Drought Reveals Remains Of Will Rogers' Birthplace
OOLOGAH, Oklahoma - Thanks to a rainy spring, Oklahoma's drought isn't as severe as it has been in the past. Researchers at OSU say, just in 2012, losses caused by the drought were more than $400 million.
But many Oklahomans are optimists. And one good thing to come from the drought has to do with the state's history, an historic home and Oklahoma's favorite son.
As Will Rogers used to say, "If you don't like the weather in Oklahoma, wait a minute and it'll change." But you might be wondering what the weather has to do with a piece of Will Rogers history.
Oklahoma's devastating drought revealed a secret at the bottom of Oologah Lake that no one had seen for decades, until the water dropped.
"It exposes some of the history of the place, so it makes it hugely valuable," said Steve Gragert, with the Will Rogers Memorial Museum.
It took a lot of walking and knowing where to look but News On 6's Richard Clark, an Oologah native, found steps to a root cellar and the stone foundation of a home that once stood where the lake is now.
When they built the Lake in the '50s, it meant one of Oklahoma's most famous homes had to either be lost forever or moved.
Thankfully, they saved the house where Will Rogers was born.
"It was not a small project, at all," Gragert said.
In the 1960's, crews painstakingly started moving the home, built almost a century earlier, carefully labeling boards and putting it back together as close to the original as possible.
Will Rogers, Jr. describes the history of the house, moved to its current location, about a mile away, as a major undertaking for the day.
When Rogers left Oologah and rose to international fame, relatives moved into the house to manage the sprawling ranch. One of those three sons was the late Clem McSpadden, Will Rogers' great nephew.
His wife of 50 years, Donna McSpadden, has plenty of fond memories of the home.
"Mr. McSpadden was known for his coffee. If you didn't want to drink it, you could cut a piece. It was strong," she said.
McSpadden says the house, called the "White House on the Verdigris," was the heart of the family's cattle and farming operation.
Losing Will Rogers' boyhood home to the lake would have meant losing a big part of history.
"It would have been a loss to America, not just Oklahoma," McSpadden said.
Although they saved the house for people to now visit and enjoy, Oklahoma's drought exposed what was left behind.
Steve Gragert, Will Rogers Memorial
"There are those who are experiencing the worst parts of it, but in a sense, we're experiencing the best parts of it," Gragert said. "From the Will Rogers perspective, the historical perspective, absolutely."
"What an opportunity to see that piece of history," McSpadden said.
When News On 6 went to that lake bed, we found an old horseshoe and log splitting wedge, which we donated and are now on display at the Historical Museum. The old home site has now disappeared again, for who knows how long, swallowed up by Oologah's rising water.