Crowned "Queen of the Cowgirls," Dale Evans stands out as the most powerful female presence in cowboy culture throughout the 20th century. Evans was born Frances Octavia Smith, October 31, 1912, in Uvalde, Texas. At age 14, she eloped with her high school sweetheart. A year later, she found herself in Memphis, TN, a widow and single parent, pursuing a career in a music.
The station manager at radio station WHAS (where the aspiring star was working as a staff singer) encouraged her to change first her name to Dale. The surname Evans came about as Joe Eaton felt it was "euphonious" and would roll easily from the lips of announcers. As Dale Evans, she traveled to Chicago, became a vocalist with a number of different big bands, and was eventually hired as staff singer for radio station WBBM, the local CBS affiliate. Talent scouts from Paramount Studios discovered her and arranged a screen test in Hollywood for the movie Holiday Inn, starring Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby. She didn't get the part, but the screen test found its way to 20th Century Fox studios where she received a one-year contract.
Herbert Yates, head of Republic Studios, was inspired by the successful stage play Oklahoma, and decided to expand the female lead in westerns and adopt this format for one of his biggest stars, Roy Rogers. Since Evans was from Texas, Yates figured she could surely rope 'n' ride, and subsequently offered her a starring role in The Cowboy and the Señorita -- the first of 28 films Roy Rogers and Dale Evans would make together. This on-screen team became a real life romance, and they were married in 1947.
In 1950, Evans wrote the song most closely associated with the cowboy fascination of the '50s. "Happy Trails to You" was written while preparing for a radio show; scribbling on an envelope, Dale wrote the famous lyrics and taught the medley to Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers forty minutes before show time. The song eventually served as the closing song for their half-hour television series, The Roy Rogers Show, which ran until 1957.
Evans remained active throughout the rest of her life, co-writing more than 400 songs, including the immortal western classic "Hazy Mountains," and the Sunday School standard "The Bible Tells Me So." She also authored several books, co-founded The Happy Trails Children's Foundation for severely abused and neglected children, is a member of the Cowgirl Hall of Fame, and has an impressive three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Roy Rogers died in 1998 from congestive heart failure at the age of 86, and after a series of medical problems, Dale Evans followed him into the sunset three years later. Her memory stands not only as a fiery whip-smart cowgirl, but as a gifted songwriter and a warm humanitarian who shone with an earthy spirituality and a twinkle in her eye for the entire length of the long and dusty trail. ~ Zac Johnson