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.
The Ridgway Chamber offers a one-hour True Grit Movie Walking Tour, which departs every Friday at 11 a.m. from the Ridway Visitors Center (May through October). For reservations, call 970.626.5181. The fee is $10 for adults and free for children under 12. Reservations are recommended and attendees are asked to arrive at 10:45 a.m. Throughout the year, tours can be scheduled for parties of six or more at a time of their choosing by calling 970.626.5181 or emailing .
To explore more film locations on your own (or by hiring a guide), you can head on out on a day trip to find some of the famous movie sites as well as the state’s most photographed mountain scenery. Ten miles west of Ridgway on Last Dollar Road are the remains of the ranch of matriarch Mattie Ross (performed by Kim Darby in the movie), where John Wayne jumped his horse over the fence at the end of the film. And to the East, towards Owl Creek Pass, sits the aspen-lined valley of Katie’s Meadow – one of the most memorable scenes from True Grit. Fifteen minutes up Highway 550 in Ouray, you can visit Ouray County Courthouse where the film's interior court scenes were filmed.
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.
2019 marked the 50th anniversary of the release of True Grit, for which John Wayne won his only Academy Award. The first annual Ridgway Old West Fest in 2019, celebrated Ridgway Colorado's brief transformation into Fort Smith, Arkansas, for the filming of True Grit. The event organizer is the Ridgway Western Heritage Society celebrates Ridgway, Colorado's film, ranching and railroad heritage, and Western arts and culture. The second annual Ridgway Old West Fest will be held Friday, September 25 through Sunday, September 27, 2020.
Here are some of the planned events (subject to change):
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 open from May 1 through October 1 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