From the book “Roy Rogers and Dale Evans - Happy Trails” with Carlton Stowers - 1979
For several months Roy and Dale had been meeting with a newly formed Hollywood Christian Group, an organization originated by Henrietta Mears, director of Christian Education at the Hollywood Presbyterian Church. Regularly in attendance were Roy's longtime Sons of the Pioneers friend Tim Spencer and his wife Velma, Jane Russell, Connie Haines, Porter Hall, and many others.
It was, in fact, at one of the group's meetings that Roy first publicly gave his Christian witness. And it was there that he and Dale met guest speaker Billy Graham, who would invite them to join him for a crusade to be held in Houstons massive Rice Stadium.
Art Rush juggled their demanding schedule to clear the way for them to accept the popular evangelist's invitation. But it soon became clear that the only way they would be able to make it would be to fly to Houston, rather than make the trip by train as was their general habit.
The fear of flying which Dale had brought with her on her very first trip to Hollywood had remained and, in fact, grown worse after Robin's birth. Aware of her daughter's numerous needs, Dale had vowed never to board an airplane while Robin was living for fear she might be killed in a crash and thus leave her baby without a mother.
It was for that reason that she told Billy Graham she could not accept his invitation.
Though Roy and I both had come to a point where we accepted the condition and eventual fate of our little daughter, we felt it only right that we continue to seek ways to make her life as happy and normal as possible. We were no longer looking for miracles, but we didn't for a minute quit seeking help.
For instance, I had been made aware of a pediatrician in San Francisco who had reportedly done wonders with Mongoloid children in group therapy sessions, so I took Robin to see him. Like all those I had visited with before, he was frank. He suggested some glandular extracts and vitamins which might help improve her appetite and muscle tone, but said there was nothing he or anyone else could do about her heart condition.
Each time I was told something of that nature, I was more certain that my place was near her, my responsibility to remain at home. I stubbornly held to my conviction, despite the urging of Roy and Tim Spencer that I reconsider Billy Graham's offer to fly to Houston and witness to forty-five thousand people. None of those forty-five thousand, I was convinced, needed me nearly so much as did Robin.
And there were the other children to consider also. Dusty was having some problems in school, and Cheryl, growing into a young woman, was suddenly expressing an interest in knowing more about who her real mother and father were. I built a strong case: there were simply too many things at home which needed my attention. Roy would have to make the trip to Houston alone, despite his repeated attempts to persuade me to accompany him.
So it was that I drove him to the airport and then returned home, where I would spend a sleepless night.
By dawn I had come to a decision, one I had great difficulty arriving at but one which, when finally made, gave me great comfort. Roy and I had long said that Robin was God's child. From the day she was born, she had been more in his hands than ours. Thinking of these things, it finally occurred to me that my place was in Houston with my husband and Billy Graham and those thousands of people to whom we could witness.
I called Tim Spencer to tell him I had decided to fly to Houston. En route I would stop over in Dallas and get my brother Hillman to drive me to Italy to see my father, who was recovering from a stroke. And maybe I could visit the administrator of Hope Cottage, where Cheryl had been adopted, and see what advice she had to offer about Cheryl's desire to find her real parents.
As I boarded the plane, it occurred to me that I was not leaving Robin behind: I was taking her with me. I would tell the people gathered in Rice Stadium of the things she had brought to our home—the new understanding, the tolerance, the kind of love which binds a family closer together.
Long before I even made it to Houston, I was glad I had decided to make the trip. Dad, though still bedridden, seemed to be doing better, and it was good to see the family. With my sister-in-law I went to Hope Cottage in Dallas to discuss Cheryl's problem. While there we were given a tour of the home, and looked at many of the young children—most of them no more than a couple of months old—who were residing there, waiting to be adopted.
I went from crib to crib, looking at all those beautiful babies, wishing I could pick each and every one of them up and hold it. There was one in particular to whom my heart went out, a little two-month-old girl with large brown eyes, beautiful olive skin, and straight black hair. A strong, healthy baby, she was already holding her head up well and was full of energy. I thought as I looked down on her that she was the exact opposite of my Robin.
