Throughout the years, many people from across the Nation have traveled to Portsmouth annually for the Roy Rogers Festival. While those numbers may be dwindling, it doesn’t change the fact that the festival still attracts visitors from all over to the area.
“It brings in people from a various number of states, and some travel as far as Canada to come in for the festival,” said Kim Bauer, executive director of the Portsmouth-Scioto County Visitors Bureau.
Known to the nation as the “King of Cowboys,” Roy Rogers was actually born as Leonard Franklin Slye.
Slye was born to Mattie and Andrew “Andy” Slye in Cincinnati, Ohio. The family lived in a tenement building on Second Street, where Riverfront Stadium would later be constructed. Dissatisfied with his job and city life, Andy and his brother Will built a 12-by-50-foot houseboat from salvage lumber, and in July 1912 the Slye family traveled up the Ohio River towards Portsmouth. Desiring a more stable existence in Portsmouth, they purchased land on which to build a house, but the Great Flood of 1913 allowed them to move the houseboat to their property and continue living in it on dry land.
In 1919, the Slye family purchased a farm on Duck Run and built a six-room house. Andy Slye soon realized that the farm alone would provide insufficient income for his family, so he took a job at a Portsmouth shoe factory.
Living on the farm with no radio, the family made their own entertainment. On Saturday nights, the family often invited neighbors over for square dances, during which Slye would sing, play mandolin, and call the square dances. He also learned to yodel during this time, and he and his mother would use yodeling calls to communicate with each other across distances on the farm.
After some time, Slye moved to California, where his older sister Mary and her husband resided. During his time in California, he went between jobs, before finally landing his career singing on the radio. His show ran on radio for nine years before moving to television from 1951 through 1957.
During his career, Slye appeared in over 100 films and numerous radio and television episodes of The Roy Rogers Show. In many of his films and television episodes, he appeared with his wife Dale Evans, his golden palomino Trigger, and his German Shepherd Bullet.
“He was one of the first to have merchandise, there were alarm clocks, costumes, pocket knives,” said Bauer. “There were a lot of toys, hats, the shirts with the fringe on the arms, the little boots. All the kids loved it.”
According to his biography, he was second to Walt Disney with the number of items that featured his name.
For Scioto County residents, the Roy Rogers festival is a way to honor Slye and his work in the community.
For others, it’s a safe-haven of childhood nostalgia, and a way to remember the good ‘ole days.
“I can remember back when we had black and white TV and three channels,” explained Bauer. “There weren’t any sports for females in high school, even when I graduated. If you go back even farther than that, to the people who graduated in the 50’s and 60’s there wasn’t much for them to do, other than go to the movies. You could go to the theatre and for a dime you could watch these 15-20 minute shorts. People grew up watching his shows. Later on, we had characters like Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny but he was a real person who grew up here, and he was someone that people actually knew.”
The Scioto County Welcome Center keeps Roy Rogers memorabilia on display year round for those interested.
For more information about the Roy Rogers Festival, please contact Garnet Davis at 740-727-4444 or Harold and Jane Lilly at 740-858-8079.
Reach Ciara Conley at 740-353-3101 ext. 1932, Facebook “Ciara Conley - Daily Times,” and Twitter @PDT_Ciara