John Wayne in True Grit

John Wayne as Reuben "Rooster" Cogburn in True Grit (1969)

John Wayne as Reuben “Rooster” Cogburn in True Grit (1969)


John Wayne as Reuben J. “Rooster” Cogburn, tough Deputy U.S. Marshal

Fort Smith, Arkansas, into Indian Territory, Fall 1880

Film: True Grit
Release Date: June 12, 1969
Director: Henry Hathaway
Costume Designer: Dorothy Jeakins
Wardrobe: Luster Bayless (uncredited)


To commemorate John Wayne’s birthday 113 years ago today on May 26, 1907, let’s take a look at one of Duke’s most enduring roles and the one that won him the Academy Award after more than forty years making over 200 movies.

Swiftly adapted from Charles Portis’ source novel of the same name, True Grit follows 14-year-old Mattie Ross as she seeks the help of a drunken U.S. Marshal, chosen by virtue of his reputation as the meanest marshal, to avenge the murder of her father. John Wayne was enthusiastic to play the cantankerous drunkard Rooster Cogburn as soon as he read Portis’ novel and even moreso after reading Marguerite Roberts’ screenplay, but the rest of the cast was not as easily secured. Contenders to play Mattie included Mia Farrow, Sally Field, Tuesday Weld, and even Wayne’s own daughter Aissa before the role went to the 21-year-old Kim Darby. Hiring Elvis Presley for the part of LeBoeuf the swaggering Texas Ranger would have meant agreeing to bill him above John Wayne, so the filmmakers went with Glen Campbell, whose theme song for True Grit received the film’s only other Oscar nomination.

“If I’d have known… I would have put that patch on thirty-five years earlier,” Wayne joked when accepting his own Oscar at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion during the 42nd Academy Awards ceremony in April 1970. (He had also reportedly quipped “beginner’s luck” in Barbra Streisand’s ear when she presented him with the award.) Though perhaps humbled in the moment, Wayne later explained in his May 1971 interview for Playboy: “I really didn’t need an Oscar. I’m a box-office champion with a record they’re going to have to run to catch. And they won’t.”

John Wayne’s Oscar signified a transitional period not only for the film industry but for Westerns specifically. For nearly forty years, Wayne had made a name for himself as the quintessential Western hero, a tough, righteous, and unflappable all-American gunman who shoots more than he speaks. In 1969, Hollywood honored Duke with its most coveted award while also welcoming a trio of “revisionist Westerns”—Butch Cassidy and the Sundance KidTell Them Willie Boy is Here, and The Wild Bunch—that subverted the black-and-white morality of Wayne’s filmography.

In a way, True Grit marked the end of the classic era of Westerns. Gary Cooper, William S. Hart, and Tom Mix were long gone, and Wayne and contemporaries like Joel McCrea, Randolph Scott, and Jimmy Stewart were aging out of the saddle; the reigns once dominated by John Ford, Howard Hawks, and John Sturges were now in the hands of Clint Eastwood, Sergio Leone, and Sam Peckinpah, who were presenting the American West with greater—and often darker—ethical complexity.

What’d He Wear?

On the Trail

I’ve seen a variety of costumes that are purported to be John Wayne’s screen-worn items from True Grit, with some instead from his reprisal of the role opposite Katharine Hepburn in Rooster Cogburn (1975) while others appear to be from neither film. (A hint: if the shirt is a taupe gray like this shirt via Heritage Auctions and iCollector, it’s likely from Rooster Cogburn.)

As partially compiled for a Bonhams “Arms & Armour” auction in December 2003, Duke’s screen-worn True Grit trail costume consists of a tan stockade jacket, light brown leather vest, slate-colored flannel shirt, pink plaid neckerchief, taupe jeans worn with suspenders and belt, cowboy boots with de rigueur spurs, black hat, and eye-patch.

Rooster sits back to enjoy a pull of whiskey against the picturesque backdrop of Colorado's San Juan Mountains.

Rooster sits back to enjoy a pull of whiskey against the picturesque backdrop of Colorado’s San Juan Mountains.

