It was 1938 and Leonard Slye needed a horse. Not just any horse. His horse had to be fast, well-trained, and handsome. You see, Leonard was a singing cowboy who had just gotten his first leading role in a western movie called “Under Western Stars.” He needed a horse to ride in the movie. Several stables in the Hollywood area sent out horses for Leonard to choose among. After trying out six or seven of them, he rode a golden palomino named “Golden Cloud.” It was love at first ride. He chose Golden Cloud for the movie role but renamed him “Trigger” because of his tremendous speed. Leonard Slye changed his own name, too, and became known as Roy Rogers.
“Under Western Stars” was a huge hit. As Roy toured the country promoting the film, Roy realized that his fans wanted to see Trigger as much as they wanted to see him. But Roy didn’t own Trigger. At that time, Roy was only making $75 a week as a contract actor for Republic Pictures and Trigger costs $2500! Roy also had a wife to support. But Roy couldn’t take the chance that Trigger would be paired with another star in a movie. Roy wanted to make more movies with Trigger and take him on tours around the country. So Roy took the financial risk and arranged to buy the expensive horse, arranging to pay off his debt to Trigger’s owners on installment, much, like Roy said, like he was paying off a bedroom set. Roy later said it was the best $2500 he ever spent.
Roy and Trigger went on to become superstars, making 88 movies and 100 tv shows together. Roy was called “The King of the Cowboys” and Trigger was known as “The Smartest Horse in the World.” Their western shows thrilled audiences with their wild cowboy and faithful horse adventures and horse-pumping action.
When Trigger died in 1965 at approximately the age of 35, the Smithsonian Institute asked Roy Rogers for his body for their collection of historical Americana. Wife and costar Dale Evans wanted Trigger to have a decent burial with a nice headstone. But Roy didn’t like either idea. He didn’t want Trigger to be so far away from California or buried underground. So Roy arranged for Trigger’s hide to be stretched over a plastic likeness of a horse in a rearing position.
Trigger is still the most popular attraction at the Roy Rogers-Dale Evans Museum in Branson, Missouri. Roy also arranged for his German shepherd Bullet and Dale’s horse Buttermilk to be preserved and exhibited at the museum. Roy used to joke that after he died, he wanted to be preserved and mounted on the saddle on Trigger.
Roy Rogers’ son, Dusty, once said of his father. “Trigger died and Dad had him stuffed. Bullet died and Dad had him stuffed. Buttermilk died and Dad had her stuffed. Now Mom sleeps with one eye open!”
When Roy Rogers died, my husband Tom cried. Watch this video and you’ll see why. Here’s Roy Rogers and Trigger at the Hollywood Canteen: