OUR LIFE STORY
FROM THE BOOK "OUR LIFE STORY" (1994)
While we were in New York performing at the rodeo in the days after little Robin passed away we got the call we had been waiting for from Miss Carson, the matron at Hope Cottage. She said that Mary Doe was ours if we wanted her. We arranged to pick her up on our way home to California. That was just grand, and Dale and I were tickled to death, but I got to thinking that one more little girl—"Dodie" we started to call her even before we picked her up—would bring the total of females in the Rogers house to four. Dusty and I were the only boys around, seeing as how Dale's Tommy was all grown up and married. I felt pretty strong about wanting Dusty to have a brother, and told Dale I'd like to adopt a son, too. She agreed, and we came across a brochure from an organization that rescued needy Jewish orphans in Europe. I called them and asked if they might help us find a boy, but they said that Jewish children were not adoptable in Christian homes. This made Dale plenty mad, and she wondered out loud what Jesus, with his Jewish background, would have thought of their rules! But we had to accept their wishes; and when we left New York, we still hadn't found a boy.
We did a series of one-night performances before we went to Dallas to bring Dodie home. The last of them was in Cincinnati. The morning before the show, while browsing through a stack of mail, I found a note from a woman in Covington, Kentucky, just across the river from Cincinnati, who ran a private home for handicapped children. They had nineteen boys and girls there and the woman wanted to know if there would be some way to introduce one of those children—her own daughter, Penny—to Roy Rogers and Trigger if she came to the show that night. I called her and said I'd be happy to meet her and Penny. While we were talking on the phone, a notion popped into my head. "Say," I said to the woman, "you don't happen to have a little boy about five or six years old who's adoptable, do you?"' I told her my boy Dusty was nearly six, and that I was looking for someone to bring home for him, to be his brother. She said there was a boy I might like to meet. She would bring him to the show, too.
Backstage that evening, I was dressed in my full Roy Rogers getup, with hat and guns and boots. I saw the woman pushing a wheelchair with a pathetically twisted little girl with cerebral palsy in it. Beside them walked a five-year-old boy in a yellow corduroy suit and short billed cap. He was tiny; he had blond hair and big blue eyes. I walked over to them, tipped my hat to the lady and said hello to her girl, then knelt down to the boy's level. Cautiously, I extended my hand. His eyes grew wide. He seemed timid and fearful, but he overcame his fright and boldly stuck out his hand to shake. He was weak, but I could tell he was giving that handshake everything he had. As his little hand tried to get a grip on mine, he mustered a surprisingly loud voice to say, "Howdy, pardner!"
I held the boy's hand in mine and looked at him hard. I could tell that his eyes had seen a lot of things That scared him; they looked like they held secrets too dreadful for any little boy to know. But whatever the tragedies were that brought him to the orphanage, they had not extinguished a spark of life that was still shining in him bright as Northern Lights. I picked him up and hugged him, then put him on my shoulder and walked over to Trigger, who was outfitted for the show. I lifted him from my shoulder and swung him into the silver saddle on ol' Trig's back. The boy grinned ear to ear; he just glowed. At that moment, I knew he was the one for me. He was my son.
As the little boy sat on Trigger's back, I asked one of our crew to watch him so the lady from Covington could take us aside and tell us about him. He had been born in Kentucky and was found abandoned in the motel where his parents had lived. They had been alcoholics, and so cruel that their other children had been taken away from them. Either because of birth defects or brain damage suffered at their parents' hands, the other children had been diagnosed as mentally retarded and institutionalized. This little boy had not walked until he was two years old, had suffered the effects of serious and prolonged malnutrition, and showed the scars of regular beatings. After he was rescued he had spent eight months with his legs in braces to correct the ravages of starvation in his infancy. As I heard this story and watched the boy, happy as a lark in Trigger's saddle, my stomach turned. It was almost too frightening to think about what he had been through. Dale and I looked at each other nervously, wondering if we were up for the challenge of being his parents. We told the lady from the orphanage that we had to think about it.
