True Grit: Based on a Real Place

Rooster Cogburn. Mattie Ross. Tom Chaney. LaBouef. Judge Parker's Court. They all started here, in Fort Smith, Arkansas. 

  Rooster Cogburn John Wayne Jeff Bridges Fort Smith

Rooster's List: 20 True Grit Things to See and Do Around Fort Smith

  1. Visit Judge Parker's Courthouse at the Fort Smith National Historic Site, entering the actual courtroom as Mattie Ross would have when she first heard Marshal Rooster Cogburn on the stand giving his testimony. 

  2. Tour the "Hell on the Border Jail" where Rooster intended to take Lucky Ned Pepper and Tom Chaney back to await trial by "Hangin' Judge" Isaac C. Parker.

  3. Stroll down historic downtown Fort Smith's main thoroughfare, Garrison Avenue. See how much has changed in 140 years since Mattie would have first ambled into town, and look for signs of the booming frontier town of the past. Hint: Of the structures still standing from the 1870's, the most prominent is Adelaide Hall, which Bricktown Brewery now occupies. 

  4. Visit Frisco Station and imagine you've just gotten off a train from Yell County and must now go find someone to go after your father's murderer.

  5. If it's a Saturday in January through March, take a ride from Fort Smith on the A&M Scenic Excursion Train, and see the countryside in all of its natural grandeur.

  6. From Fort Smith Riverfront Park, stand on the banks of the Arkansas River and look across into what used to be Indian Territory and wonder how a girl and a horse could have forged this river (it was shallower then). 

  7. Directly to the north of Fort Smith River Park, visit the future site of the national U.S. Marshals Museum, which will honor not only the real Deputy U.S. Marshals who served out of Fort Smith and inspired the character of Rooster Cogburn and others, but also the entire 220+ year span U.S. Marshals history. A capital campaign is currently underway for the $50 million museum.  

  8. Take a scenic drive through western Arkansas, Eastern Oklahoma and the Choctaw Nation, from Fort Smith to the Winding Stair Mountain National Recreation Area, where the climax of True Grit occurs.

  9. Take a day trip from Fort Smith to two hours away to Mount Nebo State Park near Dardanelle, in Yell County, home of Mattie Ross. 

  10. Schedule a Wilderness Trail Ride through natural scenery in what was once Indian Territory.

  11. Related to one of the dozens of Deputy U.S. Marshals from Fort Smith? Request assistance with genealogical research from the Fort Smith National Historic Site and the Genealogy Department of the Fort Smith Public Library.

  12. Challenge Lucky Ned Pepper to a showdown right in front of Judge Parker's Gallows.

  13. Tour the reportedly haunted Victorian home of Judge Parker's prosecutor. As an agent of the court, Rooster would have worked closely with U.S. Attorney William Henry Harrison Clayton. who owned the finest home of the day in the Belle Grove Historic District.

  14. Stop in for a drink and live music at Rooster's on Garrison Avenue. Downtown Fort Smith has been known for its clubs and bars since the True Grit era and earlier.

  15. Catch a Night Court. Several evenings a year, the volunteers at the Fort Smith National Historic Site re-enact one of Judge Parker's trials using the actual court transcripts in the actual courtroom. 12 members of the audience get to serve as jurors and "weigh the evidence" themselves. Contact the Fort Smith National Historic Site to see when the next Night Court is scheduled. Reservations required.

  16. See the fascinating exhibit, "In the Shadow of the Gallows" at the Fort Smith Museum of History, chronicling the colorful culture and grim history of Ft. Smith's Hanging Judge Parker era. A new exhibit this summer will also showcase the research the Coen Brothers' Hollywood production team did at the museum before designing the set and costumes for the 2010 True Grit film.

  17. Party where Rooster would have, at The Knoble Brewery. Built in 1848, its beer garden was a popular Fort Smith gathering place from its earliest days. Today world-famous Doe's Eat Place is housed in the historic stone building, and the beer garden remains a fun spot out back.

  18. Visit Fort Smith during a festival or special event and you'll likely have a chance to see a re-enactor group do an Old West shootout. The Lawbreakers & Peacemakers and The Border Town Legends are two of the biggest re-enactment groups in the area, and can be booked for conventions, festivals and other special occasions.

  19. Pay your respects to the Hanging Judge himself at the Fort Smith National Cemetery. Many of Parker's Marshals are buried here, as well as Confederate and Union Civil War veterans. Then stroll through the grounds of Fort Smith's historic Oak Cemetery where dozens of Marshals and outlaws alike are buried.

  20. Be sure to have a hearty Southern breakfast at one of Fort Smith's award-winning eateries. Order the grits. You know they'll be true.

Family of Rooster Cogburns at Fort Smith National Historic Site True Grit
2 North B, Fort Smith, Arkansas 72901
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