Roy Rogers before he was Roy Rogers

Posted by | October 15, 2013

Roy Rogers wasn’t always Roy Rogers, and one of Hollywood’s most famous cowboys wasn’t raised on a western ponderosa either. Leonard Slye grew up west of Lucasville, OH on a small farm in Duck Run.

In the early 1950’s, journalist Elise Miller Davis wrote “The Answer is God,” the authorized biography of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, which became a national best-seller, from which this selection is taken.

Much has been told of the hardships suffered by poor people trying to eke out a living from poor land, and the Slye family seemed destined to suffer them all. Finally when the sugar bowl on the pantry shelf became empty not only of cash but of sugar too, Andy returned to his city job. Mattie and the four children remained on the farm to run it as best they could.

Left as the man of the family, most of the dawn-till-dusk chores of farm life fell on Leonard’s small shoulders, “I simply had to learn,” he was to say later, “that no matter if the sun was scorching hot or rain was falling in sheets or snow was up to my knees, a cow was still a cow. She had to be fed and milked. Eggs had to be gathered. Chicken houses had to be cleaned. And hogs had to be slopped.”

Roy Rogers boyhood home in Duck Run OHRoy Rogers boyhood home in Duck Run OH.

By the time he was barely tall enough to reach the handles, the boy was behind a plow almost every day. But the thing the neighbors talked about most was his ability to handle the large, ornery mule.

“Leonard just seemed born being good with and good to animals,” his sister Mary says. “We kids finally decided he knew a secret magic. Several times I saw him capture a queen bee in a box and quietly bring the whole swarm back to our farm. Never once was he stung. When I tried it one day, I was bitten so badly I developed a high fever. He had four pet skunks that he named and taught to answer his call. For him they showed complete self-control. One day Pop spoke to one of them and Mom had to burn his overalls.”

Leonard had a trained rooster that he carried around on his shoulder. And in high school he taught a ground hog to sit patiently while he practiced playing the clarinet.

“One day the boy smuggled the ground hog to school,” his mother says. “And when it came time for assembly, Leonard put the animal in his desk. Soon, however, the pet heard Leonard’s clarinet tooting in the auditorium. She crawled out and followed the sound until she found her master. When the ground hog interrupted the program by climbing into Leonard’s lap, he expected a scolding. But the band leader was so impressed that instead he tried to buy the animal. The few dollars would have meant a lot to us then, but Leonard wouldn’t sell.”

Leonard Franklin Slye, choirboy in Duck Run OHLeonard Slye (left rear) was part of the local Sunday School and church choir. This is a closeup of a photo of the Sunday school choir boys.

Mixed with the endless hard hours of plowing and felling trees and splitting logs to keep the wood box full were the good times.

Spring and summer brought picnics and hikes over the Ohio hills, swimming and fishing in the two creeks near the farm, every outing increasing the boy’s knowledge and love of nature. There were singsongs around summer campfires and the square dancing his parents loved. “Leonard called a square dance well by the time he was ten,’ Andy Slye remarks. “And if folks are amazed today at the way he hits clay targets with his fancy guns, they should have seen him with a homemade slingshot and beans for ammunition.

“He was so crazy about hunting, and so good at it with his bow and arrow and slingshots, I got him a rifle for his twelfth birthday.”

Andy received his pay every two weeks in those days, and they provided occasions for him to visit his family, loaded down with gifts for all. The time he brought home Babe, a black mare that had seen better days as a sulky racer, was a memorable event in the boy’s life.

“All he’d ever had to ride was the old mule,” Mattie recalls.

Hoot Gibson movie posterHoot Gibson movie poster.

“And although we were never able to buy him a saddle for Babe, he soon was learning to sit and ride with grace. Many a time I saw him working away, trying to teach that mare some of the very tricks that Trigger performs today.’*

Occasionally Leonard was allowed to ride Babe into Portsmouth to visit his father, and on rare Saturday afternoons he attended a motion picture. The youth fell head over heels in love with cowboy star Hoot Gibson. Many years later when he met and became close friends with Hoot, he told him about the small darkened theater where, to the twangy whine of the player piano, midst the smell of popcorn, damp feet, and cheap deodorant, a little wide-eyed boy had sat spellbound for wonderful hours in the world of cowboys and Indians.

Source: “The Answer Is God: The Inspiring Personal Story Of Dale Evans And Roy Rogers,” By Elise Miller Davis, McGraw Hill, 1955 online at http://www.archive.org/stream/answerisgodthein012119mbp/answerisgodthein012119mbp_djvu.txt

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