About a year ago, ICTMN sent me to Claremore, Oklahoma, to attend the release of a documentary film for public TV, The Verdigris: In Search of Will Rogers. The filmmaker was a young guitar picker named Beau Jennings, who had written a cycle of songs around locations significant to Will Rogers’ life and career.
In the discussion that followed, many speakers deferred to an elderly woman who had watched from a very good seat. I overheard people referring to her as “Coke,” and after the discussion Beau Jennings rushed to meet her, which is not how it normally goes when a film opens.
The lady to whom everyone deferred was Doris “Coke” Meyer, Will Rogers’ grandniece. In 2012, Meyer had published her recollections of the great Cherokee, I Called Him Uncle Will. When she spoke of his efforts in glowing terms, Beau Jennings was one happy picker.
A year later, The Cherokee Phoenix and The Tulsa World carried the sad news that Coke Meyer walked on at the age of 97 on January 29, 2017. We now know that she was the last of Will Rogers’ relatives who personally knew him.
Will Rogers was a legend in his own time, breaking into show business by displaying the riding and roping techniques that made his living in Indian Territory. The Cherokee cowboy conquered the vaudeville circuit and then became the hottest box office draw in the new medium of “talkie” films. He wrote books and a daily syndicated newspaper column.
His untimely death in an Alaska plane crash in 1935 grew his legend as friends and relatives came forward with stories to add. Now that the last relative who knew him personally has walked on, the Will Rogers legend is complete, and we have lost the most credible and knowledgeable first hand source for the life and times of the Cherokee cowboy philosopher.
Doris Lane “Coke” Meyer lived in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, and could usually be counted on to turn up at any celebration of Will Rogers in and around the Cherokee Nation. Her wisdom will be missed.