05 July 2010

A Personal Historical Glimpse: Will Rogers and the Irish Lad

Chuck Oates
5 July 2010
Norman, Oklahoma, USA


A Personal Historical Glimpse: Will Rogers and the Irish Lad

My granddad, Lee Oates, grew up in Oklahoma just east of Higgins, Texas where the then-unknown Will Rogers* and many of his even lesser-known friends were (real) cowboys in and near Higgins in the late 1890s and early 1900s. The Irish Lad, a character who later often appeared in Will Rogers' newspaper stories and radio broadcasts, was in real life a fellow named George Sennitt who worked for the Oates family for a time on their farm just east of Higgins. Sennitt had a habit of doing very unconventional things, like plowing up the streets of Shattuck, Oklahoma when he became enraged at some offense that Shattuck had perpetrated against him. Later these escapades made excellent fodder for story-teller Will Rogers.

The Irish Lad had his gentler side, though. My granddad said that when he was a little boy, he had been rocked to sleep many a night by the Lad. I believe the Lad may be the source of many of my granddad's bedtime stories, told to me when I was little. Some years later, I was quite surprised when I was given a copy of Grimm's Fairy Tales when my daughter was little and found that a good many of granddad's stories were works of the Brothers Grimm, their origin unknown to my granddad and their content modified a bit by generations of re-telling. The one I remembered best was clearly a retold version of Bremen Town-Musicians. (Seehttp://www.nationalgeographic.com/grimm/bremen.html .) " ... We're going to Bremen to join the band. ..." I had always asked for that one when I was little.

In the early 1980s, I read this story and some other Brothers Grimm stories to my daughter Carri at her bedtime, selecting pretty carefully among them because of their sometimes-scary content. Unfortunately, I found that for her they had the effect opposite of the desired one. I was often awakened by Carri pulling on my shirtsleeve and asking, "What happened next, Daddy?"

The fairy tales that worked so well for me and for my granddad had put ME to sleep instead of Carri!

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A little more information on Will Rogers and the Irish Ladd can be found in this Handbook of Texas article on the Box-T Ranch: http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/BB/apb2.html . That article contains an unfortunate typographical error. The ranch that Will Rogers worked for was *not* the Little Rob Ranch, but the Little Robe Ranch in present-day Dewey County, Oklahoma. Google "Little Robe Ranch" for more information. --CLO

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* Will Rogers: famous Oklahoma-born U.S. national humorist of the 1920s and '30s.