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In this story from March 1953, the beloved cowboy star reveals how his wife, Dale Evans, patiently but persistently invited him to know God.
What’s wrong with a guy who isn’t scared when he nearly breaks his neck filming Western pictures, but gets the shakes when he has to make a simple speech? For years I asked myself this question.
I was shy from my boyhood days when we lived on the Ohio River in a three-room houseboat built by my father. Our family–Mother, Dad, and three sisters–later settled on a farm outside Portsmouth, Ohio. Dad worked in a shoe factory, while my sisters and I helped Mother run the farm.
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We kids went to a one-room schoolhouse, which was just an even hundred yards from the Baptist Church. I know because we measured it and discovered it a perfect distance for a foot race.
Our shoes came off after the last snow and didn’t go on until fall. To toughen our feet in the spring, we ran barefoot races from school to church over a course of tough corn stubbles. My feet grew skin an eighth of an inch thick on the bottom.
By the time I was ten I could call a square dance and play the guitar. But to get up and talk before a class, or just a few people, would make me take off across the cornfields.
I earned a dollar a week by ploughing corn on neighborhood farms, later quit school and went to work in the shoe factory to help out the family finances. When the family went to visit my sister in California, I fell in love with the far West.
I drove a gravel truck in Lawndale, California for a while, then during the depression took any kind of job. I helped build a state highway from Newhall to Castaic, later joined the “Okies,” and picked peaches in the California fruit orchards described in “The Grapes of Wrath.”
During my spare time I practiced on my guitar, hoping that some day I could make a living as a musician and a singer. Three of us formed a musical trio called the Texas Outlaws, but it was rough going. Often the three of us lived in one room, where sleeping was done by unique arrangement of daybed, couch and chair. In our travels we often had to go out and shoot rabbits to live.
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Then, as often happens to a guy who wanders into Hollywood, I had a lucky break, got a spot in a picture and my film career started. When my wife died during the birth of our third child, I was faced with a demanding career and the responsibilities of raising three fine children.
The story I want to tell begins several years later. Dale Evans, a film star in her own right, and I had been making pictures together for many years. With the unanimous approval of my children, we were married on December 31, 1948.
We hadn’t been married but a few days when she started one morning with “It’s a beautiful day to go to church!”
Now I wasn’t a stranger to churches. I just hadn’t time to get acquainted with very many because of other things I preferred doing. “Honey, I’ve gotta go see Joe Miller this morning,” I said quickly. “Why don’t you go ahead without me?”
This was the first excuse I could think of, but with more advance warning I could have done much better. Dale fixed a firm eye on me, and I knew her nimble mind was working overtime.
She let me get away with it the first time, but going to church soon became the most important thing there was to do on Sunday.
One night before going to bed I noticed a new book on my reading table. “Where did this come from?” I asked, picking up a copy of the Bible.
“Since you lost your old one, I bought it for you this morning,” Dale said brightly. She knew that I knew I never had a copy of the Bible, but what can you do with a woman whose mind is made up!