March 06, 2010

Roy Rogers's Indian side

Roy RogersRoy Rogers, born Leonard Franklin Slye (November 5, 1911–July 6, 1998), was an American singer and cowboy actor, as well as the namesake of the Roy Rogers Restaurants chain. He and his third wife Dale Evans, his golden palomino Trigger, and his German Shepherd dog, Bullet, were featured in over one hundred movies and The Roy Rogers Show.

Early life

The baby who would become famous as Roy Rogers was born to Andrew ("Andy") and Mattie (Womack) Slye in Cincinnati, Ohio, where his family lived in a tenement building on 2nd Street.
Eleven Ways of Looking at a CowboyMuch was made in Rogers' TV show of his Indian heritage, from his mother's side of the family. In 1967 he was named "Outstanding Indian Citizen of the Year" by a group of western tribes. Rogers accepted the honor. But made it clear that he was only one-thirty-second Choctaw, the rest of his genetic matter being Dutch and English.Happy Trails:  The Life of Roy Rogers

By Laurence ZwisohnIn the summer of 1952 Roy and Dale adopted a little American-Indian girl they named Mary Little Doe, but whom they soon began calling Dodie. Texas state law requires that an Indian child be adopted by someone with Indian blood. Fortunately, it turned out that the King of the Cowboys was part Indian, since his great grandmother on his mother's side was Choctaw, the same tribe as Dodie. (Interestingly, whenever Indians appeared in any of Roy's films he was always a friend to them. There isn't a single film in which Roy Rogers the cowboy is fighting the Indians.)Comment:  Interesting that Rogers had enough clout to insist on a positive treatment of Indians. That contradicts the claim that studios can do whatever they want and individuals don't have the power to thwart them.

Someone on Facebook chastised me for saying Rogers was only "part" Indian. Unless he's a member of a federally recognized tribe or recognized by most Indians as an Indian, "part" is all I'm crediting him for. If we said everyone with 1/32 "blood" was an Indian, we might as well say everyone who wants to be an Indian is one. The term would become essentially meaningless.

For more on the subject, see "Actual Indian" Defined and TV Shows Featuring Indians.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Since the term "Indian" was assigned to indigenous North Americans by a "white" man (who thought he had found a "short cut" to the sub-continent of India), I'm surprised that anyone is worried about the "meaning" of something imposed on them by the outsiders who later stole their homeland. Maybe, instead of "indians" or Native Americans, we should refer to various tribes of Original Owners.
At least they have Casinos! Littlejohn

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the reason Roy and Dale were so popular and "powerful", in the sense mentioned in your very thoughtful article, was that they were genuine people, who lived what they believed (i.e. the good treatment of "Indians" on their shows) when the standard treatment of the day would have been easy.
"..I was always partial to Roy Rogers ..call me Roy." John McClane
Littlejohn