That night, we didn't sleep. Over and over, we said to each other how much easier it would be to adopt a healthy, happy child. But every time I started thinking about all the plump, pink-cheeked youngsters out there in the world, the needy eyes of that skinny five-year-old came back to haunt me. "Mother," I said to Dale, "anyone can adopt a strong, healthy kid who has everything going for him. But what happens to a little guy like this?" Dale slowly shook her head back and forth, knowing what I was about to say, and she began to beam with the most loving smile. "Let's take him," I blurted out.
"Yes!" Dale agreed.
At three in the morning we called the lady in Covington, and at nine we were in a cab crossing the Ohio River, which runs between Ohio and Kentucky. A judge was waiting for us at the other end with the papers to be signed. An hour later, the little boy we called John David Rogers—Sandy for Short—jumped into my arms and said, "Hi, Daddy!"
He left the orphanage with nothing more than the clothes on his back and a rumpled paper sack. We carried him aboard our traveling bus and introduced him to the whole crew. He had never been surrounded by so many people being nice to him, and it didn't take long for his shyness to evaporate and a big, happy smile to appear on his face as band members let him strum a guitar or try their harmonicas. He was having a jolly time, and so was everyone else, when someone on the bus asked little Sandy what he had in the sack he was clutching in one hand. He seemed reluctant to open it. "Aw, come on, show us what you've got, little fella," one person said again. Sandy was a trusting sort, so he peeled back the top and reached in, pulling out the contents. It was a small, torn sweater. It was the only thing he owned. The jokes and chatter on the bus trailed off. He looked so small there, standing among us proudly holding up his possession to admire. I reached down and swept him into my arms, hugging him to my chest.
The bus took me, Dale, and Sandy to the airport. On the way, we stopped so I could buy him a pair of cowboy boots. He was ecstatic, and that night in the hotel room in Dallas, where we were scheduled to pick up Dodie the next day, he made me promise that he could sleep in his boots. The one thing that was even more exciting to him than his new cowboy boots was food. This child had never had enough to eat, and I remember how Dale and I sat in absolute shock during our first meal as we watched him. He devoured everything on his plate, and then proceeded to eat everything on both of ours. I told him that there was plenty more food around and that he should slow down and take it easy, but he pretty well inhaled everything he could see. That's one thing that never changed about that boy: he could eat any man under the table.
The next day when we drove to Hope Cottage to pick up Dodie, Sandy was terrified. He knew an orphanage when he saw one, and he sure didn't want to go inside with us. But he was even more scared of being left behind, so we went in with him walking right between us, clinging ferociously to my pants leg with one hand and to Dale's skirt with the other. I think he held his breath the whole time, because you've never heard a little fella burst out with a longer, louder sigh of relief than he did when we walked out of there.
On October 28, 1952, two months after Robin died, we returned home to Los Angeles with two new children. Baby Dodie took the flight in stride; she ate and laughed all the way. Sandy grew deathly quiet, and by the time we arrived on the West Coast, he was drenched in sweat. Dale said she thought that all the excitement had knocked him for a loop. We soon found out that Sandy's nerves and sweat were symptoms of some serious ailments.
October 28 was Dusty's sixth birthday, and although we had told him about Dodie, Sandy was a surprise. Looking back on it now, I realize we should have prepared Dusty. There we were—his parents—coming off the plane with a strange little boy clinging to us, calling us Mommy and Daddy. The look of suspicion and distrust when Dusty met us at the airport with the rest of the family told the story: he was none too pleased. In fact, he looked like he was about to bolt. Ginny, his nurse, grabbed him and pushed him toward Sandy. He stood there glowering and looking the little guy up and down. He was a head taller than his new brother and twice his size, even though they were practically the same age. Sandy grinned and stuck out his hand to shake, but Dusty ignored it. Sandy lifted up the cuff of his jeans to show off his new cowboy boots. Dusty didn't crack a smile.
