From the book “Roy Rogers and Dale Evans - Happy Trails” - with Carlton Stowers [writing in italics] - 1979
The years immediately following Dales and Roy's marriage was a time of great prosperity for the King of the Cowboys. He seemed to have a death lock on the position of number-one Western box office draw, a state of affairs which, with a little urging from Art Rush, prompted Republic to sign him to a second seven-year contract at a one-hundred percent salary increase. A seventeen-day rodeo appearance in Chicago netted him a staggering three hundred thousand dollars, and hundreds of theaters across the country were waiting in line for him to appear on their stages. With Art Rush, who had also returned to managing Dale's affairs, taking full advantage of a clause in Roy's contract which gave him all rights to his name, voice, and likeness for commercial tie-ups, Roy Rogers merchandise was hard to avoid. In addition to such items as charm bracelets, neckerchiefs, toy guns, lariats, clothing, and games, millions of comic books were being sold: four Roy Rogers novels were being published annually; Roy Rogers songbooks were hot items. And there was the newly-opened Roy Rogers Dude Ranch near Las Vegas.
Over two thousand fan clubs were in operation in the United States, and a chapter in London reported fifty thousand fans— the largest individual fan club in the world. Anxious to make the clubs meaningful, Roy had his staff organize meetings to be held in theaters, and requested that Bill Alexander, the minister who had married him and Dale, write a 'Cowboy's Prayer" which could be used to open the meetings of the Roy Rogers Rider's Club, which grew to over five million members. From his organizational efforts sprang a nationwide Roy Rogers Safety Awards program, which stressed caution to elementary-school students the nation over.
Walt Disney Studios borrowed Roy and the Sons of the Pioneers to star in a movie entitled Melody Time, and something of a Hollywood landmark was reached when Roy Rogers and Trigger were asked to put their hand and hoof prints in the cement courtyard of the famed Grauman’s Chinese Theater. The results of a survey made by Life magazine, asking children what person they would most like to resemble, were split among Franklin Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, and Roy Rogers.
Soon he and Dale would begin appearing on a weekly "Roy Rogers Show," sponsored by Quaker Oats for the Mutual radio network. And though Dale Evans would be replaced by such names as Jane Frazee, Francis Ford, and Adele Mara in her husband's movies in 1948, she remained a familiar and popular part of his personal appearance act, riding her horse Pal, a Trigger look-alike purchased for her by Roy.
Things were moving so fast that I was having a hard time keeping up with them. It was, to say the least, an exciting time. Soon I was back making movies with Roy, the studio having evidently decided that no box office disasters would occur if husband and wife were teamed together. We were doing recordings together for RCA Victor, some of them my own compositions like "May the Good Lord Take a Likin' to You," "Hazy Mountain," and "Aha, San Antone," which sold over two hundred thousand copies. We had the radio show to do, personal appearances to make, and occasionally a much-needed rest stop.
The latter, it seemed, was always of short duration. Still, our home life prospered. Our family drew closer together, and, in a sense, expanded when, much to my delight, Tom and Barbara were married.
Then, shortly after our second anniversary, I heard some news I had never expected to hear again. During a physical examination I took just before Roy and I were married, the doctor had told me that there was no chance of my having any more children without undergoing extensive surgery. But in December of 1949, my gynecologist told me, "I don't care what you've been told. Unless I've somehow forgotten what I've learned about my business, you are approximately six weeks pregnant." Roy and I were both delighted.
It was not an easy pregnancy. In my second month I came down with a case of German measles. Twice the doctor ordered me to bed to prevent the possibility of miscarriage. A blood count taken in my seventh month showed that I was Rh negative and Roy was positive, a situation which could present some problems for the baby but which the doctors felt they could take care of.
Every new problem only made me more aware of how badly I wanted this baby. The difficulties and the discomfort would be a small price to pay for the baby I dearly hoped would be a girl.
My wish came true on August 26, 1950, when seven-and-one-half-pound Robin Elizabeth Rogers came into the world in the delivery room of Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital.
