America’s favorite movie horse was born on the Fourth of July

Time Before Now – July 1934  Franklin D. Roosevelt had  replaced Herbert Hoover’s depression-era presidency.  Gangster John Dillinger topped the FBI’s “most wanted” list after he escaped from the Crown Point, Indiana jail brandishing a wooden gun.  He was killed in a shoot-out with police in a Chicago theater five months later while watching  Myrna Loy and Clark Gable in the crime movie, “Manhattan  Melodrama.”  Duke Ellington’s Big Band song, “Cocktails for Two” topped the charts as Americans celebrated the end of Prohibition.  And Donald Duck made his first appearance in a Disney short film, “The Wise Little Hen.”

July 4, 1934

On this day or maybe it was 1932, “Trigger” was born on a ranch near San Diego, California.   No definitive record of his foaling exists, but  then who knew this golden Palomino colt would become the world’s most famous movie horse.

Originally christened Golden Cloud by his owner, Roy Cloud, the colt had rather inauspicious parentage.  Sired by a Thoroughbred who had reportedly  raced in Mexico, his mother was a “cold blood,” in horse parlance, an“unregistered” Palomino, perhaps part Tennessee Walking Horse.  Palominos are registered only by color and can be any breed.  

At age three Golden Cloud was sold to the Hudkins Brothers Stables, right next door to Warner Brothers.   The stable which became renowned for movie horses, was founded by Ace Hudkins, (right) a former boxer, stunt man and all-around hell-raiser from Valparaso, Nebraska, and his younger brother, Art.  It was just a year later that Republic Studios was looking for a horse for their new Western star, Roy Rogers.  

Rogers reportedly “auditioned” a number of beautiful horses when the stable brought the big Palomino around.  It was a match “made in heaven” according to those who witnessed that first meeting. 

Trigger’s first film with Olivia de Havilland

By the time Rogers convinced the Hudkins to sell him the horse in 1938, Golden Cloud had already made his equine debut with Olivia de Havilland in “Robin Hood.”  The Hudkins’ asking price was $2,500, about $30,000 today.  Rogers, who was earning about $75 a week at the time, made payments, “just like buying a bedroom set,” he said later.

The film star’s first sidekick, Smiley Burnette, (right) is often credited for inspiring the name with his quote, “He is sure fast off the trigger.” In fact he was.  Studio trainers claimed Trigger was always the fastest, strongest, smartest horse on the lot, able to stop on a dime and learn tricks with only a few repetitions.  And, say insiders, he became quite a ham, quickly picking up movie lingo like “quiet on the set” and “cut.”

He learned much of his movie savvy from Hollywood’s own “horse whisperer,” Glenn Randall, Sr.   A fellow Nebraskan from a panhandle wide spot in the road called Melbetta, Randall, was Hudkins’ chief wrangler for a time.  

Rogers met Randall not long after the rodeo cowboy had first moved to California. He’d started training cavalry horses for the U.S. Army at Fort Robinson and managing a horse ranch in Wyoming.  The relationship lasted for nearly three decades.  Randall traveled with Rogers and taught his four-legged co-star more than 30 hand commands.

Glenn Randall with Trigger

Randall was at the time, Hollywood’s most famous horse handler, training horses for Gene Autry, Tex Ritter and celerity Arabian horse breeder, Wayne Newton.  In addition, he trained all 78 horses for the chariot race inthe 1959 Academy-Award winning movie  “Ben Hur.”

Roger’s first film,“Under the Western Skies,” was released as a “B” movie.  It was instantly so popular it vaulted the actor and his horse into first run movie houses around the country.   Rogers afterwards always attributed some of his fame to Trigger’s amazing star power.

All 80 of Roger’s films and 100 television shows plus countless personal appearances featured the Rogers/Trigger duo. In addition, according to Roger’s wife Dale Evans’ memoir, Rogers often led the horse up several flights of stairs at hospitals to visit ill children.

Trigger and Roy visiting kids in the hospital

Important enough to have a number of horse doubles, Trigger’s  look-alike Palominos were often substituted for long chase scenes, made grueling  by constant retakes.  In addition, he was featured in his own Dell series of comic books. (Right)

Rogers retired his faithful companion in 1957 and he spent his remaining years at leisure in a luxury stable not far from the Rogers home.

The beloved movie horse died July 3, 1965, one day short of his 31st (or 33rd) birthday.  Rogers commissioned Bischoff’s Taxidermy, located in Los Angeles at the time, to preserve Trigger’s remains.  The famed horse’s skin was mounted over a rearing plaster likeness and exhibited at the Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Museum in Apple Valley, California.

Following the deaths of both Rogers and Evans,however, the museum’s contents were moved to Branson, Missouri. (Right) But the Branson museum closed, as well, and the artifacts were auctioned at Christi’s in New York.  Trigger, Dale Evans’ horse, Buttermilk, and Bullet, the German shepherd, were reportedly sold to RFD-TV, a rural media group in Nashville, Tennessee.

According to the last available information, Trigger and Bullet were on display at “RFD-TV The Ranch,” the company’s resort property in New Mexico.

Unfortunately, Trigger left no descendents.  Although he remained an intact stallion his entire life, he was never used as a sire.  Rogers did, however, breed other Palominos that resembled the original; Little Trigger and Trigger Jr., but neither were actually related to the world’s most famous movie horse.

Corriganville Park, 7001 Smith Road, Simi Valley California, is part of the Rancho Simi Recreation and Park District, the site of the Corriganville Movie Ranch . Built by early western star, Ray “Crash” Corrigan, it opened in 1937 and was the location of hundreds of Western films and TV shows. 

Roy Rogers’ television shows from 1954 to 1957 were filmed at the ranch.  All the remaining sets were destroyed by fires in 1971 and 1979 but the park’s hiking trails take visitors by many locations that will look familiar to Roy and Trigger fans. For more information go to rsrpd.org, call (805) 584-4400 or e-mail info@rsrpd.us.

(A brief video tour of the now defunct Roy Rogers Museum in Branson, Missouri, is available at youtube.com.)

© Text Only – 2021 – Headin’ West LLC  – All photos – public domain or fair use.

*Head On West strives for historic accuracy and uses a number of sources considered reliable.  When research differs on significant facts, the various points of view will be cited.