I saw that it would take some doing for these two to become friends. You know what? I enjoyed thinking up a way to get them acting like brothers. My plan was a simple one. I would do with them what I like doing best in the whole world: spend some time outdoors. We loaded up the car with fishing gear, sleeping bags, a tent, and a handful of matches in a waterproof box, and the three of us took off for a camping trip in the woods of Marysville in Northern California. We didn't take any food, because I figured it would be a fine thing for those two to learn to live off the land. And that is exactly what we did. Boy, did we have some fun! I taught Dusty and Sandy how to bait hooks using balls of cheese. I stuck on the bait and they pulled in so many bluegills that we had to give them away to other campers nearby. I shot rabbits just like I had done when I was a little boy back in Duck Run; then I showed the boys how to skin them and clean them and check them for warbles (you don't want to eat a rabbit with warble fly larva in it); then we cooked them over a campfire. Dusty was an old hand at camping already, but given Sandy's childhood, I wondered how he would adjust to all these new experiences. I needn't have worried. He liked it all. That fella wasn't afraid of anything so long as I was around, and he wasn't the least bit squeamish, especially about eating things. We cooked frog legs over the open fire and we gobbled them off wooden sticks. Good old Sandy was delighted to eat anything we cooked, picked, hooked, or caught. He was a bottomless pit of hunger that never filled up.
At night, we all got in our sleeping bags, gazed up at the stars, and let the owls hoot and crickets chirp us to sleep. Oh, we were feasts for the mosquitoes, but we didn't mind one bit. I had planned that trip to get those boys together, but by golly, I don't think I've ever had so much fun myself as I did that week with my two sons. By the time it was over, I had a grizzly beard and the boys were fussing and feuding and laughing and poking each other just like they had always been brothers. At Dale's request, I shaved the beard off straightaway, but the friendship that had grown between Sandy and Dusty was forever.
We didn't put Sandy in school immediately. We wanted to keep him home awhile so he could adjust, and so we could figure out exactly what his handicaps were. It was hard, so hard, to watch all the difficulties he suffered just getting through the day. We bought him a tricycle, but he couldn't figure out how to coordinate his legs to make it work. His balance was so bad he couldn't stand on a chair without shaking and lurching forward. Heights frightened him. The pediatrician said that his head was enlarged, his bones were soft, his muscle tone was terrible, and his spine was bent. Brain-wave tests revealed an abnormality. He had trouble breathing because the bridge over his nose had been smashed, probably by someone's fist. Maybe worse than all his physical problems was Sandy's emotional frailty. The smallest correction to his behavior sent him into a frenzy. He would vomit, sweat, and shake—sometimes all night long. Nights when he was calm, he sometimes woke up a dozen times to come in our bedroom and make sure we were still there.
Eventually he started to tell me and Dale about his life; and as he spoke about it, he cried and shook. We wanted to cry, too; but instead, we did the best we could to let him know he was finally safe. He told us about one time he was beaten with a baseball bat because he dropped a milk bottle. At the orphanage, he said, he was responsible for changing all the babies' diapers, and it had been his job to care for Penny, the girl in the wheelchair. If ever this five-year-old boy neglected his responsibilities, the matron told him he was bad and made him sleep in a chair outdoors. Sometimes, he woke up covered with snow.
We had reconstructive surgery performed on his nose so he could breathe normally, but he was so weak and uncoordinated that everything regular kids do was a challenge for him and required great effort. Hard as it was for him to just play, or run, or jump, he never gave up. When he was in a game he knew he would lose, he kept playing, right to the end. He wrestled with Dusty all the time, even though he knew he didn't have a chance. He ran alongside the other children as long as he could, then when he fell behind, he ran some more. And I'll tell you this about him, too: he was every bit as mischievous as any untroubled little boy! He delighted in teasing Dusty and the other kids, and sometimes he drove me and Dale to distraction making silly faces and stirring up a ruckus at the dinner table. Dale always said that Sandy fought with the broken sword of the handicapped. The point is, he fought: he was one brave little guy.
I think maybe the most important thing Dale and I have in common, along with our faith, is our love for children. Both of us wanted a big family; and our roles in cowboy movies made other kids, as well as our own, an endless part of our lives. We were put in a position to be role models for many American boys and girls, and believe me, we have taken that job seriously. We have always been careful to act the way we feel children ought to see their heroes behave on screen as well as off. In our TV show, we made Dale's place the Eureka Cafe, not some saloon where drinks were served. And even off-camera, we've tried to portray a good image. I always used to like to have a beer or two when I was off on a hunting or fishing trip, but there came a time when I realized that drinking even beer didn't fit the kind of person Roy Rogers was supposed to be. I thought about how bad it would look if someone took a picture of me with a drink in my hand, so I gave it up altogether. I've always told my kids that their image is important. That's what you've got in life: your handshake and the image you portray.
