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An Easy Drive to a True Grit Weekend with Dad


Are you still looking for a fun way to celebrate a dad this month? Let me offer an idea to make him feel grander than the Duke! Yes, a weekend away with John Wayne and you, his favorite reason for being a dad. You can use some of your extended benefits of memberships at Arkansas museums.

Over spring break, my son and I traveled to Texas to spend time with my parents, and my dad and I took a one-on-one day together to check off some things I knew he would love to do. While there, I discovered some fun Arkansas connections that would make this an easy weekend trip from most parts of Arkansas any time of the year.

My dad loves to make impressions of celebrities, and it’s always been his best version of dad jokes. For my birthday, I typically send his first call to voicemail to keep the message of him singing birthday to me as Elvis, Barney or even his best, John Wayne. “Hey there, Pilgrim” was a regular greeting in our home, and a Wild West duel was not uncommon. Because of this, he was not shocked when he called during my first year of college, and my roommate told him I’d initiated a game of cowboys and Indians with our hallmates.

He’s always been a little country and a little rock ‘n roll, a quality I’ve come to appreciate more as a grown-up!

So, for our day date, I drove him down to the Stockyard area of Fort Worth to observe and look around since he usually must be the one to pay attention. He loved seeing changes in the city, riding a steer, eating some incredible barbecue, and visiting the True Grit Museum – John Wayne: An American Experience.

On a recent visit to Fort Smith, we checked off a few spots in Arkansas on the True Grit Trail and discussed many others highlighted in Charles Portis’ book.

The John Wayne Museum

The True Grit Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, is a must-visit destination for fans of the legendary actor John Wayne. It is considered an “American experience” of the actor’s life and represents Western movies.

The museum’s dedication to preserving the beloved actor’s legacy showcases his contributions to the film industry at every level. Visitors can explore exhibits that feature Wayne’s personal belongings, costumes, and props from his iconic films, including Arkansan’s favorite, the 1969 version of True Grit. The museum also houses a theater where visitors can watch classic John Wayne movies and collect memorabilia.

Collections at the True Grit Museum

The museum’s primary goal is to share the story of hard work and determination that built John Wayne’s career and his revered role in achieving the American Dream. The curation team tells the story of a young boy by a different name, with aspirations, determination and a lot of true grit to accomplish what he did with hardships, losses, setbacks and unbelief.

The Duke’s physical frame set him on a path for athletics, but a bodysurfing accident during his first year at USC changed the trajectory. His coach had a friend at Fox Film Corp., and many of his freshman teammates began working as set hands preparing swing props. Occasionally, he’d even appear as an extra, often playing a football player. His proximity to film sets made it easy to transition into work life, and he starred in his first film roles in 1926 and 27.

Throughout the museum, visitors meander through Wayne’s life story and learn about his first acting roles, studio development, ranch life and how movies, specifically low-budget Western films, were made during the 1950s and 1960s.

True Grit Museum highlights

  • Over 400 pieces of memorabilia are on display
  • True Grit Oscar – by far, my favorite relic to see was the Oscar award, the actual trophy John Wayne received for his leading actor role in the film based on Charles Portis’ novel about his home state of Arkansas.
  • True Grit screenplay – John Wayne’s notate copy of the screenplay used to study and prepare for filming.
  • Costumes – many of the actual ensembles worn during filming

  • Custom Car – one of his custom station wagons exemplary of his customizations made for his height and amenities he liked to have on the road
  • Movie memorabilia – iconic hats, accessories, and set props from his films
  • Movie title wall – my dad was blown away remembering many of the film names he’d forgotten and just seeing the production level of Wayne’s works, often producing 6-7 films in a year.
  • Bullet and Trigger – Yes, the famous sidekicks of Western films are on display for viewing before entering the galleries. My dad was as excited about these animals as anything he saw on exhibit.

  • Step into a Scene – 16 of Wayne’s favorite hats are on display, and there are 3 set backgrounds where you can step in and see how you measure up!
  • American Legacy – This gallery focuses on John Wayne’s legacy through his cancer institute and off-screen philanthropy projects.
  • Gift Shop – items from several of John Wayne’s iconic brands, from stock and supply to coffee, are an easy place to pick up a gift before you leave.

To round out our trip, we took my son and cousins to the Fort Worth museum the next day, and wouldn’t you know it, we ran into one of his kindergarten teachers. The Fort Worth Zoo and Little Rock Zoo have reciprocity with memberships, and it’s an easy way to extend your Arkansas resident benefits.

Other sites to visit when you are in Fort Worth:

Hotel Drover – if you want to add to your experience, book a room at this boutique hotel in the heart of the Fort Worth Stockyards. It adds to the ambiance of a cowboy weekend. Or, secure a reservation for lunch or dinner to add to your experience. It is a beautiful place to sit and reminisce.

Mule Alley – across the street is a great place to grab a bite to eat from a variety of flavors

Daily Cattle Drives at 11:30 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Tour the Stockyards, a National Historic Site along the historic Chisolm trail where drovers brought nearly 4 million head of cattle before heading into old Indian Territory.

Fort Worth Zoo – shared reciprocity admission with membership at the Little Rock Zoo

Fort Worth Museum of Science and History or Perot Museum of Nature and Science – shared reciprocity admission with memberships at science museums: Arkansas’ Mid America Science Museum (Hot Springs), Museum of Discovery (Little Rock), and Scott Family Amazeum (Bentonville).

Kimbell Art Museum, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, or the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame – shared reciprocity admission with memberships to the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts, Crystal Bridges, the Momentary, Fort Smith Regional Arts Museum, or the South Arkansas Arts Center.

Sundance Square – I highly recommend a fun dinner and taking Dad to the Four Day Weekend Improv Show!

It’s all a fun and easy drive from Arkansas for a weekend celebrating Dad!

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Keisha (Pittman) McKinney lives in Northwest Arkansas with her chicken man and break-dancing son. Keisha is passionate about connecting people and building community, seeking solutions to the everyday big and small things, and encouraging others through the mundane, hard, and typical that life often brings. She put her communications background to work as a former Non-profit Executive Director, college recruiter and fundraiser, small business trainer, and Digital Media Director at a large church in Northwest Arkansas. Now, she is using those experiences through McKinney Media Solutions and her blog @bigpittstop, which includes daily adventures, cooking escapades, #bigsisterchats, the social justice cases on her heart, and all that she is learning as a #boymom! Keisha loves to feed birds, read the stack on her nightstand, do dollar store crafts, cook recipes from her Pinterest boards, and chase everyday adventures on her Arkansas bucket list.

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