After spending most of the night pacing the floor, Roy rode as the Grand Marshal of the Sheriff's Rodeo the following day, and immodestly informed ninety thousand people that he was the proud father of a new baby girl. Returning to the hospital that evening, he stopped by the nursery window before coming to my room.
"Honey," he said, "she's beautiful; she's got little ears just like yours."
It was hard to imagine being any happier. We couldn't know how quickly our world could turn upside down.
Roy Rogers, his face paled and his eyes mirroring pain, replaced the receiver and looked in the direction of Art Rush. For a moment there was a discomforting silence. Then Roy said, "She knows."
Only an hour earlier, filled with the excitement and relief that generally accompanies the doctor's announcement that mother and child can be dismissed, he had been making preparations to go to the hospital and pick up his wife and new daughter, Robin. But before he left, a call had come from Art, advising him that it was urgent that they talked before he went to the hospital.
Carrying out the most difficult task his position as manager and close friend had ever demanded, Art Rush had brought tragic news. For several days a team of specialists had conducted endless tests on the new Rogers child, and had concluded that she was suffering from Mongolism, a congenital condition which involves mental retardation and physical malformation. There was also evidence of a heart condition. Once certain of their diagnosis, the doctors had informed Art, seeking his advice on how the parents should be told.
"It seemed too cruelly wrong," Art says, "for something like that to be happening to two people like Roy and Dale, people who had worked so hard to help afflicted youngsters in hospitals and orphanages, people who had put their faith in God and lived Christian lives. When I heard the news it was, without question, the lowest and most desperate moment of my life. But someone had to tell Roy."
Together they would determine how best to break the news to Dale. She had, immediately after Robins birth, been assured that all was well. When, in days past, she had voiced mild concern over the fact that she had been allowed only short visits with her baby while other mothers were allowed far more time, she had simply been told that little Robin needed her rest. But up until the day she was to be released from the hospital, Dale had been given no real reason to expect the crushing news that was to come.
Even as Roy and Art talked she was enthusiastically preparing to leave, when one of the nurses stopped by. "Are they going to let you take the baby home with you?" she innocently asked. Dales heart began to pound.
"Is there any reason why I shouldn't?"
A look of horror immediately spread across the nurses face. Dale's response was proof enough that she had no indication her child was not completely healthy and normal. The visiting nurse broke into tears. "Mrs. Rogers," she said, "I'm so sorry. I thought you knew . . . "
"You had best let your doctor tell you," the nurse said. "I'm so very sorry. I've made a terrible mistake." And with that she ran from the room.
Dale, terrified, reached for the nearby telephone and called her husband. Yes, Roy gently told her, something was wrong. He had just found out about it himself and was on his way to the hospital.
I have never seen the kind of inner strength shown by Dale once the shock of the doctor's news had passed. Oh, she cried— we both did—and spent a lot of sleepless nights at first, but as soon as she had been told of the situation she just rolled up her sleeves and went to work to do whatever was necessary.
The doctors explained Robin's condition to us in a very straightforward manner, making it clear that they had reached their combined decision only after doing all the tests they had available to them. They told us that she had not responded well in the tests. Her muscle tone was poor; she was listless most of the time and had great difficulty eating. All of the physical characteristics of a Mongoloid child were there.
Aware that their judgment was painful, they went on to explain that the lifespan of children with such a condition was often short and suggested it might be better for everyone concerned if Robin was placed in a hospital where she could receive professional care. They knew, they said, that to suggest parents give up a newborn child sounded cruel, but to do so might save even greater sorrow in time to come. The most discouraging news was that medical science had found no cure for Mongolism.
We were both heartsick at the news, angry at the medical profession for not having found a way to make our baby healthy, and frustrated by the decision the doctors had told us we were facing. Suddenly the world seemed to have turned upside down. One minute we were anxiously anticipating taking our new baby home and the next, men of great knowledge in such matters were advising us to send her away.