When I'm talking about my image, I don't mean there's anything about it that isn't really me. It's just that I always try to be the best me I can. I believe children should have heroes, not antiheroes. I think they need people to look up to.
That's why there was one reporter back in the 1950s that got my dander up worse than anybody ever has. If someone criticized my singing, my acting, my looks, anything about me, I didn't mind so much; it was no big deal. But this one time some fella wrote a newspaper article saying that Dale and I adopted our kids just because it would get us some publicity. Honestly, I have never been so mad at anyone or anything in my life. It was all I could do not to locate this man and break his face into a million pieces. I wondered what would happen if one day our babies saw this article: what would they think? We had a long talk with the kids about adoption that night. Dale said, "Some people don't understand it. They don't know how happy a home is when there are lots of children in it, and sometimes, when they don't understand, they say mean things about us. When they do, we have to forgive them." She was right, and I have tried to find it in my heart to forgive, but you'd better believe that it's a good thing I have never met that reporter in person. Forty years later, I am furious about it. And if the year 2000 rolls around and I see that man, if I have to get out of a wheelchair to go get him, I will. Oh, you'll see a real boxing match then!
Dale and I have always held strong beliefs on how to raise children, and we believe that they need guidelines and rules in order to learn how to live correctly.
Like the time Dusty and Sandy dared each other to steal a cap gun, a toy submarine, and some other toys from a local pharmacy. They were caught and the pharmacist called me to come pick them up. I drove them home and took them out to the back porch at Chatsworth, where I sat the both of them down. I pulled my belt off and slammed it on the redwood picnic table so hard that both boys jumped. "Now that I have your attention, I have a few things to say," I told them. "It's very bad to take what isn't yours. You start with caps and toys, then you go on to motorcycles and cars, and the next thing you know, you're in jail. But that's not going to happen to you boys. I'm not going to let it happen. I'm going to whip you. If it happens again, I'm going to whip you twice as bad. I don't want to whip you, but I have to." I asked them which one wanted to be first. Neither volunteered, so I took Dusty, who was bigger, and bent him over my knee. I whapped him, but he was a tough little fella and he didn't want to give in, so he bit his lip and refused to cry. After about half a dozen good slaps, he wailed. Sandy was next, and he was wailing practically before he got his first swat. But I gave him a few more, just to make the punishments equal. It was hard to do, and when I was through, I took both boys in my arms and hugged them. "I'm your daddy," I said. "I have to show you right from wrong."
(OH TODAY IF YOU TRY THIS WITH YOUR CHILDREN AND SOMEONE SEES IT, YOU MAY VERY WELL BE HAVING A VISIT FROM THE POLICE OR SOCIAL WORKER. I GREW UP IN A SCHOOL WHERE IF YOU GOT OUT OF LINE TOO FAR YOU GOT THE STRAP. KIDS BACK THEN HAD A LOT MORE RESPECT FOR ADULTS AND FOR SOCIETY; SURE YOU STILL HAD A FEW THAT ENDED UP ON THE WRONG SIDE OF THE LAW, BUT IT WAS THE FEW - Keith Hunt)
One thing is for certain, back when we were making movies and the TV show it was a whole lot easier to give kids rules that they could live by. These days, everybody talks about life being shades of gray, and how there isn't really right and wrong. It seems most folks are afraid to say what's good and what's bad because they're worried about stepping on someone's toes. Too many people keep their mouths shut instead of teaching children good and honest rules of life.
I reckon that the Roy Rogers Riders Club that we started back in the 1940s and the Safety First Awards that we gave out to schoolchildren in the 1950s would now be considered pretty corny; and I imagine that there would be plenty of smarty-pants who'd poke fun at them. That's too bad, because I know for a fact that they helped a lot of kids grow up to be better adults.
