Keith Hunt - Chasing Trigger #1 - Page Nine   Restitution of All Things

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Chasing Trigger #1

Seeing through the Dust


From Leo Pando's superbly researched book book "An Illustrated
History of Trigger"

Corky Randall (the son of Trigger's trainer Glenn Randall) say:

All I can say about old Trigger is that he was just a lovely,
gentle and kind horse. He was a wonder horse in regards to making
pictures. For the longest period of time there were no doubles
for him. Roy would get off and a stunt man would get on. I don't
think that any other picture horse that I know of served their
rider the same as old Trigger.

Around strangers and the public or whatever, you had to watch
Little Trigger. You know, somebody might reach out and try to
touch him or something. If you didn't have your eye on him, he
might give them a nip. He would give Roy a nip or two on the
stage when Roy was working him.

You can't imagine, I can't imagine the thousands, the millions of
people. I don't have a picture but I've seen them where Roy is
among a crowd and all these hands reaching out, rubbing and
touching that horse. An animal can't tolerate that so much. You
can't imagine the thousands of miles that horse traveled. And he
traveled by airplane, he traveled by boat, and he traveled by
van. And when Roy and my dad started out, why, he traveled in a
two-horse trailer behind a station wagon.

Trigger Jr. was the most elegant of the three horses in
appearance. He was a nice horse. I showed him in rodeos as Golden
Zephyr. Roy only used him for a short period of time. Zephyr came
right at the end of Roy's riding career. Zephyr had tricks on
him, he had everything on him. When Little Trigger couldn't
travel anymore, he took Zephyr and the tricks were there. They
just went at it. I don't think people ever noticed the
difference, even though none of the three horses looked alike at

Of all the western stars that came up a little before Roy and
after, there's never been a set of three horses like those
Triggers. All at the same time - that's just a phenomenal thing.

Three great horses that I had the privilege to ride and care for.
I rode all of them; they were in the barn and had to be
exercised. Those horses were almost like family. They were the
foundation that I stand on today.

Corky Randall Newhall, California

(Did you notice that Corky said the same thing often said by Roy
Rogers "People couldn't notice the difference" of the horses.
Corky said the three horses did not look alike at all. Well, I
guess Roy was going on the assumption people did not take much
notice in the markings of the three Triggers. I sure did, and one
marking was that Trigger Jr. mane fell on the left side as you
would ride him, while the original Trigger's mane fell on the
right side as you would ride him. The big difference with Little
Trigger and the original Trigger was the face blaze between them
and also Little Trigger had 4 white stockings on his legs, while
the original Trigger had only one white sock on his left hing
leg. Keith Hunt).


"The true journey of discovery consists not in seeking new
landscapes but in having fresh eyes."- Marcel Proust

     To begin a study of "Trigger," a good place to start is to
acknowledge what was said about him by two of Roy Rogers'
children, Dusty and Cheryl; by Corky Randall, the son of
"Trigger's" trainer Glenn Randall; and Roy Rogers himself. Glenn
Randall's comments may be found throughout this book and mostly
in the chapters titled "Glenn Randall" and "The Smartest Horse in
the Movies."

Dusty and Cheryl

     Of the Rogers children, Roy "Dusty" Rogers, Jr., and Cheryl
Rogers-Barnett are the most public and the most responsible for
promoting the image their famous father cultivated. They have
both written autobiographies, both of which discussed "Trigger."
I may not agree with everything they wrote, but I certainly
respect their intentions. It would be presumptuous to expect them
to have dissected the "Trigger" fantasy their father spent a
lifetime creating and maintaining. While neither was deliberately
deceptive, neither, apparently, has had the need or inclination
to study their father's movies or career to the degree many
serious fans have. Neither demonstrated an expert command of
"Trigger's" history with respect to his use in their father's
movies or in personal appearances.

     People often make the mistake of assuming children of the
stars know all about their parents' careers. Admittedly, Dusty
and Cheryl do not have to back up their claims about "Trigger";
their stories may be taken at face value. With all due respect,
that doesn't mean they're completely accurate. While ordinary
fans may not know intimate details about stars' personal lives,
serious fans know a great deal about them as celebrities. The
reason is that serious fans, from the time they were kids,
absorbed all publicity and studied a star's body of work. The
more discriminating ones eliminated the outrageous and drew their
own conclusions. Some continue to learn all they can about their
heroes. Fan speculation has a fair claim to the truth, more than
the principals care to admit at times. With regards to "Trigger,"
the public relations that the Rogers camp has propagated for
decades is only a small part of the whole story; it's been a
small group of serious fans (and the press, to a very small
degree) who has exposed most of the story.

     If one accepts Dusty Rogers' book "Growing Up with Roy and
Dale" as the truth with regards to his father's palomino, one is
left to believe that there was only one Trigger and a few
incidental doubles. The only significant anecdote Dusty added to
the legend was his account of how his father kept Trigger's death
from the family for twelve months: "When Trigger died in 1965 Dad
was so broken up he never told anyone about it, not even us, for
more than a year." He said the same thing on the A & E's
Biography program during an episode on his father. The fact that
Rogers was able to keep the news of Trigger's death from his
children for a year demonstrates they were not particularly
involved with the palomino.

     Dusty Rogers also wrote in his autobiography that Trigger
sired a son who was later used on tour as a trick horse: "One
Easter morning we got a call from the stables where Trigger and
most of Dad's other horses were kept. Trigger had sired a colt,
and the foal looked just like him. We all went out to the stable
before church to look at him. The colt never got to be as big as
Trigger, but he was smart." The two horses Rogers used in public
were Little Trigger and Trigger Jr. (the latter was especially
good at dance routines). Trigger Jr. was not sired by the
original Trigger, and it's very doubtful Little Trigger was. In
fact, towards the end of his career Roy Rogers himself stated
that the original Trigger never sired a foal. (See the chapter
titled, "Trigger's Story," the section on "Trigger's Offspring.")