Dale was crying as I had never seen her cry. I knelt down beside here bed. "Honey," I said, "God sent little Robin to us and he'll help us take care of her. We're all going home."
It was a decision reached without benefit of medical knowledge or, really, even a good idea of what to expect, but it was one we've never regretted. In fact, it still frightens me to think of what an empty spot in our lives there would have been if we had followed the recommendation given us that evening in the hospital.
Which isn't to say we were able to resign ourselves to the doctors' diagnosis. We constantly looked for signs—any signs— which might prove them wrong. Maybe the narrow, slanted eyes were a common characteristic of Mongolism, but I had narrow, slanted eyes myself, and so did my sisters. We sought out other specialists, praying to find one who would tell us all the others were mistaken. We did a great deal of whistling in the dark.
It took a conversation with the head pediatrician at the Mayo Clinic to convince us to stop chasing rainbows and get on with the business of living life the way it was and the way it would be. I had taken a number of photographs of Robin with me for him to look at, hoping he might detect something which would prompt him to suggest we bring her in to see him. He looked at the pictures for only a few seconds. "It would be," he said, "a waste of your time to bring her here. And very demanding on the child. There's nothing I can do to help you."
I thanked him and was preparing to leave when he stopped me. "Mr. Rogers," he said, "if I might, I'd like to suggest something. Just go home and love her. She's a special little girl, you know, and she needs your love. I know. I've got one just like her at home."
Love was something Robin was getting in large helpings. Dale watched over her constantly, doing everything within her power to see that the new baby was well taken care of. Despite the fact that we had, on the advice of the doctor, hired a full-time nurse for Robin, it was Dale who was there to walk with her when she cried in the night. It was Dale who encouraged Robin to grip a small sterilized perfume bottle filled with milk and fitted with a miniature nipple. Day or night, even the slightest whimper from Robin had her mother at her side.
The concern of others was also very apparent. The press had been told only that Robin had been born with a congenital heart ailment, and letters of concern poured in from people promising prayers and offering words of support.
And the other children immediately took their fragile little sister to their hearts, constantly watching over her, ever ready to help with her baths or feedings. It gave me great joy to see how their attitude toward Dale had also changed.
They had no doubt sensed the hurt in Dale when she returned home, and each in his and her own way tried to do what he or she could to lift her spirits. Cheryl picked some wild flowers and placed them on Dale's bed with a note attached saying, "I love you," and Dusty colored a large picture of Pal, Dale's horse, and left it on her dressing table inscribed, "To my Mother." Linda outlined her hand on a piece of cardboard and sprayed it silver as her love offering.
If there was any doubt remaining in Dale's mind about her being fully accepted by the children, it disappeared on Mother's Day. Cheryl presented her with a card bearing the following message:
Thanks a lot for all the things that you've done for me. You've straightened me out on a lot of things I was alone in. And when I needed comforting and experienced advice, you were always there to tell me what I wanted to know. You came to live with us at rather a bad time, with Daddy so sad, and two little girls who were naughty, and a little boy who needed a mother's love that he had never known, and that the youngest of those girls had had for only three years. The older girl, when she was smaller, always kept her sorrows and problems in her, and even when you had problems of your own you were always there by our sides and you helped make our Daddy a Christian. I can't find anything fancy to say, but thanks from all of us and we really, really love you.
To this day Dale still has that card. I'm pleased that she has. Almost as pleased as I am that my daughter wrote it.
When our business manager and Art suggested a six-weeks road tour, which they felt should include Dale, she initially refused, pointing out the need for her to remain home with Robin. It was a tour unlike any we had done in years, and her initial suspicions were that it had been designed just to get her away from the daily pressures of tending the baby.
"A Western variety show booked into smaller cities in the middle of the winter," she said, standing her ground, "doesn't even make sense."
