ROY ROGERS AND TRIGGER
The Dust has Settled
Not ALL was as Portrayed
by Keith Hunt
Please allow me a little room on this large Biblical Website
to bring to you the truth of the matter concerning the "Roy
Rogers and Trigger" phenomenon. A truth that does carry certain
Biblical principles as to half-truths, pretends, cover-ups,
exaggerations, deliberate "don't uncover" fairy-tales, that can
keep people captive and under false allusions for decades after
they have left the years of childhood. Even to this day many
people coming into an appreciation and love of the entertainment
work of Roy Rogers and Trigger, are held under false ideas that
were never FULLY put straight by either Roy Rogers or Dale Evans
(his wife) while they lived.
The truth of it all has only come out in the last decade by
people who had to go to a lot of hard work in research and
interviews and recorded history, to get all the facts, to blow
away the dust, to stop the wind of confusion, so the dust could
There has, since the death of Roy and Dale, been a number of
books devoted to their lives and the main horses in their lives.
Some of those books have been done from the point of trying to be
factual, getting at the true history of the horses that became
known as "Trigger." For indeed the truth is there NEVER was just
ONE horse called Trigger.
Some of the facts are not flattering per se, for I guess in
Hollywood "make-believe" and "fantasy" it is the overall golden
picture of what thrills or puts people into a sort of "dream
world" that matters.
Of course some of the books simply look at the lives or Roy
and Dale as from the scene of their lives as relating to how they
got into show-business and how they conducted themselves in an
overall "good manner" towards all people they worked with and
came into contact with. I'm sure as Art Rush (Roy's manager for
many years) would say, there was never a nicer couple, down-to-
earth couple, friendlier couple, and a pleasure to know couple,
than Roy Rogers and Dale Evans.
Certainly, from that take of things, I can see they were a
pair of the most talented entertainers of the 20th century. From
the time I saw my first Roy Rogers and Trigger movie when I was 7
years old (it was a color movie), I fell in love with Trigger, as
a beautiful horse, my dream horse, a red/bronze palomino, with
long flowing mane and tail. I was a fan of Roy from that moment
also; good looks, smooth singing voice, a great horse rider, and
a relaxed warm personality, with a twinkle of a smile.
Then there was the great side-kicks he had, like Gabby Hayes
and Andy Divine. There was the fine cowboy singing group of Bob
Nolan and Sons of the Pioneers. And of course there was the right
over wrong winning out all the time. So the whole package deal
was terrific, as entertainment went. Some of the fancy cowboy
clothes and horse tack that Roy in some movies had, also made it
a sparkling, fireworks of a fairy-tale, everyone new cowboys
don't dress and put that kind of tack on their horse in the daily
work-a-day world of ranching, only in fancy down town parades and
the like. But never-the-less it all just seemed to fit with Roy
So, I still love to watch Roy's movies for all the
entertainment that is part of them. I love to have a little part
of my life in the world of Roy Rogers and Trigger. It took me
many decades but I did get my "Trigger" horse, my Golden
Palomino, with the movie-class looks. She is 8 years old now (as
I write this in April 2008), in fact just turned 8 in March. She
runs like the wind, and is great at learning tricks. As I've
said, she is quite the "looker" - from a famous USA grandfather
Stallion called "Impressive" that won just about everything you
can win in the "halter" class competitions.
As I've said, I'm a great lover of the entertainment world
of Roy Rogers and the original Trigger that Roy had in his very
first leading star role in the 1938 "Under Western Stars" movie.
But with that said, all this is about, some of the FACTS
behind Roy and Trigger, so we can still appreciate the
entertainment, but also know some true facts and come to admit
there was some "Hollywood" make-up during those years of the
1930s and 1940s.
Maybe for those decades we can put it in the context of a
depression and world war and some hard times after that war.
Maybe we can party forgive Hollywood and even Roy Rogers, in
putting forth something that was a little shady at times, from
the clear bright sun-light, for putting forth something that had
a little more to be revealed than what was revealed. Maybe the
people of that time needed a fairy-tale life to forget about the
way the world was at the time. As we unravel it all, we can see
that the media was also to blame for not revealing the whole
truth, as to which horse Roy was riding for any given scene in a
movie, or any given personal appearance show with Trigger, or any
given down-town parade. It was partly the fault of the media that
the main trainer of horses for Roy Rogers was not ever mentioned
for a few decades. Roy was Roy of course at all times in real
life (he had doubles doing stunts in the movies, but nearly all
leading men have stunt doubles in movies), but the horse he was
riding at that particular event .... that is partly what the
following is all about.
