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The Infamous Black Bird Southern Oregon History, Revised


Will Rogers and the Battle of the Medford Pears

In 1931 humorist Will Rogers briefly visited Medford and wrote about it, to the town's chagrin.

Famous Humorist Visits Medford En Route Orient
    Will Rogers, cowboy humorist, "citizen of the world" and screen and stage comedian, en route to the Orient, as an observer of war conditions in China and Japan, spent four hours in this city yesterday. The plane on which he was traveling from Los Angeles to Vancouver, B.C., was forced to land here on account of "low visibility." He continued his journey as far as Portland by train, and, weather permitting, will fly today to Vancouver, B.C., to sail Saturday on the Canadian liner Empress of Russia for Japan.
    Rogers expects to be in the Far East three months. He will cable daily his observations on the Jap-Sino situation--a daily feature of the Mail Tribune.
   
Rogers is as sociable and talkative as an Eagle Point cowboy, with a modest personality, and better looking than his pictures. He is fidgety, and displays all the mannerisms--sly wink included--known to thousands of film fans. In the business office of this newspaper he held open court for all comers, and told Natalie, young daughter of Carl Tengwald, when she refused to shake hands with him: "Never mind, Sis, most of the women folks act that way towards me."
    Most of the former residents of Oklahoma now in these parts came to have a word with the Oklahoman. There were more people at the depot last evening to catch a glimpse of him than have been in that structure since the auto buses took to the highways. Many drove through the rain when they read in the Mail Tribune he was in town.
    Rogers declared: "I have no idea why I am going to Japan, and wish somebody would tell me. The trip will take 11 days, and I'll be seasick ten of them. I can't talk Japanese--just barely get by with my own language. The Japs don't like wisecracking. I'm not going to mess with them. They are going to hear the awfullest lot of compliments they ever listened to. The Mikado won't stand for my jokes like Coolidge did."
    "I'll be back in time for the campaign," he further said. "It'll be hotter than any old war. The Democrats have a chance to cop, but they'll mess it up. They'll fight among themselves about Prohibition, and nominate two candidates for president--maybe do it up brown and name three candidates."
    He predicted by spring "the Republicans will make things hum, and folks will forget their troubles."
    "The farmers all tell me they have no money--that's everybody's trouble. They have kerosene cans full of pickled peaches and stuff to eat, and a place to sleep. The boys who are taking it on the chin are in the factory towns and cities. They have no barn to crawl into, and no grub. Everybody's jawing Mr. Hoover too much. It's a wonder he does anything. I wouldn't."
    "I'll say Medford is a fine town, if nobody from the Chamber of Commerce is listening," Rogers said, executing the winsome Rogers wink.
    Twenty minutes before his train left he announced, "I'm going to sneak off and phone the girl at my house." He did.
    "Someday I'm coming back here and eat a pear and catch a fish. Guess everybody tells you that," was Rogers' parting comment.
Excerpt, Medford Mail Tribune, November 20, 1931, page 1


Humorist Grins in Downpour
    Will Rogers, noted writer, humorist and movie actor, drifted down out of the skies yesterday afternoon about 3 o'clock and paid Medford a short but lively visit.
    Rogers was on his way to Victoria, B.C., where he has booked passage for Japan to serve there as a war correspondent for American newspapers. Heavy rains and low clouds forced the plane down in Medford, so Rogers continued the trip north on the Southern Pacific.
    Rogers was rather careful about the wise ones he let go, using only the ones he had already sold to the newspapers. He did say that he had spent many years of his life waiting for trains but of late he had seldom found waiting for them burdensome.
    "A rain such as you are having here," Rogers said, "if it fell in California would be heralded all over the nation as a million-dollar rain." He agreed with his company that the country needed lots of rain and should be glad to get it.
    The slow droll the movie fans are used to while listening to Rogers was lacking. He does talk with a droll, and with a decided southern accent, but not quite so much as he does before the talkie machine. He did, though, pull at the rim of his hat with every few words, and punched at things with his left forefinger. His characteristics and gestures were perfectly in keeping with his stage manner. He was not chewing gum.
    "I've had a good time while I've been here," Rogers said. "I've met a lot of my kinfolks, people from Oklahoma I mean, and I'm always glad to see them."
    "I'll write to you all from China," he said, as he boarded the northbound train. Many followed him into his stateroom, where last requests for autographs and handshakes were made.
Excerpt, Medford Daily News, November 20, 1931, page 1