It was Jim Osborne, a business manager who believes in stating the facts, who persuaded her just as he had earlier persuaded me. For several weeks a potential problem had been brewing with Republic Studios, and there was a very real danger the problem could develop into one which could be financially disastrous. Republic had announced plans to sell a series of my earlier movies to television—a direct violation of my contract—and the entire matter was up in the air. Osborne, who looked after the running of Roy Rogers Enterprises, admitted fear that allowing Republic to go through with such a deal could prove disastrous for us.
So Jim talked plain dollars and cents to Dale. While he knew she had plenty to worry about, he said, it was a hard cold fact that things could get bad if Republic was allowed to carry out its plan. And since the expenses of a full-time nurse and medical attention for Robin were claiming a large amount of our earnings, the tour, which would gross something in the neighborhood of two hundred eighty thousand dollars, was necessary.
Thus, once convinced by the doctors that it would be a good idea for Robin to stay with our nurse at her home in the valley where it was warmer and drier, Dale agreed. We finished taping several of our radio shows, rehearsed some new songs, and were soon on our way, with a touring company of thirty-five, for a bus caravan through the Midwest.
Our last stop before leaving town was at the doctor's office, where Dale was again assured that Robin, despite the fact her heart condition had been diagnosed as serious, would be in no danger while we were gone.
Back in the car, Dale let her reservations about the trip surface for the first time in weeks. "If only," she said, "someone would give us some hope." I reached over to the glove compartment, pulled out a small Bible, and handed it to her. She smiled, gave me a quick kiss, and nodded. We were on our way.
Aside from an accident near Hamburg, Iowa, in which the horse van I had designed for Trigger went through a lot of crazy motions, the trip went fine. My trainer Glenn Randall was making his way to Saint Jo, where we were scheduled to perform, when the trailer threw a wheel. The animals were quite shaken up; Trigger wasn't injured, but Bullet, a trained German shepherd we had been using in our last few movies, suffered a broken tail and spent what was to be his first live performance in the vet's office.
By the time we returned to California, we had appeared in twenty-six cities and traveled twenty thousand miles. And during the hectic six weeks, never a night went by that we didn't make two long distance phone calls—one to the kids at home, the other to Robin's nurse.
Robin was never out of our minds, but the trip did Dale a world of good. With things like rehearsals, travel arrangements, and the myriad other responsibilities that go with keeping a road show on the road, she stayed busy. The tension which had been with her constantly since returning from the hospital began to disappear.
And while we both missed our own kids, we made it a point to visit as many youngsters in hospitals along the way as possible. Believe me, you'll never find a more appreciative audience than a children's ward, or play to a group that tugs at your heart so strongly. For instance, at St. Luke's Hospital in Aberdeen, South Dakota, after our last song and handshake, the entire polio ward broke into tears when we announced that we had to be going. Walking out that door, you can rest assured, was no easy chore.
By the time we got back home, both of us had matured in our thinking about how best to care for Robin. When the nurse who had been working for us became ill and no longer able to work, we soon hired a lady who insisted that it would be best for her to keep Robin in her home at least for a while. Her reasons were valid and in the best interest of our daughter, but I doubt that we would have even considered it earlier, no matter how convincing she was.
But we had already discussed finding a place in the valley where the climate was warmer and the air dryer, something Robin dearly needed. So we agreed to let the nurse take her into her home until we made the move. Dale saw to it that that time wasn't long in coming.
Soon we moved into a Spanish-style ranch house in the San Fernando Valley. It was as close to perfection as we could make it. There was room for everyone, a swimming pool, a vegetable garden, a fruit orchard and a comfortable place for the dogs. The most special aspect of the newly named five-acre Double R Bar Ranch, however, was a small private apartment built especially by my dad and uncle for Robin. There, where she would live with her nurse, she could enjoy the quiet and privacy which the doctors said was necessary because of her tendency to become nervous at the slightest disturbance.