We need to remember that Roy Rogers was also at first
someone who had little control over certain Republic (the movie
company) ways of doing movie business, whether it was out and out
lies (they would not of course called it that, probably to them
it was part of the movie fairy-tale world that made up
Hollywood), deceptions of various types, and just plain
exaggerations. Roy was hired by Republic at age 26 to replace
Gene Autry who had gone on strike. If Roy wanted to be a movie
singing cowboy he would basically have to "tow the line."
For starters Republic was not going to pay this young guy
that much. Roy himself has said it was $75 a week. Republic could
pick up at least 4 or 5 other would-be singing cowboys at any one
time, if Roy or Gene got too much out of line. There was no doubt
a number of young guys who could ride a horse half decently and
sing and strum on a guitar. Indeed many more singing cowboys
would come along over the latter part of the 1930s and into the
early part of the 1940s.
So in some ways, Roy Rogers was a product of the times,
hence we should not be too surprised he continued to use that
somewhat "not up front with everything" mentality, that made him
Republic's "King of the Cowboys" and Trigger "The Smartest horse
in the Movies."
As we can now see from the many books published today there
were MANY "cowboy hero" guys in those years of the 30s and 40s.
There were many horse personalities for those cowboys that were
classified under all kinds of titles, like "Wonder horse" -
"Greatest in the West" - "Most Beautiful Horse in the World" etc.
It was a different world back then, a different Hollywood, a
different way to "make it all sound this one way" or "give it an
appearance of one." There must have been a different mentality in
those days, among the companies that made "singing cowboys and
famous horse" movies. It had to be a kind of we need to make our
cowboy hero look superman (although Roy did get beat-up in a few
movies) type and his horse the greatest horse in the world who
can do all these wonderful feats. It did not matter that real
horse people know there is not one horse in the world who can do
ALL of those gifted things - Republic's take was it sold tickets,
and filled the movie house.
The contradictions of Roy and the horse called Trigger, can
begin, if you are looking and sharp of mind, at the outside door
to the Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Museum in Branson. You will
notice this huge statue of Trigger in the famous rearing pose.
You will notice that statue has Trigger with 4 white stockings,
one on each leg. You go inside and see the "mounted" Trigger, or
see color photos of THAT HORSE taken during the early years of
Roy's movies with him, and that Trigger DID NOT HAVE four white
stockings. That Trigger had only one SOCK on the back left leg.
We have had and still have to this day, people, who have all
kinds of beliefs about THE Trigger, when Roy bought him, where he
came from, how many tricks he could do, how old was he when he
died (as we will see even Roy did not get that one right), and
most of those beliefs are in error!
It is human nature to NOT want to be corrected, or to find
out you are in error, or to have to realize there was much more
to this "Smartest Horse in the Movies" than people ever thought
about. Most people were too mesmerized by the fantasy and glamor
of it all (a glamorous horse with a fancy dressed cowboy riding
it), to ever notice it was probably not the SAME palomino as in
many close up shots in Roy's movies, or the horse that Roy
particularly loved and told us was a great cowboy horse. Even in
magazines and various publications there were photos of Roy with
Trigger, but an astute observer would see the horse was not
always the famed Trigger that stared with Roy in "Under Western
Stars" and the one he loved the most. Even newspaper men/women or
editors of magazines, did not notice it seems, or they were also
going along with the cinderella story that this was one fancy
cowboy with ONE great looking and very talented palomino horse,
who could do just about anything you wanted a horse to do, in all
It was an age when such dreams were needed I guess, a world
coming out of a depression, a world war, and hard times after a
world war. It was an age of the movie cowboys, so many of then,
an age also that brought all these "miracle - wonder" horses that
most of them had, or so the movies companies wanted you to
believe they had.
Apparently Gene Autry travelled and used more than one
"Champion" - but Gene it is said, made no "secret" of it. He
openly told people he had one Champion for his movies and one
Champion for his road trips. With Roy Rogers this was not the
case, hence many, not looking close enough, only saw ONE Trigger
in their minds, nothing else ever being said differently, one
horse with all those talented gifts.
Roy Rogers and Dale Evens must be partly to blame for this
smoke-screen. In watching many of the "Happy Trails Theatre"
shows, they both talk about Trigger. Now the true facts are no
longer behind the corral fence, we can see and hear Roy talking
about the first Trigger he loved the most, the one mounted in the
Museum, and in the next sentence Dale is obviously talking about
the horse that has now become known as "Little Trigger" - the one
used at most rodeo shows and personal appearances, and the horse
used in "Son of Paleface" - the 1952 movie staring Bob Hope, Jane
Russell, Roy Rogers and Trigger.
