Historical Details

Happy Bithday, Roy! Roy Rogers had ties to Niobrara County

Courtesy of The Lusk Herald, 11/23/2011

Happy Birthday, Roy! Roy Rogers has ties to Niobrara County

Roy Rogers, that is. You may not have remembered November 5, 2011 was Rogers’ 100th birthday. It will be celebrated in various ways over the next two months.

In 1943, the Motion Picture Herald ranked him as the top money-making western movie star, a spot he held for 12 years after. Republic Studios billed him as the “king of the cowboys.”

The western movies were aimed at young audiences, and many youngsters admired him. They sent as many as 20,000 fan letters per week.

His films always had good winning over evil, influencing generations of fans, which is evident today. A recent survey by Men’s Health magazine found that the “average guy” was proud to be an American (95%) and ranked the “big three” as God, family, and country. When asked what type of historical American figure they would like to be, most said “A wild west cowboy.”

Rogers was born as Leonard Slye on November 5, 1911 to Andy and Mattie Slye in Cincinnati, Ohio. He grew up with three sisters on a small farm near Duck Run, Ohio. Slye taught himself how to yodel, and he had a clear, melodic singing style and was soon drawn to local Saturday night dances. He was calling square dances by age 10.

In 1930, the family moved to California. At the time, Hollywood was making western movies, and western music was popular on radio stations, so Slye decided to try his luck as a singer.

He joined several singing groups, and formed others. While on a tour with the O bar O Cowboys that stalled out in Roswell, N. M., they made unsponsored programs at a local radio station for two weeks. While there, he met a local girl, Arlene Wilkins, and they were married in her home in 1936.

By that time, he had teamed up with two other performers, Bob Nolan and Tom Spence, forming the Pioneer Trio, which eventually evolved into the Sons of the Pioneers with the addition of Hugh and Karl Farr. They quickly earned recognition as a top western singing group and performed in eight movies in 1934-35.

In 1937, he signed a contract with Republic Studios and was assigned the stage name of Dick Weston, later changed to Roy Rogers, reminiscent of the beloved Will Rogers.

Before appearing in “Under Western Skies” in 1938, it was decided that he needed a lead horse. Rogers rode a couple of them before riding a palomino named Golden Cloud.

“This is it,” Rogers said of the horse. “This is the color I want. He feels like the horse I want, and he’s got a good rein on him.”

Rogers credits Smiley Burnette with choosing the name Trigger. The studio rented the horse until Rogers bought him for $2500.00.

Several people from eastern Wyoming played a big role in the future of Roy Rogers and Trigger. Glenn Randall, from the Lusk-Torrington area, had been training movie horses in California. He had gained a lot of prestige and recognition from training the four white chariot horses for the Ben Hur film.

In 1941, Rogers turned Trigger’s training over to Randall, a spot he held for the next 24 years. Randall said that Trigger was an exceptional horse; almost human. Forty of his tricks were done by word cue alone. He praised Trigger for his mouth work. Randal said Trigger could untie a horse or take the hobbles off of himself, retrieve an article, take a pistol out of a holster or a rope off a saddle. He could even play jump rope.

As if nearly 70 tricks were not enough, Trigger was housebroken. This allowed Roy to make public appearances at children’s hospitals or the grand ballroom of the Hotel Astor. It was reported in the New York Times that Trigger delighted the sophisticated New Yorkers with his dancing, rearing, pawing and playing dead on the ballroom floor.

In the mid 40s, Rogers asked Randall to try and find a replacement for Trigger, who was growing old. While on a scouting trip in the area, he decided to call an old acquaintance, Walt Rymill, to see if he knew of any such horse in the area. Indeed Walt did and invited him out to see his palomino, Pal O’ Mine, at his ranch south of Lusk.

