Essay 3 – True Grit: Raw Justice

Renee Roberts

Professor Stacy Taylor

ENG 1402 55Z1 – Essay 3

25 April 2012

True Grit: Raw Justice

            The movie True Grit released in 1969 was typical in the depiction of the Wild West with beautiful vistas of the mountains and the rugged terrain found in Kansas and Arkansas.  The plot revolved around a strong-headed girl named Mattie Ross played by Kim Darby and the revenge she sought for the death of her father by the hand of Tom Chaney played by Jeff Corey, who was a hired hand on the family’s ranch.  The story develops around the relationship between Mattie with the rough and rugged character US Marshall Rooster Cogburn played by John Wayne and Ranger La Beouf played by Glen Campbell, as they assist her in seeking revenge for her father’s murder.  In the movie True Grit, it is evident that the law of the land is as crude as the land itself and purchased for the right price.

            In the first scenes of True Grit, Mattie Ross is witness to the harsh reality of the law. She must travel to Fort Smith to claim the body of her father shot by his hired hand, Tom Chaney, in a drunken state after losing his wages in a poker game.  Mattie though only 14 years of age, is very businesslike in dealing with her father’s affairs and keeps her emotions to herself when dealing with the retrieval of his body.  Immediately she is witness to a public hanging.  It is here she exposed to the brutality of the law and has her first thoughts of revenge. 

          After claiming her father’s body, she seeks the assistance of the local Sheriff in bringing Tom Chaney to justice.  The Sheriff informed her that Chaney has escaped into Indian Territory and only US Marshalls have jurisdiction to bring in criminals from the territory.  Mattie, not happy with the fact, inquires the availability of US Marshalls who would be willing to bring him to justice.  She told the names of three US Marshalls and when she asked about the individual reputations, Rooster Cogburn was the harshest in results.  His unorthodox ways was as near lawless as one could get and easily persuaded with monetary gain.

            Mattie, informed she could locate Rooster Cogburn testifying in court, hears for herself the crude ways of Rooster Cogburn and she sets her mind to enlist his help.  Cogburn, not easily persuaded, but with the lure of monetary reward, she is able to strike up a deal.  It is evident here that the law could also be bought.  US Marshalls were often paid by the rewards from the capture of criminals.  At this point Texas Ranger La Beouf enters the picture, he is also seeking the capture of Tom Chaney for the murder of a Texas Senator.  La Beouf, interested in the services of Rooster Cogburn, uses monetary gain to entice Cogburn into helping him.  In addition, he informs Cogburn that Tom Chaney had joined with another outlaw, Ned Pepper, who Cogburn has been pursuing without results.  Mattie is blatantly upset because she wants to see Chaney hanged in the public square and not returned to Texas.   She insists he returns the down payment, but Cogburn has already spent the money.  He is drawn to the bigger purse promised by La Beouf and tells Mattie that he would return her money somehow.

            The next day Cogburn and La Beouf set out to find Chaney but Mattie does not give up easily and will not be denied the revenge she so seeks.  She secretly follows the men, but at the ferry, Cogburn tells the ferrymen that Mattie is a runaway and there is a reward for her safe return home. In his effort to keep Mattie from crossing the river, we once again see that anything can be bought for a price. Mattie escapes the ferryman and finds another way across the river but is intercepted by La Beouf who treats her roughly and inflicts corporal punishment; Cogburn has enough and threatens La Beouf to release her.  Seeing her tenacity Cogburn realizes they have no choice except allowing her to accompany them on the journey.  Rooster sees that she is determined to fulfill her drive to see Tom Chaney brought to justice, even if it means killing him herself and it becomes clear that human life was often expendable in reaching revenge.

            Cogburn, knowing the terrain, leads them to a hidden shack in the side of a hill where they will hold up for the night but finds it occupied by two known outlaws.  Again, showing his grit, Cogburn decides to smoke the outlaws out. After questioning them to the whereabouts of Ned Pepper and if Tom Chaney was in the group, he realizes that the thought of medical help for the injured man may loosen his tongue.  The injured man was willing to tell what he knew and the other man realizes that if Ned Pepper found out that they ratted on him, he would kill them for sure. In a series of events, the injured outlaw, Moon, has his fingers cut off and the other one is shot and killed.  Before the injured outlaw dies, he told Cogburn they were waiting at the shack for the arrival of Ned Pepper and the other outlaws who would be there soon and asks that his possessions sent to his brother.  Cogburn and La Beouf set themselves in position for an ambush and when the outlaws arrive a gun battle ensues after La Beouf gets trigger happy driven by his greed.    Cogburn begins to realize that La Beouf is only out for himself.  The bodies of the dead outlaws who did not escape the gunfire were loaded on to horse back, brought to a nearby trading post, and turned over for any rewards out on them.  Cogburn and La Boeuf took any possessions of value on the dead men, even the possessions of Moon.  With the reward money and valuables, Mattie sees that financial gain is what both men are after.    

            Cogburn, knowing the history of Pepper, thought he might know where they would be hiding and led the group deep into Indian Territory.  After a night out in the wilderness, Mattie leaves the camp to find water and to wash up. She slips and tumbles to the edge of the water where she finds herself face to face with Tom Chaney himself.  Mattie, armed with her father’s pistol and with revenge within her grasp, fires off a round and hits Chaney in the side.  Startled by her actions Mattie tries to gather herself, as she was unprepared to deal with the idea of killing someone. While trying to ready the gun for another shot, Ned Pepper and the other outlaws appeared and took Mattie by force.  Cogburn and La Beouf rush to the river to find Ned Pepper using Mattie as a shield.  He tells Cogburn that if he does not leave the area and seen at the top of the next hill in 5 minutes he would kill Mattie.  Cogburn and La Beouf leave the area and Pepper retreats and waits to see them on the hill. 

           When Pepper sees the two men he releases Mattie to the care of Chaney, she distracts him with promise of mending his wounds and throws hot water on him. La Beouf shows up to aid Mattie while Cogburn lies in wait for Pepper and the others just beyond a clearing. When La Beouf yells he has Chaney and Mattie, Cogburn warns Pepper he aims to shoot him dead or see him hang. A gunfight ensues and La Beouf from a distance shoots a wounded Pepper dead from his horse. As Mattie and La Beouf retreat from Chaney, she shoots him and falls into the snake pit from the kick of the gun.  Cogburn makes it down the pit to aid Mattie a moment too late as a snake bites her. Cogburn remarks that La Beouf is dead just when they need him but he appears at the top of the pit and pulls them up before dying from his wounds. Rooster regrettably leaves La Beouf behind as he rushes Mattie to a medicine man at the trading post. Perhaps, we can deduce that Cogburn is driven to save Mattie’s life so he can gain his reward.

         As Mattie recovers, her attorney brings Cogburn the money she promised for tracking down Chaney as well as an extra reward for saving her life. Mattie also sends a request for Cogburn to be the one to take her home when she recovers. With the newfound friendship between Cogburn and Mattie, she realizes he will probably die alone because of his harsh lifestyle. In the closing scene, Mattie shows Cogburn the family burial site and tells him the plot beside her is reserved for him, further rewarding him as a member of her family.  Mattie presents Cogburn her father’s gun as he rides off to his life of True Grit and crude lawlessness in quest for monetary gain.

 Works Cited

True Grit. Dir. Henry Hathaway. Perf. John Wayne, Glen Campbell, Kim Darby, Jeremy Slate, Robert Duvall, Strother Martin. Paramount Pictures, 1969. DVD.


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