A Travel Tale from 2912

Now that summer is drawing to a close, I find myself thinking about the car trips we took when we were young.

car trip 1960s

Here we are in the way back of our station wagon in the summer of 1966. I’m on the right, looking bored (but probably already worried about getting carsick), holding my favorite doll, Susie, who went everywhere I went. We rarely took a big family vacation, like a week-long trip to anywhere, but we often went someplace that was driveable within a day. And many, many times, in any season, this meant a trip to Lake Geneva to visit my maternal great-grandmother.

3632 Oakrest Lake Geneva

We headed to this house, located on the edge of town, within walking distance of Linn Pier, a beach area with bright blue, frigid water, and a rocky bottom. Still, when the weather was warm, we liked nothing better than piling back into the station wagon for the bumpy ride down the road, and shoring up our courage to jump from the pier into the cold water. But if the weather wasn’t warm enough or the adults didn’t want to supervise us in the water, we improvised our own games in the big side yard. When we got bored with that, sometimes we could talk the adults into taking us to the tavern across the street. It was a neighborhood place that, though taken up by a big bar, catered to the neighborhood families. Children could often be found inside with their parents. We thought it was great fun to climb up on one of the bar stools and twirl around as we drank a glass of Orange Crush or 7-Up.

Lake Geneva c. 1966

My great-grandmother, Katie, was the heart of these visits. I’m not sure what this occasion was, but it looks like it took place in the early spring, before the arrival of warm weather. Our father, always the one with the camera, would have organized this photo. Katie is standing there at the far right, in all her white-haired glory, next to her eldest daughter, Martha (my maternal grandmother), who is next to my mother Irene (Martha’s only daughter), who is standing next to Grace, my mother’s favorite aunt and Katie’s younger daughter. Grace and her husband Jack (sitting on the front step, holding the youngest of us) lived in Katie’s house. This arrangement seemed normal to me because my other great-grandmother (we called her Nana), standing in front of Grace, lived with her daughter-in-law Martha. Both great-grandmothers and my grandmother were widowed by then.

My strongest memory of my great-grandmother is of her sitting on a straight-backed chair in the kitchen, quietly smiling at us as we raced around the house. I don’t remember ever having a long conversation with her. I guess I probably thought we wouldn’t have much to talk about. But I do remember a visit a few years after this photo was taken, when my mother asked if I noticed anything different about great-grandma. I looked at her sitting in her favorite chair, smiling, and nothing looked different. I shook my head. “She’s wearing pants,” my mother said. “Katie decided to wear pants.”

At the time I thought it was a little bit cool that such an old woman had ditched her day dresses for slacks, like so many pants-wearing women in the early 1970s. It didn’t occur to me that maybe Katie delighted in bucking tradition because it was something she liked to do. It didn’t occur to me that she had a whole big life long before I entered the world.

Katie was born in 1886 and grew up in Chicago, where her father was a butcher in a packinghouse. She married Clarence, a Dutch immigrant, in 1907. Their first daughter, Martha, arrived soon enough, but seven years passed before Katie gave birth to Grace. By 1920, the family lived in a rented house on Morgan Street. Clarence worked as a salesman in a shoe store; Katie kept house.

The next ten years brought changes to the family. Martha grew up and left home to get married. After the stock market crash of 1929, as the country sank into the Great Depression, Clarence managed to hold onto his job at the shoe store. But business likely slowed down and he may have had his hours cut. They still needed to make rent. They still had another daughter to finish raising. So Katie found employment at a local grocery store. It was not an easy thing to do. White middle-class married women weren’t supposed to work, not even during the Depression. Jobs were supposed to be for men who needed to provide for their families. But Katie and Clarence knew they both needed to provide to get themselves through the economic disaster.

Katie was apparently good at her job and probably liked it, too. By 1940, not long before the United States formally entered World War II, she had been promoted to manager. She brought 24-year-old Grace in as a clerk. They all made it through. 

Grace and Jack never had children. This may be why Grace was one of the first working women I ever knew. When we were young, most of the women we encountered were mothers like ours, who stayed home and took care of us. To me, Grace seemed unusual, even a bit strange, because she had a job. But when I was a child, I didn’t think to ask any questions about it. And now, I think a lot about my great-grandmother, sitting quietly in her chair, wearing her new pair of pants, probably proud that even late in life she could still do something new and daring.

Queen of the West Wednesday, Chapters Thirteen and Fourteen

This is it–the final Queen of the West Wednesday. The book officially launches on Friday, April 15. It’s hard to believe I started this series way back on February 2! Thanks for sticking with it or for popping in now and then. Here are the final two chapters, along with their opening lines.

Chapter Thirteen. A Date with Dale: Maintaining a Television Career

A period of calm set in for Dale Evans and Roy Rogers, so they took the opportunity to try something new to reach more existing fans and perhaps acquire new ones.

It was the late 1960s, and Dale was in her mid-fifties. She and Roy still hoped to land a prime time television show but had no luck. They opened a museum in Apple Valley to showcase their movie and t.v. careers. Dale wrote books as she wrestled with the social, political, and cultural changes of the decade. In the early 1970s she began planning her own Christian talk show. After more than a decade, it finally appeared in 1985 on the Trinity Broadcasting Network as A Date with Dale, a thirty-minute weekly program that focused on Christian and spiritual topics.

Roy Rogers Museum - Apple Valley, California | Apple valley california,  California, Roy rogers

(postcard of the museum in Apple Valley, CA)

Chapter Fourteen. “Thank Heavens for Dale Evans”: Becoming the Legendary Cowgirl

While Dale Evans was never exactly put on a pedestal, she received more honors during this late stage of her life, often accompanied by descriptions of her as a “legend.”

