AT THE END OF THE TRAIL
From the book "An Illustrated History of TRIGGER" by Leo Pando
The Last Ride
"I can't say enough for him. I can't hardly go into the museum
without getting tears in my eyes." - Roy Rogers
The last motion picture in which the original Trigger appeared
was "Pals of the Golden West," released in December of 1951.
Since the palomino was not in "Son of Paleface" (Paramount, 1952)
or in any of the countless television variety shows Rogers and
Evans did well into the 1970s, the Roy Rogers Show television
episodes completed in 1957 are among his last filmed appearances.
When The Roy Rogers Show came to an end, Rogers and Dale Evans
appeared from 1958 to 1960 in fourteen NBC variety hours
sponsored by Chevrolet called "The Chevy Show." It was during one
of these broadcasts that "Trigger" was officially retired. The
"last ride" presentation took place at a rodeo performance with
"Trigger" entering on the back of a flatbed truck. Little Trigger
doubled for Trigger on this occasion (how oddly appropriate).
Trigger Jr. was present and introduced as the original Trigger's
replacement. Roy Rogers and Dale Evans continued to appear at
fairs and such into the 1970s, but most of the time without
The last time the "Trigger" character was portrayed on television
was by a look-alike in a third season episode of "The Fall Guy"
One of Rogers' last appearances on a palomino was during the
Randy Travis - "Happy Trails" television special shown on the
Nashville Network in October of 1990.
In 1957, after 27 years in show business, the original Trigger
was retired at age 23 to the Rogers' Chatsworth, California
ranch. In 1963 Trigger was moved by Corky Randall to Hidden
Valley, California. On June 27, 1965, Rogers sold his ranch and
moved to Apple Valley. According to Corky, Trigger was not moved
with the rest of the stock because of his age and blindness. It
was thought that the stress of moving to unfamiliar surroundings
would be difficult on the aged horse.
(To me that was a pitty. I would have liked the horse that was my
greatest love in horse flesh [as Trigger was to Roy] with me, on
my property, to visit each day, until his last day. I would have
wanted to talk to him, groom him etc. right up to the end - Keith
One of Trigger's greatest admirers, director William Witney, gave
a description of Trigger in his final years in his booklet
"Trigger Remembered." Witney was directing a television show in
the vicinity of the ranch where the palomino was stabled and made
a point to visit him. According to Witney, Trigger's appearance
was so altered that he was not even sure the horse he was looking
at was indeed "the Old Man." Trigger was shrunken and his color
was dull. His golden coat had grayed. He was gray around his eyes
and ears. Witney didn't know he was with the right horse until he
looked in his eye.
Trigger lived an easy life until the day he took his final
breath, July 3, 1965, almost exactly 31 years after he was born.
Roy Rogers recalled one of the saddest phone calls he'd ever
received. It was from one of Trigger's caregivers. "I picked up
the phone, and before anything was said, I said, 'Old Trigger
died, didn't he?' I just had a feeling.... Danny said, 'Just a
few minutes ago.' Danny had turned Trigger out after he'd fed
him. He was feeding the other horses and he went and got a cup of
coffee. Trigger was lying out there in the field but Danny
thought he'd just laid down after he played around a little bit,
so he went back out to finish feeding the horses. Then he said,
'I went back out there again, and he was just lying there. So I
thought maybe I'd better check him.' He went out there and 'phht
(Roy's voice cracks) ... he was gone.'"
Unable to face burying his close friend Trigger, Rogers decided
to have him mounted by Bischoff's Taxidermy and Studio Prop
Rental of Burbank, California. An avid outdoorsman, Rogers hunted
a variety of animals from North America to Africa. He kept
taxidermists busy for years, and having Trigger mounted probably
seemed normal. "So I came up with a plan to preserve Trigger for
myself and for all the other people who loved him. I thought
about the hunting trophies I had collected over the years and I
contacted Mr.Bischoff, the famous taxidermist in Los Angeles, to
see what he could do."
Dale Evans and Dusty Rogers protested the plan, arguing for a
funeral and a final resting place with a monument at a pet
cemetery, but Rogers' mind was set. According to one source, Dale
Evans "once said, 'All right. But when you go, I'm gonna have YOU
stuffed and put on top of Trigger!' Roy said, 'Fine. Just make
sure I'm smiling.'"
Rogers ordered that Trigger be mounted in a rearing position in
full regalia: bridle, saddle, and martingale. He always referred
to Trigger as having been "mounted," not "stuffed" and would
correct anyone if they used the latter term. An animal whose hide
has been filled with sawdust is stuffed. An animal whose hide is
stretched over a cast is mounted. After a taxidermist takes an
animal's measurements, a Styrofoam mold is made, over which a
fiberglass frame is created. The Styrofoam is removed after the
fiberglass hardens. Finally, the animal hide is stretched over
the fiberglass mold.
