King of the Cowboys Roy Rogers strummed his way to stardom

November 5, 1911

On this day Leonard Slye, better known by millions as Roy Rogers, King of the Cowboys, was born in Cincinnati just a little to the left of second base in a tenement where Riverfront Stadium stands today .

It was music, not horsemanship that vaulted the high school dropout Slye into stardom.  As Roy Rogers, (right) he made more than 100 movies, dozens of radio and television shows and helped found the legendary Western singing group, Sons of the Pioneers.

 His transition to in all things Western didn’t begin until he landed in California in 1929.  After driving a gravel truck for the state and  picking fruit for DelMonte he won a spot in the local Western band, Rocky Mountaineers, wearing a homemade cowboy shirt.  

He strummed and yodeled as a member of half a dozen bands with names like Cowboys International, O-Bar-O Cowboys and the Texas Outlaws, he formed the Son’s Trio with two other musicians before becoming the Sons of the Pioneers.

Early Sons of the Pioneers

The band hit pay dirt with their recording, “Tumbling Tumbleweed” and got Rogers noticed.  He began appearing in Western movies, some with future rival Gene Autry under his Slye.  When Autry became too expensive for the studios, however, he was quickly rebranded as Roy Rogers as a cost-saving measure.

Rogers popularity increased during the 1940s, listed by Box Office as the top earning Western star for nine consecutive years from 1943 to 1952.   

He married former big band singer Dale Evans (right) on New Years Eve in 1947, after the death of his second wife, Grace Arlene Wilkins the year before.  It was his third marriage and Evan’s fourth, but it would be a partnership that lasted a lifetime. His other most significant partnership began in 1943, when the burgeoning film star purchased his golden Palomino, Trigger

By 1950 television had replaced radio and the telegenic trio of Rogers, Evans and Trigger, expanded to include side kick and Sons of the Pioneers veteran, Pat Brady, (right) Dale’s horse Buttermilk, ranch dog Bullet and  an incongruous jeep named Nellybelle. The show’s theme song, “Happy Trails” written by Evans was selected as one of the 100 best Western songs of all time by the Western Writers of America.

The couple was well-known for their support of children’s charities and they advocated for adoption.  Outspoken about their religious faith, they were part of the Hollywood Christian Group, which founded the Bel Air Church.

Rogers died of congestive heart failure July 6, 1998 at 87.  Evans outlived Rogers by three years.  The Roy Rogers-Dale Evans Museum in Victorville, California, founded in 1967 was relocated to Branson, Missouri five years later.  It was predictably an unwise move and the museum soon closed and its contents auctioned off at Sotheby’s.

Their legacy has not disappeared, however.  Together the pair has a total of five stars on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame; Rogers for radio, film and television and Evans for radio and television.  They both are in the  Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.  Rogers was elected twice to the Country Music Hall of Fame as a founding member of Sons of the Pioneers.  Roy Rogers’ boyhood home was commemorated with a marker in 2000.  The Slye family moved near Lucasville, Ohio, when Rogers was eight and lived there until 1930.  The marker is located north of the intersection with Mohawk Drive (County Road 524), four miles west of Lucasville. For information go to’s Historical Markers, Marker #4-73.

© Text Only – 2018 – Headin’ West LLC  – All photos – public domain or fair use.

*Head On West strives for historic accuracy and uses a number of sources considered reliable.  When research differs on significant facts, the various points of view will be cited.