Roy Rogers’ Life Through Rare Vintage Photos

This article appeared in and has been published here with permission.

Early life

Roy Rogers had a very humble start to his life. Originally named Leonard Slye, he was born to Andrew “Andy” Slye and Mattie Slye née Womack on November 5, 1911, in Cincinnati, Ohio. The family lived in a small tenement building on the second street – the very same place where Riverfront stadium would be built later. However, soon after Rogers’ birth, the family decided to make some changes in their lives which set Rogers’ journey in motion as well.

Getty Images // Photo by Richard C. Miller // Donaldson Collection

Up the Ohio River

Soon after Rogers’ birth, the Slye family decided to seek out their fortune in greener pastures, away from the city life. In 1912, Andrew Slye and his brother Will built a 12 by 50 ft houseboat out of salvaged lumber and decided to sail their way up the Ohio River to Portsmouth, Ohio. The family purchased a plot of land in Portsmouth where they intended to build a house, but the Great Flood of 1913 forced them to live in the houseboat for a few more years. This is where Roy Rogers spent the earlier part of his childhood.

Corbis via Getty Images // Photo by Found Image Holdings

Love for Horses

A few years after moving to Portsmouth, the Slye family relocated again in 1919, this time to Duck Run, a farm outside Lucasville, Ohio. Roy’s father, Andrew Slye took a job in a shoe factory in Portsmouth, only coming home on weekends and bringing gifts along. One of the notable gifts was a horse, on which Roy Rogers learned the basics of horsemanship. He had always possessed a love for horses, and this gift from his father was what set him up to be a true western star.

Redferns // Photo by GAB Archive

Born to Perform

Roy Rogers’ rise to fame was no accident. Although it came much later in life, he was already popular in his neighborhood due to his extraordinary talents. Since the location of the farm was in a rural area, the sources of entertainment were limited – with no radio to listen to. The Slye family would often invite neighbors for square dances, during which Rogers would sing, play the mandolin and call the dances. He also learned to yodel during this time. These early performances helped him discover his passion for entertainment, which he soon followed.

Getty Images // Photo by Silver Screen Collection

High School Days

Roy Rogers, who was still Len Slye back then, attended high school in McDermott, Ohio. He was a bright kid, but he would never graduate. After his second year in high school ended, the family moved back to Cincinnati again in 1927, where his father worked in another shoe factory. He realized that his family needed financial help, so he joined his father at the factory in Cincinnati. He tried to balance work and studies by attending night school, but he kept falling asleep, and soon called it quits on his education.

Flickr // Roy Rogers // Truus, Bob & Jan too!