The tan heavyweight cotton stockade jacket was a John Wayne staple across his latter Westerns, beginning with Rio Bravo in 1959. Duke’s stockade jacket evolved over the following decade, and one of his actual True Grit screen-worn jackets was sold by Heritage Auctions in October 2011 alongside some of the actor’s other personal items. According to the listing:

This style of coat, known as a “stockade jacket,” became part of Wayne’s standard western costume for the rest of his career. It is first seen in the 1960 20th Century Fox release, North to Alaska (but with an added small pocket sewn on top of the larger left breast pocket) and then the design slightly changed to a three pocket version (which Wayne wore in three films) and then it changed again to a four pocket version (which Wayne wore in his last nine western films). It is believed that six of these “stockade jackets” were originally made: one for each of the “Chucks” [Roberson and Hayward, Wayne’s longtime stunt doubles] and four for Wayne himself.

The listing also describes the lining stamped with “American” in reference to United American Costume/American Costume Corporation, the company owned by prolific costume designer Luster Bayless who worked—both credited and uncredited—with Duke on many of his later films, starting with McLintock! (1963) up through his final movie, The Shootist (1976). Given that Mr. Bayless started his company in 1977, eight years after True Grit was released, the stamp was likely placed on the screen-used garment long after the production.

Note the matching corded fabric on the collar and inside cuffs of Rooster's stockade jacket.

Note the matching corded fabric on the collar and inside cuffs of Rooster’s stockade jacket.

Made from a treated, heavy cotton outer shell and based on popular turn-of-the-century barn coats and hunting jackets, the four-button, thigh-length stockade jacket has a darker tan corduroy collar with long, set-in sleeves that are partially lined at the squared cuffs in a matching corded cloth, seen as Wayne wears the cuffs almost always unbuttoned and folded back to reveal this corduroy side, except for during the snowy epilogue. The shoulders are reinforced with Western-style gently pointed yokes.

At one point, Cogburn orders LeBoeuf to place it over the smoking chimney of a hideout cabin to chase out the occupants, which would leave the jacket with a considerable smell… though the rugged Rooster doesn’t seem like the type who would mind a jacket smelling like smoke.

Cogburn’s jacket has four patch pockets, two on the chest and two larger ones on the hips, all with rounded bottom corners and flaps. The marshal makes good use of his pockets to carry his provisions of salt, red pepper, and taffy as well as cartridges, “skinnin’ knife”, and the occasional pint of bourbon.

LeBoeuf isn't quite as impressed as Rooster with Mattie's decision to cross the river on horseback.

LeBoeuf isn’t quite as impressed as Rooster with Mattie’s decision to cross the river on horseback.

Brown leather vests in various colors, fabrics, and forms are another staple of John Wayne’s Western wardrobe, dating considerably further back in his filmography than the stockade jacket. The True Grit waistcoat, made by Western Costume Co., was made of light brown suede with a coarser beige linen back lining that begins under the horizontal yoke and is shaped with darts on each side.

The front of the vest is detailed with notch lapels that roll to a long single leather drawstring on each side to ostensibly tie the vest at mid-chest, rather than a dressier button-up closure. Cogburn’s vest also has four slim-welted pockets on the front. Cogburn’s six-pointed marshal’s star printed “DEPUTY | MARSHAL” was made of brushed steel (and not the proverbial tin) by LAS&S Company, according to the Bonhams listing, and and pinned to the left side of his vest.


Rooster Cogburn’s neckerchief is a light pink plaid cotton scarf, knotted on the left side and worn loosely around his neck.


The traditional John Wayne image, dating back as far as his breakout role in Stagecoach (1939) and through the 1950s, included a flap-fronted “bib” shirt. By the mid-1960s—following his 1964 surgery to treat lung cancer and around the time he made The Sons of Katie Elder (1965)—Duke had essentially replaced his cavalry-style bib shirts with more conventional button-up shirts that were likely more comfortable and flattering, not to mention easier to put on, as the actor continued to work through his middle age.

