I wasn’t raised during the heyday of the silver-screen cowboy like many of our baby boomer readers. However, my parents and grandparents exposed me to many an evening of watching The Roy Rogers Show, Annie Oakley, The Lone Ranger, Bonanza and Gunsmoke reruns, and old spaghetti Westerns. I can quote Tom Mix, John Wayne, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Lorne Greene, Dan Blocker, Michael Landon, James Arness and others with the best Western boomer. I also enjoy hearing stories of my grandfather playing high school sports with Leonard Sly in southern Ohio, before Leonard became the iconic American cowboy hero Roy Rogers.
Even though Roy and Dale Evans weren’t as influential in my decision to live in the West, ride horses and be a cowgirl as they were to my parents and grandparents, I was saddened last fall when I received notice that the Roy Rogers Museum in Branson, Missouri, was closing after 42 years of operation. Steady decline in visitors was one of the factors that led the Rogers family to close the doors on their family heritage.
I never had an opportunity to tour the museum, which made it all the more important that I attend Brian Lebel’s 21st Annual Old West Show & Auction in Denver, Colorado, this past June. The Rogers family consigned 127 items to the auction, including Roy’s personal firearms and hunting gear, and his 1964, bright yellow, Lincoln Continental Convertible.
As a purveyor and promoter of cowboy culture, I feel obligated to immerse myself in Western heritage, and Roy and Dale were a very important part of shaping a generation’s perceptions of the West. Seeing their personal memorabilia confirmed in my mind that Roy and Dale were a classy couple and had impeccable taste in gear.
The highlight of the auction was watching one of Roy’s holsters and belt rigs, and matching gold-plated Crockett spurs sell for $90,000 and $16,000, respectively. The lavishly tooled, gold-trimmed Buscadero gun rig was made by Nudie’s of North Hollywood for Roy in 1948 and came with two Colt single action revolvers. The gold-plated spurs were Crockett’s popular Pattern 1368 and had 2.5-inch, 20-point gold rowels and Nudie spur straps made to match the holsters and gun belt.
Three weeks after Lebel’s auction, High Noon Western Americana partnered with Christie’s to auction off the remaining museum memorabilia in New York City. An emotional, history-making event, the auction placed Roy’s silver parade saddles, sports memorabilia, costumes, furniture, vehicles and the most famous movie horse, Trigger.
Roy bought Trigger in 1938, and the golden palomino was his partner until the horse died in 1965. I’m sure by now you’ve heard that the stuffed, rearing mount sold for $266,500 to RFD-TV. Another high-selling item was the silver-dollar encrusted and longhorn-adorned Bonneville convertible that Roy and Dale used in special appearances, which brought $254,500.
I doubt the television and film industries will ever see another iconic cowboy couple like Roy and Dale, which is unfortunate for members of Generation X like me and those generations that follow mine. However, I’m someone who looks for the silver lining in every story. Although the closing of the museum and the auctioning of its contents were emotional to the Rogers family and fans, I don’t see the events as the end of the trail, but rather a new trail that will allow collectors and other museums to display the items and share the silver-screen stars’ legacy for those of us who didn’t grow up with our own cowboy and cowgirl heros.
In the words of Roy and Dale, “Happy trails to you, until we meet again.”