He was "King of the Cowboys." She was "Queen of the West."
That makes Cheryl Rogers-Barnett, oldest child of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, "the Cowboy Princess."
Who else do you know that thought of Trigger, "the Smartest Horse in the Movies," as a personal pet? Cheryl even shared her Coca-Cola, straight from the bottle, with her mount, the one her dad rode in 86 films across the silver screen from the late 1930s into the 1950s.
The Number One question she gets asked by the legions of fans that grew up watching and adoring her parents at Saturday matinees?
"Were they as nice as they seemed?"
"Yes, they were," answers Cheryl emphatically.
"You would have loved to have had them as neighbors. I think a lot of it was because neither of them made it big as teenagers. They struggled for quite a while and really paid their dues. By the time they got popular they were just about 30, and that makes a big difference. It doesn't go to your head like being 14. They knew the difference between what was publicity and what was real," said Cheryl.
"They loved kids. When they were on tour the first thing they did when they got to a city was find out if there was a childrens' hospital or home and go and visit."
Cheryl makes several appearances in Murfreesboro in mid-June. She will sign her new book, "Cowboy Princess Rides Again," at noon Saturday, June 18, at Linebaugh Public Library. And will host screenings of the Roy Rogers and Dale Evans western, "Don't Fence Me In," and present the documentaries, "Roy Rogers: In His Own Words" and "Dale Evans: A Most Remarkable Woman," from 1 until 6 p.m. Sunday, June 19, at the Patterson Park Community Center theater.
Cheryl wrote her autobiography, "Cowboy Princess," in 2002, with the encouragement of her mother. Why now the follow-up?
"Friends and family let me know there were a couple of things I had gotten wrong," she confessed. "Then people who read the book and who came to my personal appearance had more questions. They wanted to know more about mom and dad's life before they became 'King of the Cowboys' and 'Queen of the West' and more about the Sons of the Pioneers."
She also was prodded by Dr. Dale Isaeff, cardiologist on the staff of Loma Linda University Hospital, who oversaw the health care of her parents during their final years.
"Larry [Cheryl's husband] and I are the oldest in our families, and we took care of his folks as well as mine. Dr. Isaeff wanted us to write a book about taking care of aging parents from the children's viewpoints," she said.
"We didn't feel comfortable doing that. When I started thinking about writing the follow-up, I called Dr. Isaeff and told him if he would write a chapter, I would write a chapter. So in the back of the book is the chapter about taking care of aging parents. I've been really gratified that people have called and said that it was really helpful."
(Note: Roy Rogers died at age 86 in 1998. Dale Evans passed away at age 88 in 2001.)
The second eldest of Roy and Dale's nine children, Cheryl is one of five of their surviving children. Her newest book, "Cowboy Princess Rides Again" (loaded with 350 marvelous photographs), shares tales of her famed parents' lives and allows her to reveal some wonderful tales about growing up in a large family that had many good times together but that also was stricken by tragedy more than their fair share.
Cheryl was adopted in 1940 by Roy and his wife Arline after Roy found her when he was visiting an orphanage in Dallas, Texas, while he was on business.
"He told me that all the other infants, when he wiggled his finger and made weird noises at all the infants, they were scared, but I reached up and wrapped my hand around his finger and cooed," said Cheryl.
"He called Mommy and said, 'I've found our baby.'"
At the age of 6½, Cheryl and younger sister Linda Lou welcomed brother Dusty into the fold, but five days after his birth, their mother died in the hospital. A year later Roy married Dale Evans. At that time Cheryl was not a happy camper.
"Dad had told me I was the oldest and that I was in charge, and I didn't see any reason for another mom," recalled Cheryl, who eventually came around to calling Dale her Mom.
Life dealt a tough hand to Roy and Dale as they lost three of their children at young ages, but Dale kept the family on an even keel.
"Early on Dad was not around all that much. If he wasn't filming, he was out on the road doing personal appearances," Cheryl said. "When they got married, she went with him on appearances. Her attitude toward things, if a problem came up, she was so down to earth. Her faith was so deep.
"And my Grandmother Smith was an incredibly strong woman, and Mom had that role model and became that kind of role model for us."
As for the qualities that molded her parents' healthy marriage of 51 years, she says it was "a good sense of humor. When you're in the public eye all the time, you better have a good sense of humor. They could always find something to laugh about.
"And, of course, their faith. That made a huge difference. And the other thing was their love of music. I think that's what first attracted them to each other, their musical gifts."
Cheryl and her siblings grew up in several houses in the Los Angeles area. One of those was located between Sherman Oaks and Studio City in a neighborhood filled with children of other Hollywood stars and just a few miles from Republic, Universal and Disney studios.
"I loved going on the sets. Making movies just fascinated me, and Republic did musicals. They did film noir, they did westerns. They did everything, and Mommy, when she was pregnant, she was sick, so Daddy took me to work with him. Once we went through the gate, he just turned me loose, and I had the run of the studio as long as I didn't open a door with a red light flashing above it. Republic was like Disneyland," she said.
If the movie studio was like an amusement park, the Rogers home was like a zoo as Roy loved creatures of every kind, from racing pigeons, geese and pheasants to sheep, skunks and opossums.
"We had rabbits for a while. Dad gave rabbits away to everybody, but we still wound up with 500 rabbits," she laughed. "We had three baby raccoons when we lived in Hollywood and Dad also had 36 coon dogs. When the sirens went off or there was a full moon, the neighbors just loved us."
And there were ponies and horses. Cheryl spent many an hour riding Trigger all over the San Fernando Valley.
"Trigger was the nicest and best horse even though a stallion," she recalled. "He took care of his rider. With me on him, you would have thought he was a 30-year-old horse that worked for a pony ride. He liked coffee and would drink right out of Dad's cup. Dad also taught him to tilt the Coke bottle in his mouth, and he liked to eat mayonnaise sandwiches on Wonder Bread."
Today, a bit distant from the Hollywood hills, Cheryl and Larry, her husband of 37 years, make their home in St. George, Utah. They share seven children, 24 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
Cheryl makes appearances at several nostalgia conventions and western movie events throughout the year, such as the Lone Pine Film Festival each October and the Western Legends Roundup in Kanab, Utah.
At her Murfreesboro appearances, she will be selling her books and also offering a DVD set that features two of her favorite films starring her parents, "Lights of Old Santa Fe" and "Sunset in El Dorado."
"In 'Lights of Old Santa Fe,' Mom looks drop-dead gorgeous, and they sing a beautiful duet on the title track," she said.
The DVD also includes documentaries on her parents that Cheryl and Larry have produced from home movies and other sources, titled "Roy Rogers: In His Own Words" and "Dale Evans: A Most Remarkable Woman."