The history the J4 brand and the birthplace of William Penn Adair Rogers, written in 1940.
BY W. M. FRENCH, written September 1940.
“. . . I am going home the first of April and stay a week and hep brand calves and colts . . . “
Anyone knowing the old Clem Rogers Ranch can understand the nostalgia which young Will felt as he scribbled these lines in a letter while he was attending Willie Halsell in Vinita. For Clement Vann Rogers had located his ranch in the fairest spot of a beautiful country.
The old Cherokee Nation was composed of several districts, the largest of these being all that country which lay between Grand River on the east and the Osage Nation on the west. It was here in Coo-wee-scoo-wee District that many of the mixed blood and intermarried Cherokees settled, while most of the full-bloods remained east of the Grand in a hilly country more reminiscent of their native Georgia. Clem Rogers, a quarter-blood Cherokee, had established a trading post on Rabb’s Creek, a few miles south and west of the ranch, as early as 1857· When the Civil War came he espoused the cause of the Confederacy and served with distinction in the regiment of the famous Stand Watie, becoming a captain in 1863. When peace came at last to the war-torn Indian country, Clem Rogers was one of the first to successfully engage in large-scale cattle operations and for his headquarters ranch he established the place which presently bears his name.
On that April morning long ago when Will Rogers returned to “hep brand calves and colts” he traveled across a rolling prairie country carpeted with the new grass .. . a country untouched by fence or plow. Overhead the meadowlark trilled his liquid note. In the distance a band of range mares threw their heads up at their stallion’s warning whistle and then faded from sight into the swale beyond. Near at hand a bunch of gaunt “coasters,” their big fresh brands telling of their recent arrival from Texas, eyed the traveler with curiosity. This was the limestone prairie country – the land of the bluestem . . . the home of the herds. Coo-wee-scoo-wee District was the paradise of the cowman.
But it is not until the cap rock is reached that the real beauty of the country becomes apparent.
On the trail coming in from the west there is a sudden breaking away at the valley wall of the Verdigris – the “green-gray” river down which had floated the bateaux of the voyageurs laden with the trade of the Osages. It is quite a sight to watch the rising sun roll back the silvery mists which shroud the valley. In the distance the river’s winding course is marked by an irregular belt of woods . . . huge pecans, oaks, elms, and sycamores. To the south it finds its way between several mesa-like hills whose timbered slopes and embattled tops have echoed to the Indian’s war cry in those old days when the Cherokees and the Osages were constantly embroiled. At one’s feet and stretching away toward the river are the fertile fields and meadows which made the ranch self-supporting.
The trail winds down the valley wall and continues eastward, dips beneath the waters of a rocky branch, and swings around the foot of a hill to bring you before the old ranch house. This is the home which Clem Vann Rogers built in the seventies and it was the William Penn Adair Rogers was born in 1879.
The house faces to the south and rests at the foot of a rocky hill which protest it on the north. The barns and corrals are located to east, the entire homestead sloping away to the river which is perhaps three-quarters of a mile to the south. The house is a two story log construction, weather-boarded, and has fine native stone fireplaces at the east and west ends. At the time of its building it was undoubtedly one the finest ranch homes in America and it has been preserved in the all of its original beauty by the descendants of Clem Rogers.
When the ranch was first established and for many year thereafter the cattle and horses were ranged on the unfenced prairie . . . and here again Clem Rogers had shown judgment in his location, for his range was bounded on the west and the southwest by the Caney River which, emptying into the Verdigris, formed a V-shaped range which kept his stock from drifting too far. Even in those days this bluestem area was becoming well established as a steer country and Clem Rogers followed the custom of the time in bringing up Texas cattle for a season on grass before sending them on to the slaughter market. Around the turn of the century the Missouri Pacific Railway was built across the west side of the ranch, cutting the range in two and shortly afterwards came the allotment of the land to individual ownership among the Cherokees and that broke up the old free range days forever. The ranch continues in operation behind the new fences, however, as considerable land in the immediate neighborhood of the ranch was obtained by allotment to members of the family and by purchase from unrestricted allottees. At the same time the increasing population of the country created a greater market for the farm products. The property has remained in the hands of the Rogers family and now contains about 1600 acres, of which 200 acres are bottom farm land.
The present operator of the ranch is the genial Herb McSpadden, a grandson of old Clem Vann Rogers. He is the son of Sallie Rogers McSpadden and the late J.T. McSpadden and has been in charge of the ranch since 1927. Herb McSpadden fits into the picture of the old Rogers homestead, for he has spent most of his life in ranch work and would be a top hand on any range. Under his management the Rogers Ranch continues to occupy its position of prominence in the livestock industry of this region, and far from being a museum (although a host of visitors come to see the place) it is a busy ranch where cattle, hogs, and horses are produces and where an extensive farming program is carried on. Considerable numbers of cattle are usually wintered on the place as the bottom makes fine winter quarters and at the same time an outlet is provided for the hay and grain raised on the ranch. But it is in the horses of the ranch, perhaps, that present readers will find the most interest.
According to Herb McSpadden, who had it from his mother, the first big bunch of horses to come to the ranch was trailed up from Texas in the seventies by his own father, Tom McSpadden. These horses had been purchased in Texas by Clem Rogers and were all under the J4 brand, the brand being on the right hip. Mr. Rogers had bought out the brand and the horses were not re-branded when they reached Indian Territory but the J4 was continued in use on all of the ranch horse in future years. The J4 iron is still used as the ranch horse brand but is now placed on the left hip. Will Rogers’ brand was the “dog-iron” on the left side but its use was confined to such calves and other cattle as came into his ownership. Only a few months ago the last Rogers steer to bear this brand, a big black animal with a huge set of horns, went to the Kansas City market. This dog-iron is now used as the ranch cattle brand, being placed on the left side the same as in the old days.
Will Rogers had an ambition to become a roper when he was a young man and whenever he saw a good roping horse he bought him if he could . . . even in those days they were cheaper to buy than they were to raise and train. However, even that method of acquiring horses had its drawbacks. Not long ago Jim Rider told the writer of working in a round-up over on Grand River away back in the early days with Rogers. He said he was riding a big stout horse that was a neck-reining fool for a right turn but that it took two men and a boy to turn him to the left. Will Rogers saw Jim make a couple of sashays after escaping steers in which Jim turned them back to the right and then and there started trying to buy the horse. There was a twinkle in Jim’s eye as he concluded the story, “He was my friend but he b egged me so hard I just had to let him have the horse.”
During the years that Herb McSpadden has managed the ranch there have been a good number of Quarter-type horses raised and trained there, the ranch mares having been bred to stallions owned by John Dawson and Ronald Mason, both of whom are well-known horsemen of this section. Several years ago a Palomino stallion of excellent Quarter type, a horse of an extremely good disposition, was brought to the ranch and from this sire a nice band of Palominos has resulted. This horse, Comanche, was recently sold to a Texas buyer, although the ranch has retained a very handsome two-year-old son. Not long ago the ranch obtained the Government Remount stallion, Balbec, a registered Thoroughbred of exceedingly good saddle type and disposition, whose use upon the ranch mares will undoubtedly result in some outstanding colts – colts that will frisk and play on that same prairie as did those J 4 colts of a far gone day whose branding brought a boy home to “hep.”