By Lori Boyd
She spent a day at the zoo with “Rocky” Lane, played gin rummy between film sets with “Dobe” Carey, sat in on rehearsals with the Sons of the Pioneers and shared mayonnaise sandwiches with Trigger, “The Smartest Horse in the Movies.” The famous couple known around the world as “The Queen of the West” and “The King of the Cowboys,” were, to her, simply Mom and Dad.
Cheryl Rogers-Barnett, daughter of cowboy legend Roy Rogers and western star Dale Evans, has childhood memories that could themselves be scenes from a movie. From spending time in the company of celebrities such as ‘Gabby’ Hayes and Jane Russell to watching Keith Larson play the role of Brave Eagle in her own front yard, Cheryl grew up under the lights of the Golden Age of Hollywood. As a small child, she would often go with her father to the studio, at times filming commercials while Roy filmed segments for his television shows. “That was my playground, and the people that worked there were my baby-sitters,” Rogers-Barnett explains.
Her life had forever changed during one moment in 1940 when, as an infant, she reached up and grabbed hold of Roy Rogers’ finger during his visit to the Hope Cottage orphanage in Dallas, Texas. Rogers-Barnett became Roy’s first adopted daughter and, as the oldest of his children, had a part in many of the activities and events that took place throughout his career.
“I don’t remember not being aware that dad was Roy Rogers,” she says. However, she has a unique and personal insight into the man he was.
The public saw a side of Roy Rogers that reflected greatness: a gifted musician, a handsome actor, a talented horseman, a skilled hunter and a true humanitarian. As his daughter, Cheryl saw those traits and much more. He was someone who loved to sing in the car as he drove and eat mayo on his pancakes; a man who enjoyed surprises, flea markets and milkshakes from Dairy Queen; a “country boy in the big city” with a mischievous sense of humor, a deep concern for people and a genuine appreciation for his fans.
When Cheryl was seven and half years old, a year following the death of her adoptive mother, Arline, Roy married Dale Evans. “She had always been my hero,” Cheryl admits, and recalls going into Dale’s dressing room and even playing in her make-up on occasion. Still, it took a period of adjustment for Cheryl to come to accept Dale as her new mother. As time passed, they became friends and came to share many of the same personality traits. In Dale Evans, audiences saw a beautiful film star and Broadway actress. They would later come to know her as a successful song writer and published author. As her daughter, Cheryl saw those things and much more. She saw Dale as a woman with a strong spirit and a personality characterized by determination; someone who consistently “rose to the occasion” and whose faith helped her through difficult times; a list-maker with a sincere desire to cook and do the housekeeping (albeit with a “Ma Kettle” twist, as described by Cheryl’s husband, Larry Barnett, with a laugh).
On the big screen, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans became role models for children and adults around the world. They portrayed characters of integrity; characters with compassion but who also had the strength and courage to stand up for what was right. Roy came to represent the true American cowboy: the hero who always chose good over bad.
“When you watched his movies, there was no question about whether he was going to do the right thing. He never let you down,” says Cheryl. Children everywhere wanted to look like Roy, talk like Roy, and “save the day” like Roy and he didn’t let them down off screen either. The roles he played in the movies and on television were reflective of the man he was in real life. “Roy was very concerned with his influence on kids. He felt a responsibility to them,” adds Larry. Country music singer Randy Travis wrote this about Roy Rogers after he and his wife met Roy for the first time: “As my wife and I listened to his stories, I saw that the Roy Rogers we saw onscreen—cowboy outfit, white hat, high morals—was the same in person.”
Tennesseans have several unique connections to the King of Cowboys of which they can be proud. His famous horse, Trigger Jr., a palomino and full-blooded Tennessee Walking horse, was bred in Readyville, just east of Murfreesboro. Trigger Jr. was the horse Roy used mainly in personal appearances, known for his dancing and clever tricks. Roy and Dale visited DuPont Grammar School, in Hermitage, to present them with the National School Safety award for the 1957-1958 school year, a campaign sponsored by Roy Rogers and the National Safety Council. Roy also performed several times as a guest on the Grand Ole Opry and in 1990 his tribute album was recorded and produced in Nashville with other leading musicians. He is the only person to have been inducted twice into the Country Music Hall of Fame, first in 1980 as a member of the original Sons of the Pioneers and then in 1988 as an individual for his personal career successes.
In Cheryl’s book, Cowboy Princess, she allows readers a glimpse into her life as the daughter of Western royalty. She remembers thinking, “I could never write a book,” but with the full support of Larry and a foreword written by Dale, she completed the work and has given the world a heart-warming tribute to her legendary parents.
Her latest published work entitled, The All-American Cowboy Grill, is a cookbook written in collaboration with Ken Beck and Jim Clark. The cookbook not only provides recipes from some of Hollywood’s best known cowboy and western stars, but also includes pictures, quotes, and many fascinating extras. The recipe for G-G’s salad, one of Dale’s best dishes, is one of many family recipes that can be found in the cookbook. About the salad, Cheryl has two bits of advice: “You have to use a wooden bowl and you have to put it together in the steps that it says. It is wonderful!”
The years 2011 and 2012 mark what would have been the 100th birthdays of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. Cheryl and Larry have been traveling across the country attending film festivals and events sharing memories of America’s beloved singing cowboy and cowgirl. “We want to keep the Roy and Dale legacy alive along with the Cowboy, and not let it die,” Larry explains. Their desire is that the 100th birthday celebrations will generate enough interest to do more. “Hopefully we’ll get a revival going,” Cheryl says. “All little kids drink Shirley Temple and Roy Rogers drinks, they just don’t know why.”
The trail that Cheryl is blazing today is characterized by fond recollections of what once was and the hope for what can be again. It is a trail that is meant to reach the hearts of a new generation as well as revisit the memories of Western fans from days gone by…and it is a happy trail, indeed.
To contact Cheryl Rogers-Barnett, and to find out where to buy her books or more about upcoming events, visit www.cherylrogers.co.