     Dusty Rogers also offered a humorous anecdote that's been
cited many times since, having to do with how "Trigger" sometimes
misbehaved in public. He would take off after playing dead,
leaving Rogers alone in the middle of an arena. For reasons that
will become apparent, the horse Dusty was referring to was
clearly Little Trioger. (Refer to the chapter titled, "Little
Trigger," the section on "Temperament and Personality.")

     Dusty Rogers followed in his father's footsteps as a singing
cowboy. However, he has never publicly defined himself as a
horseman and hasn't had to. There is no evidence he had any
particular interest in horses. However, Rogers' daughter Cheryl
Rogers-Barnett took after her father and liked to ride, even on
occasion with Glenn Randall's daughter Dolores. Cheryl had a
personal relationship with Trigger and has the pictures to prove
it. She used him on trail rides. There's a charming picture of
Cheryl with Allan Lane's stallion Blackjack in her book "Cowboy
Princess." She loves horses. Her anecdotes regarding Trigger are
great fun and one never gets tired of them. She's the only member
of the Rogers family who included a chapter on Trigger in an
autobiography. Much to her credit, in that book she acknowledged
Little Trigger as no one in her family had before.

"Old Trigger remained Dad's favorite, but there were actually
other Triggers. Dad bought Little Trigger a couple of years after
he bought old Trigger. He purchased the second horse primarily to
spare wear and tear on old Trigger. He wanted a horse that he
would take on the road; he only used old Trigger for the movies.
Dad never publicly admitted that there was more than one Trigger.
He always said that he didn't want to confuse the little kids who
loved Trigger. The fans knew Trigger Jr. - the studio even had a
contest to name him when Dad first got him - but Little Trigger
was a "secret."     

     Even with Cheryl Rogers-Barnett's honest acknowledgment of
Little Trigger, it would seem she (and her writing partner Frank
Thompson) had only a partial knowledge of "Trigger." While she
provided a fair background for the legendary palomino, it wasn't
up to date. Rogers-Barnett erroneously claimed that the original
Trigger appeared in every one of Rogers' films except "Mackintosh
and TJ" (Penland Productions, 1975). Roy Rogers also made the
same claim over and over again: "I think I'm the only cowboy in
history who started and finished his career with the same hor."

     Trigger was present in all of the feature movies Roy Rogers
made for Republic Pictures and all in the television episodes
produced over six years. Trigger also appeared in a multitude of
magazine photos, on comic book covers, and in advertisements. But
it was only Little Trigger who starred with Rogers and Bob Hope
in Son of Paleface (Paramount, 1952). Rogers-Barnett seemed to be
of the impression that Little Trigger was used only on the road
and the original Trigger was used on film, when in fact Little
Trigger was in most Roy Rogers films after 1943. (Refer to the
chapter titled, "Little Trigger," the "Movie Debut" section).

     Cheryl Rogers-Barnett also presented information about Roy
Rogers' purchase of Trigger that did not square with official
documentation. She never gave any real dates and assumed her
father started buying Trigger almost immediately after he started
using him, making payments which continued until the early 1940s.
She didn't make clear when payments started, leaving the reader
to supply a date. Her most erroneous statement was that part of
the agreement with Clyde Hudkins, Trigger's owner at the time,
stipulated that no other cowboy could use the palomino while
Rogers was buying him (refer to the "Golden Stallion" chapter and
the section on the movie "Silver City Raiders"). Only about three
months elapsed between the agreement to buy Trigger in 1943 and
the date when the final payment was made, which means that this
statement is probably technically true. However, Cheryl
Rogers-Barnett seems to have honestly thought the agreement was
in place for years, not a few weeks.

     The section on Trigger in Cheryl Rogers-Barnett's book
"Cowboy Princess," excerpted in "Cowboys and Indians" magazine,
for the most part stays within the public relations that Rogers'
autobiography written with Carlton Stowers, Happy Trails,
maintained. Of the five photos accompanying the text, only three
are of the original Trigger, with no distinction made between him
and Little Trigger. A full page shot of Trigger in the rearing
position with Rogers in the saddle is printed in reverse changing
the markings on his blaze. It's safe to assume none of these
photo errors were Rogers-Barnett's doing.

     Cheryl Rogers-Barnett was born in 1940. Roy "Dusty" Rogers,
Jr., was born in 1946. Their father's career was at its peak
between 1942 and 1954; 1948 was Roy Rogers' biggest year. Cheryl
and Dusty were 13 and 7 respectively when Roy Rogers' career was
starting to level out. They were school children when their
father, Glenn Randall, and "Trigger" were making movies and
touring. It's doubtful Cheryl and Dusty were fully aware of how
Trigger and his doubles were being used. It also has to be noted
that Rogers' palominos were boarded on the Randall Ranch. Dusty
Rogers stated in his book, "Because Trigger was not a pet, dad
kept him and all of his entertainment horses on a separate
ranch." Only if Cheryl and Dusty were on movie sets daily,
keeping diaries and asking Randall direct questions, would they
have a solid idea of what he and their dad were up to with
Trigger, Little Trigger, and all the palomino look-alikes.
     Judging by Roy Rogers' Victorville museum, it seemed he
saved everything. One would think official records, like horse
registration papers, bills of sale, and travel logs, might still
exist. They would answer many questions and shed new light on
     Records for the original Trigger and Trigger Jr. are
available through the Palomino Horse Association and Stud Book
Registry. Perhaps one day some historically minded third-gen-
eration Rogers family member who's far enough removed from the
myths and has enough curiosity to use the information available
to the family may try to tell a more complete story.