I doubt if any movie company or individual horseman TODAY,
would get away for any length of time, doing what Republic, Roy
Rogers, his trainer Glenn Randall, and also Dale Evans, did in
the 1940s and into the 1950s, by never openly stating in
interviews etc. that there was MORE THAN ONE Trigger in those
movies and personal appearance shows. Maybe it's possible they
thought well if you can't figure it out for yourself, we ain't
going to tell you differently.
Whatever Roy, Dale, Glenn Randall (the trainer) were
thinking, we do know they did not keep a "diary" - they did not
write a book (and Dale wrote many books) on all the nitty-gritty
of the horses that went under the name of "Trigger." Now Trigger
Jr. they did openly talk about, and that was because no "hidden
things" could possibly have been carried on with that horse, for
Roy was not able to buy him until the horse was 9 years old, and
already on in the horse world with some tricks on him, as well as
the obvious time of the 20th century, that no one could confuse
Trigger Jr. with any other Trigger, although some back then did
think Trigger Jr. was a son of THE Trigger. One of Roy's movies
was called "Trigger Jr." and it connected the two horse from the
physical side of things. Many kids (I was one of them) thought
for years that indeed Trigger Jr. was literally a son from THE
Trigger. The two Triggers appear in this movie.
We have then no nice record or diary of all the weekly,
monthly, buying, selling, training, of the horses, under the care
of Glenn Randall, no nice neat "log file" or "log diary" - we
have only bits and pieces of what Roy and Glenn have stated here
and there, years later, if their memory had not failed them,
which tends to happen if you have not kept a "diary log" as you
went along. My Dad has kept a daily diary for decades now. He can
look back and tell you the big events of any particular single
day from decades ago. This was not the case with Roy Rogers or
I will note that in the movie "The Golden Stallion" (1949)
the Palomino horse people today call "Little Trigger" was cast
with the original Trigger, and was made out to be from that
original Trigger in the movie (which in real life there was no
relationship at all). It did kinda put the two horses "out there"
so to speak as "different" from each other, so people at least by
1949 should have noticed there were indeed in movies and personal
appearances, at least TWO main Trigger horses. Yet, as I've
mentioned, in the 1980s on "Happy Trails Theatre" Roy and Dale
often would say things about "Trigger" that in one sentence was
the original Trigger and the next sentence was the other Trigger.
It seemed they went from one Trigger to the other Trigger without
ever explaining which Trigger they were talking about. Somehow
and for whatever reason Roy would not during the first decades
all the way up to the series of "Happy Trails Theatre" simply
adopt something like "Trigger One" and "Trigger Two" to
differentiate the two horses. Maybe again, the whole gang of Roy,
Dale, Randall, Republic Pictures etc. had the attitude of "Well
if you can't see the difference in the horses, we ain't going to
tell you." One large difference was that Little Trigger had four
white stockings on his legs, the original Trigger had only a sock
on his left hind leg. In any case it was present by all that what
was really two horses in fact, was made out to be one horse in
the fantasy world of Republic's "King of the Cowboys" and "The
Smartest Horse in the Movies."
Roy never had that Little Trigger horse "mounted" - and
there is not to my knowledge as of March 2008, no special "spot"
of remembrance for him in the Roy Rogers Museum. Some have told
me, that Roy did regret that, and wished he could have re-done
that part of his history. Well .... maybe so, but that does not
stop the present Roger's family, including Dusty Rogers (Roy's
son) from NOW making a spot, with pictures and text, in the
Museum, to honor that great palomino horse. But as they say, I
will not hold my breath for that to happen any time soon. Hence
to my mind, and others also, the full and true story of Roy
Rogers and Trigger is still deliberately held at bay somewhat,
though the Roger's family do NOW admit there was a Little
Trigger, which was used by Roy for most of the rodeo, appearance,
and worldwide tour shows, and was the only "Trigger" to appear in
the classic "Son of Paleface" movie of 1952, with Bob Hope and
Jesus said, "You shall know the truth and the truth shall
make you free!" But truth is not always liked by Christians. They
want to hang on to various misconceptions, errors, and to the
"status quo." It's an attitude of "Don't rock the boat that has
been going on this smooth course for so long a time."
I'm told and have read, the Gene Autry Website is very open
to what was what in the movie life of Gene, with his horses etc.
