Folks, my friend R. Alan Smith of Arizona emailed me about a wonderful article, written by Martha Groves in the Los Angeles Times this morning: Roping In a Legacy. The link below takes you right to it, and it has a well-done video also. It’s about Will and how the state of California is refurbishing the house and barn at the Will Rogers State Park near Santa Monica. (It works good on a high speed connection; not too sure about a slow one.)
Will Rogers was the most beloved American of his day. His memory, like his ranch, has faded, but family and fans are working on both.
My own comments are short this week, because I want you to read what all Will wrote about the 1927 flood. This is quite a bit longer than usual, but you will be amazed how his commentary parallels some of the opinions you are reading in newspapers today.
Weekly Comments: Louisiana, continued
# 379, Sept 14, 2005
COLUMBUS: I got a lovely letter following my comments last week, from a fellow who’s dad and grandparents were in the middle of the 1927 flood. He wrote: “I have a picture somewhere of my Dad standing in a flat boat next to his Dad and Mom’s farmhouse in the flood 1927. He could not even paddle in, much less walk in, because the water was 8 or 10 inches from the top of the windows. My Aunts and Uncles and Dad told us about that flood when we were kids.” He gave me quite an education about how tough and resilient Louisiana folks are, and an inkling of who might deserve some of the blame for actions in the years since 1927 that led to this present day catastrophe. I’ll let you read a bit more of it next week, if he’ll allow it, because it is not the same as what you see today.
The President will go on television tomorrow night, probably announcing what he would do different for the next Hurricane. I don’t want to interfere with anything he might say, but I have heard we will give New Orleans at least $100 Billion for relief.
For that you ought to be able to buy New Orleans, at least the part below sea level. In fact if we’re going to spend it, that would be a great idea because you would only have to spend it once. For a family living in a $50,000 house below sea level, it will cost at least $100,000 to rebuild it, and the next hurricane it’ll get flooded again and cost us $150,000. So let’s buy it once, and let it fill with water. We’ll at least have the pleasure of knowing somebody can go fishing on our investment.
Now we know these folks want to go right back where they lived, and who can blame them. But let’s make sure where they build is above water level, even if they have to move a mile or two uphill from the old homestead. Anybody that insists on living below sea level, let ’em rebuild in Death Valley or Holland. I ain’t being cruel or cold-hearted, and next week I’ll give you more of the plan to get them above sea level.
Historic quotes from Will Rogers: (continued from last week, on the 1927 Mississippi River flood)
The first two are “Daily Telegrams”, written June 1 and 2, 1927.
(June 1) “This whole valley’s appreciation to all the rest of the United States is wonderful. I am not going to tell you about the show and how much we got until tomorrow, but it will beat any benefit given for the cause anywhere. Thanks to friends from all over America for checks.
Hoover has done a wonderful work down here. Tomorrow I am flying all over the new part where the water has broken through and is still rising. Just saw today the cut they made to save the city and saw the refugees. If you could see this you would double your donations. Remember, we are a million and a half shy yet.”
BATON ROUGE, La., June 2. “I have flew over more water today than Lindbergh did, only this had housetops sticking out of it. New Orleans broke the record with their benefit last night. Forty-eight thousand dollars! That’s more than double any other one given, anywhere. They know the needs of it here. Want to tell you more about it and who all sent checks in an early Sunday article. Thanks everybody.”
Will wrote three “Weekly Articles” that focused largely on the flood. These articles were typically published a week or two after he wrote them.
WA #230, published May 8, 1927
“I tell you about the best way to judge these calamities is to trust the judgment of the Red Cross. They are a wonderful body of people, above all politics. They generally know the real needs of the people. That is the real needs of the poor people.
I don’t really believe that 80 or 90 per cent of the people realize just what flood disaster means, and what type of people it is that lost most by this particular horror. An Earthquake, a Fire, a Tornado, or anything like that is over in a few minutes. You know what you lost and you know what you got left. But look at this particular flood we have been reading of it for over 6 weeks. If your house burns out in the country you can run over to some one else’s and stay, but with this when yours go your neighbor’s go too.
The poorest class of people in this country is the renter farmer, or the ones that tends the little patch of ground on shares. He is in debt from one crop to the other to the store keeper, or the little local bank. He never has a dollar that he can call his own.
Then when you talk about poor people that have been hit by this flood, look at the thousands and thousands of Negroes that never did have much, but now it’s washed away. You don’t want to forget that water is just as high up on them as it is if they were white. The Lord so constituted everybody that no matter what color you are you require about the same amount of nourishment.