When she was ten months old she moved into her new quarters. The Rogers family, much to the delight of everyone, were all back under the same roof. The move seemed to do Robin a world of good. Her muscle control had shown improvement, and it was possible to put her in a stroller and make a tour of the ranch occasionally, letting her watch the dogs and the ducks and the chickens and the other children. She would sit with Dale at the piano, enjoying the soft music her mother would play. The sight of Dusty or Cheryl or Linda was all that was necessary to bring a sparkle to her little blue eyes.
For all her problems, her frailty, her handicaps, she was a happy, loving little girl who spread a warmth throughout our family I will not even attempt to describe. Suffice it to say Robin Elizabeth Rogers was someone special, and everyone in our home knew it. She was, as Dale had often said, more like an angel than a human being. The description was as accurate as it was beautiful. She brought a rare kind of peace to our home. I can remember so many evenings that I would get home from the studio, tired and not in the best mood in the world, and would go straight out to see her. There in her little house, as I talked with her and played with her, everything would suddenly be okay. More than once Dale mentioned having the same feeling after spending time with Robin.
There was one thing the doctors missed on. They had told us that if a child does not smile by the time it is three months old, there is a strong likelihood that, because of the mental retardation, it never will. But Robin had a beautiful smile, and used it often.
Shortly after our move Dale received a call from Father Harley Wright Smith of the St. Nicholas Episcopal Church in Encino, inviting us to attend Sunday services. "I'm interested in you," he said, "and that baby. I want you to know that I feel you did the right thing by bringing her home with you. God has a real purpose for that child, and I'm certain you will learn wonderful lessons from her."
We were soon regular visitors to Father Smith's church and, when Robin was sixteen months old, she was dedicated and baptized there. At the same time Dale, Cheryl, Linda, and I were confirmed and joined the church.
MUCH MORE SINCE THOSE DAYS HAS BEEN LEARNED ABOUT WHAT IS NOW CALLED “DOWN-SYNDROME” CHILDREN. YOU CAN CHECK IT ALL OUT ON THE INTERNET.
I BECAME FAMILIAR WITH DONW-SYNDROME CHILDREN AND ADULTS, WAY BACK IN THE 1960s WHILE LEARNING THE TRADE OF ORTHOPAEDIC HAND MADE SHOES FOR THOSE WITH SMALL TO VERY LARGE FOOT PROBLEMS. THE HAND-MADE SHOE DEPARTMENT WAS ONE SECTION OF WHAT TODAY IS CALLED “THE ABILITIES COUNCIL” OF SASKATCHEWAN, CANADA. IT WAS BASED IN SASKATOON. THEY HAD SHELTERED WORKSHOPS FOR THE MENTALLY AND PHYSICALLY CHALLENGED IN VARIOUS DEGREES.
I WAS IN MY 20s WHILE WORKING THERE AND BEING TAUGHT FROM A TO Z THE HAND-MADE SHOES/BOOTS TRADE. THE COMPANY HAD A NUMBER OF DOWN SYNDROME ADULTS IN THE SHELTERED WORKSHOPS.
IN THE YEARS I WAS THERE, I FOUND THE DOWN-SYDROME PEOPLE TO BE THE FRIENDLIEST, HAPPIEST, “GIVE ME A HUG” AND QUICK TO SMILE, PEOPLE I’VE KNOWN. THEY ARE ALWAYS UP-BEAT AND SO FRIENDLY. IT REALLY IS A PLEASURE TO BE AROUND THEM.
FOR THOSE COUPLES WANTING TO ADOPT MORE THAN ONE CHILD, CONSIDER A DOWN-SYNDROME CHILD. YES THERE ARE MANY OTHER HEALTH ISSUES THAT MAY COME WITH DOWN-SYNDROME, SO OBVIOUSLY ADOPTION IS NOT FOR EVERY CHILDLESS COUPLE. THE EMOTIONAL AND FINANCIAL SITUATION OF THE COUPLE WOULD NEED TO BE STRONG. IN MY EXPERIENCE WITH THEM THEY TEND TO BE ABOVE US "NORMAL" PEOPLE IN AFFECTION, LOVE, AND JUST PLAIN HAPPINESS.