Ridgway Colorado History & Heritage

History & Heritage

A collection of cultural and economic artifacts and sites awaits your exploration

On The Big Screen

Image from True Grit the Movie
The captivating beauty of Ridgway, Ouray and surrounding areas has attracted a number of production companies making movies, documentaries and commercials. More than 100 films have been made in southwestern Colorado. The rugged peaks, steep canyons, rustic mine buildings and ghost towns of the San Juan Mountains make you feel as though you are still in the Old West of the American frontier. Hollywood filmmakers have always thought so too. Thus, the Ridgway area has served as settings for several classic western movies. Many film sites, buildings, props and embellishments may still be seen in and around our town.

Western Movies

  • True Grit
  • How the West Was Won
  • Tribute to a Bad Man
  • The Sons of Katie Elder
  • True Grit

    True Grit (filmed summer and fall, 1968) – When Charles Portis’ novel was published early in 1968, John Wayne received a pre-publication copy and directed his son to buy the movie rights for their Batjac production company. The Waynes lost out to Paramount, who immediately hired Wayne to play the part of Rooster Cogburn.
  • How the West Was Won

    How the West Was Won (1962) – Ridgway’s Hartwell Park, Cow Creek, and the Katie’s Meadow (Debbie’s meadow) areas used by director Henry Hathaway, who later used the same areas for True Grit. The meadow was used for the scene where wagon master Robert Preston proposes to Debbie Reynolds.
  • Tribute to a Bad Man

    Tribute to a Bad Man (1957) – filmed just south of Ridgway on Miller Mesa on the old Walther ranch, near Top of the Pines and the Elk Meadows mailboxes on County Road 5. Written by Jack Schaefer, who also wrote the classic westerns Shane and Monte Walsh. Directed by Robert Wise (The Sound of Music, West Side Story, The Andromeda Strain, The Day the Earth Stood Still). Originally to star Spencer Tracy, Tracy hated southwestern Colorado and Wise fired him and replaced him with James Cagney. This was Cagney’s last western.
  • The Sons of Katie Elder

    The Sons of Katie Elder (1965) – While this film was not filmed in the immediate Ridgway area (a bit was shot on the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad near Durango), it is based on the lives of George and Charley Marlow, who lived in Ridgway and the Colona area from 1890 to about 1920 and maintained strong ties to the area until their deaths in the early 1940s. While in this area they were respected ranchers and served as lawmen for about 10 years.

Movie Locations

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.

Ridgway Street Front

Be sure to visit the John Wayne themed True Grit Cafe, also on the West side of the Park. Don’t miss the actor and movie memorabilia and a sign painted for the film, which reads “Chamber’s Staple & Fancy Groceries – Fruits & vegetables”. This was an exterior wall that was preserved when the restaurant was built around it!

A short walk up Clinton Street, past the Sherbino Theater, leads you past the building where Rooster Cogburn lived with the Chinaman and his cat.

On the North side of the park, the post office now sits in place of the movie livery stable. The Paddy Wagon, used by Rooster to bring his prisoners for trial, is displayed in Heritage Park on the southwest corner of Hwy 550 and 62. 

Old Rio Grande Southern Railroad Depot

The Old Rio Grande Southern Railroad depot is now a private residence located on Railroad Street across from the tennis courts. It starred as the Independence Hotel in How the West Was Won.

Miller Mesa

While not well known, Tribute to a Bad Man was a significant western. It was written by Jack Schaefer, who also wrote Shane and Monte Walsh and was directed by Robert Wise, who also directed The Sound of Music, West Side Story, The Andromeda Strain and The Day the Earth Stood Still. James Cagney replaced leading man Spencer Tracy who was fired from the set and it was Cagney’s last western.

Tribute to a Bad Man was filmed on Miller Mesa at the historic Walther Ranch, which was homestead by George and Charles Marlow (of Katie Elder fame). The private ranch still features the Marlow’s original cabin.

To reach this area, go south on County Rd. 5 for 5 full miles from Amelia St. in Ridgway. Along the way you will pass the gate entrance of the Walther Ranch and at the end of the 5 miles, you will reach a large open area with stunning views of the Sneffels range: this is the general area where the ranch scenes were shot. 

Town Park of Ridgway

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. 

Hanging Judge Parker’s 3 man gallows were erected in the town’s beautiful park, where trees were planted by school children more than a hundred years ago , and the park was the location for the triple hanging scene.

On the western edge of the park, the firehouse, which was the original town hall, got an added cupola and new coat of red paint for the occasion. It now survives as an artist studio. Next door to the firehouse, the film company built a beautiful courthouse but this was just a shell: the interior courtroom scenes were filmed in the Ouray County Courthouse, in Ouray, 10 miles to the south.

Be sure to visit the John Wayne themed True Grit Cafe, also on the West side of the Park. Don’t miss the actor and movie memorabilia and a sign painted for the film, which reads “Chamber’s Staple & Fancy Groceries – Fruits & vegetables”. This was an exterior wall that was preserved when the restaurant was built around it!

A short walk up Clinton Street, past the Sherbino Theater, leads you past the building where Rooster Cogburn lived with the Chinaman and his cat.

On the North side of the park, the post office now sits in place of the movie livery stable. The Paddy Wagon, used by Rooster to bring his prisoners for trial, is displayed in Heritage Park on the southwest corner of Hwy 550 and 62. 

This location is adjacent to the Ridgway railroad museum, which is an excellent source of information on the world-famous narrow-gauge railroad heritage of the San Juans. The Old Rio Grande Southern Railroad depot is now a private residence located on Railroad Street across from the tennis courts. It starred as the Independence Hotel in How the West Was Won.

Mattie Ross's Ranch House

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

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.

More things to do in Ridgway...

  • Photography all year round!
  • Fishing in lakes & rivers
  • Rafting & Kayaking
  • Fly Fishing
  • Playing in the river at Rollans Park
  • Windsurfing & Sailing
  • Windsurfing & Sailing
  • Horseback Riding
  • Camping & Backpacking
  • Scenic Drives
  • Motorcycle Touring
  • Skateboarding
  • Hunting
  • Wildlife viewing & Birding
  • Sledding & Snowmobiling
  • Skiing and Snowboarding
  • XCountry Skiing & Snowshoeing

Visitors Center & Ridgway Area Chamber

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

800.220.4959
970.626.5181

See you in Ridgway

Adventure, night life and all around easy living await you in Ridgway Colorado, gateway to the San Juan Mountains.

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