Keith Hunt - End of the Trail - Page Nineteen   Restitution of All Things

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The End of the Trail #2

Some Thoughts


My Pal Trigger

"He's not for sale at any price. I couldn't part with him. But
more important than that, he's not really mine - he belongs to
children everywhere." - Roy Rogers

I last visited the Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Museum in the summer
of 1998 when it was still in Victorville, California. I went
fully aware that Roy Rogers was in poor health and would not be
around much longer. I wanted to see him once more.

Fittingly, it was right after I'd left the Trigger display that I
heard someone say, "There's Roy!" I looked down a dimly lit
hallway and saw a distinctive silhouette - a figure in a familiar
flat-topped styled cowboy hat with the "Denton Pinch" creased
crown. Rogers was driving a grey motorized cart in my direction
and stopped directly in front of me. A crowd gathered and
flashbulbs began to go off. Although I was speechless as I stared
into his familiar eyes I managed to extend my hand. The King of
the Cowboys' grip was weak.

Roy Rogers was dressed as one would expect: western dress pants,
black boots, a bolo tie, a western shirt, and a jacket. Between
heart attacks, angina, and diabetes, he looked every bit of 87
years. Decades of touring and making movies showed on the old
cowboy's face. He was a little slouched over, looked a little
heavy, and his thinning hair was grey. Age spots dotted his face,
his breathing was irregular, and he was hard of hearing -
probably due to all the gunfire he'd been exposed to on movie
sets and on hunting trips.

Roy Rogers was accompanied by a bodyguard, obviously there to
make sure enthusiastic fans did not overwhelm their cowboy hero.
In his fragile state, Rogers could not tolerate a strong hug. A
woman gently put her arm around him while another told Rogers
what joy he'd brought to everyone's lives. Women teared up and
men became little boys.

As fans continued to take pictures I discreetly asked the
bodyguard how Rogers' health was. He candidly replied, "He's not
going to be around much longer." My mood went from wonder to
bittersweet. Seeing my boyhood hero old and frail was difficult.
Everyone present could see he was close to the end.

I will always regret that I could not have a long private
conversation with Roy Rogers. I had many questions to ask about
his horses, but the time for interviewing him had past. Rogers
had only minutes to reciprocate his fans' greetings individually;
no one could feel he owed more after a lifetime of entertaining
them. Rogers was a hero and father figure to the generation who
grew up on his movies. Still, I felt like he belonged only to me.

Fantasy and illusion were Roy Rogers' art, and the line between
that art and reality blurred. He may have started out merely as
an entertainer creating a celebrity persona for himself and his
horse, but he represented much more.

While B-westerns may have been conceived as cheap entertainment
and simple morality plays, they too became more. They directed
and nurtured young fans. Roy Rogers' movies were made with
sublime innocence and breathtaking artistry (especially with
regards to horse-manship) at a time when their simple values rang
straight and true. In these cynical times with antiheroes as the
norm, Rogers' glorious black and white movies exist in an eternal
state of hope and as cinematic anachronisms. Devoted fans require
no mature plot lines, no revisionist analysis; it's enough that
Rogers and Trigger weren't afraid to meet injustice head on and
fight it with great style no matter the odds. Optimism is at
their core.

It's a common misconception to assume that B-westerns were only
popular with children. That could not be further from the truth.
Not everyone, especially in the thirties, identified with
gangsters and wealthy socialites. The migration that took place
at that time from the farm to the city was massive and those
involved saw themselves much more readily in Gene Autry and Roy
Rogers than they did in William Powell. People could really
identify with cowboys and their fight against crooked bankers and
corrupt businessmen who wanted to chase them off their land.
Peter Stanfield makes a great case for how popular B-westerns
were with adults in his scholarly work "Horse Opera: The Strange
History of the 1930s Singing Cowboy" (University of Illinois
Press, 2002).

In a press release from the official Gene Autry site, the thesis
of Stanfield's book is described as follows. "In this innovative
take on a neglected chapter of film history, Peter Stanfield
challenges the commonly held view of the singing cowboy as an
ephemeral figure of fun and argues instead that he was one of the
most important cultural figures to emerge out of the Great
Depression. The rural or newly urban working-class families who
flocked to see the latest exploits of Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Tex
Ritter, and other singing cowboys were an audience largely
ignored by mainstream Hollywood film. Hard hit by the depression,
faced with the threat - and often the reality - of dispossession
and dislocation, pressured to adapt to new ways of living, these
small-town film goers saw their ambitions, fantasies, and desires
embodied in the singing cowboy and their social and political
circumstances dramatized in 'B' Westerns."