In True Grit, Rooster Cogburn hits the trail with a long-sleeved button-up work shirt in a heavyweight slate gray-blue cotton. As in his other movies of the period, the shirt was detailed with a large collar, rounded on the corners, with a front placket, two chest pockets, and single-button squared cuffs. According to the Bonhams auction listing, this shirt was custom-made by Ermenegildo Zegna and is embroidered on the lower tail seam with “68D Jeakins” in reference to costume designer Dorothy Jeakins.


Aside from a brief scene toward the end where he wears his ecru flannel work shirt with the leather vest and kerchief, Rooster exclusively wears a blue-gray shirt with this outfit, meaning that shirts of other colors purported to be screen-worn (such as this burgundy shirt and embroidered vest via Nate D. Sanders or this taupe “gray” shirt via iCollector) are likely listed inaccurately.

Rooster wears dark taupe canvas casual trousers styled similar to jeans with belt loops, curved front pocket openings, a seam across the top of the seat, and patch-style back pockets.

Rooster charges into the hideout where horse thieves Quincy (Jeremy Slate) and Moon (Dennis Hopper) have taken refuge.

Rooster charges into the hideout where horse thieves Quincy (Jeremy Slate) and Moon (Dennis Hopper) have taken refuge.

Rooster’s trousers are held up with the redundant double suspension of a belt and braces, in this case the same yellow striped suspenders he wore with his “town” clothing, described below. His black leather belt closes through what has been identified as an officer’s belt buckle from the Civil War and Indian Wars era, cast in brass with an American eagle flanked by applied silver foliage. Similar belts and buckles were worn by Wayne across many of his movies, though this particular usage is consistent with Rooster Cogburn’s military service, albeit with the less-than-official Quantrill’s Raiders which fought for the Confederacy rather than the Union.

His military service also lends credence to Rooster wearing trousers with a belt, as this wouldn’t become a standard men’s practice until about a half-century later as menswear evolved during the roaring ’20s and the years immediately following World War I.

"Fill your hands, you son of a bitch!"

“Fill your hands, you son of a bitch!”

Rooster wears the same two-toned gun belt that was a fixture of most John Wayne Westerns across the latter half of the actor’s screen career, consisting of a “half-breed” holster mounted on a wide folded belt of distressed tan roughout cowhide, detailed with brown oiled leather cartridge loops across the back and left side—accommodating the .44-40 rounds for his revolver and rifle—and a brown ranger-style strap across the front that closes through a steel single-prong buckle.

Fastened to the right side of his belt for a clean, right-handed draw, the “half-breed” holster was so nicknamed for combining the classic “slim jim” holster with a “hidden skirt and a loop,” according to a listing at Purdy Gear. “It gives the holster a slimmer profile overall with the eye-catching appeal of the conventional skirted western holster’s loop… characterized by a wide, oval cigar band loop, a shallow, swooping recurve at the trigger guard and a throat cut that hits the top of the cylinder” Though worn in Duke’s films regardless of setting, these holsters were reportedly developed around the turn-of-the-century, bridging the transition between the straight gun belts of the late 19th century and the iconic “Buscadero” rigs that emerged leading up to World War I and were popularized in Western serials of the roaring ’20s. In addition to the Purdy holsters, Amazon also includes a “Duke’s Special” replica rig by Frontier Gunleather and America’s Gun Store offers the “Rooster Cogburn” among its many rigs.

The Purdy site also suggests that Wayne evidently encountered the original holster in New Mexico and had it replicated by Andy Anderson to wear in his famous Westerns like Hondo (1953) all the way through Rooster Cogburn, the 1975 sequel to True Grit. While this wouldn’t have been the same gun rig across all these films, the soft napped structure of the belt would lend itself nicely to fitting around Duke’s waist as his physique changed with age.

The curling at the top of Rooster's gun belt suggests that it was made by folding a wide strip of roughout leather in half, leaving the top open to serve as an improvised money belt, if needed.