The Roy Rogers Riders Club was open to any child that sent us his or her name and address. When we received it, we sent them back a "Rogersgram" that looked just like a Western Union telegram, except this one was sent by "Trigger Express." Each member of the club got a membership card with these rules to live by:
1. Be neat and clean.
2. Be courteous and polite.
3. Always obey your parents,
4. Protect the weak and help them.
5. Be brave but never take chances.
6. Study hard and learn all you can.
7. Be kind to animals and care for them.
8. Eat all your food and never waste any.
9, Love God and go to Sunday school regularly.
10. Always respect our flag and our country.
Dale and I still believe that life for a child is a lot easier if the rules are all spelled out nice and easy, and that is just what we did for the little ones who saw our movies. I get so mad at the lack of manners people have today! Recently I saw two guys walking down the street three feet ahead of the girl they were with, and when they got to the door they just walked on in ahead of her and slammed it in her face. I wanted to say, Where the dickens were you guys raised? It was obvious that no one taught them the rules! Aside from manners, it seems kids don't learn much common sense in school like they used to. Not too long ago it was considered important that children learn basic things like not to play in traffic or to wash their hands before they ate dinner. I guess compared to all the talk about gangs and drugs and AIDS these little things don't seem too important, but I can tell you they provide a basis for learning how to take care of yourself for the rest of your life.
When our TV show was on the air the National Safety Council got in touch with me to see if there was a way we could work together to help kids. We came up with a yearly contest in which some 30,000 schools all over America participated. We awarded a big golden statue of Trigger with a ruby-jeweled saddle and bridle to the school that won, based on its safety program. Kids used to send in slogans that they made up about safety. They were so great, I've saved many of them to this day. These are a couple of my favorites:
Cross at the corner. In the middle is the coroner.
—Jim Kendell, age 10 and 1/2
Safety's the other fellow's business . . . and I'm the other fellow!
—Donald Roy Dyal, age 7
Because the Safety Council promotion went so well, we held a Roy Rogers lasso contest for kids to send in letters about their good deeds. The winners got a special Roy Rogers lasso with my picture on it. I guess I'm sentimental, but I hung on to boxes and boxes of these letters, too. One little girl wrote, "My good deed is I gave $1.00 to the orphans' home. I gave some of my clothes to children who didn't have much." Another one wrote to say, "When I see a little girl left out of games on the playground I always go up and ask her to play."
At Christmas the Ideal Toy Company would load up a plane with thousands of dolls and toys and I would fly down to South America and hand them out in the orphanages in Buenos Aires, Lima, and Panama City. My movies were real big down in South America, where Trigger was known as Tigre, as they were in Japan and most of Europe, too. It always makes me laugh to see the dubbed version where Gabby Hayes and I are talking Spanish or Japanese. One thing that stayed the same no matter where I went was crowds of people wanting to meet me. I remember going down to Lima, Peru, to make an appearance at a theater that was showing one of my pictures. When I arrived, 250,000 people were waiting in the city streets. The police thought it would turn into a riot and wouldn't let me perform because they were afraid people would be crushed in the crowd.
Another time Dale and Trigger and I went to Scotland and arrived at our hotel around 10:00 p.m. to find a mob outside. Six streets full of people had converged and they all stood pressed up against one another as close as the hairs on your head. At 2:00 a.m., they were still chanting so loud no one in the hotel could get any sleep. Finally we stuck our heads out the window, waved, thanked them for coming, and hollered the lyrics to "Happy Trails."
My popularity was helped by all those products we were selling with my name on them. Even kids who had never seen me in a movie or heard me sing might be carrying a Roy Rogers lunchbox or sleeping under a Roy Rogers blanket and reading comic books featuring me, Dale, Dusty, Trigger, and Bullet.
Dale and I had so many kids of our own that we knew we couldn't approve of any toy that would break easily or hurt someone, so before we agreed to let our likeness appear on a product, we had samples sent home for the Rogers family torture test. Magazine advertisements for our merchandise carried a pledge from me to parents, saying that everything had been "tested in one of the nation's largest testing bureaus," and that was true; but there were no testers more severe than my two boys: "If these things can survive you guys, they'll work for everyone else," I told them. So they slept under Roy Rogers bedspreads, carried Roy Rogers wallets and lunchboxes, took pictures with a Roy Rogers box camera, wore a Roy Rogers mask at Halloween, brushed their teeth with a Roy Rogers toothbrush, and drank their milk from Roy Rogers glasses. The glasses were marked to encourage kids to drink all their milk: a quarter glass down, they were a tenderfoot, halfway down they were a posse leader, three-quarters made them a deputy, and if they drank it all they made sheriff.
