after year, had thousands rise when he come to bat, had had audiences cheer for actual minutes, when he come on the stage. Here he was, looking for no sympathy, offering no alibis, not sore at the world, not sore at anybody, just a kindly soul who hadent raised his hands in combat in 30 years, “Peace on Earth” Mike Donlin that was your motto. You lived game and you died game.

1Oscar Hammerstein, German-born American theatrical manager who built and owned some of the leading theaters in New York City. His Victoria Music Hall opened in 1899. Percy G. Williams, American theater owner and theatrical producer and manager. He built the famed Orpheum Theater in New York City in 1901.
2Michael Joseph “Mike” Donlin, personable major league outfielder who played for several baseball teams from 1899 to 1914, including the New York Giants from 1904 to 1911. Donlin also enjoyed a successful career in vaudeville and silent films. For this and all further references to Babe Ruth see WA 553:N 2.
3John Joseph McGraw, manager of the New York Giants baseball team from 1902 to 1932. Nicknamed “Little Napoleon,” McGraw guided the Giants to ten league and three world championships.
4Mabel Hite, American vaudeville singer and comedienne who married Donlin in 1909. Donlin appeared with his wife on the stage and in films. They performed together until her death in October 1912.
5Walter Jones, American vaudeville and musical comedy performer whose Broadway credits include Oh, I Say in 1913 and The Gingham Girl in 1922.
6Buck McKee, Oklahoma cowboy who joined Rogers’ vaudeville riding and roping act in 1905. McKee and Rogers performed with Rogers’ trained horse, Teddy.
7Donlin was married to the former Rita Ross.
8Charles J. Ross and Mabel Fenton, husband-wife vaudeville team of the late 1800s and early 1900s. They were most remembered for their burlesque routines, or travesties, of classical and romantic plays. Rita Ross was their niece.

Oct 15, 1933


Well, all I know is just what I read in the papers, and what I see here and there. Been listening in on the radio a little here lately, somebody told me there was a good cowboy song on, but it’s never been on when I was listening. Thought maby it might be one of the old ones, or taken from one that I knew. Cowpunchers had some pretty good old songs, and after all that is what they was made up to be sung to. You sang ’em at night when you was standing guard. Course many a night a bunch of old rowdy steers would come up off that bed ground quicker than a fireman, and roll their old tails into a question mark, and take for the “Tulles.” Well it’s always been a question whether the lightning stampeded ’em or the singing.

Speaking of radio, did you hear Roosevelt talk to the American Legion? That was good. He just went right in, spread his hand, faces up, and told ’em just why he did so and so. Well they liked it.

There is not much use of bringing up old happenings, but I always think that bad advice from his “Brain Trust” must have kept Mr. Hoover from going personally before the bonus marching army in Washington that time.1 Now he could have gone right down there and faced those boys and told ’em just what was what, and would have gotten away with it. But he was advised against it, and see what disgraceful episode in our history happened. I believe Mr. Hoover would have rather have gone, but he listened to the gang. Now, Mr. Roosevelt overuled his, he was advised not to go to Chicago, (after cutting down their pensions) but he went, and everything was O.K. But they all do the best they can, and looking at something months afterwards it’s always easier to make the right guess after it’s over. Here we all are, we can’t handle our own little affairs and yet we start yapping about “What the President ought to have done.”

“Well now just how is things going?” That’s about all you hear from all moderately situated folks and working ones, (and those that are not, but trying too). Well they all seem as a hundred percent rule to feel very hopeful, but the bigger fellows, lots of them, start whining and offering alabi’s. They just seem a little scared that the big fellow is kinder undergoing and overhauling, and they don’t know if they will fare the same as in the old days, but it’s not so much greed, as it is uncertainty. If they knew just what was going to happen to ’em, I don’t believe they would mind it, even, if it was the worst, but it’s this everlasting being in doubt that’s worrying ’em.

But all in all, we are doing better than usual. We are trying on everything in the store, and if something don’t fit us, well we are just deformed that’s all. I was talking to the “Old Economist” the other night, he don’t feel so bad about it, so it must look good. That’s Charley Chaplin.2 Did you know that Charley is just about the one of our best minds on all these deep subjects, well, what that little rascal knows will just surprise you. In my house one night I heard him tell Will Durant (the man that knows all about everything and a charming fellow, too) that America would be off the gold in I think he said two months.3 He missed it just two days, but that was due to daylight saving time.

Yes sir, if you want to get yourself a load of economics, with a side car of theories, why Charley can give ’em to you. He has talked ’em over with every big wig in Europe, and he knows what the shooting is all about. Course there is one thing about economics and money theories, your theory is always right for it’s never tried.

We were all down to a mighty fine dinner they gave to Walter Disney.4 He is the Sire and dam of that gift to the world, “Mickey Mouse.” Now if there wasent two geniuses at one table, Disney and Charley. One took a derby hat and a pair of big shoes, and captured the laughs of the world, the other one took a lead pencil and a mouse, and he has the whole world crawling in a rat hole, if necessary, just to see the antics of these rodents. But there was more than shoes and pencils and derby hat and drawing board there. Both had a God given gift of human nature, these professors, and we had one of the best of ’em there that night, Professor Van Klein Schmidt, Head of U.S.C.5 Well of course they base it all on phychology of some kind and breed, but it’s something human inside these two ducks that even pshychology hasent a name for. Why that three little pigs, why I would have given my life just to have played one of them. That’s the best picture ever made.

That night at the dinner the Writers Club gave, Disney was the composer of the tune, the fellow that played the flute like the Little Pigs, and three girls that really sang the song, and they did the whole thing outside of a nonstop speech of mine, it was a wonderful dinner. Chaplin wouldent talk, but he did two of the cleverest pantomine sketches I ever saw. Then Disney wouldent talk much. Everybody that does things I have noticed they don’t talk at public gatherings, but boy us other old windbags we just gas up and go till the lights are turned off. Rupert Hughes, that clever writer, is a wonderful toastmaster.6

Then did I tell you about going to a dinner to Hamlin Garland, the great writer?7 Well I must do that too, that was a fine one too. A great man, I am just eating my way all around town. I am brushing up on my oratory, getting ready for a tough winter.

1Brain trust, a group of close advisers to Franklin Roosevelt when he served as governor of New York and during the first years of his presidency. The name was applied to them because most of the members came from academic life. Bonus Army, a group of more than 15,000 mostly-unemployed veterans who marched on Washington, D. C., in the spring of 1932 to demand immediate payment of their World War I bonus. When the veterans refused to leave after failing to obtain the bonus, President Herbert Hoover (see WA 535:N 3) ordered the Army to evict them forcibly.
2For this and all other references to Charlie Chaplin see WA 546:N 4.
3William James “Will” Durant, American philosopher, historian, and essayist. Durant’s The Story of Philosophy (1926) was an immediate best seller that opened the way for a school of popularized history.
4Walter Elias “Walt” Disney, American movie producer and pioneer in animated cartoons. Disney created the character “Mickey Mouse” in Steamboat Willy in 1928, initiating the concept of making a separate cartoon for each movement.
5Rufus Bernhard von KleinSmid, American educator; president of the University of Southern California from 1921 to 1946.
6Rupert Hughes, American novelist, songwriter, playwright, historian, and screenwriter; best known for his biography of George Washington (1926-1930).
7Hamlin Garland, American author of the Middle West who perhaps is best remembered for his two autobiographical works, A Son of the Middle Border (1917) and A Daughter of the Middle Border (1921), the latter of which won a Pulitzer Prize.