A Nebraska cable TV network ponied up $266,500 for Roy Rogers' stuffed and mounted horse, Trigger, at an auction in New York City on Wednesday.
The movie cowboy's faithful companion was bought by the cable company RFD-TV in Omaha, Neb., at a Christie's auction of items from the now-closed Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Museum in Branson, Mo.
Trigger's sale price outpaced the estimated $100,000 to $200,000 it was expected to fetch, with many other items also selling far above estimate.
RFD-TV's chief financial officer Steve Campione says Rogers reflects the company's values. The network airs mainly agricultural, equine and country living programming.
The company's owner, Patrick Gottsch, wanted to buy the whole Rogers collection but didn't have time to work out the deal, Campione said.
"It came to our attention a little too late," Campione said. "By the time we lined up the right financing and kind of got our arms around the value of the collection, it was literally 24 hours ago."
Auctioneer Cathy Elkies said it was the "most colorful, emotional and sentimental" sale she had experienced in her 20 years at Christie's. Many of the bidders in the packed hall came in Western attire and cowboy boots, and there were more than a few tears.
Rogers' son Roy Jr. cried at the beginning of the sale as he spoke of the family's decision to auction Roy's belongings.
"We hope you get a piece of Roy and Dale and take it home and you'll get to pass it on to your children," he said.
There also were strong emotions among Jamie Nudie, Mary Lynn Cabrall and Julie Ann Ream, who flew in from Los Angeles to reclaim a piece of their personal history.
Nudie's grandfather was the "rodeo tailor" who designed Rogers' colorful Western outfits, as well as Rogers' silver-dollar encrusted 1964 Bonneville convertible that sold for $254,500 on the auction block.
The three women have carried on Nudie's Western tailoring business, and they were there to reclaim the Nudie trailer shaped like a covered wagon that the tailor had given to Rogers as a gift in the 1960s. Ream broke down in tears when her paddle went up and she got the trailer for $3,000 without a fight. The trailer was expected to fetch between $5,000 and $8,000.
"For it to come back into our family — it's amazing," she said.
Ream, the niece of another famous singing cowboy, Rex Allen, said her family was close friends with the Rogers' family. She said some of Rogers' children didn't support the auction, and she didn't think Rogers and his wife, Dale Evans, would have wanted the collection dispersed either.
"They are spinning in their graves right now," she said.
Cabrall, also a family friend, had another take on Rogers' wishes.
"Roy always said, `When I'm dead, skin me and put me up on Trigger,'" she said. "It's a famous quote. If he got his wish, he'd be up here for sale today."
Rogers had Trigger preserved with taxidermy and mounted rearing on its hind legs in 1965. The presale estimate for the horse was $100,000 to $200,000.
Roy Jr. said it was difficult to put the collection up for auction, but he said Rogers had told the family to sell the museum collection if it stopped making money and became a burden.
"You're smiling out of one side of the face and crying out of the other," he said.
As for Trigger's new owner, Campione says RFD-TV hopes to start its own Western museum and is looking to buy more Rogers items.
In the meantime, Trigger will be put to pasture at either the network's office lobby or Gottsch's house until final plans are made.
Other items auctioned Wednesday included Roy's first guitar, which sold for $8,750, compared to an estimated high of $3,000; his first boots, which sold for $7,500, compared to an estimate of $4,000; and a charm bracelet that sold for $20,000, compared to an estimate of $9,000.
All sale prices include the buyer's premium of 25 percent for most items, or 20 percent for prices in excess of $50,000.
The auction was to continue Thursday with more than 1,000 items, including the Rogers' family dinner table, toy six-shooters, Rogers-themed tin lunchboxes and the Jeep "Nellybelle" from the Roy Rogers TV show.
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