Will Rogers

Herbert Adams

b. January 28, 1858, West Concord, Vermont d. May 21, 1945, New York City

Oklahoma’s favorite son, Will Rogers, was born near Oolagah in Indian Territory on November 4, 1879. A member of the Cherokee tribe, Rogers’ father, Clement Rogers, served as a Cherokee judge and was also a delegate to the Oklahoma Constitutional Convention. Rogers County in eastern Oklahoma is named for him.

Will’s pursuits tended to be less conventional than his father’s. The travel bug bit him early. In 1901, Will worked as a cowboy briefly in Argentina and South Africa before joining a circus as a trick roper in Australia. By 1904, he had returned to the United States to perform in vaudeville shows. As the years passed, he began incorporating witty commentary on current affairs into his act. In 1918, he made his movie debut in the title role of Laughing Bill Hyde. In 1922, he started writing a newspaper column that was soon syndicated across the country. In all, he starred in 71 movies and wrote more than 4,000 newspaper columns.

Will Rogers is venerated in Oklahoma. Public buildings, parks and thirteen public schools bear his name. Former Chief Justice Steven Taylor attended Will Rogers Elementary School in McAlester. The Will Rogers Memorial is located in Claremore, Oklahoma.

Sculptor Herbert Adams was a leading American sculptor during the first half of the twentieth century. His biographical information appears on page 16. The Will Rogers’ bust, along with a bust of Wiley Post, was presented to the Historical Society in a special ceremony on February 13, 1938. The proceedings began with a fly-over by the Southwestern Aviators Association who dropped floral offerings on the front steps of the Historical building. The Indian Glee Club from Mountain View, Oklahoma then sang “America.” The main address was delivered by Judge Thomas Doyle of the Court of Criminal Appeals and President Emeritus of the Historical Society. Doyle’s biographical information appears on page 18, and an excerpt of his speech appears on page 10. The bust of Will Rogers is displayed in the Chief Justice’s Chambers, atop a nineteenth century Wooten Desk. Indianapolis entrepreneur William Wooton patented his desk design on October 6, 1874, calling it “Wooton’s Patent Cabinet Office Secretary.” The multiple drawers and slots were in response to the recent technological advancement of the typewriter. It vastly increased the amount of paperwork produced, creating demand for desks with spaces to hold all that paper. Ads at the time described it as “The most complete desk for filing documents ever made. Well adapted to the use of county officers.” The desk would have originally had a drop-down leaf used as a writing surface. Slots for metal slides to secure the leaf are still visible on either side of the main unit.

This particular Wooton Desk was manufactured by Sutherland & Flach of Detroit, Michigan. Their company is listed in the 1877 Michigan State Gazetteer as being owned by James Sutherland and Charles Flach. The company was not listed in the 1890 directory, so this desk was made sometime between 1877 and 1890. Four different models were produced: ordinary, standard, extra grade and superior grade, depending on the wood veneer and elaborateness of ornamentation. This model is most likely an “ordinary” and would have sold for around $100 and may have been used in a county office or library. This desk is believed to have been a gift from the Cherokee Nation, donated to the Oklahoma Historical Society. The piece has been returned to service and is currently used as a distribution center for internal Supreme Court documents.

The Wooton desk, along with the bronze bust of Will Rogers, is on permanent loan from the Oklahoma Historical Society.

Source: American National Biography, Vol. 1, pp. 96-97; “Address by Thomas H. Doyle; Minutes of a Special Meeting of the Oklahoma Historical Society, February 13, 1938,” Chronicles of Oklahoma, Vol. 16, No. 1, March 1938; “Artist Picked, Clay Models Are Approved,” The Oklahoman, September 26, 1937; “Rogers and Post Busts Are Unveiled,” February 14, 1938.

Adams – Wiley Post

Herbert Adams

b. January 28, 1858, West Concord, Vermont d. May 21, 1945, New York City

A bronze bust of late aviator Wiley Post welcomes visitors at the main entrance to the Oklahoma Judicial Center, home to Oklahoma’s Third Branch of Government.

Post is a rather colorful figure in Oklahoma history who overcame a multitude of adversities to get his aviation career off the ground. Growing up in Grady County, Post saw his first airplane at a fair in Lawton in 1913, and his dream of being a pilot took hold. He trained as a mechanic and took construction jobs before finally landing in the oil fields as a driller. Though he saved what he could, he believed he would never have enough to buy his own airplane.

Apparently, this desire turned to desperation in 1921, when Post resorted to highway robbery to achieve his goals. On April 28, 1921, he was convicted of conjoint robbery in Grady County Court and sentenced to ten years in the state penitentiary. Behind bars, Post sank into a deep depression, prompting the prison doctor to ask for his parole. He was released on June 5, 1922, after serving fourteen months of his sentence.