She was, one of the cottage administrators told us, part Choctaw Indian, part Scottish, part Irish, and her name was Mary. Although it was against the rules, I asked and was allowed to hold her for a moment. The big smile she gave me made it hard to leave, but it was time for me to get to the airport.
I have never been prouder of my husband than I was as he walked to the microphone in Rice Stadium in Houston. His testimony, given in a down-home, straightforward manner, brought tears to my eyes:
"Dale worked with God to bring me something I had longed for all my life," he said. "Peace. Materially speaking, for years I had nothing. Then for years I had much. But I soon learned that having too much is worse than having too little. Nothing ever seemed quite right. I was restless, confused, unsatisfied. But the power of prayer, and the feeling of spiritual blessedness, and the love of Jesus have no price tags."
He went on to describe the strength he gained through daily Bible reading and prayer, and closed by denying published rumors that he was thinking of leaving show business and becoming an evangelist. "If I'm going to be an evangelist," he smiled, "I guess I'll have to do it on horseback, because being a cowboy is all I know."
Then it was my turn. For the first time, I mentioned Robin's illness publicly, telling of the shock and outrage we had first experienced and the understanding to which we had come with the help of God through Christ. Standing there on the floor of that giant football stadium, I was, quite needless to say, glad I had made the trip.
The summer of 1952 was like an unending ride on a merry-go-round for the Roy Rogers family. We went from taping radio shows to shooting the new TV series to cutting records for RCA and back again. I found it very hard to believe that just a few months earlier we had all been sitting around wringing our hands over the fact that Roy had left Republic. As August approached, the only way he could have been involved in anything more would have been for there to have been two of him—and of me.
In addition to everything else, we were rehearsing and selecting wardrobes and generally tending to the myriad details that would need ironing out before we went to New York in September for a performance in Madison Square Garden.
And Robin would soon be celebrating her second birthday. August twenty-sixth was the only block on our kitchen calendar which did not have one or more commitments penciled in. There had, in fact, almost been an oversight; a press luncheon to give the new radio and TV series a traditional show-biz send off had almost been set on Robin's birthday. But we caught it in time and had it rescheduled for the Sunday evening prior to the family celebration we were planning.
When the schedule was made, we had no idea how traumatic that day would wind up being. Cheryl came down with the mumps and, despite our care to keep Robin isolated, she caught them too. Her condition was soon complicated by encephalitis, and by late Saturday afternoon her temperature had risen to one hundred six. The doctor explained that the high fever had reached her brain, causing her tremendous pain.
The solemn look on the doctor's face struck fear in me. "I hate to tell you this," he said, "but as a doctor it is my obligation. The child's heart has undergone a considerable strain. It may not be able to stand the strain much longer. I can't tell you exactly what will happen or when it will take place, but it might be a good idea for you and Roy to prepare yourselves."
We sat up with her until past midnight, praying, trying to offer whatever comfort we could to her suffering. Finally, at the nurse's urging, we went into the house to try to rest. The idea of sleep seemed ridiculous to me.
At some point in the night it occurred to Roy and me that the elaborate press party had been scheduled for the following afternoon at the Brown Derby. It was too late to call it off, yet neither of us had any intention of leaving Robin. Finally I persuaded Roy to just drop by, put in a brief appearance, and then hurry back home.
Thus it would be a morning of unreal scenes: the other children, aware though uninformed about the gravity of the situation, sitting around the breakfast table and praying that God would spare their little sister, and Roy, pale and sad-faced, dressed in his King of the Cowboys splendor to make a public appearance he dreaded more than any he had ever made.
Despite everything we tried to do for her, Robin's fever continued to climb. By late afternoon on Sunday it had reached one hundred eight, and she had lapsed into unconsciousness.
By the time Roy returned, I had prayed every prayer I knew. I had prayed for some miracle that might spare my baby. But I released her to God about four o'clock in the evening, and prayed for an end to her pain, and for understanding and the strength to accept what was to be. And I cried more than I had ever cried before in my life. The tears were useless, but there was nothing else I could do—nothing else, really, that anyone could do.
