Dale Evans (1912 – 2001)

Dale Evans on Buttermilk, Roy Rogers on Trigger.

In 2021, weblog posts were published about women songwriter-singers. Today, I would like to remember Dale Evans (1912-10-31 – 2001-02-07). She was a regular feature in my childhood as a television star of the Roy Rogers Show, which consisted of 100 episodes, originally shown from 1951 to 1957. Since, we only acquired a television in 1957, I must have watched these as re-runs. Set in and near a fictional Mineral City, Roy Rogers (1911 – 1998) appeared as a ranch owner, Dale Evans as the proprietress of the Eureka Café and Hotel. My personal favourite was Pat Brady (1914 – 1972), Roy’s sidekick and Dale’s cook. While there were animal stars such as Roy’s horse, Trigger, and dog, Bullet, as well as Dale’s horse, Buttermilk, it was Brady’s Jeep Nellybelle, that fascinated me most. The series included a mixture of 19th and 20th century technology.

Evans was born Frances Octavia Smith, but recorded as Lucille Wood Smith, in Uvalde, Texas. At the age of fourteen she eloped with her first husband, Thomas Frederick Fox in 1927, giving birth to a son, Tommy, at the age of fifteen in 1928 (?). It was a short lived marriage, ending in divorce in 1929. After this, she changed her name to Dale Evans. She then consecutively married and divorced two other husbands, in childless marriages: August Wayne Johns (married in 1929; divorced in 1935) and Robert Dale Butts (married in 1937; divorced in 1946).

Roy Rogers, who was born Leonard Franklin Slye in Cincinnati, Ohio. He was first known as one of the founders of the Western/ country singing group, Sons of the Pioneers, founded in 1933, and continuing to the present, but with an evolving membership. Rogers also performed in over 100 films. The initial Roy Rogers Show, was for radio from 1944 to 1955.

His first marriage to Lucile Ascolese in 1933 was childless, ending with divorce in 1936. In his second marriage to Grace Arline Wilkins in 1936, he and his wife adopted a daughter, Cheryl, followed by two children of their own, Linda Lou and Roy Rogers, Jr. later known as Dusty. Arline, died from complications after Dusty’s birth, in 1946.

Evans and Rogers married in 1947. They had one child together, Robin Elizabeth, born in 1949, who died in 1951 (?), of complications of Down syndrome shortly before her second birthday. Evans wrote a bestselling Angel Unaware (1953), that influences public perceptions of children with developmental disabilities. Angel Unaware is written from Robin’s perspective of life as she looks down from heaven. She speaks to God about the mission of love she just completed on earth. The reader sees how she brought her parents closer to God and encouraged them to help other children in need. This book initiated a change in the way Americans treated children with special needs. Evans served as a role model for many parents.

Later, Evans and Rogers adopted Mary Little Doe (Dodie), of Native American heritage: John David (Sandy), a battered child from an orphanage in Kentucky; Marion (Mimi), a foster child from Scotland; and Debbie, a Korean War orphan whose father was a G.I. of Puerto Rican ancestry. In addition to Robin, two other children died tragically: Debbie, in a church bus accident when she was twelve, and Sandy of an accidental death while serving with the military in Germany.

Both Evans and Rogers were very public Christians and members of the Republican party, as were many of their contemporaries.

As a songwriter, Evans authored about 200 songs. Her most popular was the Roy Rogers television show theme song, Happy Trails, released in 1952. It is based on another song with the same name, and the first three notes, written in 1951 by Foy Willing (1914 – 1978). Quicksilver Messenger Service released an album called Happy Trails (1969), on which the song appears.

I have fond memories of Dale Evans as she appeared on television, but I have no intention of watching any reruns. It was hard enough making it through a slow paced Happy Trails theme song!

Note: At one time there was a Roy Rogers-Dale Evans Museum in Victorville, California. In 2003, it moved to Branson, Missouri. It closed in 2015.

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