My son Dusty now has a good sense of humor about what it was like to have to be surrounded by products bearing his parents' faces, but back then I think it drove him a little crazy. Only recently, he confided to me that one of his fondest dreams as a kid was to have a Gene Autry or Hopalong Cassidy lunchbox. In fact, Dusty had a real thing going about his lunchbox. To hear him talk about it, all the other kids had handsome Gene Autry lunchboxes that were filled to the brim with neatly made sandwiches and loads of cookies and Twinkies all wrapped in shiny aluminum foil. In our home, Dale packed the kids' lunchboxes. Like me, she is a thrifty soul, so she used leftover wax paper or old bread wrappers for the sandwiches instead of foil; and she hand-cut the cheese or bologna for the sandwiches, so it was uneven and lumpy-looking. She also packed lots of healthy things like carrot sticks, carrot cookies, and hard-boiled eggs. Dusty used to pitch a fit about how all the other kids had Kool-Aid to drink while Dale packed thermoses of raw milk from our own cows. Today Dusty is a strapping man well over six feet tall, but he still likes to complain dramatically about his lunchbox deprivations.
In truth, being Roy Rogers, Jr., was no picnic for him. He remembers all too well what it was like to go to school and have the teacher call out his name during roll call the first day and see all the other kids' heads swivel in his direction. Dale told him that he had to learn to deal with it or he would wind up in a mental institution by the time he was twenty-one. It took him awhile to separate who he was from his famous name and to learn how to share his mom and dad with 25 million other kids, but he sure did a great job of it. He pretty much runs the show around here now.
Seeing children in sick wards and orphanages was never easy for me to do, but I loved to do it and I think I've played every children's hospital in America. Does that sound strange? I guess maybe it is, but I reckon I never left one of those places without an ache in my heart and a feeling that I wanted to help every kid along the trail. And I remember 'em, too; I remember so many of those kids like they were here now, or like I saw them yesterday, even if it might've been near fifty years ago. In Aberdeen, South Dakota, we went to sing some songs in the polio ward of St. Luke's Hospital in the winter of 1950. We were feeling bad when we started that trip: worried to death about our little Robin at home. How clearly I recall the faces of the little ones in that sickroom, and how they began to cry when we said we had to leave. It has always been extra hard to say good-bye to children, I guess because I feel that they are so much a part of me. I'm not just saying that; I mean it, because, you know, if it wasn't for all of them, there wouldn't be a Roy Rogers.
(OH WOW THAT IS SO TRUE. I REMEMBER THE FIRST ROY ROGERS MOVIE MY PARENTS TOOK ME TO. IN BRITAIN ROY ROGERS AND TRIGGER WERE HUGELY POPULAR. MY MOUTH DROPPED OPEN I'M SURE, WHEN AT THE AGE OF 7, I SAW THIS FANCY DRESSED COWBOY GALLOPING ACROSS THE RANGE ON THIS BEAUTIFUL AND FAST GOLDEN PALOMINO…..WHITE MANE AND TAIL FLYING IN THE WIND…..IT WAS BREATHTAKING. I MADE MY MIND UP RIGHT THERE AND THEN, I HAD TO GO WEST WHEN OLD ENOUGH AND DO WHAT I WAS SEEING…..I WAS AN INSTANT FAN OF ROY ROGERS AND TRIGGER - Keith Hunt)
Back in 1946 I played at a burn hospital run by the Shriners. I saw what they did for kids for no charge at all—like building them new ears and noses after they were terribly burned in fires. It was just unbelievable what the surgeons could do to reconstruct their faces and bodies. When I came back from the hospital I was speaking to a good friend of mine, Joe Espalier, telling him about all the great work they were doing and raving about the Shriners. I told him that one of these days I wanted to become a Mason, because first you become a Mason, then a Shriner, and you can really help the kids. "You're talking to the right guy," Joe said, telling me that he was a Mason himself. He arranged for me to join. Harold Lloyd was the Imperial Potentate in those days. Gene Autry joined up about the same time I did. In fact, many years later Gene, I, and President Gerald Ford all became thirty-third degree Masons, high as you can go, in ceremonies on the same night.