Randall had worked at the Torrington Sale Barn while in high school, and knew many local people. Orval Robinson was riding Pal O’ Mine, moving horses to another pasture the day the Roy Rogers trailer drove in and recognized Randall. Glen asked Robinson to remove the saddle so he could get a good luck at the horse. The face had a blaze nearly the same as Trigger’s, and his eyes were bright and intelligent. His color was perfect. However, there was a difference; he had three white stocking feet where Trigger only had one. Glen asked Rymill about the price. Rymill quoted a price of $2500. The deal was made and Pal O’ Mine left for Hollywood.

The May 25, 1944 edition of The Lusk Herald stated Rogers was going to train him to take Trigger’s place who is getting a little too old to follow the strenuous life of a movie actor.
Word returned to Wyoming that Pal O’ Mine had gone into training and the horse had quickly learned all of the tricks that Trigger could do.

Dale Evans rode Pal sometimes, but the appearance of two Triggers confused onlookers and Dale got a buckskin horse called “Buttermilk.”

How did Walt Rymill happen to have such a fine horse? This is another story that involves several people from this area.

In the early 40s a young man rode into the Joe and Mary Reynolds ranch near Douglas, looking for work. He was riding an unusual Steel-Dust buckskin mare, all of his other belongings were in the bed roll tied on the back of his saddle, No one remembers his name nor where he came from. Joe hired the young pair, the cowboy and his horse.

A while later the young man received a draft notice into World War II. The sorrow of leaving his beautiful mare was made easier by Joe who offered to buy the mare and keep using her on the ranch just as he had been, and he would sell the mare back to him when he came back from the war. The young man never returned from the war.

Joe and Mary were admirers of fine horses and had some of their own. Joe had purchased a bay stallion from Dr. Hylton called Temple Boy, a son of Sir Barton and Temple Girl. Sir Barton was the first Triple Crown winner in 1919. A statue dedicated to him stands in Washington Park in Douglas. A mating of Temple Boy and the Steel-Dust mare resulted in two palomino colts. Mary named then “Golden Glow” and Pal O’ Mine.” They had not been ridden but were kept as pets at the ranch.

Otto Bible, a field-man for the Lusk Sale Barn was there looking at cattle and noticed the colts, he thought they would sell well and they went with the cattle. Walt Rymill bought both of them, for $250 each.

Orval Robinson was breaking and training horses for Rymill, he had been a jockey and had ridden thoroughbreds on several race tracks. He was also a farrier when the colts came into his care, responded well and would make good ranch horses. Meanwhile Mary Reynolds missed her pets so Joe bought back the one called “Golden Glow” for her use and pleasure. The twin “Pal O’ Mine” remained at the Rymill ranch until Glenn Randall got him for Roy Rogers.

After the war Tommy Neilson and William Vandergriff made a deal to start making plastic saddles and other riding gear. They started making then in the back of the leather shop, but soon needed more space and moved into the basement of the Ranger Hotel. They were not sure how well the plastic saddles would be accepted and were in need of a stroke of fortune.

The good fortune came in the form of an order for two plastic saddles from the “King of the Cowboys,” Roy Rogers. He ordered one for himself and one for Dale Evans. Both were cream colored, trimmed in red and blue. They later ordered two more saddles. The business was growing under the name of the All Western Plastic Co. Unfortunately they moved to Scottsbluff and after being in a new building short time a tornado struck and destroyed the business.

Copies of the Roy Rogers Riders Club goals, pictures of the plastic saddle and full sized cut-out of Roy Rogers are on display at the Stage Coach Museum. Be sure to watch the parade of roses on Jan. 2, 2012. The mounted Trigger and Bullet (the dog) will be on the RFD float, escorted by 100 riders on palomino horses.

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Related/Linked Records

Record Type Name
Obituary Bible, Otto (09/30/1895 - 08/14/1967) View Record
Obituary Robinson, Orval (04/14/1916 - 03/06/1997) View Record
Obituary Rogers, Roy (09/23/1874 - 02/18/1940) View Record