    MEDFORD, Ore., Nov. 19.--Breezing along over the snow-capped mountains of Northern California. There is nothing more beautiful in America than looking down on the Pacific Highway.
    Say, Texas has got a chance next Tuesday to put the Democratic congressional majority over the top and cinch Garner for speaker if they elect Kleberg of San Antonio. I would like to see a real cowpuncher get in there, even if he is a Republican.
    Say, we are running into a snowstorm and may have to set her down at Medford, but you can always trust a good airline pilot. This one has flown this route five years.
    Postscript--And we did set her down here.


    William Rogers, the humorist, who was here a month ago, had a piece in the Sunday papers describing his visit here, and how everybody lectured him on the glory and the grandeur of the pears, but forgot to produce any prima facie evidence of the same, though he was well nigh starved. At that time the civic mind was fretting about the taxes, the times, Hoover, and all other matters they could do nothing about, and could not drop their tax cutting long enough to leave a box of Boscs in his berth. As a result of the original oversight, however, when William gets back from China he will find a box of pears on his front porch from everybody who ever saw a pear, if they have to send back to New York to get them.
Arthur Perry, "Ye Smudge Pot," Medford Mail Tribune, December 14, 1931, page 4


Asleep at the Switch!
    If you get off the Sunset Limited anywhere within a hundred miles of Los Angeles, fine oranges are put under your nose, at two for a nickel up.
    You can't get off in the desert country without having neat packages of dates to test your sales resistance.
    In Arizona the same thing is true of grapefruit. You can't travel anywhere in that part of the world without knowing what the country produces and getting a chance to sample same.
    But one can travel through Southern Oregon by train or motor--can even stop here for several hours and look around--and NEVER SEE A PEAR!
    We wonder why it is. Our wonderment is particularly acute at the moment, for we have just read what Will Rogers said about us in yesterday's San Francisco Chronicle.
   
As everyone knows, when Will's airplane was forced down here a few weeks ago, the noted humorist spent nearly two hours in the office of the Mail Tribune, and before he left on the train that night he had met about half the downtown population. On all sides he heard about pears, but he never saw one and was never offered one.
    No wonder he decided there isn't a pear in the country! How many of the hundreds of thousands of tourists who visited Oregon the past summer have the same idea!
    Here is Will's comment:
    Did you ever seen this Oregon country? Well, say I want to tell you it's beautiful; lovely streams running all along, big pine trees, then a long stretch of beautiful valley. We passed right by Mount Shasta; the clouds and snow was so low that we couldn't see the top. A beautiful stock farm at the foot of it, where they used to raise those Shasta-bred racehorses Shasta Nut, Shasta Daisy, and all named Shasta something, it used to belong to Curley Brown, since dead.
    I didn't know what this town had, but the pilot told me all the way in that it specialized in raising pears (not pairs), pears. The depot agent informed me that they shipped the most pears ever shipped from one place. The newspaper owner told me I should stay and see the pears (that meant in eight months from then). The girls that worked in the office there all told me of what wonderful pears they had. Newsboys came in and shook hands and informed me that pears was right up this town's alley. Over at the train a couple of hours later in came a lot of fine wholesome friendly people all telling me that pears from there was [as good as] melons from Rocky Ford. The owner and two reporters from the other paper came to the depot and they asked me if I knew that Medford was noted for its wonderful pears. Now I am not criticizing this. It was all done in such a proud way that it made you know these folks had a town, but most of all they had pears. And the thing that made it all the more enjoyable is that it was done by just everybody you would meet and not by the Chamber of Commerce.
    I didn't even see the Secretary of the Chamber. So you see it wasn't any organized effort to poke pears down a visitor's throat by the better element. These folks just wanted you to know they raised pears.
    I hadn't eaten any lunch on the plane, and it was then late in the afternoon. I had had two and a half hours of steady pears, but NO PEARS. Just one lone pear distributed in the right spot could have done the Medford pear industry more good than lip service from the total population. But not a soul dug up a pear. Some school boys and girls that knew me from the movies came to the train to tell me of pears, but brought no evidence. It's a beautiful little city, fine folks, but I don't think there is a pear in the country.

