”He could lasso the tail off’n a blow fly!”
By ARNOLD MARQUIS, written February 1963, part 1 of 2.
That was Will Rogers. Roping and riding were as much a part of him as being funny. Will knew horseflesh and loved it. He always rode the best. Horse traders were constantly trying to corner him, but almost no one who tried “to sell him ever succeeded. When he saw what he wanted, he went after it – until he got it. He knew the value of a good horse.
“Old Comanche put you up so close to a steer you didn’t have to rope him,” said Will. “You just reached over and slipped your rope on him.”
Will owned scores of horses, maybe a hundred. Nobody knows how many. Whenever he wasn’t tied up doing something else, he was with his horses.
Every one of them was a character – Comanche, Soapsuds, Bootlegger, Dopey, Cowboy, Chapple, Robin, Angelo, Shorty, and all the rest.
Will had no interest whatever in breeding, or in papers, or ‘ in the “looks” of a horse. What interested him was what the horse could do.
He had his own way in handling horses. One hard and fast rule was that whenever he bought a horse, the bit and bridle went with it. That bit and that bridle belonged to that horse and under no circumstances was ever to be used on any other horse.
He started acquiring horse savvy from his earliest childhood out on the Dog Iron Ranch near Oologah, Indian Territory, not far from Claremore, Oklahoma. He started riding soon after he started to walk.
When he was 10, his beloved mother died. He was the youngest in the family, the only boy. He took it, bravely, but hard. A Negro named Houston Rogers used to ride over to the Dog Iron on a dun-colored pony with faint black markings. Houston let the youngster ride it. Willie’s father noticed that he liked the horse. For $10 and a horse named CM, he bought the dun horse for Willie.
This was Comanche, Will’s first horse, all his own. And this was the beginning of an attachment that was to go on for years and end in heartbreak.
Comanche was about 5 years old when Will got him, stood about 14 hands, and weighed about 950. He was fast, smart, and, working with Will, became one of the best known roping ponies in that part of the country.
Will grew up on Comanche. He spent every possible minute with him. A lonely boy, as he rode Comanche he talked to himself – about what, nobody ever knew. Comanche filled a deep need left by the loss of Will’s mother.
About that time, in the late 90s, steer ropings – the forerunners of today’ s rodeos were becoming popular around Indian Territory. Cowboys came from far and near to rope and tie down steers and to ride “pitching” horses. In these local steer ropings on Sundays and holidays, Will, now a young man, got his first experience riding Comanche.