Loyal fans could never be angry with Roy Rogers for his dogged
adherence to his own public relations. We all have too much
affection and respect for him as an entertainer and as a man. Roy
Rogers had a career plan and knew public relations were vital to
his success. Beyond that, he gave his fans a moral code and the
promise of better things, not to mention great entertainment and
a wonderful fantasy. As a storyteller he created and nurtured two
of the best characters of all time: the "King of the Cowboys" and
the "Smartest Horse in the Movies." Rogers may have embellished
the truth, but he did it for all the right reasons and no one was
lesser for it.

While many continue to take Rogers at face value and believe
everything he said, there are those of us who temper our
affection and respect with experience. We remain devoted to his
legend - Trigger's too - and all the wonderful things the legends
stood for. Roy Rogers' and Trigger's public personas were an
unspoken agreement between them and their fans. We were all
playing make-believe together. Trigger belonged to us all; he was
our pal, too.


MY VIEW (Keith Hunt)

While I can agree with much that Pando has said. I must still
take it all from the "Christian" perspective. Roy and Dale
accepted Jesus as their personal Savior in their mid-30s. At that
point all Hollywood hype - publicity - weaving whatever fancy -
it should have all been put aside. There should have been no
trying to cover-up that the "Smartest Horse in the Movies" was
actually TWO palomino Triggers. All truth and facts should have
been put on the table for all to see. It surprises me that Dale
or someone in Christianity and close to Rogers, did not call for
a meeting to discuss a new frame of mind for the publicity for
"Roy Rogers and Trigger." At rodeos with the "touring" Trigger
and all his wonderful tricks, he should have been recognized by
Roy Rogers as being Trigger #2. What could have been more fitting
that at the end of a show, Roy saying, something like: "And
pard'ners, lets thank Trigger 2 for his part in the show." The
kids and adults could then have clapped and shouted and whistled
appreciation for the talent of Trigger 2.

If everything to do with Roy Rogers and Trigger had been open,
with no slight of hand or pretence, all would have been open and
there would be no real need for a book as Pando's book is to a
large extent, un-covering the facts and truth of the matter. Sure
there would be books on Roy Rogers and books on the Trigger/s, as
memorabilia of that time in Hollywood history, that so many loved
and enjoyed.

It is a false idea that children cannot accept truth. Children
can have a big enough heart to accept a fact like there being TWO
horses by the name of "Trigger." Just be open with children,
teach them to appreciate things as it is, not the way we paint
the picture for them. You will be amazed as to what you will
find, and can learn from children.

It is to me, a sad commentary, that the facts of the two
Triggers, had to be brought out in this way, AFTER the death of
Roy Rogers.

Roy Rogers was a good man, a super talent, a great Hollywood
star. It was disappointing he did not have a special place in the
Roy Rogers Museum for Trigger 2. Did anyone ever tell him he
should have done so? I do not know.

There may be 10 years or so left before the Roy Rogers Museum is
history, and will be no more, as Pando would lay it out. So it is
NOT YET too late for those in charge of the Museum, to have a
section devoted to the great "trick" horse Trigger 2. It would be
nice to see that, but I will not hold my breath waiting for it to

What many "religious" people who are fans of Roy Rogers often
fail to see, is that Roy Rogers was a human man, and so he was
not perfect; he had his faults; he made his mistakes; just as we
all do.

Yes, I shall continue to do my Roy Rogers show (where I become as
Roy Rogers for about an hour each Friday during July and August)
for the kids at the summer horse/pony camp at the Ranch here in
Calgary. I shall continue to tell them about the Roy Rogers
Website. I shall continue to encourage them to buy Roy Rogers
movies. I will continue to enjoy watching them myself from time
to time.

So, all the dust has mainly settled now, around the King of the
Cowboys and the Smartest Horse in the Movies.

You'll still yet find more interesting chapters after this one,
concerning "Trigger" and horse training. 

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