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Top to bottom: Original cover of True Grit; Bird's-eye view of North Front Street in Dardanelle, Arkansas in the late 1800s; Judge Isaac M. Parker in 1874; Garrison Street in Fort Smith circa 1881; Ruth Morris as a grown Mattie Ross in the 2010 movie; Bass Reeves, upon whom the character of Rooster Cogburn is based; Charles Portis and John Wayne on the set of the 1969 movie.

Row 1: Penguin Publishing Group; Sherwood T. Grissom; Row 2: Matthew Brady-Fort Smith Historical Society; Fort Smith Museum of History; Row 3: True Grit-2010 Movie Still; Wikipedia-Public Domain; Bottom: Paramount Pictures

The Story of True Grit

True Grit is told from the perspective of a woman named Mattie Ross, from "near Dardanelle in Yell County," recounting her experiences at the age of 14 when her father, Frank Ross was murdered for his horse and $150 in Fort Smith by a scoundrel named Tom Chaney.

Ross travels with the family hired hand, Yarnell Poindexter, to Fort Smith. There she hires U.S. Marshal "Rooster" Cogburn, a man of "true grit," to track Chaney into Indian territory, (present-day Oklahoma). As the two begin their pursuit, a Texas Ranger LaBoeuf, joins them in hopes of capturing Chaney for the murder of a Texas senator and collecting a substantial reward. The three clash on their quest of bringing to justice the same man.

In 1968 Charles Portis, a native of El Dorado, Arkansas wrote True Grit as a serial for The Saturday Evening Post. Later that year, it was published as a novel. True Grit, was on the New York Times best seller list for 22 weeks. Today, the book is considered by critics to be one of the great American novels.


The novel became the movie, True Grit, in 1969 starring Kim Darby as young Mattie Ross, John Wayne as US Marshal Reuben J. “Rooster" Cogburn, Arkansas native Glen Campbell as Texas Ranger LaBoeuf and other noted actors including Robert Duvall, Dennis Hopper and Strother Martin. ​In 2010, a second film adaptation of the novel, written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen was released. Jeff Bridges, portrayed Rooster Cogburn, with Matt Damon as LaBeouf, Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross and Josh Brolin as Tom Chaney.


Rooster Cogburn is based on real life US marshal Bass Reeves. Judge Isaac C. Parker sat on the federal bench in Fort Smith starting in 1875.

The first movie garnered veteran actor John Wayne the first and only Oscar of his career for his portrayal of US Marshal Rooster Cogburn.

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