An Icon’s Roots in Arizona
Arizona served as background for many of John Wayne’s great films, such as the tall sandstone buttes of Monument Valley seen in The Searchers, but the popular actor left much more in the state than a film legacy. A man who works in Arizona makes friends in Arizona. Ralph Wingfield frequently hosted Wayne at his Nogales ranch after they became friends during the filming of Red River in 1948.
Wayne had even purchased a 670 acre spread nearby in Santa Cruz Valley, but was too ill late
in life to develop it. Another close friend was Bob Shelton, who bought Old Tucson Studios in 1960 and met Wayne when he was scouting locations for McClintock!
In 1958 Wayne purchased a 4,000 acre cotton farm near Stanfield and developed a friendship with neighboring cotton farmer Louis Johnson. They combined their properties to form a profitable partnership, purchasing the 26 Bar Ranch near Eager in 1964 and raising purebred Hereford cattle. Today the 26 Bar Ranch is owned by the Hopi Indian tribe, and every summer Eager hosts John Wayne Days, an event that features a rodeo where winners receive a golden belt buckle with Wayne’s image embossed in the center. That very image of John Wayne continues to leave its mark across the state.
The Copper Queen Hotel in Bisbee, where the actor frequently visited, features a John Wayne room. Goulding’s Trading Post in Monument Valley features a museum with an upstairs ‘Movie Room’ displaying photos and memorabilia from movies filmed there and a continuous showing of Stagecoach, the 1939 Western that made Wayne a star. The Greer Lodge website features a John Wayne page, where you can scroll down and view an invitation to “Walk in the footsteps of John Wayne.” Old Tucson, where Wayne filmed a number of movies, including Rio Bravo, burned to the ground in 1995. It has since been rebuilt and bears little resemblance to the studio he once knew, but there is plenty to see in Arizona to remind us that John Wayne was here, and perhaps always will be.