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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
“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.