     It could also be argued that the Rogers family is wasting
its time trying to cater to children today who have no interest
in a fantasy of a singing cowboy and his horse. While the Rogers
family actually focuses mostly on older fans, there is still an
expectation that longtime fans should be satisfied with the same
incomplete stories they've read and heard hundreds of times. All
this seems to be another example of the publicity becoming a
hotly defended public stance long after many fans see the
necessity for truth. Serious fans no longer want to hear from
official sources that every time Roy Rogers was pictured with a
palomino, it was the original Trigger. If Trigger had done all
that we saw him do on film, and in person, he would have indeed
been a super horse. It's been noted in later interviews that Roy
Rogers was a little less interested in promoting the image of his
horse and more prone to telling the real story as best he could
remember it. Many fans have acknowledged that while on visits to
the Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Museum in Victorville they were
able to ask Rogers very candid questions about his palominos. He
in turn was very forthcoming with information on Little Trigger
and another double named Pal.

Buford "Corky" Randall

     Everyone who worked at close quarters with Roy Rogers and
his "Triggers" is gone: the trainers, directors, stunt doubles,
sidekicks, and Dale Evans. Buford "Corky" Randall, Glenn
Randall's son, is the last person living with a working knowledge
and experience of Rogers' mounts. For Rogers' children, the
different "Triggers" were just one aspect of their parents'
lives. For Corky Randall, his family's main income depended on
Rogers' horses.

     With his busy schedule running an empire, Roy Rogers did not
have time to maintain a string of horses, and it made sense to
board them at the Randall Ranch. Glenn Randall had immediate
access to Trigger and his doubles. As their primary caregiver he
attended to their conditioning and training. In fact, Rogers'
palomino remuda lived at the Randall ranch up until the time the
King of the Cowboys retired from personal appearances. Cheryl
Rogers-Barnett acknowledged in her biography that her father
lived with the Randall family for a time around 1947 after his
second wife, Arlene, died.
     Corky Randall was born in 1929. He started riding at an
early age and was breaking in colts when he was in grade school.
He learned how to train horses from his dad, as he put it, "from
the get-go."
     Corky Randall actually handled Roy Rogers' palominos to a
point far beyond just going on trail rides. He was about 14 when
his father started working for Rogers. By the time Corky was in
high school, he was already working in the motion picture
industry, wrangling horses. He was 19 during Rogers' heyday.
     Corky took care of the Randall stable when his dad was out
of town touring with Roy Rogers. It was not till his last year in
high school that a barn man was hired, freeing Corky from some of
his responsibilities. The year Glenn Randall was in Europe
filming Ben-Hur (MGM,1959), Corky toured with Rogers and Dale
Evans. Corky was in his mid-twenties by then. Besides caring for
Rogers' palominos, one of his duties was to drive the Rogers
children from their hotels to where their parents were
performing. By the time the Roy Rogers television show was going,
Glenn Randall was touring the country with his own horses. A very
young Corky worked on "The Roy Rogers Show" on television under
Johnny Brim, an old time wrangler who once worked at Hudkins
Stables, Trigger's early home.

     While Corky Randall learned how to train horses from his
father, it was Bill Jones, head wrangler and ramrod at Republic
in the 1940s, who was his mentor in the movie business. Jones was
in charge of recruiting horses and men, working with budgets,
transportation, feeding livestock, etc. He taught Corky how
scenes with horses were shot with respect to set-ups, angles, and
such. A horse trainer's job was to provide an appropriate mount
to do the required work and cue him accordingly.
     As one of his father's assistants, Corky Randall not only
hauled "Trigger" to different locations on occasion but even rode
Trigger Jr. in horse shows, rodeos, fairs, and circuses under the
palomino's first registered name, Golden Zephyr. He did so in
order to acclimate the horse to crowds and all the distractions
that confront an animal while performing in public. Although the
horse belonged to Rogers at the time, Rogers was never mentioned
as owner. By the time Rogers started to use the horse as Trigger
Jr., the palomino was well schooled in front of live audiences.
     Like his legendary father, Corky Randall became a
professional horse trainer for private clients and, most notably,
worked in motion pictures and television. His credits as
livestock coordinator and trainer include such movies as The
"Black Stallion Returns" (MGM/United Artists, 1983), "Silverado"
(Columbia Pictures, 1985), "he Three Amigos" (Orion, 1986), "Hot
to Trot," (Warner Brothers, 1988), "Indiana Jones and the Last
Crusade" (Lucasfilm/Paramount, 1989), "Back to the Future III"
(Amblin Entertainment/Universal, 1990), "Robin Hood, Men in
Tights" (20th Century Fox, 1993), "Spy Hard" (Buena Vista, 1996),
and "The Mask of Zorro" (Sony Pictures Entertainment, 1998). He
worked on such television shows as "Spin and Marty" (Disney,
1955), Walt Disney's "Zorro" (Disney, 1957-1958), "The Fall Guy"
(Glen A. Larson, 1981-1986), and "Return to Lonesome Dove" (de
Passe Entertainment, 1993).