The curling at the top of Rooster’s gun belt suggests that it was made by folding a wide strip of roughout leather in half, leaving the top open to serve as an improvised money belt, if needed.

John Wayne favored boots by Lucchese, the bootmaker established in San Antonio by Italian immigrant brothers Salvatore and Joseph Lucchese. In the decades since the business was founded in 1883, Lucchese boots have been the preferred choice of actors and aviators ranging from Gary Cooper, Bing Crosby, Gregory Peck, and Arnold Schwarzenegger to Jimmy Doolittle and Frank Purdy Lahm, even crossing political aisles with presidents including Lyndon Baines Johnson and Ronald Reagan—and even British Prime Minister Tony Blair—known to wear Lucchese.

The Bonhams auction of Duke’s True Grit costume included a pair of tooled brown leather Lucchese cowboy boots as well as a pair of stainless steel Bohlin spurs with copper overlays, five-pointed aluminum rowels, and simple brown leather straps, though even the listing admits that there’s no confirmation these boots were worn on screen. These brown boots were re-auctioned by Heritage Auctions in October 2011, with the listing more definitive in its suggestion that he wore them as Rooster Cogburn. Though the screen-worn boots had looked black to me, the rounded pointed toes and the wide decorative tooling on the shafts are indicative of a match.

The vamps are decorated with the classic “bug and wrinkle” medallion stitching, which Lucchese stated in a Tweet was originally designed to help boot leather crease naturally along the foot, and the tops of the shafts are straight with over-the-top ear pulls that remain hidden on screen under Rooster’s trousers.

Rooster seeks to free himself from under his fallen horse in the heat of battle, showing off his hand-tooled Lucchese boots.

Rooster seeks to free himself from under his fallen horse in the heat of battle, showing off his hand-tooled Lucchese boots.

As Westerns shifted toward a greater focus on anti-heroes than outright heroes, even John Wayne followed to some extent by wearing a black hat as Rooster Cogburn. A Heritage Auctions listing for Duke’s black hat from The Comancheros (1961) suggests that he wore the same hat in True Grit, citing Herb Fagen’s 1996 book Duke, We’re Glad We Knew You in which Luster Bayless is quoted saying that the “hat [from True Grit] was the same one he used in The Comancheros and The Alamo. We just changed the block around.” Rooster’s wide-brimmed beaver felt hat is detailed with a decorative dark brown braided band over the traditional black grosgrain band at the base of its tall cattleman-style crown. Several replicas are available online via Watson Hat Shop and Western Saddle.

While many, if not most of the other elements described above could apply to several John Wayne characters, Rooster Cogburn’s most distinguishing feature was his black eye-patch, worn over the left eye that was damaged during Rooster’s Civil War service. John Wayne reportedly (and understandably) had some concerns about his ability to effectively ride, shoot, and act on horseback while wearing the patch so Henry Hathaway assuaged his concerns by providing the actor with a leather eye-patch incorporating a painted mesh gauze that would allow Wayne to still use his left eye.

A common sight on the trail with Rooster.

A common sight on the trail with Rooster.

True Grit was John Wayne’s second film after he completed The Green Berets (1968), during which he had been gifted with a brass bracelet by the indigenous Montagnard people of Vietnam. Modern Forces Living History Group reports that many American servicemen returned from Vietnam with these bracelets from the tribe, signifying friendship or respect.

Beginning with Hellfighters, which was released in November 1968, Wayne would wear the bracelet on his right wrist in every movie—including True Grit—as well as every day off-screen, and he was reportedly buried wearing the bracelet as well.

In Town

Interestingly, Rooster’s more genteel “town” clothes for court closely resemble what Mattie’s doomed father, Frank Ross (John Pickard), was wearing the last time she saw him before he set off for Fort Smith with his eventual murderer, Tom Chaney (Jeff Corey).

Cogburn’s black brushed flannel frock coat has high-gorge peak lapels that roll over the top of three cloth-covered buttons at the waist, where a seam rings around the body of the coat with two decorative buttons on the back. The coat sleeves are roped at the shoulders and plain-cuffed with no buttons. The coat also has a single vent and straight flapped hip pockets positioned just below the waist seam.