    Of course there is nothing to worry about now. Will Rogers' train had barely reached Gold Hill before a box of pears was packed and ready for shipment to his boat at Victoria, B.C. And when he returns, if he isn't flooded with pears, it won't be the fault of Medford's loyal growers.
    But that's hindsight, not foresight. The thing we can't understand is why we have gone on all these years, neglecting one of our best avenues of publicity, and leaving the matter of pears up to chance and the initiative of some quick-witted citizen.
    Single pears are being sold by the unemployed in New York City. Why couldn't they be sold at the railroad and stage stations, the airport--the motor registration headquarters, and also at the Chamber of Commerce?
    If this were the established practice, such an extraordinary experience as Mr. Rogers suffered would never have been possible.
    However, we live and learn. The absence of pears gave us some excellent publicity, and in the future, we believe, no notable will be able to go through Southern Oregon without at least having a chance to SEE a pear, before he departs.
Medford Mail Tribune, December 14, 1931, page 4


Will Rogers Razzed City; Unable To Get Pears Here
    Medford, the Pear City, fell down on its reputation when Will Rogers, noted columnist and now war correspondent in Manchuria, was here last month.   
    Will heard the word "pear" from the time he landed at the airport till he left town on the train, but during his stay here failed to see a single pear.
    His article "razzing" Medford for it appeared in the Sacramento Bee, was clipped by W. Y. Crowson and is herewith reprinted: [see below]
Medford Daily News, December 15, 1931, page 1

    All I know is just what I read in the papers, or what I see as I hike hither and thither, mostly thither. A few weeks ago I was flying from Los Angeles to Seattle, and incidentally a beautiful trip, especially from Frisco north, up along the Sacramento River for a long, long way. They had just had their first snow, and the mountaintops were covered, and the railroad and highway was winding along down there like a couple of black snakes. Then we began to hit bad weather, snow and a drizzling rain, and clouds began to close in on us. It looked like we wasn't going to get any farther than Redding, a little town on the edge of the mountains. But this pilot had been on this route for five years and he, without taking any chances, kept low below the clouds and wound his way right with the big canyon and railroad, and we got through as far as Medford (just over the line into Oregon).
    Good field and a beautiful little city of twelve thousand. Well, the radio weather report said we couldn't go, so we decided to take the train in about three hours and arrive in Portland in the morning. Well, I was kinder glad. I had never been to this town before, and I don't know I kinder like to hit these strange towns. I always run into a few old birds or young kids that recognize the old [face] from the movies, and I never lack for company. The pilot took us into town in his car, as that was the end of his run anyhow. We went to the depot first, and got our tickets. (I keep saying "we"; what I mean was another passenger and I, who I had just met on the plane, his name was Kennedy, and funny thing he had years ago when he was working for the Frigidaire Co
. and they had a big convention in Akron, he had booked me to appear before the convention. Now he and some others had started in the same business, only they called theirs some kind of icebox, and they was a great big company, they catered to the people who didn't know what Frigidaire meant but wanted an icebox that was cold all the time.)
     Well, he was on there, and then they had a stewardess, that's a very charming girl, she is a qualified nurse, and she makes things comfortable for the passengers, and is a great comfort to ladies on there, especially if they don't feel well. Well, this one could have been a comfort to a lot of men that was even feeling well, too.
    Did you ever seen this Oregon country? Well, say I want to tell you it's beautiful; lovely streams running all along, big pine trees, then a long stretch of beautiful valley. We passed right by Mount Shasta; the clouds and snow was so low that we couldn't see the top. A beautiful stock farm at the foot of it, where they used to raise those Shasta-bred racehorses Shasta Nut, Shasta Daisy, and all named Shasta something, it used to belong to Curley Brown, since dead.
    I didn't know what this town had, but the pilot told me all the way in that it specialized in raising pears (not pairs), pears. The depot agent informed me that they shipped the most pears ever shipped from one place. The newspaper owner told me I should stay and see the pears (that meant in eight months from then). The girls that worked in the office there all told me of what wonderful pears they had. Newsboys came in and shook hands and informed me that pears was right up this town's alley. Over at the train a couple of hours later in came a lot of fine wholesome friendly people all telling me that pears from there was [as good as] melons from Rocky Ford. The owner and two reporters from the other paper came to the depot and they asked me if I knew that Medford was noted for its wonderful pears. Now I am not criticizing this. It was all done in such a proud way that it made you know these folks had a town, but most of all they had pears. And the thing that made it all the more enjoyable is that it was done by just everybody you would meet and not by the Chamber of Commerce.
    I didn't even see the Secretary of the Chamber. So you see it wasn't any organized effort to poke pears down a visitor's throat by the better element. These folks just wanted you to know they raised pears.
    I hadn't eaten any lunch on the plane, and it was then late in the afternoon. I had had two and a half hours of steady pears, but NO PEARS. Just one lone pear distributed in the right spot could have done the Medford pear industry more good than lip service from the total population. But not a soul dug up a pear. Some school boys and girls that knew me from the movies came to the train to tell me of pears, but brought no evidence. It's a beautiful little city, fine folks, but I don't think there is a pear in the country.
Black River Democrat, Lowville, New York, December 17, 1931 page 1