Shortly after Roy returned, the nurse came through the door of Robin's little house and walked toward us. The words she would whisper were unnecessary; her face spoke them for her.
"She's gone," she said.
I could not bear to see Robin in death. No amount of human strength or persuasion could have gotten me to enter her little house before the ambulance arrived to take her. I wanted to remember her alive, with that angelic smile on her face.
And so it was that, while I grieved, the responsibility of the funeral arrangements fell to Roy. For the first time in our married life I was of no help to him. He shouldered the burden alone, selecting her white christening dress with the blue satin sash for her to be buried in. Around her neck he had placed a chain with a small gold cross that was to have been her birthday present.
Though I accompanied him to Forest Lawn to see that all the arrangements for the funeral had been tended, I refused flatly when he suggested that I come in with him and look at Robin. Feeling very near a nervous breakdown, I had no trust in my emotions. I simply didn't feel I could stand to see my beautiful baby no longer alive. Roy, who had already agreed to my request that the casket remain closed during the funeral until I had left the church, touched my hand and said he would be back in a few minutes.
When he returned, there was a strange look of peace on his face. For the first time since Robin's death, he didn't look tired and emotionally taxed. "That," he said as he got in the car, "was the hardest thing I've ever had to do, Dale, but I'm glad I did. The minute I looked at her I knew for certain she's with the Lord. She looked like a small sleeping angel."
The funeral was brief and simple. Dr. Harley Smith, who had baptized Robin, opened the service with a prayer. Dr. Jack MacArthur delivered a short sermon, and Leonard Eilers, the chaplain of our Hollywood Christian Group, gave the closing prayer after an organist had played several of our favorite hymns.
And so, with a funeral service instead of a party on her second birthday, the earthly life of Robin Elizabeth Rogers was over. As time would pass, I would become more and more aware of the magnificent things she had accomplished during her brief visit.
On a number of occasions following the public disclosure of Robins condition, magazines had asked Dale to write a story about how she and her husband had dealt with the situation. Though no longer hesitant to tell the story of her child, Dale had repeatedly told editors that she would write the story only when she felt the time was right.
Soon after Robin’s death, the urge to set the events of Robin’s life to writing struck, and virtually every spare minute Dale had was spent in recording her thoughts and feelings about her child. She worked long into the night, between rehearsals and in the early morning hours before the rest of the family awoke. She wrote with an obsession—on legal pads, the backs of envelopes, scraps of paper—trying to link her words and thoughts in a manner she felt necessary.
But it wasn't working. "I knew what I wanted to say,” Dale recalls, "but I just didn't know how to say it. Then one afternoon, as Roy and I were doing a radio broadcast, I had a few moments away from the mike to rest. I sat down, closed mp eyes, and prayed. And suddenly there was this voice telling me, Let Robin write it. Let her speak for herself. You just be the instrument.
With new direction Dale’s efforts went far beyond the length of a magazine article. It would, she had decided, be a book— Robins book.
Roy, searching for ways to lift my spirit, suggested that we leave for our Madison Square Garden Rodeo engagement early, and stop in Texas for a few days' visit with my parents. Feeling emotionally and physically drained, I agreed that it was a good idea. Had I stopped to think, I would have recognized that there was more to my husband's plans than a few days of rest and relaxation and family reunion.
There was, it seemed, no way to get away from the sorrow that I was having such a difficult time overcoming. Our route to the train station went past Forest Lawn, and the sight of the brilliant cross lighted atop the chapel where Robin's funeral service had been held was more than I could take. For the first time in several days, I again broke into tears.
Thereafter, however, the trip went smoothly. After a while I handed some of the pages I had been writing to Roy, asking that he read them and tell me what he thought about the idea of my taking them to a publisher when we got to New York. He read the manuscript slowly, saying nothing. Once finished, he sat it in his lap and turned to look at me for the first time since he had begun to read.
"You had help," he said.
"Yes," I replied, "I had a lot of help."
