The first girl who won the Cowboy's heart was born April 19, 1911, in Francis, Oklahoma. Her father, Barney, was a telegrapher who worked at the local office of the Rock Island Railway Company. The family eventually settled in Duncan, Oklahoma, where Ina Mae Spivey and her sister Anita attended school.
Ina was a popular, active, and outgoing student who excelled in sports and music. At Duncan High she played forward for the basketball team. She also participated in the school’s award-winning Glee Club and appeared in a number of the school plays.
After graduation Ina went to work in the Duncan Western Union office, saving her money for college. She intended to become a music teacher. When she was ready, she moved to Springfield, Missouri, to live with her aunt and uncle while she attended the State Teachers College.
Ina’s uncle, Jimmy Long, worked for the railroad as a senior dispatcher. He also was a talented musician and composer. It was through these common bonds that Jimmy and the young Gene Autry became friends. The older man took Gene under his wing and invited him home for supper and a little guitar playing. At that time the Long family lived in Sapulpa, Oklahoma.
On October 9, 1929, when Gene cut his first record for Victor Records, he included My Alabama Home, which Jimmy wrote. Jimmy also was instrumental in providing Gene with his first hit in 1931, That Silver-Haired Daddy of Mine, co-written by the two of them. The friendship and musical association stayed strong even after Gene left the railroad to pursue his music career full-time.
Jimmy’s job with the railroad eventually took him to Springfield, Missouri, where he settled with his family.
Mr. and Mrs. Gene Autry returning to New York from Europe in the mid-1940s.
In 1932, on his way to Chicago, Gene stopped off in Springfield to visit the Longs. From his first introduction to Ina, the Cowboy was smitten. In fact, he told Jimmy and his wife Jesse then and there that she was person he’d like to marry. Over the next few months, Gene found his way to the Longs’ family parlor as often as he could.
Gene Autry, Mike the boxer, and Ina Autry at home in the early 1940s.
By then, Gene’s career was really taking off. He was a regular on the WLS National Barn Dance, singing on the radio for Sears and performing in small towns during the evenings. About three months after their initial meeting, Gene was scheduled to play in St. Louis. Jimmy Long joined him for the show. The next day Jesse and Ina arrived in town. Gene and Ina went off after agreeing to meet up with the Longs for dinner. When the foursome got together that night, the Longs were in for a big surprise: Gene had proposed to Ina, she had accepted, and they had married that afternoon. The date was April 1, 1932.
Over the years Gene and Ina took a lot of ribbing for their wedding date. The Longs thought they were joking at first; however, as Gene assured Jimmy and Jesse that evening in the restaurant, this was no April Fools’ joke.
Throughout their marriage, Ina Autry stood as a symbol of grace, intelligence, strength, and partnership. It was her encouragement that led Gene to give Hollywood a try and to stick with it when he had his initial doubts. And it was Ina who was primarily responsible for his recording of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Gene didn’t really like the song at first; but, Ina said it reminded her of the story about the Ugly Duckling and she thought children would enjoy it. She was right.
Gene and Ina in the 1960s
Gene Autry, Columbia's famous Western star, gets a warm welcome from Mrs. Autry on his return from a road tour in 1950.
Throughout Gene’s careers in the entertainment, business, and sports industries, Ina stood proudly by his side. She was comfortable with and gracious to people from all walks of life, from Presidents to celebrities and the Cowboy’s fans, and she was well respected in all quarters. Ina Autry was a strong-willed and intelligent woman, who was extremely proud and supportive of Gene.
The couple, who divided their time between Los Angeles and Palm Springs, had no children. At the time of her death on May 19, 1980, their marriage had lasted for more than forty-eight years. When Ina Autry passed on, she left her own special legacy in the hearts of those who knew and loved her.