Maud Rogers was born at Ft. Gibson on November 28, 1869, ten years before her young brother, Will. The day of her first birthday, the family moved to what is now Oologah, their permanent home on the Verdigris River. To celebrate the occasion, Maud took her first steps.
Her father, Clem, remodeled a squatter’s cabin and the family moved in, but he did not intend for them to live there long. He began work on the spacious ranch house which was to be a landmark throughout Northeastern Oklahoma.
At this time the family consisted of three children, Sallie, Robert and Maud. By the time little Mary, called May, was two years old in 1875, the big ranch house was completed. Two other children born two years apart both died in infancy.
In 1879 there was again a period of rejoicing. William Penn Adair Rogers made his presence known to the world. In one of his articles, Will states, “I was born on Election Day. Women couldn’t vote then and Mother thought she should do something so she had me.”
When little Willie was three years old, his brother, Robert, died suddenly at the home of his Aunt Peggy in Vinita. Mary and Clem watched this younger son with anxiety. Mary had borne eight children and lost four. They knew Will would be the last. Perhaps Maud felt their concern, for as big sister Sallie left home to teach, it was Maud who appointed herself Willie’s guardian and companion.
This was not always an easy task for Will had a mind of his own even at that tender age. He got his first paddling at the hands of his father when he refused to move from the spot where an angry bull was preparing to charge. Clem picked him up by his shirttail and jumped his horse over the fence, then turned him up and paddled him.
At the age of three and a half, Will refused to part with his bottle. It was Maud who weaned him in rather a drastic manner although the whole thing was an accident. Maud often crossed the river in a small row boat. On this occasion, the water was pretty high with spring rains and much debris was swept downstream by the current. Will sat quietly clutching his beloved bottle while Maud rowed. Suddenly a log struck the small craft almost upsetting it. The jolt caused Will to lose his grip and the bottle disappeared into the water. Will did not cry, but seemed to be stunned. He never mentioned the incident again.
When Maud reached her mid-teens she was sent away to boarding school. She attended Park Hill Female Seminary near Tahlequah and later went to Howard Payne College at Fayette, Missouri.
It was during her college days that the early recollections of her irrepressible sense of humor became known. She was painting a picture of some sheep and was having difficulty getting the eyes to her satisfaction. She turned to the teacher and said, “Well, I guess I’ll have to pull the wool over their eyes.”
When she was quilting, if she made a mistake she would say, “Oh well, that part will go under the pillow.”
When Maud was about twenty, tragedy again struck the family in the form of a typhoid epidemic. Sallie’s baby died and she and Maud both suffered with the disease and were just recovering when their beloved mother, Mary, was stricken. Clem and the doctors spared no effort in her care, but she could not recover. She passed away May 28, 1890 at the age of fifty.
Young Will was only ten years old at the time and Maud seems to have done her best to serve as a mother to him and a housekeeper for her father. But she had other interests in the person of Cap Lane, the nephew of Dr. Andrew Lane, the Rogers Family physician and close friend. Cap came from Clarksville, Texas, the son of a doctor. He attended Boonville Military Academy and then came to Chelsea to visit his uncle and stayed to work for Tom McSpadden, Sallie’s husband who owned a drug store.
Cap and Maud were married in a small quiet ceremony, a far cry from the beautiful elaborate wedding which Mary Rogers had prepared for her eldest daughter only a few short years ago. Her absence must have been sorely felt.
Cap Lane prospered as a druggist and soon bought out the store from his brother-in-law. He owned a sizable farm and though he wasn’t a farmer, he loved to experiment with the latest methods and equipment. He was never so happy as when he was driving the latest model in tractors and plowing his fields. Maud used to say, “Cap doesn’t wait for anything to grow before he plows over it again.
They owned a large house and there was always a bedroom which was kept for Will even after the arrival of their four children. Will always enjoyed these visits with his sisters and no matter how far he traveled, he always found his way back home again.
Maud loved company and she loved cooking. Those who came to her table declaring that they were not hungry usually stayed and put away as much as the rest.
In 1900, the original house burned, the result of some paint cans stored next to the smoke house. The family lost all their belongings as the house was a total loss. Estelle, the eldest daughter, recalls, “That Sunday morning, we went to church wearing clothes that belonged to everyone in the community.”
Cap rebuilt on the same spot a year later. The three-story white Victorian stands today, very similar to its original condition. It was a house which rang with the fun and laughter of young people and good-humored indulgence and guidance of their parents.
Can you imagine an attic turned into a roller skating rink? That’s the sort of activity that went on at the Lane house, along with dances, picnics by the river, horseback rides, and Halloween parties with the attic turned into a spook house. The four children, Estelle, Ethel, Gunter and Lasca have many wonderful recollections of those early days.
Ethel was nicknamed Polly Puddin’. One day when she was four or five, she got lost at the County Fair. Asked her name by a well-meaning bystander, she replied between sobs, “Polly Puddin.” The man took her all over the fair inquiring about a Pudding family until someone shouted “That’s Cap Lane’s kid.”