     The high point of Corky Randall's career as a Hollywood
horse trainer came in 1978 when director Caroll Ballard hired him
and his father as wranglers on "The Black Stallion" (United
Artists, 1979), arguably one of the best horse movies ever made.
Often described as poetry in motion, its soul and magic are due
not only to Ballard's mastery as a filmmaker, but most especially
to the performance Corky Randall elicited from the four-legged
star of the film, a gorgeous Arab stallion named Cass Ole. "The
Black Stallion" belongs as much to the Randalls as it does to

     Corky Randall earned his living by what he could actually do
with horses, not by self-promotion. He has nothing to gain by not
telling the truth about what happened with his dad, Rogers, and
"Trigger." Needless to say, he would like to have his father look
good, but given his father's solid reputation, there is no danger
of his father losing face no matter what Corky says. Corky
Randall was interviewed by telephone for this book on a number of
occasions. I tape-recorded him from his home in Newhall,
California, where at 77 he is semi-retired. He was cordial,
candid, generous with his time, and very forthcoming with
information and rare photographs. Corky does not have a
photographic memory and made no claims to knowing every detail.
He was quick to say he did not intend that his recollections cast
aspersions on anyone else's. From this writer's perspective,
Corky's experience and knowledge of "Trigger" are not to be
denied. Corky Randall is a man who can tell you what it was like
to care for and ride Trigger and actually put him up on his hind
legs in the classic rearing pose. As to credibility, that says it

Roy Rogers

     In December of 1949, when his career was close to its
zenith, Roy Rogers and writer Aaron Dudley produced an article
for "Western Horseman" magazine titled "Trigger: First, Get
a Good Horse." It appeared in volume 14, number 12, and ran five
pages. Along with a cover portrait, four photographs were
published, including three of Rogers grooming his beloved
palomino. It's an important essay not only because it appeared in
a prestigious and well respected magazine, but because it's a
time capsule of sorts and offered Rogers the opportunity to
present his four-legged partner exactly how he wished. It's
interesting to note that this article was published the same year
the "Golden Stallion" movie was released. Rogers and Republic
Pictures had a horse and movie to promote.

     What follows is a synopsis of the major points in the
article. For reasons that will become apparent in the chapters
that follow, Roy Rogers' "Western Horseman" article is true if
"Trigger" is viewed as a fictional character and a composite of
several palominos.

1. Rogers implied that after he'd signed on as a movie cowboy and
realized he needed a movie horse, he initiated a search. "It was
as an obscure movie extra that I began visiting ranches, stables
and hanging around rodeos looking for a horse." He went on to say
that he finally heard about one from San Diego that Art Hudkins
had just purchased.

2. Rogers gave the year he purchased Trigger and the palomino's
age at the time: "It took a lot of doing, but I finally owned
Trigger. That was in 1938, and it was the cheapest $2,500 I ever
spent. He was a five-year-old then."

3. According to Rogers, trainer Glenn Randall appeared on the
scene later. "About three years later after Trigger and I had
worked several pictures, I met up with Glenn Randall." Rogers
also stated that he'd already started training Trigger as a trick
horse, leaving Randall to continue: "Over the years, Randall
helped me add 50 tricks to the meager ten I was putting on
Trigger through in those early days."

4. Little Trigger was not mentioned when Rogers went on to note
"Trigger's" prowess as a trick horse. "In addition to being a
good all-around cow horse, Trigger today is considered the most
versatile horse star in the motion picture business."

5. Rogers portrayed Trigger as a wonder horse, with great
stamina, and capable of numerous tasks. "In the early days of our
movie career, I worked the whole picture from start to finish
with Trigger, close-ups, trick shots, running shots and all."
While Trigger stand-ins were mentioned, the implication was that
they didn't do that much: "Every leading actor in Hollywood has
one or more doubles, so we have a couple of other palominos to do
those long shots."

6. Rogers also discussed Trigger on tour: "We take him in hotels
and theaters while on personal appearance tours."

7. Rogers also noted Trigger as a breeding sire. "There are only
two genuine Trigger colts. The younger, a two-year-old, I own.
The only other one I raised especially for a little girl in New
England and presented to her as winner of a nation-wide contest."

"This is the west, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the
legend." - From The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

     During his long and illustrious career Roy Rogers' name was
paired in three different combinations: Roy Rogers and Dale
Evans, Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers, and Roy Rogers
and Trigger. It would seem that a pairing with his wife or the
musical group that first brought him fame would be more
important, but that is not so. For proof of Trigger's
significance and popularity, one need only consider who was
photographed with Roy Rogers most often and who received second
billing in his films, television shows, and personal appearances.
Trigger was truly an equal half of a magical team. Both man and
horse remain powerful symbols of a place, a time, and even a
state of mind. If Leonard Slye's formation of the Sons of the
Pioneers is one of "his most significant contributions to the
myth of the romantic west," as author Raymond White so
insightfully states in his book "King of the Cowboys and Queen of
the West," the fantasy of a magical palomino was another.
     Beyond a great screen persona and the talent to match, what
made Roy Rogers special was his proximity to a very special
horse. This was especially evident in live performances. When I
watched Roy Rogers movies as a youngster I believed in the
fantasy of a singing cowboy hero on a beautiful horse. I accepted
the simple stories where good won over evil. As an adult I still
find joy in the exciting black and white movies even if I don't
believe them any more. When I watch them now, I find myself
analyzing what I see. Although elements like the stunts,
horsemanship, music, clothes, scenery, and camaraderie retain
their resonance, I'm now interested in how B-westerns were made.
These days I'm inspired not so much by the adventures of a cowboy
hero, but by the talent, hard work and creativity it took to put
B-western magic on screen. To understand the full story of how
the character of "Trigger, the "Smartest Horse in the Movies" was
created and perpetrated, one has to consider a number of

     Surely there's no adult now, especially not one with a
rudimentary knowledge of equines and film-making, who doesn't
know that it takes a number of animals and expert handlers to
pull off the illusion of a single wonder horse. The story of how
"Trigger" was turned into "the Smartest Horse in the Movies" is
not rocket science, but it is very confusing, for reasons that
will become apparent.