Rather than a white dress shirt, Cogburn wears another of his flannel work shirts with a soft turndown collar, made from an ecru cloth. The long-sleeved shirt has a horizontal yoke across the front, placed about an inch above the openings of both chest pockets. As he isn’t wearing his vest, he wears his six-pointed marshal star pinned to the left pocket of his shirt. His shirt’s black plastic sew-through buttons heavily contrast agains the light cloth and coordinate with his black Western-style string bow tie.

Was Rooster quick to earn Mattie's trust for more than just his reputation for meanness? While this sartorial approach was hardly uncommon during the era, Mattie may have subconsciously seen Rooster as a surrogate for the man whose death she was so dedicated to avenge.

Was Rooster quick to earn Mattie’s trust for more than just his reputation for meanness? While this sartorial approach was hardly uncommon during the era, Mattie may have subconsciously seen Rooster as a surrogate for the man whose death she was so dedicated to avenge.

Cogburn wears his same black hat, Civil War-era officer’s belt, tooled leather boots, and striped suspenders that make up part of his trail costume. Connected via brown leather hooks to buttons along the inside of his trouser waistband, the thick tan suspenders are striped with two wide yellow stripes on the outside, then two thin mint-blue stripes flanking a thin yellow stripe in the center.

The Guns

“I never shot nobody I didn’t have to!” Rooster Cogburn testifies when asked how many people he’s shot in the nearly four years he’s been a Deputy U.S. Marshal, eventually answering that he’s killed a total of 23 men in the course of stopping them in flight or defending himself. Given the dangerous nature of his “business”, it’s no surprise that Cogburn is an expert with his firearms. “Well, a gun that’s unloaded and cocked ain’t good for nothin’,” Cogburn further testifies.

Rooster Cogburn’s primary sidearm is a Colt Single Action Army with a 4¾” barrel that was often referred to as the “Civilian”, “Gunfighter”, or “Quickdraw” model, with the later two appellations certainly applying in Rooster’s case. According to IMFDB, Rooster’s revolvers had unique grips manufactured by Maurice D. Scarlac using his own material called Catalin, designed with three shallow finger grooves on the left side to fit the middle, ring, and pinky fingers of Wayne’s right hand.

“Why do you keep that one chamber empty?” Mattie asks as she watches Rooster load his Peacemaker. “So I won’t shoot my foot off,” Rooster responds with a smirk, referring to the practice of keeping only five rounds loaded in a Single Action Army with an empty round under the hammer to prevent accidental discharge should something strike the hammer.

"Mr. Rat... I have a writ here says you're to stop eating Chen Lee's cornmeal forthwith. Now it's a rat writ, writ for a rat, and this is lawful service of the same."

“Mr. Rat… I have a writ here says you’re to stop eating Chen Lee’s cornmeal forthwith. Now it’s a rat writ, a writ for a rat, and this is lawful service of the same.”

Colt introduced the “New Model Army Metallic Cartridge Revolving Pistol” in October 1873 alongside the powerful .45 Long Colt cartridge, eventually offering three standard barrel lengths (7½” Cavalry, 5½” Artillery, and the 4¾” described above), though both longer- and shorter-barreled variants were also produced. Though most common, the .45 Colt cartridge was one of more than 30 caliber options that would be offered on the Single Action Army by the time production of Colt’s first generation ended in 1940 with more than 350,000 made.