Gunter, the only boy, was nicknamed Hossfly by Will, “Because,” he said, “you’re just a little pest like a hossfly.”
Maud’s humor often matched that of her famous brother. One summer afternoon, she and the girls went swimming in an artesian spring behind the house. Maud washed her prematurely white hair and as was her custom, she rinsed it with bluing. The combination of the radium water and the bluing turned her hair a bright green and could not get it out. That night she was to attend a party. She donned a green dress in a matching shade and created a sensation.
Maud and Sallie were the mainstays of Chelsea’s social and cultural life. They were responsible for a form of summer entertainment called Chautauqua, a tent show which featured plays, lectures, music, etc.
After the first of these, to which she had invited her aunts, Juliette Shrimsher and Martha Gullegher, Maud went up on the platform to congratulate the players, Estelle shouted, “Mama, you’re got your hat on backwards,” to which she replied, “It looks just as well this way.”
Maud said she wished she had a wig. Then she could put it on her knee to arrange it before putting it on her head.
Cap Lane was an intellectual and very absent-minded. He called her Muller or Maud Muller, from the poem of the same name. It was his custom to leave all the money management to Maud and to go around, literally, with empty pockets. One day, he stroked his chin absently and said, “Muller, I wish you’d give me a quarter. I need a shave.”
He loved to read travel books and once when the Episcopal Men’s group met in their home to hear a lecture on travel, Cap knew more than the lecturer who had made the trip. Afterward, the minister said, “Mr. Lane, I didn’t know you were so well traveled.” He replied, “Yes, I made all those trips via an armchair.”
Maud thought she’d missed the best part of the day if she didn’t see the sunrise. She always said no society woman changed clothes more often than she did. She got up at dawn, put on her oldest dress and went out to milk the cows. The dairy cows were one of Cap’s farming experiments and Maud milked them and delivered the milk to the local hospital as a charitable donation. She also saw to it that many needy children in the area had milk to drink. After milking, she would change to a clean housedress, get breakfast and then make her deliveries. In the afternoon, she would dress up to go shopping or to attend a church meeting or similar activity. She also made calls on the sick or unfortunate and on these occasions she was never empty handed. She founded the Methodist Missionary Society in Chelsea and served as its treasurer throughout her lifetime. After spending the afternoon in this manner, she returned home again, donned her milking clothes and attended to this chore. Then she changed clothes again and cooked and served supper for her family. After supper, she often dressed up again to go out for the evening or to entertain at home.
The neighbors, both black and white, loved and depended on her. She was a mainstay of her family and the entire community.
She and Cap had been married 34 years when he suffered a heart attack. He passed away July 19, 1924. It may have been the shock of his passing which brought on the massive stroke which Maud suffered ten months before her death.
Will rushed home and took her to the Mayo Clinic, but was told they could do nothing for her. She was bedfast but still alert in her mind. Will ordered a nurse from Tulsa, recommended by Dr. Jess Bushyhead. She stayed with Maud until the end, along with daughter, Ethel, who was not married at that time. The other children and members of the family spent every available moment at her bedside. Will spent much time in her room and would emerge with tears streaming down his face to say. “Don’t cry, she doesn’t want us to grieve for her. You mustn’t let her see your cry.”
Her last thoughts were for others. An elderly Negro named Arch had spent many years with the family. One day Maud called Estelle to her and said, “I want you to buy Arch a nice suit of clothes. He’ll want to go to church when I die, and he doesn’t have anything to wear but his overalls.”
At Christmas, the entire community, black and white, gathered outside beneath her bedroom window to sing carols. She passed away the following spring, May 15, 1925.
Nine days later, the San Diego Union, a newspaper, printed this tribute written by Will Rogers. We are quoting only a part of it.
After all, there is nothing in the world like home. You can roam all over the world, but after all, it’s what the people at home think of you that really counts. I have just today witnessed a funeral that for real sorrow and real affection, I don’t think will ever be surpassed anywhere. They came in every mode of conveyance, on foot, buggies, horseback, wagons, cars and trains, and there wasn’t a soul that came that she hadn’t helped or favored at one time or another.
Now we are in the south and according to northern standards, we don’t rate the Negro any too high. Well, I wish you could have seen the Negroes at her home on the day of the funeral. Before her death, she said, “They are my folks, they have helped me, they are all my friends. When I am gone I don’t want you children at the funeral to show any preference.”
Some uninformed newspaper printed: “Mrs. C. L. Lane, sister of the famous comedian Will Rogers.” They were greatly misinformed. It’s the other way around. I am the brother of Mrs. C. L. Lane, “The friend of humanity.” And I want to tell you that as I saw all these people who were there to pay tribute to her memory, it was the proudest moment of my life that I was her brother. And all the honors that I could ever in my wildest dreams hope to reach would never equal the honor paid on a little western prairie hilltop, among her people, to Maud Lane. If they will love me like that at the finish, my life will not have been in vain.
This article was printed in The Rogers County Observer-Thursday, September 10, 1970. Written by Ann Tacker. Submitted to moreClaremore by the Claremore Museum of History.