Dale Evans at 63 remains the quintessential cowgirl: white hat, tooled boots and sequined skirts, her voice raised in the gentle harmonies of Happy Trails. But after 30 movies and more than 100 television shows with husband Roy Rogers, she now plays another role, that of best-selling religious author.
Since 1953 she has written 15 books published by the Fleming H. Revell Company with total sales of more than 3 million. Her latest, Trials, Tears and Triumph, is scheduled for publication next March. Several have been translated into Chinese, Spanish and German, and most remain in print and on the shelves of stores specializing in religious books.
Although Roy and Dale are still a common sight at rodeos and parades, Dale increasingly travels on her own to college campuses, evangelical crusades and television talk shows to express her views on religion, patriotism and family strength. She made almost 40 such appearances last year. “I’m on my own with my books,” Dale says. “Roy has given me all the leeway in the world and I give him the same. We’ve leaned on each other through the years, and we’ve both leaned on God.”
Her books are written in a personal, conversational style and center around her life and the meaning of religion for her on a day-to-day basis. She makes notes as she travels, then sets down her impressions when she returns to the Apple Valley, Calif. ranch where she and Roy live.
Dale began to write during the five-year run of The Roy Rogers Show on TV, when her mongoloid daughter Robin died at the age of 2. Dale turned her grief into the best-seller Angel Unaware, the story of the child’s brief life. Titles like My Spiritual Diary, Christmas Is Always, Where He Leads and The Woman at the Well followed. Her most recent book is the Bicentennial-oriented Let Freedom Ring.
Dale was born Frances Octavia Smith in Uvalde, Texas and by 7 was dancing and singing hymns in the Baptist church. The name she made famous was given her while she was singing for a local radio station. After two divorces (she was only 14 at the time of her first marriage), Dale drifted away from the church until 1947, when Rogers asked her to marry him. Wary of the widower cowboy star with three children, she went to a prayer meeting in a Hollywood Baptist church “and broke down,” she remembers. “I felt so guilty about turning my back on God. I accepted Jesus Christ, and my life turned right side up.” She says her faith later helped her through the tragic accidental deaths of two adopted children.
Their home is nine miles from the museum where her horse Buttermilk and Rogers’ Trigger are mounted and kept on display. It is a countryside of sand, sagebrush and cactus, and Dale feels right at home. “It looks just like the Holy Land to me,” she says. “Can’t you just see Jesus walking among the Joshua trees?”