Remembering Will Rogers, 75 years later
Seventy-five years ago, Aug. 15, 1935, Will Rogers and world-renowned pilot Wiley Post died at Point Barrow, Alaska. Below are the syndicated newspaper articles, slightly shortened, that Will wrote and sent by telegram in his last week on Earth:
JUNEAU, Alaska, Aug. 7, 1935. Well that was some trip. Thousand-mile hop from Seattle to Juneau. Was going to stop at Ketchikan for lunch, but mist and rain and Wiley just breezed through, never over 100 feet off the water.
And talk about navigating. There is millions of channels and islands and bays and all look alike to me, but this old boy turns up the right alley all the time.
Nothing that I have ever seen is more beautiful than this inland passage, by either boat or plane, to Alaska.
Aug. 8. This is Juneau, the capital of the whole territory of Alaska… The Chamber of Commerce will shoot me for this, but I have been buying raincoats since early morning.
We are going to Skagway now and see the famous Chilkoot Pass. We will do it in ten minutes and it took the pioneers two and three months.
Aug. 9. Bad weather. Not a plane mushed out of Juneau yesterday… Tourists are still arriving by the boatload. Mining activity everywhere. Not much news of Congress, and what we do get is mostly bad. Guess it’s about the same down there.
AKLAVIK, N. W. T., Aug. l0. Get your map out and look this up. The mouth of the Mackenzie River, right on the Arctic Ocean. Eskimos are thicker than rich men at a “Save the Constitution convention.” We are headed for famous Hershel Island in the Arctic.
Old Wiley had to duck his head to keep from bumping it as we flew under the Arctic Circle. What, no night? It’s all day up here.
AKLAVIK, N. W. T., Aug. l2. Was you ever driving around in a car and not knowing or caring where you went? Well, that’s what Wiley and I are doing. We are sure having a great time. If we hear of whales or polar bears in the Arctic, or a big herd of caribou or reindeer we fly over and see it. Friday and Saturday we visited the old Klondike district, Dawson City, Bonanza, Eldorado.
Say, there is a horse here; the furthest north of any horse, and he eats fish and travels on snowshoes.
FAIRBANKS, Aug. 13. This Alaska is a great country. If they can just keep from being taken over by the U. S. they got a great future. This is the greatest aviation-minded city of its size in the world. There is only 30,000 white people in Alaska and there is seventy commercial planes operating every day, in winter on skis.
There may be some doubt about the Louisiana purchase being a mistake, but when Seward in 1868 bought Alaska for $7,000,000 he even made up for what we had overpaid the Indians for Manhattan Island.
ANCHORAGE, Aug. l4. Well, we had a day off today and nothing to do, so we went flying with Joe Crosson, Alaska’s crack pilot, who is a great friend of Wiley’s… In a Lockheed Electra we scaled Mount McKinley, the highest one on the American Continent. Bright sunny day and the most beautiful sight I ever saw… Flew right by hundreds of mountain sheep, flew low over moose and bear down in the valley. Now out to visit Matamuska Valley, where they sent those 1935 model pioneers [as a New Deal project].
FAIRBANKS, Aug. l5. Visited our new emigrants. Now this is no time to discuss whether it will succeed or whether it won’t, whether it’s farming country or whether it is not, and to enumerate the hundreds of mistakes and arguments and management in the whole thing at home and here. As I see it, there is now but one problem, and that’s to get them housed within six or eight weeks. Things have been a terrible mess. They are getting them straightened out, but not fast enough. But it’s just a few weeks to snow now and they have to be out of the tents…
There is a lot of difference in pioneering for gold and pioneering for spinach.