Adoption led to Choctaw girl’s forever home with legendary King of the Cowboys and Queen of the West
By Shelia Kirven
May 1, 2022
One of the most famous Western songs of all time, Happy Trails, was released by Hollywood legends Roy Rogers and Dale Evans in 1952. It goes like this:
“Some trails are happy ones, others are blue. It’s the way you ride the trail that counts, here’s a happy one for you. Happy trails to you, until we meet again. Happy trails to you, keep smiling until then. Who cares about the clouds when we’re together? Just sing a song and bring the sunny weather. Happy trails to you, Until we meet again.”
If you know anything about Rogers and Evans, you know that the song fits the couple perfectly and seems somewhat autobiographical. Happy Trails became the theme song for the couple’s 1940s and 1950s radio program, and their 1950s television show.
Rogers and Evans made many movies and recorded multiple albums. They appeared in severalradio and television shows, including the Roy Rogers Show from 1951 to 1957. Rogers was born Leonard Franklin Slye in Ohio on Nov. 5, 1911, the son of Mattie (Womack) and Andrew “Andy” Slye. He was one of the country’s most famous and legendary actors and singers. Growing up during the Great Depression, he ultimately moved from Ohio to California to find work. He played the guitar and joined up with the musical group Sons of the Pioneers.
Rogers became a Hollywood name and starred alongside other legends such as Gene Autry and John Wayne. It has been said that Rogers was second only to Walt Disney in whose name and likeness were used in merchandising.
Rogers’ wife, Dale Evans Rogers, born Frances Octavia Smith on Oct. 31, 1912, was from Uvalde, Texas and raised in Texas and Arkansas. At an early age, she became a popular radio singer. She later moved to Chicago and was ultimately signed to star with Rogers as his leading lady.
The couple married on Dec. 31, 1947, in Davis, Oklahoma. Their marriage lasted more than 50 years until Rogers died in 1998. Evans passed away in 2001.
What you might not know is that Roy Rogers was Choctaw and that he and his wife Dale adopted a 7-month-old Choctaw daughter during their marriage. Mary Little Doe “Dodie” Rogers was born in March 1952, becoming the youngest child of the Hollywood legends.
“When I was adopted, Mom wanted to name me Mary Little Doe, and she did. They named me Mary Little Doe. But then gradually the Little Doe would be shortened to Doe and then Dodie. I’m not exactly sure if it was my dad or who actually started calling me Dodie first, but I believe it was him. It just stuck. I’ve gone by Dodie ever since, even though it’s not legal, on legal paperwork, but everyone knows me as Dodie.”
Rogers and Evans had a total of nine children together. Rogers had two children, Linda Lou and Roy “Dusty” Jr., from a previous marriage, and he and his wife also adopted one child together, Cheryl. Evans had a son by a previous marriage, Tom Fox. Rogers and Evans had one biological child together, Robin, and they adopted three children, Debbie, John David “Sandy,” and Mary Little Doe “Dodie.” They also fostered a daughter, Marion “Mimi” from Scotland, whom they considered to be their adopted child as well.
Rogers and Evans were advocates for adoption and foster services.
Dodie said, “They had always loved children. Whenever they traveled or did shows, or just on their series and stuff, they were always caring about any children they saw.”
When asked what it meant being a Choctaw child waiting for adoption and knowing that she was chosen by one of the world’s most famous persons who happened to be Choctaw, Dodie said, “Very blessed. It’s just to me remarkable that everything turned out that way in that time. It’s beyond coincidental. It’s hard to say it was meant to be, but I believe it was something that God put there.”
Dodie said that her older sister Cheryl once became interested in learning about her own biological family and decided find out what she could at the orphanage in Dallas that Cheryl was adopted from. While Evans was there, that’s when she saw Dodie.
She had told Dodie later upon seeing her for the first time, that she wished she would go to a good home because she was taken with her. Upon Evans returning home, daughter Robin developed problems, one after another, and passed away not too long after.
Roy took Dale to Texas where her family was to spend some time after Robin’s death. While there, he decided to go to the orphanage again. Evans said she really wasn’t ready, but that she would go.
Dodie said her father told her when he stopped the car, Evans couldn’t get out fast enough. “When she did, the people were following her, and she went straight to where I was,” said Dodie. Evans told Dodie she remembered her from the previous visit and was so anxious to see if she was still there.
The agency knew that Rogers was Choctaw, and it was their policy that one of the parents be of Native American heritage to adopt the Choctaw child. Ultimately after a home visit, the adoption was arranged and completed.
Years later Evans found Dodie’s biological family and surprised her. She was able to meet members of the family and got to know them. Her biological grandmother would come to visit and became good friends with Evans.
“Mom was very strong in being able to give me a touch of my heritage and background. She bought me books and she talked to Choctaw people.”
Dodie grew up in California. She appeared on one episode of the Roy Rogers series as a baby, and an episode of This is Your Life. The children traveled with their parents when they could, especially during the summer.
She said, “They would have us run on stage and they had a song for each of us. I have the little 45 that my mom wrote for me.” Dodie said the children were raised in a Christian environment.
“When they would go on tour and around the country to state fairs, they would sing songs of faith, and their belief in God and family. They included that in whatever they did and whatever they talked and sang. That was always forefront of their lives,” Dodie said.
As an adult, Dodie worked at a hospital as a secretary/assistant and then went to paralegal school at the suggestion of her daughter.
“I’m an avid reader. I saw those beautiful books. I looked at each one of them, Legal Writing, Civil Law, Criminal Law, and I just can’t tell you what I felt, but I thought this is what I want,” said Dodie.
She went on to work at a worker’s compensation insurance company. She then got a job for the general council there, the legal department for the company.
Dodie now lives in Alabama with her husband, Jon Patterson, who is an engineer for NASA. They met in California around 1999. Jon moved to Alabama, and they would fly back and forth to see each other. She ultimately moved to Alabama to join him. She said it was hard to leave her family in California, but her daughter and family eventually joined them in Alabama.
Dodie has one daughter, Kristin, two stepchildren, Wes and Rosalynn, three grandchildren, and eight great-grandchildren. Patterson just received his 30-year pin from NASA and works on the space launch system.
Dodie is still close to her living siblings and tries to visit them whenever she can. Linda Lou recently moved to Tennessee. Dusty and his family live in Missouri. Tom’s daughter is starting to do festivals with Dodie, and she said that Cheryl still attends festivals occasionally.
“I never was prepared for how many fans there still was,” said Dodie. She has books and photos of her parents that she takes to the festivals, and she signs autographs and visits with the fans.
“That was quite different for me to do because I’ve always been kind of quiet and shy. Being social was not my strong suit. But I’ve learned to be able to get out of my comfort zone. I’ve met a lot of great friends and people. I really look forward to it now. They’re fun. I like them,” Dodie said. “Wherever they want any of us to talk if we can we try to do it.”
Roy Rogers and Dale Evans’ legacies still live on today and the family works to ensure that. The Sons of the Pioneers are still together and tour regularly with Dusty now a permanent part of the group.
You can visit their webpage at sonsofthepioneers.org. Cheryl Rogers Barnett has her own website at cherylrogers.com. Dodie Rogers can be found on Facebook. She is currently working on writing her memoirs, telling the story about her life with her famous family.