Sunday, November 6, 2011


The King of the Cowboys, that is:

Roy Rogers, the King of the Cowboys, was actually born in the city. It was in Cincinnati, Ohio, on November 5, 1911, that Leonard Slye (later to be known as Roy Rogers) was born to Mattie and Andy Slye. Years later, the building where he was born was torn down to make way for Riverfront Stadium (recently renamed Cinergy Field), the home of the Cincinnati Reds baseball team. Roy liked to say that he was born right where second base is now located. But the Slye family was never cut out for city life, so a few months after Roy was born, Andy Slye moved his family to Portsmouth, Ohio (a hundred miles east of Cincinnati), where they lived on the houseboat that he and Roy's uncle built. When Roy was seven years old his father decided it was time they settled on solid ground, so he bought a small farm in nearby Duck Run. Living on a farm meant long hours and hard work, but no matter how hard they worked the land there was little money to be made. Roy often said that about all they could raise on their farm were rocks. Eventually Andy Slye realized that he'd have to return to his old factory job at the United States Shoe Company in Cincinnati if he was going to be able to support his family. Since his father would be able to return home only on weekends, this meant that even more of the responsibilities for farm chores fell onto Roy's young shoulders.

Mattie Slye suffered from lameness as a result of the polio she had contracted as a child, and Roy always marveled at the way she was able to raise four active children (Roy and his sisters, Mary, Cleda, and Kathleen) despite her disability. Still, farm life agreed with Roy, who often rode to school on Babe, the old, sulky racehorse his father had bought for him. According to Roy, "We lived so far out in the country, they had to pipe sunlight to us." Living on the farm meant they had to make their own entertainment, since radio was in its earliest days and television was far in the future. On Saturday nights the Slye family often invited some of their neighbors over for a square dance, during which Roy would sing and play the mandolin. Before long he became skilled at calling square dances, and throughout the years he always enjoyed finding opportunities to showcase this talent in his films and television appearances.

It was also while he was growing up on the farm in Duck Run that Roy learned to yodel. Andy Slye had brought home a cylinder player (the predecessor to the phonograph) along with some cylinders, including one by a Swiss yodeler. Roy played that cylinder again and again and soon began developing his own yodeling style. Before long, Roy and his mother worked out a way of communicating with each other by using different types of yodels. Mattie would use one type of yodel to let Roy know that it was time for lunch, another to warn that a storm was brewing, and still another to call him in at the end of the day. Roy would then relay that message to his sisters by yodeling across the fields to them.

By the time Roy had completed his second year of high school, it was clear that their farm would never support the family, so he made the difficult decision to drop out of school and take a job with his father at the shoe factory in Cincinnati. Roy quickly discovered that factory work was just as hot, monotonous, and unpleasant for him as it was for his father. Since his older sister Mary had married and moved to Lawndale, California (close to Los Angeles), Roy and his father decided they should quit their jobs, pack up the car, and take the family out to visit her. Somehow their old car held together, and they eventually made it to Lawndale. (The old Dodge family car in which they made that trip is now on display at The Roy Rogers-Dale Evans Museum.) After a four-month visit the Slye family returned to Cincinnati, but by now the cold Ohio winters couldn't compete with the lure of California's warmer climate. A few months later Roy returned to Southern California, where the rest of his family soon joined him. Although the Depression was growing worse by the day, Roy and his father had hoped that jobs would be easier to find on the West Coast than they were in Ohio. However, California turned out to be just as hard hit as the rest of the country. Jobs were hard to come by, and they didn't tend to last very long. Roy worked at anything he could find, including driving a gravel truck on a highway construction crew until the truck's owner went bankrupt. In the spring of 1931 Roy went up to Tulare (located in central California's farm belt), where he picked peaches for Del Monte and lived in the same labor camps John Steinbeck wrote about so powerfully in his classic novel, "The Grapes Of Wrath".

To read the rest of Roy Rogers' bio, head over to The Official Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Website for the rest of the story about The King of the Cowboys.

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