Evans and Roy Rogers thrilled audiences for generations as "The
King of the Cowboys" and "Queen of the West."
His radio show aired
on more than 500 stations. His acting career spanned 40 years and included
88 films and more than 100 TV episodes. He has four stars on the Hollywood
Walk of Fame. He has more than 400 musical recordings to his credit
and is the only person ever inducted into the Country Music Hall of
Fame twice. His picture appeared on 2.5 billion cereal boxes and countless
Who is he? If you
didn’t guess Roy Rogers you’re too young to remember the
era of the film and television Western — perhaps the most uniquely
American entertainment genre of all time. Known as the “King of
the Cowboys,” Rogers was arguably the best-known entertainer ever.
“He was far
bigger than most celebrities today,” says Dustin Rogers, Roy’s
grandson and general manager of the Roy Rogers Museum and Happy Trails
Theater in Branson. “He was No. 1 at the box office for 12 years
straight. His merchandising was second only to Disney. There wasn’t
anything that came out that didn’t have his name or likeness on
Born Leonard Slye
in Ohio in 1911, Roy first came to America’s attention as a member
of The Sons of the Pioneers, a cowboy singing group, and later starred
in films and a wildly popular TV series. The Roy Rogers Museum, which
celebrates his life, recently moved to Missouri from California and
brings one of America’s most enduring legends to the Ozarks.
Roy died in 1998.
His wife and co-star, songstress and “Queen of the West”
Dale Evans, passed away in 2001. Before their deaths the Rogers family
had begun to discuss moving the museum from its remote desert location
in Victorville, Calif.
and Janet Vasicek of Fargo, N.D., examine a display of Roy Rogers’
pistols at the new Roy Rogers Museum in Branson. The museum recently
moved from Victorville, Calif.
Although the Rogers
family considered a number of places to relocate, Branson kept rising
to the top of the list. Roy and Dale had both visited southwest Missouri
and liked what they saw, says Roy’s son, Roy “Dusty”
came to Branson because Boxcar Willie asked him to do a couple of shows,”
Dusty says. “We brought Mom here about six years ago. Mom said
if anything ever happens to me you really ought to think about moving
the museum here.”
In 2003 the family
closed the California museum, sold some of the holdings at auction and
moved the rest to Missouri. “Just the museum alone took 14 semi
trucks,” Dustin says, adding that six families made the move to
Branson as well.
The new facility
opened last June. The Branson location was a perfect fit for the Rogers
family. “This is where God and country and morals and ethics still
mean something,” Dustin says.
Located at the west end of Branson’s Highway 76 strip, the museum
offers a unique mix of film and television Western history as well as
Rogers family memories.
Along with Roy’s
and Dale’s parade saddles and fancy cowboy outfits there are personal
mementos and photos showing life at home with their nine children. One
section of the museum is devoted to three Rogers children who died young.
Another display is devoted to the family’s religious faith. Even
the Rogers’ dinner table is on display.
Naturally, the best-loved
artifacts are included in the museum; everything from Roy’s twin
Colt Frontier .45 pistols to Nellybelle, a Willys Jeep that took on
a persona of its own in the TV series.
1964 Pontiac Bonneville convertible features a hand-tooled leather
interior and a saddle and is decorated with 300 silver dollars and
authentic, but non-firing pistols and rifles.
Perhaps most remarkable
is the depth of the collection. Every aspect of Roy’s life, from
childhood on, is represented — the first guitar he owned, even
the car he drove to California from Ohio in 1930.
couldn’t throw anything away,” Dustin says. “How my
grandmother ever let him get away with that I’ll never know.”
Beyond Roy himself,
the biggest star of the museum is Trigger, Roy’s faithful steed
for 33 years. The horse, mounted in a rearing stance after his death
nearly 30 years ago, is on display behind a glass wall, along with Trigger
Jr., Dale’s horse Buttermilk and their German shepherd dog Bullet.
our No. 1 attraction, without a doubt. People come thousands of miles,
some of them come from overseas, just to see this,” Dustin says.
“I’ve seen people crying because they’ve seen Trigger,”
adds Dusty. “They remember Dad riding around the rail when they
were little kids and they stuck their hand out to try to touch his mane
or his tail.”
While the mounted
Palomino touches fans’ heartstrings, it’s also been the
subject of more than a few jokes over the years — a number of
them told by the family itself.
son, "Dusty," and grandson, "Dustin," pose
near a display of Roy and Dale's horses. Roy's faithful steed,
Trigger, has been mounted and on display for nearly 30 years.
“My mom got
on him pretty heavy about it. ‘How could you do that to poor Trigger?’”
Dusty recalls Dale asking. “He said, ‘It’s my horse
and I’ll do what I want with him.’
“Mom said, ‘Well that’s fine. When you die I’ll
just skin you out and put you up on him.’ Fortunately, there’s
laws against that,” Dusty says.
These and other
personal stories from the Rogers family history are told throughout
the displays and during Dusty’s shows in the Happy Trails Theater.
Following in his
father’s footsteps, Dusty has performed cowboy music for nearly
30 years. The Roy Rogers Museum in California did not include live music
but when the family built the Branson facility it included an intimate
308-seat theater where Roy Rogers Jr. and The High Riders perform twice
a day, five days a week, March through December.
The 90-minute show
features music from the Old West as well as songs associated with Roy
and Dale. Naturally, “Happy Trails,” written by Dale and
forever known as Roy’s theme song, is performed.
“Dusty” Rogers Jr., center, rehearses with his band,
The High Riders, at the Happy Trails Theater in Branson. The son
of the legendary cowboy singer and actor Roy Rogers, Dusty performs
twice a day, Tuesday through Saturday, for visitors to the Roy Rogers
rave about the music, it may not be their favorite part of the show.
During each performance Dusty turns up the house lights and visits with
folks what it was like to grow up with Roy and Dale. What it was like
inside the house and then lets them ask questions,” Dustin says.
“We haven’t had a show yet where he hasn’t had to
stop them so they can get the show back under way.”
Spending time with
guests during the show and seeing buses off afterwards is the Rogers
way, Roy’s son and grandson say. Roy and Dale took pride in being
available to fans, whether at public events or during times they dropped
in on their California museum. It’s a tradition that continues
today in Branson.
we built here is real intimate, real close. That’s the way we
wanted it,” Dustin says.
“It’s a real personal story that’s told here.”
the Roy Rogers Museum is $14.40 for adults. A combination ticket, including
the Roy Rogers Jr. musical show is $31.98. Prices are reduced for children
and war veterans. For more information call (417) 339-1900 or log onto