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News & Views of Phillips Since 1976
Sunday May 19th 2024

James Womack and Frances Collier Womack “Happy Trails to You, Until We Meet Again”

James Womack was the grand-uncle of Roy Rogers. Roy Rogers, born in OH, to Andrew and Mattie Womack Slye and named Leonard Franklin Slye; went west in 1931 as a would be musician. In less than two years, he”'d co-founded the greatest Western singing group of all time, the Sons of the Pioneers, and four years later, he”'d started a career as a movie star with a new name, Roy Rogers. Apparently, a cowboy hero couldn”'t be known as Slye. The name “Rogers” came from Will Rogers and “Roy” came from a list. He made his debut in “Under Western Stars”; with Roy Rogers as a new star, and his horse, Trigger.

By Sue Hunter Weir

Those of us who grew in the late 1940s and 1950s, in the age of black and white movies and television, are all familiar with Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, King and Queen of the West. At the end of their weekly television show, they signed off by singing “Happy Trails to You,” a song written by Dale. Even now, most of us can still sing the song by heart. Believe it or not, that song has an interesting connection (albeit a somewhat remote one) to Minneapolis Pioneers and Soldiers Cemetery.

James Tignal Womack was born in Louisa, Lawrence County, Kentucky in 1835. During the Civil War, on October 15, 1861, he enlisted in the 14th Kentucky Volunteer Infantry. He was forced to resign his commission as a 1st Lieutenant a year later due to poor health. In a letter written to his colonel, Womack wrote that he had “been labouring under a disease of the Breast for the last six months, and which has been so severe of late as to Render Me totally unfit for duty”¦” He was given an honorable discharge for disability on October 10, 1862.

It is not clear exactly when Womack moved to Minnesota, but by 1870, he was living and farming in Hennepin County. He married Frances Elizabeth Collier, and they had at least seven children, one of whom died at the age of two and is buried next to his parents in the cemetery.

Womack was only one of at least eight men from the 14th Kentucky Volunteer Infantry to settle in Minnesota, although he was the only one to settle in Hennepin County. Marlitta Perkins, Regimental Historian of the 14th Kentucky Volunteer Infantry, speculated that, because Womack arrived in Minnesota either during, or soon after the end of, the Civil War, it is likely that he had “Union sympathies in a family who had also Confederate leanings.” Two of James Womack”'s cousins, who were brothers, fought on opposite sides during the war, something that was not all that uncommon for families living in border states. Archer Womack fought on the Union side, and Egbert Womack fought for the Confederacy; their father, William, was jailed for his secessionist views.

Over the years, the two branches of the family seem to have continued going down separate paths. There are a lot of Womacks on the internet looking for family connections; the majority of them are descendants of Egbert Womack and are connected to the Sons of the Confederacy. But, both branches of the family trace their lineage back to a man named James Tignal Womack, who was not “our” James Tignal Womack, but his grandfather.

Whatever the differences that divided the family so many years ago, there is one family tie that transcends those differences. Archer Womack, James”' cousin, was the grandfather of Roy Rogers, a connection is a considerable source of family pride. “Our” James Womack was Roy”'s grand-uncle. James Womack is buried in Lot O, Lot 31, next to his wife Frances, and their son, Roland. And, since many of you are probably thinking it anyway, it seems fitting to sign off with the Womack family”'s farewell song—“Happy Trails to You.”

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