Beginning in 1877, Colt began manufacturing the Colt Frontier Six-Shooter variant, chambered for the .44-40 Winchester centerfire cartridge that could allow gunmen to reduce their ammunition needs to only one type of cartridge when loading their revolvers and rifles. According to IMFDB, at least two of Wayne’s screen-used Peacemakers in True Grit were chambered for .44-40, while the third was a .45. In total, he used three in True Grit:

  • Colt Single Action Army, 4¾” barrel, 44-40 WCF, rented from Stembridge
  • Colt Single Action Army, 4¾” barrel, .45 LC, rented from Stembridge
  • Colt Single Action Army, 4¾” barrel (converted from 5½” model with “Bisley” grips), .44-40 WCF (converted from .45 LC), personally owned by John Wayne, serial number 309795

The latter piece, Duke’s own, has an interesting story as it had originally left the Colt factory in 1893 as a .45-caliber “Bisley Model” Single Action Army, distinctive for it’s bird’s head grips. The revolver would be rebuilt with a shorter, Quickdraw-length 4¾” barrel and converted to fire .44-40 Winchester rifle cartridges not unlike the “forty-four forty Colt’s revolver” described by Charles Portis in the book. According to Phil Spangenberger in the True West Magazine article “John Wayne and the Peacemaker”, the actor obtained this revolver from a studio props department and would first use it on screen in The War Wagon (1967) through most of the Westerns he made over the decade to follow before his death. Wayne reportedly liked the Scarlac-designed grips so much that he had personally “tea-stained” them at home for the yellowed ivory finish seen on screen.

Note the unique finger grooves on the grips of Rooster's Single Action Army, tucked into his waistband for quicker access with his left hand when charging Lucky Ned's gang.

Note the unique finger grooves on the grips of Rooster’s Single Action Army, tucked into his waistband for quicker access with his left hand when charging Lucky Ned’s gang.

Charles Portis’ novel describes Rooster’s saddle gun as “a Winchester repeating rifle”, not surprisingly chambered for the same .44-40 centerfire cartridge as fired by his Colt revolver. True Grit takes this description a step further by arming John Wayne with his usual Winchester Model 1892 Saddle Ring Carbine, a shortened lever-action rifle with an enlarged lever loop so that Duke could twirl the rifle by the loop with one hand. This habit, pioneered by Wayne with stuntman Yakima Canutt during the production of Stagecoach (1939), became a trademark for not only John Wayne but also Chuck Connors on ABC’s The Rifleman. Fellow TV Western gunman Steve McQueen also carried a Model 1892 with an enlarged lever loop, though this cut-down “Mare’s Leg” with its shortened barrel and stock was actually carried as his sidearm.

Production photo of John Wayne with his well-traveled Winchester in True Grit

Production photo of John Wayne with his well-traveled Winchester in True Grit

Though widespread in Westerns set during this era, the appearance of a Winchester Model 1892 is ultimately anachronistic, likely meant to stand in for the older model Winchester Model 1873, which shares many cosmetic similarities to the later Model ’92 and was notably nicknamed “The Gun That Won the West” for its one-time ubiquity on the Great Plains and beyond.

When it was introduced in 1892, this particular Winchester model was offered in a trio of popular centerfire calibers that could also be used for the Single Action Army revolver: .32-20, .38-40, and the venerable .44-40. By the time production ended in 1945 with more than one million Model ’92 rifles manufactured, some were also available in .25-20 Winchester and .218 Bee, though .44-40 WCF remained the most popular caliber.

Worth mentioning is that these Colts and Winchesters were popular in Hollywood productions due to their ability to use the “five-in-one” blank cartridge, so named for their cross-functionality in the .38-40, .44-40, and .45-caliber Colt revolvers and Winchester rifles frequently featured in early Westerns.

I believe at least two Winchester Model 1892 carbines were used by John Wayne in True Grit, one with a full carbine-length barrel and another modified with a slightly shorter barrel for certain action sequences. Wayne’s ability to fire the Winchester one-handed meant that he could use it and his Colt revolver akimbo when famously charging Lucky Ned’s gang on horseback while biting on the reins.

Rooster fires his Winchester one-handed.

Rooster fires his Winchester one-handed.