In 1990, a new, all-female group then known as the Dixie Chicks, wrote a song about her. Through that decade, despite a myriad of health problems, Dale filmed episodes of A Date with Dale, recorded more songs, and wrote more books. She endured the death of her beloved husband, Roy Rogers, in 1998, and died at home three years later, surrounded by family.


Happy trails, everyone!

Queen of the West Wednesday, Chapters Eleven and Twelve

We’re at the penultimate installment of this weekly series that reveals the first sentence of each chapter in Queen of the West: The Life and Times of Dale Evans. The book’s official launch date is April 15, but if you order it online now, chances are good that you’ll receive your copy before then!

Chapter Eleven. “The Bible Tells Me So”: Creating Christian Celebrity

Dale Evans resumed work almost immediately when she and Roy Rogers returned from Great Britain in late March 1954. 

That overseas trip had not been a vacation. During February and March, the couple performed in England and Scotland, attracting huge audiences, then appeared with the Billy Graham Crusade in London. The Roy Rogers Show, about midway through its run, remained popular with television viewers, but Dale, now back stateside, was increasingly attracted to projects that carried a more overt Christian message. In 1955, she demonstrated that interest by writing the song “The Bible Tells Me So” for an episode of The Roy Rogers Show. The song caught on, and two versions of it hit the Billboard charts. Children would sing it in Sunday school classes for decades to come.

Dale Evans "The Bible Tells Me So" Sheet Music PDF Notes, Chords | Children  Score Lead Sheet / Fake Book Download Printable. SKU: 196020

Chapter Twelve. “I’d Rather Have Jesus”: Professional and Personal Struggles During the 1960s

Frustrated with trying to create an adult, family-friendly western, Dale Evans and Roy Rogers turned to another small-screen genre: musical variety.

The Roy Rogers Show ended in 1957. Despite the couple’s continuing popularity, they had difficulty landing another network show. It wasn’t until 1962 that they signed a deal with ABC for a prime time musical variety program called The Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Show. After working with Roy for almost twenty years, Dale finally received equal billing.

The Roy Rogers & Dale Evans Show (TV Series 1962– ) - IMDb

Thanks for sticking with this series. See you next week for the wrap-up!

Queen of the West Wednesday Doubleheader, Chapters Nine and Ten

Chapter Nine. “Happy Trails”: Becoming a Television Star

After Dale Evans gave birth to her daughter Robin, attendants wheeled her out of the delivery room.

It was August 26, 1950, and the Queen of the West and the King of the Cowboys had a new baby girl. But the joy the parents felt was soon overshadowed by concern. Robin Elizabeth Rogers–Dale and Roy planned to nickname her Stormy–was diagnosed with Down syndrome and with an inoperable heart problem. Doctors were not optimistic about Robin’s future, but the loving parents took their baby home, determined to prove the medical experts wrong.

As Dale Evans worried about her daughter’s health, she and Roy embarked on another project together: a televised version of The Roy Rogers Show, a thirty-minute contemporary Western that ran on NBC from 1951-1957. The song Dale had written for their radio show, “Happy Trails,” now became the theme song for their small-screen show.

Chapter Ten. Angel Unaware: Faith and Celebrity

Dale grieved over Robin’s death but had no time to wallow.

Robin Rogers died two days before her second birthday. Dale Evans held herself together through work. She and Roy were scheduled to appear at the World’s Championship Rodeo at Madison Square Garden in about four weeks, a major event they could not afford to cancel.


Despite their hectic schedule in New York City, Dale found time to write about Robin. She penned her first book, Angel Unaware, published by the Fleming H. Revell Company in 1953. It quickly became a bestseller, and Dale donated the proceeds to charity.

And another bonus on this double edition of Queen of the West Wednesday, historian and writer Pamela Toler has featured me in her Women’s History Month blog series called Talking About Women’s History. I answered three questions about Queen of the West and asked Pamela a question about women’s history.

Queen of the West Wednesday, Chapter Eight

Chapter Eight. “Queen of the Westerns”: Holding on to Movie Stardom

Right after the nuptial-sealing kiss, Art Rush announced, “What a way to start a wedding—with the house on fire!”

The Archivist: Roy-al wedding, Oklahoma style

(Oklahoman archives photo)

On a snowy New Year’s Eve of 1947, Dale Evans married Roy Rogers at the Oklahoma ranch home of friends. The nervous groom may have started a small wastebasket fire with a still-lit cigarette butt while he waited for the wedding to begin. But Roy and his best man (and long-time agent) Art Rush put it out quickly and were only a few minutes late to the ceremony.

Dale Evans not only became a wife again, but she also became a mother to Roy’s three young children. Her son Tommy was now a college student; it had been twenty years since she had taken care of a little one. And being a stepmother proved more challenging than being a teenage mother.

Roy Rogers And Dale Evans High Resolution Stock Photography and Images -  Alamy

Dale also faced a setback in her career. Herbert Yates, head of Republic, disapproved of Roy Rogers marrying his costar, but he couldn’t do anything to punish one of his biggest box office draws. So, as Walter Winchell reported shortly after the wedding, Dale “got a nice wedding present from Republic Studios, which also employs her groom. She got fired.”

Dale Evans had no intention of giving up what she had worked so hard to achieve. Until she could make her way back to the silver screen, she found opportunities to cultivate her Western image, including launching her own comic book, which identified her as “Queen of the Westerns.”

Dale Evans Comics #1 VG/FN 5.0 1948 | eBay

That nickname, or some variation of it, would follow Dale Evans the rest of her life.