Next to Monument Valley, perhaps no other Western film location comes up in conversation more than Wyoming’s Grand Tetons, site of director George Steven’s classic Shane (1953). Stevens had a secret weapon when he brought his film crew up to Jackson Hole in 1952—Charlie Russell’s lone protégé, Joe De Yong. De Yong traveled all over the West with Stevens looking for a suitable location and in Grand Teton National Park and its environs they found just what they were looking for. The story was an amalgam of the themes present in the Johnson County Cattle War, and the massive Tetons offered a rugged and awe-inspiring backdrop to the simple yet powerful story. Two decades before, John Wayne had worked on his first starring film in the Tetons in the spectacular wagon train epic The Big Trail (1930). Howard Hawk’s mountain man film The Big Sky also filmed here in 1951.
The settlement of Grafton’s was constructed as a rustic, one-sided set in the tradition of Charlie Russell on the Antelope Flats, near Kelly and the Gros Ventre River, with the three Tetons towering in the background. Almost all of the town buildings were torn down many years ago. Kelly Warm Springs, near the National Elk Refuge, was the idyllic site for the exteriors of Van Hefl in’s Starrett homestead. One of the film’s buildings, Ernie Wright’s homesteader cabin, still remains, though in a state of advanced disrepair. I actually filmed part of a “history of hunting” documentary around the rustic Cunningham cabin in the early 1990s that was featured in the CBS mini-series Dreams West (1986).
Most of these areas are not directly accessible right from your car. You have to get out and walk, and I do mean walk. East Boundary Road off of the park’s main entrance will get you the closest to the general area of many of the bigger scenes in the fi lm, such as Cemetery Hill, the burial spot of Torrey (Elisha Cooke Jr.). The Jackson Hole Historical Society has a nice exhibit on Shane and features the lone surviving building from the town of Grafton’s—the saddlery and harness shop.
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Monument Valley, AZ/UT
The Black Hills, SD
Jackson Hole, WY
Ridgway and Ouray, Colo.
Shane Expert Walt Farmer
Probably no one knows more about the making of Shane and its locations than Wyoming resident Walt Farmer. He’s put out an impressive CD book that’s well worth ordering if you’re going to make the pilgrimage. It even has GPS coordinates for the locations. It can be ordered at www.theastrocowboy.com and sells for $20 including shipping.