No amount of fame or money can equal the feeling of watching sick children's faces light up when I visited them in their hospital rooms. When I went around to see them, I often took Trigger with me, and he was as well-behaved in a sickroom as he was on a Hollywood sound stage. We outfitted him with nonskid leather and rubber boots so he could walk down slick hospital corridors safely. He went right into elevators and up staircases; nothing ever spooked him. Some of the kids we visited were so bad off they couldn't even raise their hands, but they had smiles all over their faces when they saw us. There was a time I remember visiting a group of children who had been blinded in accidents; but they could see with their hearts, and they could hear us, too. I told each of them to reach out and I walked Trigger around and had him bend down his head so they could run their hands along his mane and his face. He wriggled his soft nose and whinnied gently when they touched him; then I sat down and sang them songs about the cowboy life.
(NOW OF COURSE AS WE KNOW THIS WAS THE SO-CALLED "LITTLE" TRIGGER, NOT TRIGGER SR. BUT I'M SURE TRIGGER SR. COULD HAVE BEEN TRAINED TO DO ALL THIS "VISITING" STUFF IF NEEDED, TRIGGER SR. ALSO HAD A VERY KIND, LOVING NATURE - Keith Hunt)
Word was out in the medical community about how much children liked us to visit. One day I got a phone call from a doctor at the Virginia Mason Hospital in Seattle who told me about a boy suffering from a very serious kidney disease. His name was Russell Rogers—no relation to me, just a sick little guy who loved Trigger and my cowboy movies. Rusty, as everyone called him, was not doing well at all. He was not responding to treatment and was losing ground by the day. "Roy," the doctor said, "all he talks about is you and Trigger. Do you think you could make a phone call and see if that would help?"
I called Rusty in his hospital room and talked to him for a long time. "I'll tell you what," I promised him. "If you get well, I'll bring you down to California, and you can ride Trigger, and I'll be with you the whole time."
"Really?" he said.
"Yup," I answered.
Wouldn't you know it, he got better! I suppose it goes to show how much your mental attitude makes a difference in getting well, because this boy really wanted to ride ol' Trigger. In 1953 we brought him down to our home in Chatsworth and put him up there in the saddle. Boy, oh boy, was he a cute kid! When Ralph Edwards did my story on "This Is Your Life" three years later, Rusty—who was then nine years old and healthy as you please—came zooming out from behind the curtains like he was jet-propelled and jumped right into my lap. He was even wearing a little cowboy outfit! I never saw him after that, and have often wondered what became of him.
Rusty, if you happen to read this book, I sure hope you'll give me a call.
OH HOW I KNOW THE FEELING ROY MUST HAVE HAD ALL THOSE YEARS, BEFORE CHILDREN. WHEN I'M DRESSED UP FANCY AND MY GOLDIE IS ALSO, LOOKING A LOT LIKE TRIGGER, AND I RIDE TO THE LOCAL SMALL TOWN, INTO THE PLAZA PARKING LOT; RIDE IN A LOCAL PARADE; THE CHILDREN'S FACES JUST LIGHT UP. MANY OF THEM HAVE SEEN OTHER HORSES AND PEOPLE RIDING COSTUMED IN SOME WAY, BUT TODAY, THEY JUST ABOUT NEVER SEE A WONDERFUL, BEAUTIFUL GOLDEN PALOMINO WITH FANCY TAC, AND A COWBOY WITH FANCY CLOTHES……. IT JUST MESMERIZES THEM, AS ROY AND TRIGGER DID TO ME WHEN A KID. THERE IS SOMETHING ABOUT THAT COMBINATION THAT BEDAZZLES KIDS.
AS FOR RUSTY, NEVER DID EVER HEAR IF HE CONTACTED ROY.