They are the ones who in the long run of it all, when many of us
older stick-in-the-mud people are six feet under, will WIN the
race. Oh, I'm fully convinced when this generation of the Roger's
family and all us who are their age, are here no more in the land
of the living (if this age is allowed by God to go on for another
generation), all the truth and facts as you are going to read
here, WILL BE ADMITTED AND PUT UP FRONT, for all to see. The FULL
truth will come out and will be published and will be admitted,
if not there will be a slow end and a fading away of the Roy
Rogers and Dale Evens Museum, for sad to say if the whole truth
is not put up front and center, the Roy Roger Museum in part will
become somewhat of a joke. Then again the Roy Rogers and Dale
Evans Museum, may only be until "Dusty" decides to retire, and
let it be history. We'll talk a little more about the Museum and
it's function with the Government of the USA in another article.
It is also very doubtful if Roy made the right decision in
mounting Trigger and Trigger Jr. I have never been there (but one
day will, and then edit this section to give you my honest
appraisal of a good or bad decision by Roy). I will tell you what
one young lady told me about 5 years ago, who had been to the
Museum and had looked at Trigger - the horse Roy loved the best.
The young lady said, "I cannot understand why they do not do
something about Trigger's face. His face, nose, mouth, looks
terrible, looks like a money."
Now that was her opinion. I've only seen photos of mounted
Trigger, and I do not see him in the BEST pose, should have been
rearing all the way up, or standing. There are some great photos
of him in his younger days just at a stand. His super looks, with
long curly mane and long think tail. Mounting is only using the
skin of the animal (so Trigger really did go into the ground and
was eaten by worms, which Roy didn't care to think about, unless
he was burnt up), hence a great frame of a younger Trigger could
have been used, and if needs be a false mane and tail of the
thickness and beauty as it was in his younger days.
Using the skin of a 31 year old horse, from a palomino, has
other problems as Leo Pando states in his book "Illustrated
History of Trigger" - the skin, like adults gets old looking, the
loss of vibrancy and color fade, the hair of the mane and tail
gets thin and shorter.
From the photos I've seen of the mounted Trigger in the Roy
Rogers Museum, the right side (as you would ride him) is not
towards the public, for the once long and thick and somewhat wavy
mane of Trigger on the right side is not anywhere near as it was
in the horse's young and athletic age. With the most beautiful side
of Trigger not shown (for reasons just given) we have a half rearing
and a head and neck stance that certainly does not show of the beauty
of Trigger in his younger days. To me this is very sad indeed.
In my opinion (those who have studied Trigger as he was in
his younger days) the horse is mounted in a very unworthy pose
It is recorded that Dale and Dusty (Roy's son) did NOT
approve of Roy mounting Trigger and wanted and suggested that Roy
give him a good burial, with a nice head-stone. Roy told them it
was his horse and he would do what he wanted with him. The truth
of the matter is that mounting is only taking the skin of the
horse and putting it over a man-made frame, so the horse itself,
all and everything under the skin is buried or cremated anyway.
So the statement often made by Roy in answer to those who asked
him why he did this mounting, that the other way the worms would
have him, is somewhat of a bazaar answer, for unless the horse
was burnt up, the worms had him anyway. The skin is not the
horse, just as your skin is not you per se. I'm not a hunter and
skinner of animals, as Roy was. I find the thought of having
Trigger skinned, then 90 percent of the animal thrown away,
buried or burnt up .... well to just imagine people working on
Trigger this way, is a turn off for me, frankly speaking.
For those who want to remember Trigger in his fine youthful
glory, his splendid color and, good looks, thick long mane and
tail, it could well be that Roy Rogers made a HUGE mistake in
mounting Trigger, especially mounting him the way he is made to
look now, with those ears pinned back, in a half rearing pose.
The ears following the line of the head in a FULL rear as Trigger
could do, looks okay, and is often natural, but even then some
horses in a full high rearing position will have their ears up
slightly. Trigger was famous for his full high rearing pose. In
my way of thinking it was a mistake to put the man-made form
(over which the skin is placed) and mounting Trigger in a "half-
rearing pose." But again as only the skin is used in mounting it
could well have been that from a 31 year old horse (93 in human
years) the skin did not have enough "stretch" left in it to put
Trigger in a full high rearing pose.
Hence it may not have cost that much more for Roy to have
had a complete man-made (artificial skin - the color of Trigger
in his youth, and artificial thick long mane and tail) Trigger,
either in a four legged majestic standing pose (as some great
photos show him, in various books) or a full high rearing pose.
To me the photos I've seen of the mounting of Trigger and Trigger
Jr. do little true justice to the beauty of those horses.
Hence the saga of Roy Rogers and Trigger continues, and the
settling of the dust has come about in the last ten years since
Roy died. Many of the facts have been found, catalogued, and
written about, good, bad, and in-between. It's a saga not found
in any other of the Western Cowboys of the film world. It would
seem most if not all of them, were pretty open about the horses
they used, one or more or many, and did not "doctor up" things to
try and make out to people and kids they were using two or three
horse as for "the one horse."
