John Wayne finally won a well deserved Academy Award for his portrayal of the crusty U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn in True Grit, a 1969 film that still ranks as a fan favorite. True Grit’s director, Henry Hathaway, had shot parts of How the West Was Won in the area back in 1961 and knew what the surrounding mountains and meadows—only 50 miles from the Continental Divide—could offer. So the beautiful little mountain town of Ridgway at the foot of the San Juan Mountains in southern Colorado on Highway 550 was transformed into 1880s Fort Smith, Ark.
In six weeks in 1968, the film’s art director and his crew turned five blocks of the center of the old railroad town into Fort Smith, complete with Hanging Judge Parker’s three man gallows. The exterior of the red brick courthouse in nearby Ouray was duplicated in Ridgway while the interiors of the room were filmed inside the real courthouse. Most of the film’s false-front period buildings were torn down after filming finished, though the firehouse now survives as an artist studio and the livery stable is now the post office. This friendly town still exhibits tremendous pride in Wayne and the film.
Ten miles west of Ridgway on Last Dollar Road is the old-style ranch that served as Kim Darby’s Mattie’s Ranch. While it is privately owned, no one minds if people pull over to snap a few pictures, and much of the ranch retains its True Grit look and feel. This is where, at the end of the film, Wayne’s Rooster proclaims, “Well come see an old fat man sometime!” as he gamely jumps his horse over the fence with a fl ourish of his hat.
Immediately west of town is Katie’s Meadow, the Aspen-lined valley where Cogburn really proved what true grit he had. It was here in response to Robert Duvall’s outlaw taunt that Wayne pulls his Colt’s revolver, cocks his Winchester, puts his horses reins in his teeth and hollers, “Fill your hand you son-of-a-bitch!” No wonder the only choice by the book’s author (Charles Portis) to play Rooster was Wayne. If you contact the Ridgway Chamber of Commerce they’d be happy to provide you with a printed tour guide to the True Grit locations. (www.ridgwaycolorado.com)
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If you contact the Ridgway Chamber of Commerce they’d be happy to provide you with a printed tour guide to the True Grit locations. (www.ridgwaycolorado.com)