Another weapon of note from True Grit, is the “Colt’s Dragoon” that Mattie plans on carrying to capture Tom Chaney. Having belonged to her father, the massive .44-caliber percussion revolver is actually an 1847 model Colt Walker rather than the later and only somewhat smaller Colt Model 1848 Army percussion revolver also known as the “Dragoon”. Named in honor of his collaboration with Captain Samuel Hamilton Walker of the Texas Rangers, the Walker Colt was one of the first and most powerful weapons developed by legendary gunsmith Samuel Colt as a beefed-up evolution of his .36-caliber Colt Paterson folding-trigger revolver introduced a decade earlier. Walker had wanted a repeating handgun that would be powerful at close range and this weapon delivered as the largest black powder revolver at the time. Walker charged into battle during the Mexican-American War with two of his namesake revolvers, though he died in combat during the Battle of Huamantla in October 1847, not long after Colt completed the brief run of only 1,100 original Walker Colts produced.

Chaney himself takes up the revolver after he subdues Mattie, and it falls into the snake-filled mine shaft with him. While rescuing Mattie, Rooster also retrieves the revolver on her command. She, in turn, gifts it to Rooster with the hopes that “it might keep you alive!”

"Why, by God, girl, that's a Colt's Dragoon! You're no bigger than a corn nubbin, what're you doing with all this pistol?"

“Why, by God, girl, that’s a Colt’s Dragoon! You’re no bigger than a corn nubbin, what’re you doing with all this pistol?”

Four and a half pounds while unloaded, the Colt Walker’s hefty mass was one of several issues that Colt sought to amend with his next revolver, and the Colt Model 1848 Percussion Army Revolver weighed in closer to only four pounds, still firing the deadly .44-caliber ball ammunition albeit with a slightly shorter barrel, shorter cylinder to prevent overloading, and a loading lever latch to avoid accidental jams. A favorite of the U.S. Army’s mounted infantry or “Dragoon” regiments through the Civil War, the Model 1848 Army revolver was alternatively nicknamed the “Colt Dragoon”. The dialogue of Charles Portis’ novel implies this to be Mattie Ross’ actual firearm, and the 2010 Coen brothers-directed remake also places the correct Colt in Mattie’s hands.

What to Imbibe

“Rooster Cogburn! Lord, I’ve heard some terrible things about him,” Mrs. Floyd (Edith Atwater) shares with Mattie, her latest boarder, adding that, “he loves to pull a cork, I know that!”

And does he ever.

Cogburn takes pride in swilling his drink of choice, touting the wonders of "genuine double-rectified busthead, aged in the keg!"

Cogburn takes pride in swilling his drink of choice, touting the wonders of “genuine double-rectified busthead, aged in the keg!”

John Wayne as Reuben "Rooster" Cogburn in True Grit (1969)

John Wayne as Reuben “Rooster” Cogburn in True Grit (1969)

The specific brand of Rooster’s seemingly bottomless pints of bourbon appears to be Jonathan Collier, a prop label dating back to at least the 1940s with an old-fashioned styling that has made it a standard of Western productions including, but certainly not limited to: GunsmokeThe Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, 3:10 to Yuma (1957), The Left-Handed Gun (1958), Hang ‘Em High (1968), Support Your Local Sheriff! (1969), Unforgiven (1992), and Deadwood.

Mattie implores him to while they’re on the trail, but he refuses, eventually drinking so much of his beloved Jonathan Collier whiskey that he tumbles from his horse.

Whiskey isn’t a surprising choice for a rugged westerner’s favored booze, and it also reflects the real John Wayne’s penchant for bourbon, specifically 101-proof Wild Turkey, drank neat, though his son Ethan clarified in a 2016 article for The Daily Beast that “if he wanted a drink, it was bourbon or tequila.”

“Conmemorativo tequila, that’s as fine a liquor as there is in the world,” Wayne himself was quoted as saying in a 1971 interview with Playboy. “Christ, I tell you it’s better than any whiskey; it’s better than any schnapps; it’s better than any drink I ever had in my life.” Sauza Conmemorativo Añejo is a 100% agave tequila that has been aged in toasted American oak casks for a smoky, woody taste and finish.

The Daily Beast‘s article also lists fine French wines, including Château Lafite Rothschild and Dom Pérignon vintage champagne, among Duke’s favorites… though it would be considerably out of character to see Rooster Cogburn popping the cork on a bottle of Dom while hot on the trail of Lucky Ned Pepper.

