Memories of idolized movie horse are part of Roy Rogers exhibit at Oswego Hills Winery

by: REVIEW, TIDINGS PHOTOS: VERN UYETAKE - Jerry Marshall proudly exhibits cutouts of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. Marshall got the cutout of Roy from a grocery store, but the cutout of Dale just showed up one day.

Many unusual and remarkable auctions have taken place at the famed Christie’s auction house in New York City, but none was as colorful or emotional as the bidding on July 14, 2010.

The item causing such high anxiety was a stuffed and mounted horse. But not just any stuffed horse. It was Trigger, the golden palomino ridden by Roy Rogers, King of the Cowboys. The auction hall was filled with people wearing western wear, and many were in tears. But there were some sad sighs, too.

There were old friends of Roy Rogers and his wife, Dale Evans (Queen of the West), who said Trigger and the other objects from the old Roy Rogers-Dale Evans Museum should never have been put up for auction. They said Roy and Dale were spinning in their graves.

However, another of Roy’s old buddies claimed that Roy had told him that after he died he hoped he would be stuffed, mounted and put on Trigger’s back. Of course, this unprecedented re-teaming never came to pass.

The final bid on Trigger, who looked magnificent rearing back on his hind legs, was $266,000 by the owner of the Omaha, Neb., RFD-TV network who wanted to use him and Rogers’ dog, Bullet (purchased for $35,000), as props for reruns of Rogers’ TV show.

Now, the lovers of Roy and Trigger in Lake Oswego and West Linn can visit a tiny museum that is steadily rising at Oswego Hills Winery on Rosemont Road. It is made up of memorabilia stacked around a piano that is located in a building that was once the barn where Trigger was boarded on his visits to the Northwest. Trigger, next to the barn, is shown during one of his vacations at Spring Meadows Farm, where Roy Rogers used to board him on visits to the Northwest.Yes, the world’s “Smartest Horse” (as he was billed) once roomed at Spring Meadows Farms, Ken Hall’s ranch for Arabian horses, which 60 years ago occupied the land where the winery now stands.

“Was I a Roy Rogers fan?” asked winery owner Jerry Marshall. “Yes. Wasn’t everybody?”

No horse in American movie history had a more impressive resume than Trigger, although Trigger didn’t start out as Trigger. He was named Golden Cloud at his birth in 1932, and he soon got the plum role of the horse ridden by Maid Marian, played by Olivia de Havilland, in the great swashbuckler classic “The Adventures of Robin Hood” in 1938. True movie stardom quickly came his way.

When Roy Rogers was getting ready to star in his first movie for Republic Pictures he was offered his choice of five horses. He chose Golden Cloud and quickly renamed him Trigger, a more suitable name for the mount of a cowboy movie star.

The rest is history. Trigger went on to co-star with Rogers in 91 movies and later 100 TV episodes, as Rogers rode him right to the heights of popularity with American children. Together they chased down countless bad guys and rescued fair maidens, mostly Dale Evans. When Trigger wasn’t performing horse heroics onscreen, he was teaming with Rogers at countless public appearances and mobbed by masses of screaming kids.Roy Rogers and Trigger were always a giant hit when they appeared at parades. At his peak, Trigger was almost as popular as Santa Claus.

Besides being an incredibly beautiful golden palomino stallion, Trigger was the smartest thing on four legs. He could react to 150 cues and could walk up to 50 feet on his hind legs, a truly thrilling sight. Trigger was also kindhearted. With Roy on his back, he could bound up three or flights of stairs in a hospital to visit sick children.

Trigger was inseparable from the most popular cowboy in the land. He had his own comic book, his own memorabilia (including lunch box) and his own fan club. He was America’s horse. When Trigger died in 1965, Rogers couldn’t bear to part with him. So Trigger was stuffed, mounted and placed first in the Roy Rogers-Dale Evans Museum in Victorville, Calif., then relocated when the museum closed and relocated to Branson, Mo., where he continued to enchant a couple more generations of children until the museum closed in 2009.

Thanks to Jerry Marshall, the legend of Trigger is continuing in Lake Oswego, although he had no notion of starting a Trigger shrine when he began the herculean task of building Oswego Hills Winery in 1997.

“Trigger used to stay here when Roy Rogers would visit the Northwest,” Marshall said. “He was a friend of Kenneth Hall, who really did well for himself and was the closest to anything Portland had to a socialite.” He added: “Who knows? We might be standing at the site of Trigger’s stall right now.”

Still, Marshall was oblivious to Trigger’s history at the ranch until Hall’s daughter visited him one day in 2003 and brought a scrapbook to show him. Marshall, who was such a cowboy movie fan that he played “Cowboys and Indians” until he was well into high school, was immensely intrigued. The scrapbook was filled with fascinating photos of the horse ranch from the ’40s and ’50s, with charming pictures of Trigger, Roy, Ken Hall, and Buttermilk (Dale Evans’ horse). Hall’s daughter gave Marshall the permission to make prints of the photos.

Then things got interesting. Visitors to Oswego Hills Winery saw the photos, were overcome by nostalgia and started bringing in their own Roy Rogers memorabilia. They brought comic books, ads for Sugar Crisp, a toy covered wagon, coffee mugs, programs, yo-yos, and, most eye catching, large cutouts of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans.

“I got the cutout of Roy from a grocery store,” Marshall said. “I’m not sure how the cutout of Dale got here. All of a sudden it showed up. Now they’re together again. Happy trails.”

Great credit for this happy ending goes to Marshall, who found the barn to be in terrible shape when he first acquired the property. He went on to construct an authentic rehabilitation of the building.

“It was about to be cleared by Mother Nature. All that was left of the barn was the foundation,” Marshall said. “But the old barn had some good bones in it. It had a lot of lumber you can’t find any place else.”

The Trigger collection is a sentimental piece of the entire beautiful puzzle that is Oswego Hills Winery. However, when people younger than 50 years old view the collection, they ask Marshall, “Who was Roy Rogers?” Marshall is happy to tell them.

“It was a simpler time,” he said. “Good guys wore white hats, bad guys wore black hats, and you didn’t have to worry about who was who.”

Yes, Roy Rogers always defeated evil in his movies. And it was because he rode the greatest movie horse of them all.

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