Roy agreed that finding a publisher for the little book I planned to title Angel Unaware would be one of the major priorities while in New York.
On the final day of our visit with my family in Italy, Roy seemed unusually eager to make the drive to Dallas, where we would catch the train for New York. As we were preparing to leave, his motive finally surfaced. "Do you suppose," he said nonchalantly, "that little Indian baby you saw at the Hope Cottage is still there?"
I could read him like a book. Perhaps adopting a child would help to ease the pain of losing Robin. I made little effort to encourage his plan, pointing out that I had been told there were some people already interested when I had first seen the child. "I'm sure she isn't still available," I said, "but if you would like to stop by, that's fine with me."
My shoulder-shrugging casual front fell to pieces the minute I saw her again. As we walked toward her she held out her fat little hands and smiled. Suddenly I was the one who could be read like a book. I wanted that baby so badly I ached.
"Are you sure?" Roy asked.
"Well, he said, a big smile breaking across his face, "if we can work it out I'm all for it."
There was, we were told, a woman in Dallas who had expressed some interest in adopting Mary, but our request would be taken under consideration. The officials at Hope Cottage agreed to call us in New York if it appeared that things might work out for our adopting the beautiful little three-quarters Choctaw Indian girl.
The thought of our being able to have Mary and the need I felt to find a publisher for my book were the only things that kept me going in New York. Though I realized the responsibility of an entertainer to the public, it was a chore for me to get through every performance. I like to think I have some degree of acting talent, but putting on a happy face during that particular time in my life was no small task.
It seemed that complications bred additional complications. Though we called several times, the people at Hope Cottage had no answer for us. And I was fast learning that the publishing business is perhaps even tougher than show business.
Having read Dr. Norman Vincent Peale's book, A Guide to Confident Living, and gaining much from it, I made up my mind before even arriving in New York to see him about my book. Though his schedule was filled solidly for the next two weeks, he agreed to see me. I read it to him there in his office, and was overjoyed when he said he liked it and suggested I take it to his publisher, Prentice-Hall. I thanked him for his help, and wasted little time making the trip across the George Washington bridge to Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, where Prentice-Hall was headquartered.
They turned it down, saying that it would conflict with a current book about a handicapped child, and that the reading public didn't want to cry. I didn't want to make anyone cry, or laugh, or sing with Robin's story. I simply wanted them to understand, to realize that there were four million children in the United States alone who would never know the joy of growing to adulthood, but that with love and help and understanding and proper rehabilitation, some were capable of advancing to a point where they could be productive and take care of themselves.
I took the book to a second publisher, and it was again rejected. With that rejection my faith began to slip. I began to question my purpose in having written the book, and to wonder if there really was anyone who cared about it's message.
Roy, dealing with problems of his own, urged me to not give up, to remain patient. The battle he was fighting was with the management of Madison Square Garden. Having been advised that we planned to include a religious number in our performance, they called a committee meeting to discuss the situation. The 1952 World's Championship Rodeo, they decided, was not the proper place for religion.
They argued and pleaded, warning Roy and me that to do a religious number would be professional suicide. Even several merchants who sold various products of Roy Rogers Enterprises expressed their concern. Telling a crowd of kids in Houston, Texas, that they should go to church was one thing, but trying to bring religion to the world's biggest and most publicized rodeo in New York City was quite another. They simply could not allow it, for their sake and for ours.
To which Roy replied, "Dale and I have talked this thing out. If we can't do our religious number, we won't go on at all. We'll just head on back to California tonight." Grandstand plays have never been a trick of Roy's, yet in this situation it was the best weapon he had available. It worked.
At the appointed moment that evening, the jam-packed Garden went dark, with only the spotlights forming a huge cross in the center of the arena. And out of that beautiful darkened hush came Roy's voice, sounding better to me than ever before, singing "Peace in the Valley."
