Moab Museum of Film & Western Heritage

celebrating the spirit of America's Western heritage as showcased by films made in the Moab to Monument Valley region of Utah

Rio Grande(1950)

A notable “first” and “third”…


The Third

Following the success of Fort Apache (1948) and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), both filmed in Monument Valley, the studio demanded a third cavalry picture. But, director John Ford was gearing up to make an Irish saga. Ultimately Ford agreed to make a third cavalry picture called Rio Grande in exchange for final say on the cast and guaranteed financing for his next film, A Quiet Man (1952), which earned him an Oscar.


The Firsts

Rio Grande was the first film shot at the White Ranch (now Red Cliffs Ranch) and the first of five films co-starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara. The production also marked the unofficial film debut for John’s 11 year-old son Patrick Wayne and his childhood pal and future White Ranch owner, Tommy White. Other local extras filled the roles of 50 “Apaches” and 80 “cavalry” riders.

Image of John Ford and Victor McLaglen on set at the White Ranch (now Red Cliffs Ranch), courtesy of Harold B. Lee Library, L. Tom Perry Special Collection Photo Archives, BYU

John Ford

Over the course of his 50 year-long career in the film industry, the controversial and contrarian director John Ford made over 140 films, turned John Wayne into a star, survived and filmed the Battle of Midway and the D-Day invasion of Omaha Beach, and earned 4 Academy Awards, more than any other director in history.  

Local Legacy

An extensive set with dramatic fort entrance gate and command post was built on the White Ranch. Although filming was completed in under a month thanks to Ford’s hurry to begin work on A Quiet Man, the sets withstood the test of time: the gate was used again in Taza, Son of Cochise (1954) and remained a fixture on the property until the elements brought it down in 1971. However, the “command post” building is still in use today!

Case Studies

From left to right: Essie Larsen White, Harry Carey Jr., Tommy White, Ben Johnson, Claude Jarman Jr., John Wayne, and Maureen O’Hara in front of the White’s family home as it appeared in the film Rio Grande.


From left to right: Tommy White, Patrick Wayne, and Michael Wayne on the White Ranch. Temporary sets built for the film Rio Grande can be seen in the field where George White would have normally grown hay.

There were probably dozens of other locals who were also involved in the making of Rio Grande or other films made here, and we want to hear their stories!  

So if you or someone you knew was a part of a production in the Moab to Monument Valley region, please click here to tell us your story!