A Republic Pictures press release circa 1946 claimed, "Trigger,
Roy Rogers' beautiful palomino, performs more than 70 tricks on
cue. Rogers has trained the horse himself and Trigger goes
through his repertoire of amazing tricks at children's and
veterans' hospitals, on the stages of theatres, and at rodeos as
well as in motion pictures."  While this made nice copy, it was
show business propaganda from the get-go, and by definition a
half-truth. The fact that "Trigger's" trainer, Glenn Randall, was
not acknowledged does not mean Roy Rogers or the public relations
department at Republic Pictures were liars. Plainly speaking,
they were putting on a show.

     In 2005, author Bob Spitz cited an interview in The Beatles:
The Biography in which Paul McCartney explained how the fab four
and their manager, Brian Epstein, agreed on a "version of the
facts" that would serve as their public story. Once agreed on,
the story was adhered to and embellished to suit their needs.
Consequently, the Beatles' history was often laced with a lack of
"reliable source material." Spitz went on to say, "Even in those
remarkable cases where sources are offered, accuracy remains
suspect. Either memories were vague, tales were recycled, facts
went unchecked, or circumstances were fabricated or obscured."
Spitz even quoted Napoleon: "History is a set of lies agreed

(Maybe so, but for a Christian such lies and made up fancy or
half-truths cannot be a part of your life, as you portray your
life to others. Jesus said, "You shall KNOW the truth, and the
truth shall set you free." Keith Hunt)

     Public relations and its by-products are nothing new, of
course. They've been a staple of entertainment and show business
from the beginning of recorded history. The pharaohs were aware
of the power of image, as were Julius Caesar and the popes.
Politicians like Teddy Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and Ronald
Reagan were quite masterful when it came to controlling their
images. Buffalo Bill was augmenting his image and the history of
the west decades before Rogers was a celebrity. Control over
image is crucial whether one is trying to succeed in show
business, rule a country, or run a corporation. Companies spend
millions on advertising and promotion. As much as selling a
product, they're selling a way of life. Roy Rogers was no
different. He spent most of his career trying to control his
image and that of his horse. However, the truth catches up to the
image eventually.

(And yes, when Roy accepted Christ as his Savior he should have
cleaned the slate and stopped the Hollywood hype and deceptive
fantacy, the children would have accepted the truth and still
loved BOTH horses named "Trigger." Keith Hunt)

     Publicity is about bending the truth to fit a public image.
Celebrity is born out of publicity and by its very nature is
subjective. In effect, cowboy stars and their publicists were
telling the truth under imaginary circumstances. Even a fictional
character, like a wonder horse, needed a background. However, on
occasion the subject of the publicity may blur the truth so much
and for so long, he or she loses sight of it. Some fans were also
culpable, seeing only what they wanted and buying into any and
all publicity. There are adults who are still very dedicated to
Roy Rogers and Trigger and are very ambivalent towards any one
who might tarnish the image they've held on to since they were
children. By the same token there are adult fans who still love
the "Trigger" fantasy, even if they don't believe it anymore.
     There are those who don't care if Rogers wanted to call
every palomino in the world "Trigger," as that was his choice.
There were, after all, different "Champions" and "Lassies," and
fans loved them all, not knowing the difference. For them it
didn't matter which horse played "Trigger." The horse was a
character in their eyes just like the rider was. Fans loved the
show that Roy Rogers and his team of professionals put on. They
absorbed it and asked for more. Thousands paid money to see
"Trigger," something they would recall for the rest of their
lives. And don't try and tell them they didn't see the original
Trigger or you're liable to have a fight on your hands.

(All this may be so for some people, but the fantacy can be just
as thrilling and fun, if the facts are put up front - Gene Autry
made no bones about having a "Champion" horse for the movies and
a "Champion" horse for his road shows and rodeo shows, and Gene
had (and still does have) just about as many fans as Roy Rogers
did. Keith Hunt)

     Roy Rogers fan Jerry Dean said it best: "Yep, I'm a fan of
Roy Rogers and Trigger. He was my number one childhood hero, and
you never get another one of those. When I watch his movies today
(and yes I do have a lot of them) on the most special level, it's
to touch, again, for a brief moment, the old, nearly forgotten
thrill I felt watching his every move, how he mounted and rode
Trigger, how he wore his guns, everything about him! I still do
that now, but these days, it's partly to answer adult questions
about how things like making the movies were done, and why they
did them that way. I find these things interesting now, but they
are not why I am a Roy Rogers fan. That's something I became
years and years ago, and nothing I learn now will ever change

     B-western movies were fiction and their goal was wholesome
entertainment. If reality interfered with what they were trying
to accomplish, it was eliminated. Gabby Hayes and his bay Eddie
looked more like a genuine cowboy and his horse in the early days
of the old west than Roy Rogers and Trigger. Have you ever seen
an archival photo of a genuine cowboy who dressed like Roy
Rogers, riding a horse who wore tack like Trigger? A working
cowboy back then would have most likely been riding a smaller
horse, almost pony size, like a mustang. It would have looked
pretty mangy from work and hard riding outdoors in all sorts of
weather. Roy Rogers, Art Rush, and Republic Pictures wanted to
fill movie seats and sell merchandise. It's doubtful it occurred
to them that fans would read more into Rogers' myth and that of
his horse than the obvious. However, fans did that and more.
An image, which can be a symbol, is a point of reference, a
selling tool, and at times, a lot of fun. That's why so many fans
embrace images. With regard to entertainment and art, it's best
to trust art, not artists. It's also wise to take the same tack
with symbols. Embrace the image if it nourishes you, but be aware
of what the owner's motive and message are. Remember that an
image is not the same as the actual human being, or an actual
horse. Trigger was a real horse who was humanized, even
mythologized, on screen and television to the point where he
became larger than life. He's at once a beloved memory of a more
innocent time and also a corporate logo. Just drive up to the Roy
Rogers museum today where a 23 and 1/2-foot statue of a palomino
greets visitors and tell me that he's not. The image of a rearing
palomino or one in fancy show tack is very much associated with
Roy Rogers.