The forty-three performances we did over a period of twenty-six days broke all attendance records at the Garden. Because of Roy's record-breaking appearances over a period of eight years he was inducted into the Madison Square Garden Hall of Fame. And, to steal briefly from Art Rush's list of facts and figures about Roy's career, Roy Rogers once earned the Garden a one-day gross of one hundred nineteen thousand dollars. That same week Frank Sinatra grossed eighty-four thousand dollars for a seven-day appearance at the Palace just a few blocks away. Need I say more?
The success of our appearances, however, did little to lift my own spirits. The thought of going from publishing house to publishing house, only to hear polite turndowns, was unbearable to me. "Give it another chance," Roy kept saying. It was something I had to think about.
I went over to Central Park and sat alone on a bench for a long time, trying with little success to determine what my next step should be. Finally, I prayed to God to give me direction, to somehow make me aware of whether the pursuit was something I should go on with or something I should simply forget about. Sitting there with my eyes closed, I prayed for quite some time.
When I looked up, there before me stood a Mongoloid child about six years old, harnessed to a nearby nurse. That child was my sign. It would take more than two rejections to make me give up.
There would, for that matter, be no further rejections. That same afternoon, I received a call from Dr. Frank Mead, editor-in-chief at Fleming H. Revell Company. Someone at Abingdon Press, the second publisher to reject the book, had called him and suggested it might be something he would like to have a look at.
He was leaving that day for Chicago, he told me, and would like to take my manuscript along to read on the train. After having read it, he promised, he would call to let me know what he thought.
When he arrived in Chicago he phoned to tell me the wonderful news that he wanted to publish it. "I think," he added, "that it would be quite appropriate to set the publication date for the week of Easter."
That was to be just the beginning of the good news, however. Later in that same week, we finally got the call from Hope Cottage telling us that Mary was ours, that we had a new baby to pick up en route home.
Roy reacted like a youngster on Christmas morning. "We'll call her Mary Little Doe," he said. And then he called home. It was our plan to be home by October twenty-eighth for Dusty's birthday. "Son," Roy excitedly told him, "we're bringing you the greatest birthday surprise you could ever imagine."
It wound up being a bigger—and more wonderful—surprise than even I could have imagined.
I am not exaggerating when I say this entire book could be filled with anecdotes about the things Roy has done for children.
Sick ones, lonely ones, poor ones have received calls from him, personal visits in hospital rooms, or invitations to the ranch for the weekend.
One night, after a long and tiring show, we returned to our hotel and I immediately fell into bed. The next morning I awoke early as I usually do and found Roy gone. As the day wore on and I had no word from him, I began to get concerned and, in fact, considered placing a call to the local authorities for their help in locating him. But in the late afternoon, shortly before our performance, he showed up, apologizing for having been gone so long. My anger would, hurriedly disappear when he told me where he had been.
He had been made aware of a five-year-old girl who, in a tragic gasoline explosion, had lost all her limbs. The girl's fondest wish was to be able to see one of our shows. So Roy had driven two hundred miles to issue the invitation in person, visiting with the child and her parents and making them aware that they had three reserved seats for the next evening's performance.
That night the mother brought her smiling little girl in a wicker laundry basket so she could see Roy perform.
And I'll never forget a little boy in Seattle named Rusty Rogers—no relation—who was in the hospital for what doctors thought to be leukemia and who simply refused to follow doctor's orders about proper rest and diet. In desperation, the father phoned, explaining the problem. In turn, Roy called Rusty's doctor and then placed a call to Rusty. He made a deal with him: if he would follow the doctor's orders and get well and strong again Roy would have him brought to the ranch for a weekend and let him ride Trigger. Rusty not only made that visit and rode Trigger, but years later was a surprise guest, very much alive, very healthy, on Ralph Edward's "This Is Your Life" show done with Roy. Ralph later said, "In all the years we did that show, the single person whose life we got more requests to do than any other was Roy Rogers."
The stories, as I said, could go on and on. Suffice it to say that my cowboy hero husband has always had a special feeling for the underdog, especially if that underdog happens to be very young and very fragile.
