He wasn’t a “real cowboy,” by true definition, but Roy Rogers was still widely recognized as “King of the Cowboys.”
While Roy Rogers was just the stage name for Leonard Slye, he was certainly a talented athlete, able to do things on horseback and otherwise many cowboys could never do, even if he wasn’t a bronc rider and steer roper.
Although his renowned golden palomino stallion Trigger, the “Smartest Horse in the Movies,” a Tennessee Walking Horse, was never used for mating, Rogers did raise Thoroughbred race horses.
Roy Rogers could draw faster and shoot straighter with a pistol than most cowboys. Likewise, a hunter, we recall a Kansas City newspaper photograph of him after a successful area duck hunt.
Of all his attributes, first and foremost, Roy Rogers was highly-musically-talented, and that’s how he became a cowboy: “a singing cowboy on the silver screen.”
While biographies are aplenty about him, and we’ve read several of them, our contact with Roy Rogers was limited.
There wasn’t a television in our home, so we missed the highly-rated, six-season-run NBC Roy Rogers Show, except for a few reruns in recent years. If the local theatre played any of his 80 movies, we don’t remember, but we have also seen a limited number of them on cable television.
His image graced covers of Dell “comic books,” filled with Roy’s wild-and-wooly tales, so we bought many from the dime store and read everyone time and again. Right now, one that was framed for us as a family gift hangs right above our desk.
Plastic toy horses, referred to as Breyer Collectibles today, were introduced in the 1950s, and Roy Rogers, wearing a removable hat and six-shooters, on Trigger, with detachable blue saddle, immediately attracted our attention. We had to have it, and still do in the forefront of our large collection.
Highlight of our youth, until we got our own horse, was when the real-live Roy Rogers Show came to the Mid-America Fair in Topeka in the late ’50s.
Roy was accompanied by his wife Dale Evans (stage name of Frances Smith), known as the Queen of the West.
Also there as part of the production were their five children, sidekick Pat Brady, Nellybelle the Jeep, Bullet the Wonder Dog, and most importantly Trigger and Dale’s Quarter Horse gelding Buttermilk.
Singing was a big part of the show, and Roy did some fancy-shooting of plates that Pat threw in the air, but what we remember most is the horse acts coordinated by renowned-trainer Glenn Randall.
Trigger did a number of choreographed-tricks, often dancing as Roy sang, but Trigger Junior was there too, performing high-school maneuvers.
An eight-horse liberty act with identically-matched palominos had to be the highlight of it all, as we recall the day more than a half-century later.
Again, we saw Roy Rogers in person at the 1969 American Royal in Kansas City. Trigger wasn’t there, but Roy borrowed somebody’s palomino, galloped around the arena before dismounting and singing.
Of all the public performances Roy Rogers did, one that we sadly remember not long before his death was a television-documentary with Roy leading a saddled buckskin.
After the passing of both Roy and Dale, their personal museum, near Apple Valley, California, was moved to Branson, Missouri.
Having adopted several children and helped many neglected children, their former hometown is now the location of the Happy Trails Children’s Foundation, which assista children in need.
Financial difficulties forced liquidation of the Branson-museum holdings including Trigger, Buttermilk and Bullet, all which in taxidermies have been preserved for posterity.
RFD-TV purchased classically-rearing Trigger for $266,000 and Bullet, for $35,000. Buttermilk and Trigger Junior, artificially preserved too, sold to private buyers for $25,000 and $18,500, respectively, but Buttermilk has now also been acquired by RFD-TV.
The ‘country life’ TV channel is sponsoring a 48-state “Happy Trails Tour” featuring Trigger, Bullet and Roy Rogers’ memorabilia to raise money for pets and horses that have been abandoned.
A 75-foot float in this year’s Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California, paid tribute to the memory of Roy Rogers,who would have celebrated his 100th birthday last November.
The large image of Roy inside a lucky-silver-horseshoe was flanked by American flags as Trigger and Bullet stood guard at the Riders Club entrance-archway.
Roy “Dusty” Rogers, Jr., and his son, Dustin, play five nights a week with the High Riders Band in Branson. They were on the float performing “Happy Trails,” the theme song written by Dale.
Three of Roy’s daughters were also on the float, while one of his granddaughters rode one of the 100 golden palominos leading the way.
As a testament to the Roy Rogers legacy, fans can still join his Riders Club, which boasted nearly 2.5 million members in the U.S., and 90,000 in England, during its heyday in the 1950s.