Fans of the 1969 film “True Grit” — and John Wayne fans in general — got to experience a little piece of history this past weekend like never before.

With the Ridgway Old West Fest taking place this past weekend, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the movie, Rodney Lewis, who owns the homestead where a good portion of the movie was filmed, allowed access to the property.

There, visitors could check out the exterior of the home where character Mattie Ross, famously played Kim Darby, lived in “True Grit.”

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An old barn on the True Grit Ranch, off Last Dollar Road south of Ridgway. 

For those not familiar with the Henry Hathaway directed classic, Mattie sets out to bring Tom Chaney into custody after he murders her father, Frank Ross. She recruits the help of Marshal Rooster Cogburn (Wayne) and a Texas Ranger named La Boeuf (country music legend Glen Campbell). Of course, the film is said to take place in Arkansas, but it was actually filmed in Ouray County, Colorado.

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A barn with the San Juans in the background on the True Grit Ranch, also known as the Lewis Ranch, or the Adams Ranch. 

The homestead is located off Last Dollar Road, a winding gravel byway that goes from the Ridgway area all the way to Telluride. The road can get tricky, but that’s not until after the ranch, which can be seen just past a curve on the right side, only a few miles down. Last Dollar Road branches off from CO-62, the highway from Ridgway to San Miguel County.

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A look into a cattle chute at the True Grit Ranch. 

On the property are at least three structures, including a couple barns, and the original house, all in various states of disrepair.

The fence that Wayne’s horse leapt over in the iconic ending scene of the film isn’t there anymore, but the current owner restored fences to look like they would have. The fictitious graves of Mattie Ross’ father isn't there either. 

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An empty, worn barn on the True Grit Ranch. Some artifacts can be seen lying around the ranch, but several have been taken over the years. The manager of the property said some locals have even bragged to others about the treasures they’ve made off with. 

Real artifacts not related to the film are also missing from the property, according to Amanda Gabrielson, the manager of the property who was there Saturday acting as a sort of tour guide.

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A look from above at the main home on the 360-acre True Grit Ranch. 

She said, over the years, people have stolen colored glass and more.

“There are people around here who boast about things they’ve taken from the property,” she said. “Well now that we know you have it, how about you give it back?”

The view from the top of the fake cemetery’s hill is breathtaking, looking down on the home below and straight ahead at the San Juan mountain range, which had a thin coat of snow Saturday. Unfortunately, access to the hill and to the home were only available over the weekend. But the main structures, and the hill, can be seen from the road.

Lewis had already been working to repair the main house on the property, but when he heard about the festival, he sped that process up, repairing the roof, the facade and the full exterior, including windows and doors.

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The main home on the Lewis Ranch has been renovated by owner Rodney Lewis. It had already been under repair, but he put the efforts into overdrive when he found out about the Old West Fest in Ridgway, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the release of the John Wayne-starred ‘True Grit.’ 

“It was falling down,” Gabrielson. “The whole house had slid off the foundation, the siding was falling off, the windows were broken, there was about a foot of marmot and packrat poop inside, the roof was in shambles.”

The inside is still too dangerous for visitors, with an old wooden floor that might collapse, according to Gabrielson.

Before Lewis owned it, the land had a long history of serving as an actual homestead, Gabrielson said. She said the home looks now as it would have in 1913, when Cal Lewis (no relation to Rodney) and family lived there, providing meat and butter for the miners in the area.

The Massarotti family bought the land from the Lewis family, and they were there when the film was shot in 1968. The Massarottis passed it down through the family before it was bought by the Adams family and then Rodney Lewis, the current owner.

Gabrielson said visiting the property meant a lot for fans.

“People have driven from East Texas, Tennessee, North Carolina, Oregon, specifically for this weekend — and because they’re such John Wayne fans,” she said. “I definitely saw one gentleman kind of tear up yesterday.”

One man, at the John Wayne Cancer Foundation run Saturday morning, even bowed down to a cutout of The Duke, according to Gabrielson.

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The True Grit ranch also goes by the Lewis Ranch or the Adams Ranch (after previous owners). It can be found off Last Dollar Road, with this placard out front. The ranch is private property and was only made available to the public Oct. 11-13, during the Old West Fest, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the 1969 film ’True Grit.’ 

“I thought (it) was really funny, but I think (there is) just so much respect and feeling for it, and they’re saying, ‘Now I’m here.’ People are feeling that presence,” she said.

If the Old West Fest is brought back in the future, access to the ranch could be made available again, per Gabrielson, and Lewis may decide to do more work to the home.

Justin Tubbs is the Montrose Daily Press managing editor. 

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