John Wayne in Monument Valley
“Monument Valley is the place where God put the West.”
– John Wayne
Billboard posters in Kayenta, Ariz., 22 miles to the south of Monument Valley, advertise it as “the 8th Wonder of the World.” Monument Valley is part of the Navajo tribal land which occupies about 27,000 square miles. Almost all of the “Rez” occupies north eastern Arizona, overflowing into parts of Utah, Arizona and New Mexico. But the land owned by the Navajo or “Dine” is so much more than simply an impressive expanse of land that is larger than 10 of our 50 states.
Although many other movies have been filmed in the area, tourists consider Monument Valley belonging to only one Hollywood actor, John Wayne. The majority of visiting tourists are from foreign countries and very familiar with the American Southwest. They call Monument Valley “John Wayne country.” The “Duke” made five movies here in his lifetime, “Stagecoach” (1939), “Fort Apache” (1948), “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon” (1949), “Rio Grande” (1950), and “The Searchers” (1956).
In 2008, The American Film Institute voted “The Searchers” the “Greatest Western of All Time.” Most filmgoers thought that John Wayne, as Ethan Edwards, should have received an Oscar for his work in the picture. His co-stars were Ward Bond, Harry Carey Jr., Jeffrey Hunter, Vera Miles, Natalie Wood, Lana Wood, Ken Curtis, Hank Worden, Olive Carey, and Patrick Wayne.
“The Searchers” is a tale of settlers vs. Indians in that period of our nation’s history right after the Civil War. Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) had returned home from the war to visit his brother and his family, early settlers on land that had always belonged to the Comanche. The Texas Rangers led by actor Ward Bond arrive and they all ride off to scout for Indians. While they are gone, the Comanche sadistically kill and mutilate Wayne’s brother and wife, burn down their homestead, and kidnap his two nieces.
In all of John Ford’s movies, there’s always some humor thrown into the mix. Vera Miles is in love with handsome Jeffrey Hunter, but realizing she’s “not getting any younger,” plans to settle for bumbling Ken Curtis. Fortunately, Jeffrey Hunter and Wayne return home in time, a brawl incurs and the wedding is cancelled. She decides to wait some more while Hunter and Wayne ride off again to continue searching for Chief Scar and his young captive.
The story is about the long search for the girls and what ultimately happens to them. The older captured girl was murdered and they discover her body in a canyon. The character Wayne plays has mixed feelings about finding his younger niece and racially comments that “since she has lived with a buck for so long, she isn’t any good anymore.” He first wants to kill her when they find her, arguing with Jeffrey Hunter about it, who is 1/8 Indian himself.
When he does find and rescue her, he changes his mind about killing her and brings her back home on his horse. Tenderly, he carries her in his arms into the house, handing her over to her waiting family (played by Olive Carey).
Inside story: In the last scene, John Wayne stands outside, framed in the doorway. He takes his left arm and folds it across himself to grab his right elbow. It’s the final gesture in the movie before he turns and walks away. That same gesture belonged to actor Harry Carey, his mentor and friend. Off screen, they say he smiled at Olive Carey, his widow standing inside, and said, “Well, Ma, we did it again.” It was a tribute to his old friend.
Monument Valley contains some of the most picturesque, interesting, fantastic scenery in our country. Thanks to director John Ford and his classic, unforgettable westerns, many have seen Monument Valley in the movies but are completely awed by the immensity of this silent land when one views it in person. Nowhere else will you see monoliths shaped like rock mittens standing independently high above the desert floor, while the unpaved road below carves its way back into the distant landscape of the Navajo Reservation. Until you see and experience it in person, you cannot imagine the beauty and enormity of the rock pinnacles, spires, buttes and “mittens” that were shaped by 500 million years of erosion and earth uplifts.
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