No Navajos On this Trail

navaho trail4
As I was researching the song, Along The Navajo Trail, I began to wonder just where the Navajo Trail was located. There were other trails that I could find. I knew about the Santa Fe Trail, the Oregon Trail, even the old Chisholm Trail, but where was the Navajo Trail?

I knew, for instance, that the Oregon Trail was a two thousand-mile historic east-west wagon route and emigrant trail that connected the Missouri River to valleys in Oregon. The eastern part of the Oregon Trail spanned part of the future state of Kansas and nearly all of what are now the states of Nebraska and Wyoming. The western half of the trail spanned most of the future states of Idaho and Oregon.

I also knew that the old Chisholm Trail is believed to have started at Donna, Texas or at San Antonio, Texas. From 1867 to 1871, the trail ended in Abilene, Kansas. Later, Newton, Kansas, and Wichita, Kansas, each served as the end of the trail. From 1883 to 1887, the end of the trail was Caldwell, Kansas. Ellsworth, Kansas, was also considered a major influence of the trail. A song was written about the old Chisholm Trail that dates back to the 1870s when it was among the most popular songs sung by cowboys during that era. Based on an English lyrical song that dates back to 1640, The Old Chisholm Trail was modified into a cowboy song.

Yet another trail I knew about was the Santa Fe Trail, a nineteenth-century transportation route through central North America that connected Franklin, Missouri with Santa Fe, New Mexico. This trail served as a vital commercial and military highway until the introduction of the railroad to Santa Fe in 1880. A song by Al Dubin, Edwina Coolidge, and Will Grosz tells of the Santa Fe Trail.

A song written by Ballard MacDonald and Harry Carroll in 1913 speaks of The Trail Of The Lonesome Pine. The song is not really a about a trail at all, but about the singer’s love for his girl, June, who lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. The opening lyrics set the scene:
In the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia,
On the trail of the lonesome pine—
In the pale moonshine our hearts entwine,
Where she carved her name and I carved mine;
Oh, June, like the mountains I’m blue—
Like the pine I am lonesome for you,
In the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia,
On the trail of the lonesome pine.

And in keeping with the “trails” theme that I seem to have started, there are the “Trails” about which Roy Rogers and Dale Evans sing. Their song, Happy Trails, written by Dale Evans Rogers, was the theme song for the 1940s and 1950s radio program and the 1950s television show starring Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Rogers, always sung over the end credits of the program.

But having said all that, I am still at a loss to locate the Navajo Trail. So, right or wrong, I have come to the conclusion that this “trail” is comparable to the “trail of the lonesome pine” of 1913, or the “happy trails” of the 1940s. That is to say, the Navajo Trail only exists in the imagination of the songwriter. I was hoping that there was something more, but the only “Navajo Trail” that I could find was a trail in Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah, named the Navajo Loop Trail. This trail requires hikers to descend eight hundred feet down the side of the Bryce rim, and then at the end of the hike to climb right back up that slope. Even with its name, I do not believe that this trail has anything to do with the Navajos.

I even had hopes that the Navajo Trail in the song referred to the “Long Walk of the Navajo,” also called the “Long Walk to Bosque Redondo.” This walk, like the “Trail of Tears” of the Cherokee, Muscogee (Creek), Seminole, Chickasaw, and Choctaw nations, refers to the 1864 deportation and attempted ethnic cleansing of the Navajo people by the United States government. In this dark and tragic page in American history, Navajos were forced to walk up to thirteen miles a day at gunpoint from their reservation in what is now Arizona to eastern New Mexico. Some fifty-three different forced marches occurred between August 1864 and the end of 1866. No, the song is not about that experience.

So, if Along the Navajo Trail is not about any trail or about the Navajos in any way, what is the song about? Rather than having to do with the Navajos, this country/pop song, written by Dick Charles (pseudonym for Richard Charles Krieg), Larry Markes, and Edgar De Lange in 1945 has to do with praising the beauties of the American West. Terms such as sunlight beginning to pale, slumbering shadows, night and crickets callin’, coyotes makin’ a wail paint a picturesque portrait of experiences one can have out under a beautiful western sky. Here are the entire lyrics.
Every day, along about evening
When the sunlight’s beginning to pale
I ride through the slumbering shadows
Along the Navajo Trail
When it’s night and crickets are callin’
And coyotes are makin’ a wail
I dream by a smoldering fire
Along the Navajo Trail
I love to lie and listen to the music
When the wind is strummin’ a sagebrush guitar
When over yonder hill the moon is climbin’
It always finds me wishin’ on a star
Well whatta ya know, it’s mornin’ already
There’s the dawnin’, so silver and pale
It’s time to climb into my saddle
And ride the Navajo Trail

Along The Navajo Trail was featured in at least two films, Don’t Fence Me In (1945) and Along the Navajo Trail (1945). Both films starred Roy Rogers; Dale Evans; Trigger, Roy Rogers’ beautiful Palomino horse, often billed as “the smartest horse in the movies;” and grizzly sidekick, George “Gabby” Hayes. It should come as no surprise that there are no Navajos, or Native Americans of any tribe for that matter, to be found in either of these unremarkable Roy Rogers films. While there were no Navajos on this trail, there were Gypsies! The only people of color in Along the Navajo Trail are Spanish-speaking Gypsies, who are given the same Hollywood stereotyped portrayal as were Mexicans and other Latinos in the “oaters” of the 1940s. Besides depicting them as wearing quaint clothing and travelling in garish wagons, Gypsies of this period were portrayed as people who were always suspected of either stealing or cheating. While it is a sub-plot to the film, the Gypsies provide Hayes’ character with some comic relief in which he attempts to cheat the Gypsies, and is in turn cheated himself. At the end of Along the Navajo Trail, Rogers, Evans, and the rest of the cast gather to sing the title song, and then supposedly they all live happily ever after. Remember, this was 1945 and that’s the way things were in 1945.

There were several recordings of the song, three of which charted on the Billboard charts, namely; the versions by Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters, Gene Krupa, and Dinah Shore.

Included below are the charted versions, plus some other versions that were popular as well. Since I mentioned some other “trail songs” in this post, I have included versions of the songs that I mentioned.

To listen to a song, click on the song title. To download a song, right click on the song title, then right click on Save target as

CHARTED VERSIONS
Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters
, Vic Schoen and his Orchestra (#2) Along The Navajo Trail
Gene Krupa and his Orchestra, vocals by Bobby Stewart (#7) Along The Navajo Trail
Dinah Shore, Al Sack and his Orchestra (#7) Along The Navajo Trail

NON-CHARTED VERSIONS
Roy Rogers
Along The Navajo Trail
The Sons of the Pioneers Along the Navajo Trail
Foy Willing and the Riders of the Purple Sage Along The Navajo Trail

OTHER “TRAIL” SONGS
The Trail Of The Lonesome Pine Rex Allen, Victor Young and His Singing Strings The Trail of the Lonesome Pine
Along The Santa Fe TrailGlenn Miller, vocals by Ray Eberle Along the Santa Fe Trail
The Old Chisholm Trail Andy Parker and the Plainsmen The Old Chisholm Trail
Happy TrailsDale Evans and Roy Rogers Happy Trails

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