|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
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
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
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.