ROGERS AND POST PASS OVER HERE
    Wiley Post, stratosphere flier, and [Will Rogers, newspaper humorist and] movie actor, who are planning a flight over the North Pole to Russia, passed over the Medford airport yesterday afternoon about 4 o'clock.
    Local reporters, having heard the famous pair intended to spend the night in Medford, were all atwitter and expecting to meet the famous pair, but plans took them high over Medford.
    Efforts were made to get a box of pears for Will Rogers, who had a lot to say last time he was here because he didn't get any pears. There wasn't a ripe pear in the valley, either this year's crop or last year's crop.
Excerpt, Medford News, July 26, 1935, page 1



DEATH OF ROGERS RECALLS MEDFORD CALL
IN NOVEMBER, 1931
    Will Rogers, famed comedian and humorist, who met death with Wiley Post late yesterday in an airplane crash in Alaska, was a Medford visitor for a few hours in November, 1931. Bad weather caused the plane, on which he was flying to Seattle to take a liner for Japan, to be grounded here. That evening he took a train north. Later Rogers flew to Europe.
    During his short stay Rogers held an informal reception in the Mail Tribune office and greeted scores of Medford and Jackson County people who flocked to this paper when the news spread like wildfire that the distinguished man was in town.
    The following day at Portland, in an interview, Rogers uttered a wisecrack that gave worldwide publicity to this city:
    "I was in Medford yesterday afternoon. That's the prize pear-growing section of the country. Everybody talked about pears, but nobody offered me any."
    In his weekly feature letter, later, he devoted almost his entire contribution to good-natured twitting of this section for the incident.
    Rogers greeted all comers in the Mail Tribune and "joshed" his guests with the lightheartedness that won him fame. He talked of his world travels, his meetings with famous men of Europe and America, and was the soul of good nature. He strolled about the city for an hour before coming to the Mail Tribune, where he was recognized.
    The daily writings of Rogers have been a feature of the Mail Tribune for many years. His pictures were immensely popular with movie fans of this city.
Excerpt, Medford Mail Tribune, August 16, 1925, page 1




    I dropped off in Frisco to tend to some business early the next morning and caught a plane out of there at eleven the next morning, and then to Seattle at five in the afternoon. That's a pretty trip. The pilots in the big Boeing just scraped Mt. Shasta. Snow all over the old anthill. We flew right up and over what I think they call the Redwood Highway. [It was the Pacific Highway.] Lots of pretty little towns nestled back in little valleys and canyons. First stop out of Sacramento was Medford, Oregon, where a few days before some ambitious reporter had sent out a U.P. dispatch that he had seen Wiley Post and me flying over there, when we were at that time crossing Arizona. So this time he is liable to report that I arrived there by horse and buggy.
    Say, there is some mountains over that route. South of Medford, north of Medford, that's the town where they raise the fine pears. I was forced down there on my previous flight to Vancouver and they kept telling me about the fine pears and I afterwards wrote about them, but said they never did offer me any, they just kept telling how great they was. Well, sir, when I returned from around the world, they sent me practically all they raised in the valley that year, I think. Every time a box would come it would be more pears, and better pears (if possible).
Excerpt, Daily Inter Lake, Kalispell, Montana, August 21, 1935, page 4
  Rogers and Wiley Post died in a plane crash on August 15, six days before this column appeared.



Last revised August 29, 2009