Once his golden coat had been like velvet. There had been a time when thousands had cheered him to the echo. Now he would no longer lead a posse after the bad guys. But he is still Trigger. Dead or Alive.
There was no valley and there were no apples. I was standing on dirt flat as pee on a plate in every direction.
It was a raw day. The tail end of winter. In about three months the ground I was shivering on would get hot enough to pop bugs like Orville Redenbacher could pop corn.
“Howdy!” “Howdy!” They both smiled loudly.
They supposedly got 200,000 visitors a year. Most came to see — it is now said –Trigger, Roy Rogers’ dead horse. The day I was there, a short time after Trigger galloped off into his final sunset, it was stone cold empty.
I was in Apple Valley at the Roy Rogers Dale Evans Museum standing in front of the out-reaching arms of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans.
And they were. Roy and Dale. Head to toe. No casual Friday jeans and gloves pretending to be just ole’ cow folk like George W.
It is hard to know where the fancy duds of Western entertainment came from but Roy and Dale pretty much had it down. And so did Trigger. Palomino with white trim.
I had the Roy look at about age six, when my uncle, Clifford Dunning, had a Roy Rogers cowboy suit tailor-made for me. My two daughters, Elizabeth and Victoria, beginning at three and six had it down also. Both became world-class riders in quarter horse with Elizabeth scoring in Sports Illustrated as having won the most titles in the world. By fifteen years of young age. Victoria scored third in the world in English jumping at seventeen. And they had the look.
A big part of the Western horse thing is your look. Just like Roy and Dale. Just like what the immortal Nudie the Rodeo Tailor would continue to do with every Western music act and even Elvis, with his Rolling Stone cover Golden Tux that Nudie built.
In English riding events the look is pretty much horsey class preppy. Pretty standardized, as much as Catholic school uniforms but with the girls, of course, making some modifications. In English riding you can do that with branded boots, high street saddles and a riding girl’s best friend–diamond stud earrings.
In Western, it is the whole look. Nothing too subtle. From the hat to the boots it is all designed and tailored. Y vaquero.
Roy had silver pistols and Trigger had a lot of silver jewelry on his saddle. Flash. Unless you are a working cow person. But there are dress codes there also, which, I was disappointed to find, in “No Country for Old Men” seemed to have been ignored.
With my girls’ and their mother’s riding records, me being born in the West, my family having been involved in the introduction of Black Angus cattle to this country, and one of the ex’s livin’ in Texas, I have a bit o’ background in these matters.
Means you gotta be authentic. As they usually are not in country music wardrobing. You can be flashy and tailored but if you wear a big buckle that you haven’t actually won in competition, it’s almost like wearing medals you did not actually earn. My girls and their mom have an orange-crate size chest of medal buckles. And here are some of the looks they created:
Now Roy and Dale were not really Western competitors or ranchers but they did invent the total Western entertainment image with their looks and their animals: Trigger, Buttermilk, Bullet and Nellie Belle. Three of these were just sold. All dead.
With pride I will say that April Salisbury and our daughters, Victoria and Elizabeth Salisbury, brought that Western style into their times with creative design and engineered construction and a sense of contemporary fashion. And outfits that actually complemented athleticism. No stuffed animals. Both daughters found the time also to be honor students. Nationally. Victoria now, at 26, shows her contemporary designs in L.A., Vegas, New York and Paris.
(Thinking commercially, as usual, and willing to take advantage of family, we have a cousin whose name I think would be the best brand in the world for the horsey stuff –Bonnie West.)
But on that day in the valley of no apples in no valley, I was on a mission. When Trigger died in the late ‘60s, rumor had it that he’d been stuffed. That is what I wanted to see and photograph: Roy and Dale with their permanently preserved and always famous horse.
Trigger died at a good old age for a horse – 33 – and there he was, put on display, reared up on his hind legs, inside the museum. I couldn’t decide if that was cool or just creepy. And I didn’t know how it struck Roy and Dale. Should I ask? If I did, was I prying?
I just went for it and asked if I could see him. I did. Then I got it up to ask if they would let me shoot them in front of Trigger. With his trademark squint, Roy cheerily said, “How’s this, pard?,” posing Dale and himself just under the airborne front hooves of Trigger. Bullet, with some sort of tongue-like material hanging out, is just behind Trigger.
“By the way,” Dale perkily informed me with a glance back to the horse, “Trigger is mounted, not stuffed.” Incredulous.
Dale continued: “His hide was stretched over a plaster likeness.”
“Looks just like he did the day before he left us.” Roy said almost wistfully.
Trigger just sold at Christie’s for $266,000. Bullet, who can be seen in the picture with all of them, bagged $35,000. And all the rest of Roy and Dale’s paraphernalia, particularly the trick outfits, got a bit of cash, too.
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Terrific. Just wonderful, as always. Bona fides on the topic established — cool childhood photos. And touching that you folded in the family stuff — April (I remember her as Heater) and your amazing offspring. Take a bow, cowpoke. Kenneth A.
Very cool. Robert S.
I have always thought that it was only fair that Roy and Dale should have been stuffed and mounted on Trigger, too. Robert C.
Yuck. Bruce T.
But my kids…It was weird and I was totally intimidated to ask for the shot…so I got the horse’s ass. MS.
Nice post about Roy + Trigger. Circa age 7, I’d get out of school @ 3:00 + and run 1/2 way home 2 get there by 3:30. Why? Thought U’d never ask…2 not miss the beginning of the Roy Roger’s Show. While so pale compared 2 U…over the many years I’ve shot a number of famous people, 2. I really never got starstruck, as doing that is so un-pro + we do behave like pros, don’t we? Probably the only time I really felt that way was when I got hired 2 do a portrait of Roy. The late actor, John Ritter (of Three’s Company fame)…his Dad was Tex Ritter, a big deal in country music — something I never listen 2. So I followed him around on 4 weekends for a TV special on the Singing Cowboys and interviewed folks like Roy, Rex Allen, Gene Autry, etc. 4 me 2 get paid 2 shoot Roy AND sit in a coffee shop eating lunch w/him was really among my only ever starstruck moments (www.petebleyer.com). Nowhere nearly as huge 4 me, but the closest other time I felt this was while working with Stevie Wonder. Hope all is continuing well…Best, Pete.
Cool story, Pete. Thanks. MS
Very nice!!! Demian
Sheeattt! Sweet! Tim G.
Oh my, that was so great! Jon C.
That a box of Heinz 57 you’re on? Still have the suit? Cool how you mixed in familia. Rebecca O.
That shot is awesome. I love the dog under the horse filling the space behind her hand. It looks like a painting. The pimped out Pontiac shot is also great. Did you open the car door and one side of his jacket on purpose? Your family was part of the group that introduced Black Angus to America? That’s crazy! Nelson Q.
This is such a beautiful post, so well-written and wonderfully photographed. I especially loved the childhood photos! And what accomplished girls you have enabled obviously by a beloved father. Reading this piece produced a longing, a yearning for unknown yet somehow known experiences. All great writing produces images, strung along like sparkling pearls, held together by a single thread, one after another. It produces images. We become active readers. As a comment to one of your photos you wrote, “It was tangible.” Reading this non-sacred piece, I somehow thought, “and the word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Words have that power. It’s the imagination materialized. I laughed aloud and smiled a lot reading this post. Classic memorable lines danced around in my head, “But on that day in the valley of no apples in no valley, I was on a mission.” Poetry. Nostalgia for the mind’s images, unknown, yet known. Thank you. Judith E.