(You know what this meant do you not? It means that Roy Rogers
had Trigger "skinned" - just does not sit well with me - Keith
After Trigger was mounted, the Smithsonian Institution asked for
him, but Rogers politely turned them down. For a time Trigger was
in the living room of Rogers' home in Apple Valley, California.
However, Roy Rogers had a very special place in mind for his four
legged co-star. Trigger was placed on display at the Roy Rogers
and Dale Evans Museum in Victorville, California, where he stood
until he was moved with the museum to Branson, Missouri, in 2003.
In 2005 the Branson Hollywood Wax Museum gave a Roy Rogers wax
figure to Rogers' new museum to be placed next to Trigger. Rogers
always said in jest that he wanted to be stuffed and put on old
Trigger; this is as close as he came.
More than once, Rogers said that he had Trigger mounted because
he couldn't bear the thought of putting the horse in the ground.
This statement suggests that the horse was preserved in his
entirety, which of course is untrue - possibly the most untrue or
erroneous statement Rogers ever made about Trigger. In actuality,
all that was preserved of Trigger was his hide, mane, and tail.
Everything else that made up the fabulous animal - his heart,
brain, internal organs, eyes, and so on - were disposed of. What
was preserved was a facade, an illusion, if you will. There are
those who find that ironic, and in some ways, appropriate.
(Yes the horse himself was destroyed, no grave or stone marker,
as far as I've ever heard. Trigger was skinned and only his hide
remains. The statement by Rogers that he could not bear the
thought of putting him in the ground, was indeed one of the
strangest sentences to be uttered by Roy - Keith Hunt)
Animals, like humans, grey as they age. According to Dusty Rogers
in his autobiography, "Trigger lived to be 33 years old - more
than 100 years in human terms. His golden hair had grayed
considerably, and he was gray around his eyes and ears." It's
entirely possible the taxidermist "enhanced" the markings on
Trigger's face and put some makeup on his near side. One wonders
how much cosmetic work was involved in his mounting process,
One of the last known photographs of Roy Rogers and the original
Trigger together. Rogers was 52 at the time and Trigger was near
31. Trigger's mane had thinned out, but he had more hair than
usual on his coat. Within a year after this photo was taken, the
great palomino was dead (Roy Dillow collection) (Not reproduced
here - Keith Hunt)
Trigger now looks very plain. The subtlety of his features is
missing, along with much of his musculature. He doesn't even have
the definition of a carousel horse. His thick mane and forelock,
much of what gave Trigger his beauty, are devoid of shape and
sheen. If the eyes are truly the windows to the soul, the effect
of glass substitutes is that of an empty stare. Like all mounted
animals, Trigger looks vacuous, without personality. Trigger was
truly an "old man" when he died, and that's what the taxidermist
had to work with: an aged horse.
(The Trigger so-called in the Roy Rogers Museum is a sham and
does not do any justice to the young beautiful horse he once was.
It would have been much better in my view for Roy to have had
Trigger buried with a loving head stone. Then with the money
Rogers had to have had made, with man-made material, a replica
of Trigger with his smooth glassy coat, long thick mane and
forlock and tail, facing the people, and standing magestically
with all the fancy silver tack he wore so magnificently. Then
people would gaze on him with awe and really appreciate what a
stunning horse Trigger once was - Keith Hunt)
There is little doubt that Roy Rogers loved the original Trigger.
There is also little doubt that Rogers' humble beginning had a
huge impact, and he was reluctant to part with material things as
demonstrated by what was on display at the Victorville museum.
However, Rogers would have done his beloved horse and his fans a
greater service had he let Trigger remain a beautiful memory,
rather than turn him into a generic substitute for past glory.
The life-size bronze De L'Esprie sculpted for the plaza of the
Autry National Center in Los Angeles is a far better tribute to
Gene Autry and his Champion(s) than the mounted morbid remains of
poor old Trigger. It's almost too bad the technology did not
exist to freeze-dry Trigger. This eliminates most of the
procedure used in traditional taxidermy. The results are much
closer to the actual look of a particular subject.
In his final form, Trigger requires regular upkeep. An
exterminator is called in to make sure bugs and parasites do not
damage his hide. His glass eyes are polished with window spray.
His coat, mane and tail still require brushing.
After a while, the mounted Trigger came to be treated like an
inanimate object. During an appearance on the American Rifleman
Show, 14 Rogers was interviewed in front of Trigger and
Buttermilk (also mounted) in his Victorville museum. Trigger not
only served as a backdrop, but also as a prop for Rogers and the
American Rifleman host to lean against.
Unfortunately Rogers' decision to have Trigger mounted did not
sit well with most fans and the poor old horse became the butt of
jokes. "More hay, Trigger?" "No thanks, Roy, I'm stuffed!"
As mentioned above, Trigger was not the only animal connected to
Roy Rogers who ended up at the taxidermist's. Dale Evans may have
originally protested Trigger's fate, but her quarter horse
gelding, Buttermilk, ended up the same way. Penny Edwards
remarked, "I started doing Roy's pictures when Dale was having a
baby. I rode Buttermilk first. Years later, when I went to the
Roy Rogers Museum, I almost fainted. I knew Roy had Trigger
stuffed, but I did not realize that Buttermilk was there too; I
loved that horse. I used to go out to Glenn Randall's ranch and
practice on Buttermilk while mother rode Trigger."
Even Rogers' German shepherd, Bullet, was mounted and joined the
others on display at the museum. Trigger Jr. also suffered the
same fate and ended up on open display mounted and fully tacked.
Unfortunately he was positioned in a very unflattering, dancing
pose. To make matters worse, his head and neck were placed in
such a way that he looks ewe-necked, a neck bowed instead of
arched. It is surprising that an experienced horseman like Rogers
allowed such a basic fault in conformation, especially since
Trigger Jr. wasn't ewe-necked when he was alive.
Little Trigger was not mounted. Perhaps that was his best reward
for contributing so much to Roy Rogers' career. Nevertheless,
Joel "Dutch" Dortch, member of the Happy Trails Foundation,
stated, "Roy told me he sure regretted not having Little Trigger
mounted and placed in the museum as he did Trigger and Trigger
(Ol' Trigger 2 I think at the end of the trail you got the better
deal. We remember you for the great talent you had, the mnay
photos we have and the film "Son of Paleface" - Keith Hunt)
The Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Museum in Victorville
The Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Museum was located in the high
desert city of Victorville, about two hours northeast of Los
Angeles. Once described as romantically picturesque, Victorville
became a generic retirement area best described as typical of
contemporary America with strip malls, industrial blight, and
Out in front of its "Fort Apache" styled structure, the Roy
Rogers and Dale Evans Museum featured a huge statue of Trigger in
the classic rearing pose. Inside was the mounted Trigger. At the
museum's peak of popularity it was estimated some 200,000
visitors attended each year, and most of them went to see
Trigger. Dusty Rogers said, "We close at five and stop selling
tickets at 4:30. But people come after that and beg to get in for
a few minutes. They drove 3,000 miles just to see Trigger. We let
them in-and they go away, happy."
On October 31, 1995, vandals struck at the Roy Rogers and Dale
Evans Museum and sprayed graffiti on the pedestal supporting the
statue of Trigger, the nearby sidewalk, and a sign near the
monument. A portion of the statue's anatomy was also painted blue
over the same weekend. The following Monday the statue had been
At the end of Roy Rogers' life, "Trigger" took the form of a grey
motorized cart with handle bars. The aged King of the Cowboys
used it to get around the huge Victorville museum. Painted in a
white script font on the side of the diminutive vehicle was the
name "Trigger III.
Trigger's Final Home
In 2003 Graebel Los Angeles Movers, Inc., moved nine truckloads
of memorabilia and household goods from Victorville, California,
to Branson, Missouri. The load included the entire Roy Rogers and
Dale Evans collection including Trigger, Trigger Jr., Buttermilk,
The new Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Museum in Branson is 26,000
square feet and occupies four acres. The building, located at
3950 Green Mountain Drive, includes a 300-seat theatre which is
home base to Dusty Rogers and his band, the High Riders. Dusty's
son Dustin was appointed general manager, a job that includes
running the museum, theater, and gift shop with the help of other
The museum displays are arranged on both sides of a
horseshoe-shaped walk which resembles an old western town. The
centerpiece behind glass is Trigger. In April of 2003 a seven-man
crew took almost two hours to install the 231/-foot-tall
fiberglass Trigger statue outside.
Even with a move to Branson, the Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Museum
may not exist beyond the next two decades. It's critical that Roy
Rogers' children have the celebrity to draw fans to their theatre
on a regular basis. Their audience may shrink as baby boomers age
and cannot travel as much. Dusty Rogers will be past normal
retirement age in 2011.