(Again, true to a point, but I maintain a Christian is to be open
and not intentionally misrepresent or deceive in any way in his
line of work or life. The Santa Clause stuff is not for
Christians to be passing off on to their children. When Roy
Rogers became a Christian, as Dale Evens did, they should have
opened up the true books on their entertainmentlife and the
horses that were a big part of it. The excuse about disappointing
children was just that, an excuse, and a bad one, for children
can accept the facts if given to them in the right manner. For an
example. If Roy had said something like, "Well I'm sure glad to
be riding here today for you, and so is Trigger Two. We'll try
and give you a show to remember." Or at the end of the show he
could have said something like, "Thanks pardners, and Trigger Two
thanks you, he did super good, give him a clap .... and hey,
Trigger One at home, will see you in the next movie we make." You
know kids could accept that, sure they could, I would have. They
came out by the thousnads to see Gene Autry and he made no secret
of having more than one "Champion" horse. Keith Hunt)

     The palomino Roy Rogers selected as his screen mount one
fateful day, from a group of horses offered by Hudkins Stables,
was more than just beautiful; he was a cut above. Trigger added a
great deal of ambience with his regal looks and the way he
carried himself. This was his major strength and why he was
critical for close-ups or running full out. Fans have a mental
picture of Trigger running during the opening credits of "The Roy
Rogers Show" on television and the voice-over: "... Trigger, his
golden Palomino!" Then there was his striking signature pose,
rearing in an almost perpendicular position with Rogers on his
back. The palomino did it countless times, effortlessly and with
the slightest cue.

"He was beautiful with his flaxen mane and tail and proud arched
neck. As I hit an easy lope, then a fast gallop, I could feel
that this boy was an athlete with power to spare and a fine
balance that would set him in good stead for chases over rocky
grades and down steep mountain slopes" (Roy Rogers and Dale Evans
with Jane and Michael Stern, "Happy Trails: Our Life Story" [New
York: Simon and Schuster, 1994]).

     When Trigger was being ridden down a road with Rogers sing-
ing a tune, the palomino didn't just walk, he pranced, his mane
and forelock flowing in the wind. Author Richard Adams could have
just as well been referring to Trigger in his book Traveller,
written from the point of view of General Robert E. Lee's great
horse. In one section the animal tells a barn cat friend about
how he liked to carry himself when he was being ridden by his
famous master: "It takes a durned good man to ride me, and I've
no use for any other sort. I've got a lot of go in me, and I jest
can't abide hanging around. I will walk, mind you, if a man
really wants it and insists, but I always keep it fast and

Trigger Doubles

     It became obvious right away to Roy Rogers that Trigger
could not retain his magnificence on the steady diet of movie
work and personal appearance tours required of him, which meant
being cooped up in a trailer for weeks on end. Even with all his
intelligence and athleticism, Trigger was still just a horse. So
a horse referred to as "Little Trigger" took on the majority of
the work. Much more than a mere double, he was literally a second
Trigger. However, as fantastic as Little Trigger was, he alone
could not hold up to sustain a career as long as Rogers' shows
were being scheduled miles apart, time was tight, and physical
endurance got pushed to the limit. A Roy Rogers tour in 1961
included 5O performances in 26 cities.
     During Roy Rogers' heyday the majority of his fans assumed
Trigger was one horse, but it was common knowledge, and confirmed
in interviews, that doubles were used for stunts and long shots.
     Rogers and trainer Glenn Randall chose not to reveal much
publicly about Trigger. While they acknowledged the use of
palomino look-alikes, they did so almost in passing and only
because they had to. Saying nothing at all would have been silly
because a few children and even horse-ignorant adults assumed
that doubles were being used. So Trigger Jr. - not Little Trigger
- was introduced and promoted as Trigger's replacement. Little
Trigger was Rogers' big secret, his personal appearance and trick
horse. Glenn Randall did not seem so dogged about keeping Little
Trigger, a secret but no one suspected enough to ask. The Roy
Rogers public relations machine was pretty animated, with its
coverage of Trigger satisfying both the press and fans.     ,
     When asked how many Triggers there were, B-western director
Joseph Kane replied, "Quite a few. After it got going, he had two
or three. One for close-ups and stills, one for riding, and an
extra one."
     Glenn Randall actually discussed Little Trigger in 1992. He
was quoted in "Cowboy Magazine" in an article titled "He Spoke
Horse" by Phil Spangenberger: "Actually, due to the grueling
schedule of a superstar like Roy Rogers, it was necessary to
train a trio of Triggers for the various films, and personal
appearance tours and shows, including several trips abroad." As
Randall also recalled, "Little Trigger was our personal
appearance horse and, by God, he could do some of the most
remarkable things."

     Republic Pictures also agreed with Rogers not to risk two
valuable palomino horses on hazardous movie stunts. Just as
Rogers had stunt doubles, so did Trigger and Little Trigger.
Different palominos were switched from scene to scene and
sometimes from shot to shot depending on the requirements of a
given situation. The original Trigger earned his oats and star
treatment, but not anywhere near to the degree most of his fans
were led to believe. Over the years, more palominos than will
ever be known were used to keep Rogers and "Trigger" number one
in the hearts of fans. Doreen M. Norton, in her book "The
Palomino Horse," wrote that "Trigger got a double to go on
personal appearance tours. Eventually more doubles were
obtained, because the main 'picture' Trigger was a horse too well
trained to waste on any but the most important scenes, and other
similar Triggers were obtained for stand-ins. These stand-ins
pose while lights and camera are being adjusted, and a 'chase'
Trigger does all the running in pictures."

