True Grit was certainly one of the most famous Westerns ever made. The film was directed by Henry Hathaway, Hollywood director famed for his work on a long string of Westerns most notably in the 1950s and '60s. He worked with the top stars of his day, including Gary Cooper, Randolph Scott, James Cagney, John Wayne, Shirley Temple, and Marilyn Monrose. True Grit's celebrity-studded cast featured Wayne, Glen Campbell, Kim Darby, Robert Duvall, and Dennis Hopper. A 2010 remake of the popular movie featured Jeff Bridges in the lead role, but the original continues to have the most devotees, in large part to John Wayne’s iconic personality.
Spectacular scenery around our charming Colorado town caught the attention of the director of the film that was released in 1969. Ouray County was the main film location with key sets in the movie located right in Ridgway. In six weeks in 1968, the film crew turned the center of this old railroad town into the 1880s-style Fort Smith, Arkansas, complete with Hanging Judge Parker’s three-man gallows. The firehouse now survives as an artist studio, and the livery stable became the post office. The jail wagon, which John Wayne brings back from the Indian Territories, now sits in the front yard of the Ouray County Ranch History Museum, the building that was originally the Old Rio Grande Southern Railroad Depot. A short walk up Clinton Street, past the Sherbino Theater, leads you to the living quarters of Rooster Cogburn.
Spectacular scenery around our charming Colorado town, at the foot of the San Juan Mountains, caught the attention of the director of the film True Grit, starring John Wayne as the one-eyed U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn. In 6 weeks in 1969, the film crew turned 5 blocks of the center of this old railroad town into 1880’s Fort Smith, Arkansas.
True Grit begins and ends at the family ranch of young Mattie Ross (Kim Darby), which was filmed at a historic home on Last Dollar Road above Ridgway. In the final scene, John Wayne jumps his horse over a fence and rides off into the distance. The ranch house is very run down but the scenery around it hasn’t changed much and is as gorgeous as it was then. Please respect the boundaries of this private property but by all means, pull over and snap a few photos! To reach the Ranch, leave Ridgway going West on Hwy 62, and drive over Dallas Divide, which is one of the most photographed locations in Colorado! The left turn on Last Dollar Road (58P), approximately 11 miles from Ridgway, is clearly marked. Stay on this good gravel road for 2.5 miles from the turn off and the ranch will be on the right side of the road. In the winter, the road is not maintained beyond this point.
Katie’s Meadow (sometimes called Debbie’s Meadow or Deb’s Meadow), with Chimney Rock in the background, is the site of one of the most memorable scenes from True Grit. This is the location of the climactic showdown between Rooster Cogburn and the outlaws, where Robert Duvall taunts John Wayne by shouting “I call that big talk for a one-eyed fat man!”. Wayne replies, “Fill your hand you son-of-a-bitch!”, takes the reins in his teeth and charges across the meadow with both guns blazing.
No fan of Western movies, True Grit or John Wayne should leave town without a visit to True Grit Café. Located next to Hartwell Park, the movie set for the film’s gallows, the restaurant is a central place to grab a meal or a refreshing drink while exploring Ridgway. It’s the longest operating business in Ridgway and serves more than 6,000 country fried steaks a year. Plus, John Wayne and True Grit memorabilia fill the walls of the restaurant. Collected from a variety of sources, many were donations, some from children whose fathers had loved John Wayne but passed away and left collectibles.
Besides original movie posters and an oil painting of The Duke, the restaurant has documents showing John Wayne’s complete filmography. There’s a copy of a pen and ink drawing, showing the actor from when he was a young man in Stagecoach to one of his last roles in Rooster Cogburn. A keen eye can find quite a variety of Hollywood Western artifacts from John Wayne collectible plates to a shadowbox with a replica gun and eye patch.
True Grit: A 50-Year Tribute is a 128-page book that celebrates movie making in Southwest Colorado, the film career of John Wayne, and a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the famous movie that won John Wayne his only Oscar.
Available locally at Cimarron Books (Ridgway), Between the Covers (Telluride), Maggie's Books (Montrose), Museum of the Mountain West (Montrose) and the Ouray Bookshop (Ouray). Or buy it at the Ridgway Old West Fest 2020 in September!
You may also purchase mail order from the Ouray Country Ranch History Museum (ocrhm.org) by clicking on their Books and Events page and scroll to the bottom.
The Ridgway Area Chamber of Commerce promotes business and community development in the Town of Ridgway and the surrounding area. The chamber operates the Visitors Center, which is currently closed until further notice due to COVID-19, and is located at 150 Racecourse Road, Ridgway, Colorado 81432 (across from Citizens Bank off of HWY 62).
P.O. Box 544
Ridgway, Colorado 81432