August 15 was the 80th anniversary of the untimely death of Will Rogers.

How Did I Miss That? Cherokees Claim Will Rogers, Purple Tomatoes

Steve Russell

Some people have been asking why I make room for my Republican cousin Ray Sixkiller in this column. Three reasons. One is that I’m a Jack Democrat. Another is that this column proceeds in poor imitation of Will Rogers, who claimed to be a Democrat but was an equal opportunity kidder. Finally, Cherokees used to be nearly all Republicans and they are still seriously split. A thought about who engineered the Trail of Tears would tell you why.

Cousin Ray wanted to know what a “Jack Democrat” is? A Jack Democrat is to Andy Jackson’s party as a Jack Mormon is to the crowd that runs Utah at the expense of the Utes. You might call Will Rogers a Jack Democrat since he had a lot of Republican friends and probably never voted in his life, but he did famously remark, “I’m not a member of any organized political party---I’m a Democrat.”

I was slow on the uptake because The Cherokee Phoenix was too far down in the stack last week, but I must mention that August 15 was the 80th anniversary of the death of Wily Post and Will Rogers in a crash of Post’s custom made aircraft near Point Barrow, Alaska.

The Phoenix reported on the annual fly-in to Rogers’ Dog Iron Ranch in Oologah, Oklahoma. Rogers used to claim Claremore as his hometown “because white people can’t pronounce Oologah,” but Cherokees know he was born there when it was still located in the Cherokee Nation, Indian Territory.

Will Rogers used the bully pulpit that was his as the most popular entertainer across the most media in his time to plug for civil aviation in spite of having survived many of what he called “incidents” before the one that took his life. Oklahoma calls Will Rogers a “favorite son” but the man antedates Oklahoma and I guarantee the Cherokee Nation will not turn him loose. We understand why the world and the United States and Oklahoma mourned his death, but Will Rogers is ours, The Cherokee Kid.

Another Cherokee kid may be a plant. According to NPR’s reporting on the origin of the Cherokee Purple tomato, the commercial seeds sold today came from Craig LeHoullier, a member of the Seed Savers Exchange who specializes in heirloom tomatoes. In 1990, he got seeds from John Green of Sevierville, Tennessee. The variety was said to be over 100 years old and from the Eastern Band Cherokees.

LeHoullier was so impressed by the taste he forwarded seeds to commercial growers, and the rest is history. Speaking of history, NPR was proud to have verified that Cherokees have been growing tomatoes for over 100 years. Way to go, NPR. Next time, try a thousand years for a serious question. A journal from the DeSoto entrada in 1540 recorded Cherokees already gardening. Indian agriculture in Tennessee goes back as far as 3,000 B.C.E.

The Denver Post reported that the Denver Botanic Gardens have drawn record crowds to view and smell the rare bloom of a “corpse flower.” Waits were as much as five hours to gaze of at the Brobdingnagian plant. Visitors were unanimous that the foulness of the odor was exaggerated. Because the plant is native to remote Sumatran jungles, few botanists know much about it, and experts differed when another bloom might show up, but it will be at least two years and could be as many as 15. “There is no truth to the rumor,” Cousin Ray said wryly, “that they named the Denver corpse flower ‘Trump.’”

Rolling Stone published a recap of the WWE Summerslam, the highlight of which was the newly retired Jon Stewart emerging from the audience with a chair to whack one of the wrestlers.

Cousin Ray reminded me that Stewart covered political nonsense on The Daily Show before he retired. “How in the world can you pay attention to U.S. politics and then get snooty about professional wrestling?”

I started to argue with my Republican cousin, but then I noticed the latest polling data as reported in The New York Times. It’s Trumpmania.

The Donald is leading Mike Huckabee among evangelicals.

The Donald is leading Ted Cruz among Tea Party supporters.

The Donald is leading Jeb Bush among moderates.


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