     Director William Witney's claim that the original Trigger
was taken on Rogers' tour for "Under Western Stars" (1938) is
highly doubtful. It was Rogers' first movie in a starring role
and he made almost every major city in the United States in about
three months. Corky Randall maintained that the original Trigger
did not like to travel. It would seem the horse appeared at only
a few outings around Rogers' home base of Los Angeles. "Any time
they ever saw Roy Rogers up close in person, it was [with] Little
Trigger. The old horse was never in anything but film and would
have only been on a film company set."

     On page 18 of William Witney's book "Trigger Remembered,"
there's a photo of Roy Rogers with the original Trigger.
     According to the caption the shot was taken during a parade
on Fifth Avenue in New York City where the duo was appearing at
Madison Square Garden for the first time. Without any New York
landmarks in view, this photo could have been taken in any big
city. Until more definite proof that the original Trigger
appeared in public outside of Southern California, this writer
will defer to Corky Randall. With the original Trigger's limited
bag of tricks, it's doubtful Rogers would have taken him clear
across the country to perform, especially since Little Trigger
could do so much more in front of a live audience. If you saw a
personal appearance by "the King of the Cowboys" and "the
smartest horse in the movies" outside of southern California, you
probably did not see the original Trigger.

     However, for such high-profile events as the laying of
hooves into wet cement at Hollywood's Grauman's Chinese Theater,
the original Trigger was present in all his glory. Rogers was not
going have any other palomino immortalized!

Roy Rogers and the Truth

     Roy Rogers was not a liar. However, there is a difference
between an individual's truth and an absolute truth. As
entertainers and celebrities, aspects of Roy Rogers' and
Trigger's public lives were shaped by the studio that represented
them, by Rogers himself, by Rogers' own publicist, and by the
press. Author Tim "Tumbleweed" Lasiuta was very insightful when
he said, "if we consider the Trigger dilemma, we can conclude
that the spirit of the truth is more important than the
substance. We all loved Trigger, but which one becomes the

     Roy Rogers' goal was entertainment and the shaping of a
character, a wonder horse, "the Smartest Horse in the Movies."
Rogers is not often thought of as a storyteller and mythmaker in
the classic sense, but that is in fact a lot of what he was.
Many fans start with the premise that it was only authors and
journalists who embellished or were just plain inaccurate about
Roy Rogers and Trigger, twisting things to suit their stories.
Anything of questionable accuracy was not Rogers' responsibility,
but a writer's concoction.
     How could any serious fan make the argument that Rogers was
consistent and always accurate concerning "Trigger"? One would be
hard pressed to find printed text or a video interview where
Rogers discussed Little Trigger specifically. For that matter,
just the example of the date of purchase of the original Trigger
should prove the point. Rogers had a bill of sale in his
possession, and it clearly contradicted what he said in public.

(As I've stated already, Roy Rogers should have come "clean" with
everything when he accepted Christ as his Lord and Savior. Some
Christians want to believe Roy Rogers was kinda "perfect" - not
so, we human Christians have our faults and weaknesses and some
times things hang on to us that we should have "let go of" way
back when. Later in life during the Museum days of Roy's life,
when fans asked him point blank questions he readily admitted to
have a Little Trigger. Now it would have been great if he had put
a spot in the Museum to honor that horse, but again, for some
reason he could not bring himself to do that ... Roy was not
perfect, none of us are. Keith Hunt)

     The bill of sale states that Rogers purchased Trigger in
1943. Yet this writer has not come across one print or video
interview where Roy Rogers said he bought Trigger that year. (I
mention video because in such cases, it cannot be said a writer
twisted Rogers' words.) There's a good chance Rogers was aware of
Trigger's solo performances in other movies between 1938 and 1943
but did not acknowledge them because it would have meant
explaining why other movie studios had access to a horse he was
thought to own.

     An interview is only as good as the questions that are asked
and the willingness of the subject to answer. For the most part
the press didn't know what to ask Rogers beyond the same obvious
questions, asked over and over. Rogers was not foolish enough to
divulge more than he was asked. Had a real expert or even a
serious fan interviewed Rogers, there's no telling what might
have been revealed about Trigger and his doubles.

Public Relations

     During the height of the hippie movement in 1967 Jerry
Garcia, the lead guitarist for the "Grateful Dead," said
something I will never forget. He was talking to a reporter about
the quality of press coverage of the "Summer of Love." Garcia was
somewhat of an expert; he and his band mates were at ground zero,
living in the Haight-Ashbury section of San Francisco. He was
amazed at how some very prestigious magazine and newspaper
articles were misleading and did not truly represent the spirit
of the movement or what it meant. It got him to thinking: if the
press could not deliver an honest and truthful accounting of such
a simple story, how could the general public trust stories about
more important and complex topics like war, the economy,
political scandals, and the environment?

     I've thought about Garcia often as I've been researching
this book. I'm amazed at all the contradictions and misleading
statements regarding a horse who was a celebrity in B-western
movies and television shows. I understand that in the beginning a
fictional scenario was deemed necessary to promote a new star,
but it's amazing how much misinformation has persisted decades
after Trigger's death.

     Just as Leonard Franklin Sly (aka Slye) spent a lifetime
nurturing the character of "Roy Rogers, King of the Cowboys," he
also spent decades creating and embellishing the fantasy of
"Trigger, the Smartest Horse in the Movies." Subsequently, he and
Glenn Randall apparently had a mutual agreement not to say much
about "Trigger" during his heyday. Rogers employed public
relations by design throughout his career until it became second
nature. After a while, at times unintentionally, he mixed up the
facts. Rogers did not make any of Trigger's official records
public, like his registration form or bill of sale, most likely
so he could control the fantasy of one special horse. This will
be addressed later in more detail.