Following our closing performance in Madison Square Garden, the plan for our return home called for several stops along the way to do one-night performances. When we arrived in Cincinnati toward the end of the tour, Roy picked up the regular stack of letters and messages which always awaited him at every stop, and first opened a telegram from a woman who ran a welfare home for handicapped children, in nearby Covington, Kentucky and whose own little girl, Penny, had suffered from cerebral palsy since birth. The woman asked if it would be possible for her to come to Cincinnati, so Penny could see Roy and Trigger.
That evening Roy called her to say he would pay all the expenses if she would, indeed, bring her daughter to the following evening's show. In the course of the conversation Roy learned that she and her husband were, at the time, caring for seventeen children who were wards of the state, all unadoptable cases.
I could see Roy's eyes dancing as the conversation went on.
"You wouldn't happen to have a little boy there, say, about six, would you?" he asked.
She said that she did, but that he was slightly handicapped.
"Bring him with you," Roy said.
The show had already begun when our visitors from Covington arrived backstage. During intermission Roy went over and said hello to Penny, and then looked down at the young boy he had requested be brought along. He was peeking at Roy from behind the skirt of his foster mother, bashful and scared. "Hey," Roy said, "come over here for a minute."
The little boy summoned his courage and walked to Roy. The boy stood for a moment, then extended his hand and, in his best shoot-em-up drawl, said, "Howdy, padnuh."
"Howdy yourself," Roy said. He was hooked.
Later that night we sat in the hotel talking about this little boy, whose name was Harry. He had been abandoned twice, we had been told, and had suffered rickets and a slight curvature of the spine as a result of malnutrition. His nose had been broken, and his body bore evidence of mistreatment of the worst kind as an infant. And on top of all that, he had had a miserable cold when we met him.
Dusty, Roy pointed out, needed a companion. Long into the night we discussed whether this little boy, with all his problems, would be the answer. We frankly admitted to each other that it was, in some respects, a frightening proposition, but . . .
It was three in the morning when Roy rose from the couch and said, "Dale, anybody can adopt a perfect child." Thus, at three a.m., he placed a call to the foster home and asked how long it would take to get adoption proceedings underway for Harry. "We are on a tight schedule and will be leaving town tomorrow," he explained.
"Mr. Rogers," the surprised and delighted woman said, "if you will meet me at the courthouse at eight o'clock, I think we can pull enough strings to get you and Harry out of town on schedule."
In what may well be the fastest adoption on record, Harry, whom we had decided to call Sandy, was officially a member in good standing of the Rogers family by nine that morning. The proceedings were but a formality. There were no objections voiced by anyone. Anyone, that is, but Sandy. Before he was willing to go, he had to be satisfied that someone at the foster home would carry on his personal job there, the feeding of an older child who was suffering from meningitis.
We made a quick stop to buy him a new pair of jeans and a cowboy shirt to wear on the bus, and then Roy proudly carried him aboard and introduced the members of the troupe to his new son.
A whole new world filled with attention-giving adults suddenly opened up to Sandy on that bus ride. He soon put his shyness aside and was eager to get acquainted with everyone. He had brought his belongings with him in an unopened paper sack, and when someone asked what he had in it he smiled and proudly dug out the only article of clothing he owned— a far-worse-for-the-wear sweater.
There was more than one sudden clearing of the throat heard in the bus. I loved him already.
With the tour over, Roy, Sandy, and I flew to Dallas to pick up the other new member of our family, Mary Little Doe, whom I was already calling Dodie as if we had been lifelong friends.
And so we arrived in Los Angeles, as promised, on Dusty's birthday. All the kids were there to greet us. There was great excitement, much laughing and hugging for several minutes, and then Roy nudged me to get my attention. He nodded in the direction of Dusty and Sandy, who were standing facing each other but keeping their distance. Sandy, still a bit perplexed by the whole sequence of events which had brought him to this point, stood smiling. Dusty, on the other hand, was square-jawed, giving his new brother a very careful looking over.
"Don't worry," Roy said, "it'll work out. They'll be pals before you know it."
Frankly, it wasn't something that I was worried about. At that particular moment, with my family gathered around me, I was too happy to worry.