By 1924, Post got work as an exhibition parachute jumper. When those opportunities dried up, he returned to the oil field in 1926. On his first day, a steel splinter flew into his left eye, damaging it so badly that it had to be removed. The tragedy had a silver lining: Post got $1,800 in a Workers’ Compensation judgment. He used the settlement to buy and rebuild a Canuck airplane.

He started his own business, flying oilmen to their leaseholdings during the week and entertaining with flying circuses on the weekends. Chickasha oilman F.C. Hall hired Post to be his fulltime pilot and purchased a Lockheed Vega for him to fly. Post named it the Winnie Mae, after his daughter and his wife. Justice James Winchester currently resides in the Chickasha home owned by F.C. Hall at the time Post flew for the oilman.

When the stock market crashed in 1929, Hall had to sell the Winnie Mae back to Lockheed. Never one to miss an opportunity, Post convinced the airplane manufacturer to hire him as a test pilot. He worked with leading aeronautical engineers and noted pilots, including Amelia Earhart. By 1930, Hall had managed to get his finances back in order and asked Post to return as his personal pilot.

Around this time, Post started entering long-distance races. The significant prize money enabled him to prepare for an around-the-world flight. On July 1, 1931, he completed a trans-global flight in eight and a half days – twelve days less than the previous record holder. A tickertape parade was held for him in New York City, along with a White House reception where he met President Hoover. Two years later, Post became the first man to fly around the world alone, this time in seven and a half days. Fifty thousand people greeted him upon his return to New York and he was again a guest at the White House, this time at the invitation of President Franklin Roosevelt.

Afterwards, Post turned his attention to scientific pursuits. He helped develop and test the world’s first pressurized flight suit and in 1934 discovered a river of wind flowing at great speeds from west to east over the United States. Today, this phenomenon is known as the jet stream. That year he also appeared on the silver screen, playing a pilot in the film Air Hawks.

Post’s role in Oklahoma history is perhaps best remembered because of how he died. On August 15, 1935, he was flying Will Rogers on a vacation trip to Alaska when their plane crashed shortly after take-off near Point Barrow, Alaska. For weeks afterward, newspapers in Oklahoma and around the world were dominated by articles about Rogers’ life and the great loss. Twenty thousand people viewed Post’s casket at the Oklahoma State Capitol, prior to his funeral.

Memorial efforts began immediately. Frank Phillips of Tulsa, founder of Phillips Petroleum, commissioned bronze busts of Will Rogers and Wiley Post to be displayed at the Oklahoma Historical Society. Herbert Adams was selected to create the pair of sculptures for a reported $25,000 (over $400,000 in today’s dollars).

A leading figure in American sculpture during the early 1900s, Adams studied with noted Parisian sculptor, Antonin Mercie, and at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. Upon returning to the United States, he taught at the Pratt Institute Art School in Brooklyn, New York. His commissions include bronze doors for the Library of Congress as well as life-sized memorials of historic figures in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. His works are included in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. The National Sculpture Society created an award in his name: The Herbert Adams Memorial Award, presented to significant American sculptors for lifetime achievement in the advancement of sculpture.

After completion of the sculpture, the bust of Wiley Post was displayed in the Grand Central Art Gallery of New York from December 17, 1937 until January 8, 1938. The busts were presented to the Historical Society in a special ceremony on February 13, 1938. The proceedings began with a fly-over by the Southwestern Aviators Association who dropped floral offerings on the front steps of the Historical building. The Indian Glee Club from Mountain View, Oklahoma then sang “America.” The main address was delivered by Judge Thomas Doyle of the Court of Criminal Appeals and President Emeritus of the Historical Society, who praised art as a way to share history with the people. His words would become the guiding principles used in selecting art for the Oklahoma Judicial Center and the standard for this publication. Also in attendance at the ceremony were the artist, along with Wiley Post’s wife and mother. Frank Phillips chose not to attend, asking instead that his name be kept in the background, to focus all the attention on Will Rogers and Wiley Post.

The Historical Society President at the time was former Chief Justice Robert L. Williams who served on the Supreme Court of Oklahoma from 1907 to 1914. He left the Court to become Oklahoma’s third governor, 1915 to 1919. In 1929, he successfully lobbied for passage of a bill to provide construction of a separate building for the Oklahoma Historical Society – up until that time, the Society had been housed in the State Capitol. This piece is on permanent loan from the Oklahoma Historical Society.

Source: American National Biography, Vol. 1, pp. 96-97; “Address by Thomas H. Doyle; Minutes of a Special Meeting of the Oklahoma Historical Society, February 13, 1938,” Chronicles of Oklahoma, Vol. 16, No. 1, March 1938; “Artist Picked, Clay Models Are Approved,” The Oklahoman, September 26, 1937; “Rogers and Post Busts Are Unveiled,” February 14, 1938.