What does John Wayne have in common with the classic Western mini-series Lonesome Dove? Two things. It seems that Larry McMurtry’s original story was going to be a feature film called Palo Duro, to be produced in the late 1960s. John Wayne, James Stewart, and Henry Fonda would have played the three former Texas Rangers. The film never happened, so McMurtry later developed the screenplay into the awardwinning novel. Second, key parts of Lonesome Dove were filmed at Alamo Village near Brackettville, Texas, the site of John Wayne’s standing set for his 1960 epic The Alamo. The actual town of Lonesome Dove was built on the nearby Texas/Mexico border at the Rio Grande River on the Moody Ranch. The ranch is a working cattle operation and unfortunately can’t accommodate sightseers.
Alamo Village is just seven miles north of Brackettville, which lies 140 miles west of San Antonio. It still ranks as the largest standing film set in the United States. There’s a charge for entering. If filming is going on, you’ll get more than your money’s worth. There are also 18 different film-related displays and exhibits.
The Alamo was John Wayne’s dream project, his personal tribute to the courage that helped settle early Texas. He produced and directed the $12 million epic, risking a lot of his own personal fortune in the process. The mission/fortress and an 1830s representation of San Antonio were constructed as permanent sets on Happy Shahan’s 18,000-acre ranch. More than 1,000 costumed extras refought the famous battle here for two months back in late 1959.
It’s a grand set. I worked on it myself back in 1986 on the Sam Elliott CBS TV movie Houston—the Legend of Texas. I’ll never forget a group of us sitting atop the Alamo’s front gate one night when a jokester in the shadows outside called out, “Hey, amigos! A message for Jeem Boowie. In the sombrer-ooo!” Emulating a dramatic nighttime moment in the Wayne film. We all knew the line by heart and cracked up in unison. A number of other films have shot in the immediate area including Arrowhead (1953) with Charlton Heston, as well as Two Rode Together (1960) and Bandolero (1967), both starring James Stewart.
Wayne’s version of Alamo events may not be quite as modern as the 2004 Disney film The Alamo, which was a box office disaster, and Davy Crockett’s manner of death is still a matter of unsettled debate, but the Wayne version of events is far more entertaining and satisfying. The magnifi- cent set was as much one of the stars of the film as Wayne, Richard Widmark, and Lawrence Harvey were—another dimension that the Duke grasped better than the latest Alamo filmmakers. Though altered for dozens of other Westerns, including Lonesome Dove, the real-adobe fortress and town can be explored by visitors. Alamo Village also boasts a substantial herd of authentic Texas longhorn cattle.
For Lonesome Dove, producer and writer Bill Wittliff easily figured out that he could film within the walls of the Alamo fortress as Robert Duvall’s Gus and Tommy Lee Jones’ Call ride past the reconstructed chapel as if it is now part of the burgeoning city center of 1870s San Antonio. As they ride past the cradle of Texas liberty, Gus opines, “Woodrow, if a thousand Comanch’ had wiped us out in a gully like the Sioux just done Custer, they’d be writin’ songs about us for a hundred years.”
This October 24th is the 50th anniversary of the filming of Wayne’s The Alamo and the creation of Alamo Village. The village is going to celebrate Texas style with an outdoor showing of the 1960 epic on a large screen right in the Alamo compound. (www.alamovillage.com)
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Fort Clark Springs
One unique place to stay in the area is the old cavalry post of Fort Clark (shown here as it appeared in film) right down Highway 90 in Brackettville. This wonderful old historic army post dates from the 1850s. You get to stay in the old barracks rooms that are updated but still evocative of their Western military heritage. This is where John Wayne and his Alamo film crew stayed in 1959 during filming and it served as the main set during the filming of the Heston film Arrowhead. The restaurant serves great mesquite-grilled pork chops. (www.fortclark.com)