Exploring The Big Trail

Kismet brought Gilcrease’s newest collection of photos to Oklahoma.

Riverboat Landing Scene, Sacramento, California. Photo courtesy Gilcrease.
Riverboat Landing Scene, Sacramento, California. Photo courtesy Gilcrease.

Appreciate the magnificent landscapes of the American West – and an undiscovered John Wayne – in Gilcrease’s newest exhibition Exploring The Big Trail, which features a collection of 30 stereoscopic photographs taken during the filming of the 1930s motion picture The Big Trail. The collection was gifted to the museum by a long-time supporter of the University of Tulsa, who also happens to be the daughter-in-law of actress Marguerite Churchill, the romantic lead opposite Wayne in the film.

“It is likely that many, if not all, of these photographs are unique images never before presented in an exhibition,” says Mark Dolph, curator of history at the museum. “Exploring The Big Trail promises to provide valuable insights into the production of the film, an understanding of how the American West has been presented to audiences around the world, and the role Westerners played in shaping the mythology of the West.”

The film, along with being Wayne’s first-ever leading role (at the ripe age of 23), recreates the Oregon Trail migration; the movie was shot on location in the Grand Canyon, Zion National Park, Jackson Hole, Yellowstone National Park and Sequoia National Park.

The movie also boasts “nearly 300 principal actors and 20,000 extras that included more than 700 Native Americans from five tribes,” says Dolph. “Along with the huge human cast, the crew wrangled more than 1,800 head of cattle and 1,400 horses, a herd of bison and 185 wagons. During the four months of production, the human and animal cast traveled by rail over 4,300 miles through seven states at a cost of over $2 million, an enormous sum in 1930.”

Prepare to be enthralled, Dolph says, as these photos are anything but ordinary.

“I shared Exploring The Big Trail’s exhibition concept and several images with a visiting museum director recently,” he says. “His reaction was ‘This is fun, not stuffy at all.’ I agree. I think our visitors will enjoy [the exhibition] in all kinds of ways, have lots of fun, but also learn something in the process – maybe without even realizing it.”

If you’d like to see the movie projected on archival 35mm film, visit Circle Cinema at 2 p.m. May 6 for a screening. Gilcrease members get a discount, and all movie-goers receive free admission to the exhibit with their tickets.

Exploring The Big Trail runs May 1-Dec. 31. Visit gilcrease.org for details.

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