What gets my Goat is hearing constantly, “Why don’t those people move out of there? There are floods every year.” How are they going to move? Who is going to move ’em? Where are they going to move to, and what are they going to do when they move there? Why don’t you move? Maybe you could do better some place else. That’s the trouble with us. It’s why don’t everybody do something but us. Wait till a calamity hits where you are, and then they can ask, “Why don’t you move?””
WA #231, published May 15
“I got a wire from a very influential club in New Orleans saying: “The Government has cut our levee at our expense and overflowed five counties, so that the SEWERAGE from Chicago, Kansas City, St. Louis and Memphis can get past Canal Street here in New Orleans.” I wonder if there ain’t a bit of truth in that statement. Even a town where people live on top of a hill they are not allowed to just throw everything out of their doors and let it roll down the hill on to the people that live at the bottom on the level ground.
Well I see where they are going to take it up in Congress when it meets in December, so that means that while next year’s re-occurrence of this flood is devastating the country, why the sufferers will at least have the consolation that Congress is “thinking and talking about them anyway.” There will be bills introduced in there to regulate the rainfalls. Some will suggest moving the river over in to some other Senator’s state. Some will suggest letting it empty into the Grand Canyon where the levees on each side are high enough now without rebuilding them. Someone will introduce a bill to have the river run up hill so it won’t go so fast.
But the people down there better not put too much dependence in Congress. They can grow web feet quicker than Congress will relieve ’em. If I was them, I would make my next house a house boat. But Congress might fool us, and let us all hope and pray they will, for if anybody ever needed help it’s those people down there.”
WA #236, published June 19, 1927
“I last wrote you when I was going into New Orleans to give the benefit. Well, sir, it would have done your heart good to have seen how the whole city did cooperate on that little performance. All three papers helped wonderfully, and all the people of the town. We got 48 thousand dollars, that’s the most any benefit has raised anywhere in America. It’s over twice as much. They are fine people down there and they know the need of the money being raised. The flood at no time was in New Orleans, but it was in great danger at one time.
So now everybody’s thoughts are on having the government settle on some policy where it will never occur again. The next day [June 2] I went up to Baton Rouge and met a lot of the men who were responsible for the great work done in the rescue. They were through and scattering to their various army assignments. Major Gotwals, and Major McCoy, two who had done especially heroic work, both said they had never in all their army experience seen everybody and everything work together like they did in this work. You see there was about a half dozen different branches of the Government service there, Army, Navy, Naval Aviation, Army Aviation, Coast Guard, Rum Runner Boats, Geological Survey Forces. They all pitched in and worked, no matter who the orders come from. The National Guard also did great work.
It sure does make you proud of our men in the service when you see what they can really do. We don’t have as many, in our service as lots of them, but I tell you we have a very high class bunch of men. And the Red Cross, that just almost goes without saying. We are so used to the things that they do that we sometimes just forget to praise them. But this time they outdid themselves. It was the biggest thing since the war, and they were on the ground and just in a couple of weeks feeding and housing and caring for as many as six hundred thousand. And I want to tell you they were cared for, too.
I went through some of the camps, both whites and colored ones, and it would have made you feel that every dollar you gave went right where it belonged. Lord, what a blessing an organization like that is. I would have rather originated the Red Cross than to have written the Constitution of the U.S. Hoover can run for President and be elected down there, even over a Democrat. He did wonderful work. But that’s why he is not a politician. He is too competent. Something big comes along; we look to Hoover to do it. Some little sorter half dirty work comes along; we look to a politician to do it.
A Navy flier took me for hundreds of miles over nothing but a sea of water and housetops. If you have never seen a flood you don’t know what horror is. These fliers were real heroes. They flew all over the tops of those swamps, locating people for the boats to get. Planes proved their worth, right in that flood.
Now the argument has started. What to do to give permanent relief down there. The cry of those people down there is, “We don’t want relief and charity; we want protection.” … Course if it ever gets into Congress, I would just as soon try to swim upstream against the flood as to be in the hands of Congress. For every old Senator will want to tack his little flood or power bill of his little river onto this one so he can get it through.
Spillways is the only thing they can build, so these smartest of Government Engineers told me. They can’t get the levees any higher and save it. They have to put in some way of relieving the river of part of the water. It’s got to be done. It’s the biggest thing before the country today. Course we are liable to have to cut down on ammunition expenditures in Nicaragua and China. But it looks like saving and protecting some of our own is better than trying to shoot somebody else, especially when we have to go so far to get to shoot at ’em.
But the flood has been a great lesson to us. The people have done their part, now it’s up to the Government to do theirs. But if you want to get some comedy, wait till they start in suggesting what to do. One fellow seriously wants to bore holes in the bottom of the river and let the water out. Another one wants to dig a ditch alongside of the river and run the extra back into the Great Lakes. He had it all (figured out) with the possible exception of the water running up hill.“