Will Rogers a School in Vinita

Because the school was in the a large  pasture, Will and his friends could across the campus  and down a trail  that led to  downtown Vinita.

Will Rogers, the world famous ambassador of goodwill, treasured his boyhood memories and never forgot his early friendships. Many of his lifelong friends were students with him at Willie Halsell College in Vinita. He was a boarding student from 1891 to 1895 when he was twelve to sixteen years old.

As a youngster, he preferred to ride horses and rope steer than to study his lessons in school. His dislike of the classroom was certainly not due to a lack of ability; he was noted for his skill at memorizing long passages and, when he liked a subject, to excel.

Willie Halsell College was not a "college" as it is defined today. Rather, it was an elementary and secondary school that had very demanding standards of academic excellence. Highly trained teachers also set it apart from the more ordinary schools. The 160 acre campus was a gift from the Cherokee Council and the City of Vinita also contributed heavily to the founding of the school.

William E. Halsell and his wife Mary were major benefactors and named the school to honor the memory of their daughter Willie who died from meningitis at the age of ten. Ewing Halsell, their son, and three daughters also attended the college that was named in honor of their sister.

Wilt Rogers entered the co-educational school as a boarding student in the fall of 1891 when he was 12 years old. Several biographers have  speculated that Will enjoyed Willie Halsell more than any of his other schools. He was only 36 miles from home and he had several close friends there including Ewing Halsell, who shared his love for the cowboy way of life.

Because the school was in the middle of a Large pasture, Will and his friends could race their horses across the campus and down a trail that led to downtown Vinita. Perhaps all this outdoor fun helped Will in his studies because the Vinita newspaper, the Indian Chieftain listed W.P. Rogers on the honor roll twice.

The Indian Chieftain also ran a story in October of 1892 during Willís second year at the school describing some of the advantages of the school. These features included the following: callisthenic exercises at the end of every work day, vocal training, two upright pianos and an organ, out-door amusements, forensic discussion and elocution and composition.

In Will Rogerís earliest known existing letter he wrote to his friend Charley McClellan that he had "the prettiest girl in the country she is John Goreís sister she Lives at Bluejacket about 12 miles from here" John Gore (1875-1936) and Daisy Gore (1879-1965) were schoolmates of Wiltís and the children of pioneer settlers in Bluejacket.

After statehood and the availability of tax-supported public schools there was no longer a great need for the private colleges and Willie Halsell College closed its doors. Later, the Hall-Halsell Elementary School was built on the site.

Willie Halsell College was a bright spot in the school career of Will Rogers. The year before he died, he came back to Vinita to attend a school reunion and enjoyed seeing his old classmates, many of whom knew him as "Rabbit" for his speed on foot and his big ears.

dat 2003

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This page last updated: 12/01/2010
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