In the modern world today, with the savvy of Computerized
kids, the Internet talk lines and self-created Websites, the more
technical mind-set of "investigative journalists" - such a "fancy
cowboy with one fancy horse skilled in all departments that a
horse can do" would not fly - it would be soon found out that
there was literally more than one Trigger.
A good way to try and put all this is to compare some things
between Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. Back in those days and before
when it was Tom Mix and others, we had as I've already said, a
number of "special" horses in the Western movies. Tom Mix had his
"Tony, the wonder horse" and before Mix there was the great pinto
horse "Fritz" of William S.Hart fame. A large difference, as Leo
Pando points out (Illustrated History of Trigger) was the way
Autry and Rogers related to their horses Champion (Autry) and
Trigger (Rogers). Trigger was played by a number of look-a-likes
and "stunt" horses, but Roy Rogers still put forth to his fans
that "Trigger" was a single real horse. The "one horse illusion"
approach could be said about Autry also, but never to the degree
Roy Rogers and company took it with Trigger. Gene autry was a
savvy business man alright, and knew "Champion" his horse played
a part, but he was much more casual about it and more practical.
Gene Autry was quite candid when he discussed his "Champions" Leo
Pando writes that the Gene Autry official Website carries the
history of the different "Champions" who serve Gene. They have
the horses listed with individual names to set each one apart
from the other - Original champion; Champion Jr. - Little
Champion - Touring Champion - Television Champion - Champion
Three. At the present (March 2008) that would be unthinkable on
the Roy Rogers Website. It took until 2005 to officially
acknowledge the most important Trigger double, when as Pando
writes, a glossy photo was offered for sale; amazingly, it was
titled "Roy, Dale and Lil' Trigger Standing."
Leo Pando correctly points out that Roy Rogers and Gene
Autry were different in another very important way: Rogers was in
love with a very particular palomino horse - the original
Trigger. He did have strong feeling also for Little Trigger and
Trigger Jr. but he especially loved the original Trigger. Dale on
some "Happy Trial Theatre" shows clearly looks at Roy at times
and say, "I know, your love was Trigger" (meaning in that
sentence the original Trigger). If you've read much of any
writings concerning Roy Rogers and Trigger, you will know indeed
that Roy really did love that horse above every and any other
horse. It would seem from all the everyone knows about Gene
Autry, he never had that kind of love for any one particular
Autry did not try very hard at all to give the impression
that he was riding the SAME horse in all his movies and shows.
His first Champion was a dark "chestnut;" the second a
"strawberry roan" Champion, was a red chestnut; and the third,
often used in his movies and TV shows, was a sorrel with flaxen
mane and tail (there is quite a disagreement at times in the
horse world as to what is "chestnut" and what is "sorrel).
There was a more shrewd business outlook with Autry. If one
Champion got old he just replaced the horse with another, and
made no secret about it. Leo Pando relates that according to
Karla Buhlman, vice president of Gene Autry Entertainment, a
radio show from 1946 exists where it was suggested that a contest
be held asking whether or not Autry should "retire" the old
"Champion" and bring in a new one.
Leo Pando is probably quite correct in saying that Gene
Autry would never have thought about "mounting" any of the
Champion horses he used. Apparently, according to Cal Thomas
reporting in the "Jewish World Review" Gene told him that he
(Gene) was asked once when Champion died, if he would like him
stuffed and placed in his Museum. Gene, the multimillionaire,
asked how much would it cost. When he was told the price, he
said, "Hell, no ...." I will not give you the full quote.
It is also interesting to note that Gene Autry did for
Champion, what Roy Roger never did for Trigger: give him his own
weekly television show. It was on September 30, 1955, he released
"The Adventures of Champion," a television show that ran for 26
half-hour episodes till March 1956, 7:30 p.m.on Fridays on CBS.
According to some, for while Champion was more popular than
But for Roy there was only ONE horse he loved the most: "I
can't say enough about him. I can't hardly go into the Museum
without getting tears in my eye" (Dan Gagliasso, "Remembering
Roy," - from "Cowboy and Country" fall 1998).
I will not try to take away the magic of a talented Roy
Rogers and Trigger (Roy Rogers was talented in many ways and so
were the Triggers), I will just try to report the facts as best
as can be recovered, from a world and age, and management, that
was more concerned with trying to showcase an image of one cowboy
on one horse called Trigger, than giving out the facts in any
To be continued