How to Get the Look

John Wayne as Reuben "Rooster" Cogburn in True Grit (1969)

John Wayne as Reuben “Rooster” Cogburn in True Grit (1969)

John Wayne’s classic Western look needed little adaption to accommodate the character of Rooster Cogburn, and the actor’s staples of stockade jacket, flannel work shirt, leather vest, and cowboy hat and boots remain timeless examples of hard-wearing work attire for anyone from modern ranch hands to one-eyed marshals.

  • Tan treated cotton four-button stockade jacket with corduroy collar, four flapped patch pockets, corduroy-lined single-button cuffs, and reinforced shoulders with pointed yokes
  • Light brown suede vest/waistcoat with notch lapels, drawstring closure, four jetted pockets, and tan coarse linen back lining
    • Brushed steel six-pointed “Deputy Marshal” star
  • Dark slate cotton long-sleeved work shirt with rounded collar, front placket, two chest pockets, and single-button cuffs
  • Taupe canvas jeans with belt loops, slanted side pockets, and patch back pockets
  • Tan, yellow, and light blue striped suspenders with brown leather hooks
  • Black leather belt with U.S. Army officer’s brass-cast “American Eagle” belt buckle flanked by silver foliage
  • Tan folded roughout leather gun belt with brown front strap (with steel single-prong buckle), brown leather cartridge loops, and brown leather “half-breed” right-side holster
  • Dark brown leather Lucchese cowboy boots with decorative tooling on shafts, round pointed toes with “bug and wrinkle” medallion stitching, and slightly raised heels
  • Stainless steel spurs
  • Black beaver felt wide-brimmed cattleman-style cowboy hat with dark brown braided band over black grosgrain band
  • Brass “Montagnard Bracelet”
  • Black leather left eye-patch

Movies like True Grit immortalized John Wayne’s preferred stockade jackets and the actor’s name is often used in conjunction with marketing these coats as seen offered by The Bradford Exchange, Hammacher Schlemmer, Lucy Store, and—of course—the John Wayne Birthplace & Museum in Iowa.

I know that there are many hardcore John Wayne fans who are likely considerably more knowledgable about the actor’s wardrobe, weapons, and whiskey than I could ever hope to be, so I welcome feedback from anyone who has anything to add (or correct) about any information in this post!

Do Yourself a Favor and…

Check out the movie and read Charles Portis’ novel.

When the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum closed in response to the spreading COVID-19 pandemic in March, the museum staff placed its Twitter account in the hands of Tim, a security guard, who quickly became a social media favorite for his earnest use of the medium to promote many of the items and artifacts around the museum, including John Wayne’s costume elements playing Rooster Cogburn such as his hat, boots, and more, all part of the museum’s “Two Grits: A Peek Behind the Eyepatch” collection on loan from John Wayne Enterprises. (I recommend following @ncwhm for more #HashtagTheCowboy fun!)

The Quote

Fill your hands, you son of a bitch!


There are some inconsistencies regarding the film’s setting, as opposed to the novel which was likely set across November and December 1878. Frank Ross’s tombstone dates his death on October 6, 1880, implying that Mattie’s adventure with Cogburn is set during the weeks to follow, though a glimpse at Mattie’s contract with Colonel Stonehill shows a date of September 1881. However, since this prop is less prominent and more prone to error than a grave, we can assume that the filmmakers intended True Grit to be set across the fall of 1880.



  1. Eke

    Great detailed article about the True Grit from ‘69. But… did you know there is a 2010 True Grit were Rooster Cogburn is portrayed by Jeff Bridges?

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  4. John Craiglow

    I’m curious as to John Wayne choice of wearing trousers with big cuffs. And yet the trousers seem up far above ground level. I’ve noticed this to be the case in Rio Bravo particularly and I know some early jw movies like Hondo.
    But I imagine during the early years the jw heroes like Tom Mix, Hopalong Cassidy influenced his desire to wear high large cuffed trousers.

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