By Emory Jones
Everybody reasonably alive when it happened remembers where they were and what they were doing when President John F. Kennedy was shot. But, for me and others my age, an equally traumatic event was the day Roy Rogers died. (Okay, I may have exaggerated a bit by comparing TV’s King of The Cowboys to the President, but this was hard on us.)
Anyway, I was driving down Peachtree Street in Atlanta when I heard the tragic news on my radio.
When I ambled into the Atlanta advertising agency where I worked, with what must have been a dazed look, our perky, young receptionist said, “What’s the matter, Mr. Jones? Is something the matter?”
Seeing she didn’t know, I broke the news as gently as I could. “Have you not heard? Roy Rogers passed away this morning.”
Expecting tears, I prepared to offer what comfort I could. Turns out she didn’t need comforting. She just gave me a bewildered look and said, “Is Mr. Rogers one of our clients? Want me to order flowers?”
That was the first time I felt old.
For those who don’t know, Roy Rogers was an icon who was the same straight-shootin’ guy galloping after bad guys on his faithful horse, Trigger, on-screen as he was off. And Lord, could he sing! (Roy, I mean. This was before Mr. Ed, so Trigger couldn’t even talk.) But, together, they made so many personal appearances that Roy bought two stand-ins for Trigger.
Trigger was a beautiful, blond, high-rearing, fast-running superhero of a horse that could shoot a gun and untie ropes, and yet he let the weakest child sit safely on his magnificent back. In our hearts, we all knew that if we could just get on that silver-studded saddle, we could be heroes, too. As far as I know, Trigger is the only horse to get his hoofprint impressed on the sidewalk in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre.
After Roy’s equally heroic wife, Dale, died three years after him in 2001, their children opened a museum in their honor. But Roy had told them that if the museum ever started losing money, they should liquidate it and move on. So, sadly, a few years later, they auctioned off everything in it – even Roy’s old boots.
It kills me to think that Trigger – the horse we Baby Boomer boys would have marched to Hollywood to feed a lump of sugar – nearly wound up on eBay. Roy had Trigger mounted, you know – which is why a lot of us were sorta’ glad he died before Dale.
At the auction, Trigger’s preserved remains went to channel RFD-TV in Omaha for $266,500. That’s a lot of money for a dead horse. They also snagged Dale’s steed, Buttermilk, and their faithful dog, Bullet. I understand RFD-TV keeps everything in their lobby.
In the way of trivia, Dale’s horse, Buttermilk, could outrun Trigger, so Roy asked Dale to hold Buttermilk back when she rode alongside him. Trigger, being the star, always had to lead.
I never thought I’d live in an America where a museum dedicated to Roy Rogers would close due to lack of interest. But, I reckon that’s life. And for you younger folks to understand how much this hurts, just wait until you see one of Taylor Swift’s red dresses going for $30 on Craigslist.