Gene Autry will probably be the only B-western star whose name
will endure and carry the legacy of the B-western cowboy into the
future. This will be done through the Autry National Center. This
great resource will remain viable for learning and entertainment
for decades to come. Some B-western elements will probably also
survive: the fancy Nudie Cohen-styled clothes; Bohlin-styled
tack; the influence of the stunt work in films; some of the music
("Don't Fence Me In," "Back in the Saddle Again," "Happy Trails,"
and "Tumbling Tumble Weeds"); the "Hi Yo Silver" catch-phrase;
and possibly the image of a Roy Rogers-type hero on a rearing
Unfortunately, the Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Museum, everything
in it and the land it sat on, was not put into a trust.
Apparently it wasn't thought to be necessary because the museum
was already a tax exempt institution. After Roy Rogers died,
however, the IRS gave his estate a bill and one year to pay it.
The bill was in the amount of one half of the IRS's assessed
value of the museum, contents, and land. The values were
apparently based on the overblown prices people were willing to
pay at an estate sale for Roy Rogers memorabilia. At that point,
the mounted Trigger was valued at $400,000. It took months to
straighten the situation out."
During a Museum Board of Directors meeting in Apple Valley in
2004, Dusty Rogers was asked about the possibility of the
Smithsonian owning Trigger and the other horses. He denied there
was any truth to the rumor. Dusty said that Trigger, Trigger,
Jr., Buttermilk, their saddles, and Nellybelle are all owned by
the Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Museum itself. Dale Evans, he said,
made an outright gift of them to the museum shortly before her
death in December 2000. Dusty Rogers said that if and when the
Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Museum ceased to do business, being
organized as a charitable organization under the IRS Code section
501(c)(3), the museum had to distribute its assets (including
Trigger) to another nonprofit organization like the Buffalo Bill
Museum in Cody, Wyoming, or the National Cowboy Hall of Fame and
Museum. It is not believed that Trigger will ever end up in the
Autry Museum. In the end, Trigger will never be owned by a
collector, fan, or private individual.
Despite what Dusty Rogers says, it's been rumored that Trigger,
Buttermilk, et al., are currently on loan to the Roy Rogers and
Dale Evans Museum for 15 years. The deal was made as part of the
tax settlement; their value was deducted from the tax bill, and
they were loaned to the museum for display. The official word is
that "Trigger, Trigger Jr., Bullet and Buttermilk were donated to
the Roy Rogers-Dale Evans Museum by Dale. In turn, we can only
donate them to another non-profit 501(c)(3) foundation. The
Smithsonian has expressed interest in Trigger, and it will be his
last stop when we are done. Nellybelle belongs to the Rogers
Roy Rogers' Funeral
Appearing on A&E Biography toward the end of his life, Rogers
remarked, "The sad part about getting up in years, I think, most
of all my sidekicks are gone. It's sad. My horse's gone. But it's
life." On July 6, 1998, Rogers, too, passed away.
Roy Rogers' family intended that he go out with the same flair
with which he lived; that was obvious from his funeral with its
honor guard, horse-drawn caisson, and such. However, given all
the "Triggers" Rogers used throughout his career, one wonders why
there wasn't a palomino look-alike present. As a very important
part of Rogers' image, "Trigger" in his fancy show saddle should
have been part of the funeral procession.
(I would have to agree fully with the above statement by Pando -
Rogers' trademark white hat could have hung off the right side of
the saddle horn, one of his colorful neckerchiefs on the other
side, and reversed boots in the stirrups. A riderless palomino
would have been a memorable and powerful statement.
When it came to his career, Roy Rogers often cited three lucky
breaks: Gene Autry going into the army; being able to sneak on to
the Republic Pictures lot for an audition after he learned
(almost by accident) that the studio was looking for a singing
cowboy; and finding Trigger. Rogers said, "Without those three
incidents, there wouldn't have been a Roy Rogers." The golden
palomino helped make the King of the Cowboys, and, to that
degree, Trigger is not only a bittersweet memory of days gone by;
he was the best friend Roy Rogers ever had.
Yes, that Golden Palomino was a classy a horse as you would want,
to see him in fully flying speed with white mane and tail flowing
in the wind, was, at least to me, a scene that took your breath
away. The two of them, Roy Rogers in his fanciest best and the
original Trigger with his silver tack, was for me as a kid seeing
them, a delight to the eyes, nay, as I look at photos today of
such scenes, it is still a delight to the eyes.
When I sit and watch "Son of Paleface" I am still awe struck by
the wonderful tricks Trigger 2 could perform, and they were only
a small part of his differse and myriad bag of goodies.
Indeed, two palomino horses that were unique, fortunately for us
and the next generations we have them on film, together with Roy
Rogers, Dale Evans, Pat Brady, Bob Nolan and the Sons of the
Pioneers, and all the great entertainment they brought us.