     When researching the lives of Roy Rogers, Trigger and his
palomino doubles, one is easily overwhelmed by the number of
interviews and other material from books, magazines, press
releases, newsletters, and television documentaries. It's easy to
see why the combined effect becomes confusing and at times
contradictory. How could it not be, with Rogers using more than
one palomino to play Trigger over his career? They were all
"Trigger" when he rode them. He used a Tennessee walker, a
quarter horse, and a horse with Thoroughbred blood. One was
descended from a great race horse. Some topped out at 16 hands,
most averaged 15.2, one was 15 hands. They came from different
breeders and different places; most were born from the mid-1930s
on. Rogers used palominos that he owned and some who were
provided on special occasions. Most were well mannered; one
disliked women and children. Yet, over time, fans assumed all
"Trigger" stories and information applied to one horse.

     While Roy Rogers knew a great deal about all the "Triggers"
he used, there's no way even he could remember every detail with
absolute certainty. After some 90 movies, 100 television shows,
and even more live appearances, how could he be 100 percent
accurate? That would have required a photographic memory or the
keeping of detailed records in a daily journal. However, it will
become evident that even Rogers' seemingly contradictory
statements make sense when seen chronologically and in the
context of an entire career. Rogers had an empire to run, not to
mention a personal life. As important as "Trigger" was to him and
his public persona, he had to delegate the palomino's care and
training to others. While Glenn Randall was "Trigger's" primary
caregiver, even he was not present in every situation.
     Regrettably, Randall never wrote an autobiography and he
never discussed "Trigger" in detail as only he could have.

     "Trigger" was by all accounts a very smart horse and at
least one magazine article is attributed to him, the
tongue-in-cheek "My Life with Roy" published in 1950 (publisher
unknown). As charming as this was, Trigger didn't write a
biography or give interviews. Unlike television's other palomino
celebrity, Mr.Ed, Trigger couldn't talk.

     If one is trying to document Trigger's life, one is going to
run into not only contradictions but lots of dead ends. The
information that Roy Rogers and Glenn Randall once possessed
between them is now gone forever. In the final analysis, they
made some very shrewd decisions when it came to how Trigger and
his doubles were used. The best way to manage Trigger's story is
to present as many different sides as are credible and make
judgments tempered by experience and common sense. No one person
knows the complete "Trigger" story. This book is not a definitive
statement and by no means the last word. "Trigger" is show
business sleight-of-hand. If you want the truth, you'll find some
here, but what you really have is the speculation of a dedicated
fan and an honest attempt to sort out and construct a credible

     When B-westerns were in their heyday, no one - not Roy
Rogers, Glenn Randall, or William Witney - could have predicted
that in time advances in technology, like DVD players, would
allow millions of fans to own copies of their films, much less
have the power to study them in detail and distinguish one
palomino from another.

     When director William Witney first identified Little Trigger
in his book "Trigger Remembered" as the most important Trigger
double Rogers used, I was reminded of the cliche, "Where there's
smoke there's fire." Since the publication of Witney's book in
1989, many articles and books have discussed Little Trigger. Just
as the use of Trigger look-alikes and palomino stunt doubles is
no secret anymore, the existence of Little Trigger has been very
well known to serious fans for a long time now.

     No one who has honestly tried to sort out which "Trigger" is
which would be surprised at the difficulty of separating fact
from legend with regard to Roy Rogers' life. Leonard Slye really
lived his role as Roy Rogers, "King of the Cowboys." It's common
knowledge, almost tradition, that many Hollywood actors changed
their names, but not many went on to play the same character in
every one of their films as well as in, television, radio and
public appearances. As Robert W. Phillips noted, "Gene Autry
initiated the practice of portraying himself on screen. Going a
step further, Roy was now patterning his life as close as
possible in every aspect to that of his film character." This
second layer of publicity protection to Roy Rogers may be unique
in the world of show business. This also extended to his horse.
When Rogers played a rowdy young upstart in Dark Command (1940)
to John Wayne's heroic lead, fans wouldn't accept him. He wasn't
as engaging. Fans didn't want Rogers as some supporting
character; they wanted him to be "the King of the Cowboys" in all
his screen outings. They wanted to see him riding a palomino. In
interviews Rogers stated categorically that he did not care for
his role in Dark Command either and refused to be cast in similar

     An example of how sensitive Rogers was to his public persona
was noted in the 2005 book "My Brush with History" by famed
portraitist Everett Raymond Kinstler. He wrote about his
experiences painting famous people, including Roy Rogers and Dale
Evans. Every time he asked them to pose, Rogers would move to his
wife's right side, which put him first if one was "reading" left
to right. When Kinstler asked him why he kept doing that, Rogers
replied, "Well. It does read Roy and Dale."

     Photos of Roy Rogers on a rearing Trigger are almost always
taken from the same side, the horse's right. Here again is
another example of Rogers' acute awareness of image. Reading left
to right, it's "Roy Rogers and Trigger."

     Even Roy Rogers' romantic feelings towards his leading
ladies had to be held in check for the sake of his image.
"Cowboys weren't allowed to kiss girls in pictures, so one time I
gave Dale a little peck on the forehead and we got a ton of
letters to leave that mushy stuff out. So I had to kiss Trigger

(Interesting from the point of view that the fans of Gene Autry
had no trouble accepting Gene kissing his leading lady at times.
Well so goes the two fans based groups of Roy Rogers and Gene
Autry, the two most famous singing cowboys of all time. Keith


To be continued

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