When teenager Leonard Franklin Slye, whose musical ability was cultivated on a small farm in Duck Run Ohio, was singing, yodeling, and strumming guitar in his sister Mary's house in Lawndale California he could not know that one day he would take his place in history, his talents would catapult him to international acclaim as the "King of the Cowboys", and the musical group he formed would be inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum.


After entering a talent show at Inglewood radio station KMCS, Len joined The Rocky Mountaineers and the Hollywood Hillbillies; then started his own groups the International Cowboys and the O-Bar-O Cowboys. In 1934, with the right combination of Bob Nolan and Tim Spencer, the unique three-part yodeling team formed the Sons of The Pioneers. Their singing/composing/arranging radio career began with a performance of "Way Out There" on Jack And His Texas Outlaws.


Brothers Hugh and Karl Farr on the fiddle and guitar joined and The Pioneers began using "Tumbling Tumble Weeds" as their theme song. Lloyd Perryman developed the smooth vocal styling that became their trademark. In 1936 they appeared in "Rhythm on the Range" staring Bing Crosby and Martha Ray. In 1937 Len became Dick Weston and went solo appearing in his first film "Wild Horse Rodeo" while Pat Brady replaced him at the Pioneers.


When Gene Autry was embroiled in a dispute with Republic Pictures, the newly fashioned Dick Weston stepped forward to audition. Republic recognized they had a new singing cowboy naming him Roy Rogers. Roy got star billing in the film "Under the Western Stars" in 1938. He appeared with "Golden Cloud", the Palomino from the studio stables he had renamed Trigger. In 1941 The Pioneers joined Roy in the film "Red River". Roy Rogers and the Sons of The Pioneers introduced the Cole Porter hit "Don't Fence me In."


As Roy's career developed, a beautiful young singer/piano player from Texas named Frances Octavia Smith was making a name on Tennessee radio as Frances Fox and Marian Lee. The station manager at WHAS renamed her Dale Evans. Dale was appearing in Chicago's best venues when talent scouts from Paramount brought her to California for a screen test. She appeared in two movies for Twentieth Century Fox but in 1944, the head of Republic Studios decided to add a female lead for one of his biggest stars Roy Rogers. The singer from Texas thus became "The Queen of the West".


In 1949 Spencer and Nolan retired from the Pioneers. Tommy Doss and Ken Curtis replaced them. Just as there is more than one incarnation of the "Wonder Horse Trigger", the Pioneers replaced members as they retired or passed away. Last year music historian Fred Goodwin produced a DVD from the Texas Troubadour Theater celebrating The Pioneers' seventy-fifth anniversary and showcasing them as the longest continually active musical group of all times. It's available at Sons of The Pioneers DVD.com.


Dale Evans' personal manager Dick Baxter tells about his relationship with Roy and Dale in his book Standing Tall in the Shadows, Memoirs of a Hollywood Manager. As a young boy growing up in rural Indiana Dick fell in love with movie star Dale Evans. Being asked in the 1950s to serve as her personal manager was beyond his wildest dreams. Dick reminds us of the genuineness and goodness of Roy and Dale and says that the couple always found time to visit the local children's homes when they were on tour for a show, rodeo, or personal appearance.


Roy and Dale left their mark on the High Desert including the support they gave to the Coopers Home for Kids in Crisis that was started in the 1980s by local folks including the late Irene Gould of Hesperia. The non-profit was renamed Happy Trails Children's Foundation in 1992 and continues on 10755 Apple Valley Road under the direction of Joel Dortch with a waiting list of boys in need. Velma Spencer, Tim's widow, who had been residing at Jess Ranch, was the last of the original Pioneers group to leave us. In the meantime, the large fiberglass replica of Trigger has returned to stay.