Adam Piron at Current:
There is a scene in Fox’s 1930 comedy So This Is London in which Hiram Draper, played by Will Rogers, attempts to get a passport. When Hiram is unable to provide a birth certificate, the passport-office official inquires if he is an American citizen. Rogers, in his thick Oklahoman accent, responds: “I think I am. My folks are Indian. Both my mother and father had Cherokee blood in ’em. Born and raised in Indian Territory. Of course, I’m not one of these Americans whose ancestors come over on the Mayflower, but we met ’em when they landed.” It’s a great bit of comedy, a pre-Code jab pointing out an existential absurdity of America itself. It’s also a key to Rogers’s brand of humor and his positioning as a straight-talking outsider lodged in the eye of popular culture’s storm.
Like Hiram Draper, Rogers was a citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. He was born in 1879, raised in a prominent family within his tribe’s territory, and was the grandchild of survivors of the Trail of Tears. By his own account, Rogers was a poor student and found himself drawn to Cherokee ranching culture.