“Open the door, Toby, and wish me luck. I am off for the Choctaw Nation.”
With these words, Mattie Ross begins the long circular journey that forms the structure of the story of True Grit. For four days, Mattie, Rooster Cogburn, and the Texan LaBoeuf follow the trail of a band of outlaws over hundreds of miles of hills and prairies and into the fastness of the Winding Stair Mountains.
The three travelers ride north from Fort Smith into the Cherokee Nation, then back south into Choctaw country, through low post oak and blackjack hills and across little meadows and prairies. Following a southwesterly course which will bring them to McAlester’s store on the Texas Road, they pass through the San Bois Mountains, whose tall shale peaks and sandstone ridges are covered with oak and pine and hickory forest.
From McAlester’s, the travelers head east and a little south, across the prairies, riding hard toward the Winding Stair Mountains, an east to west ridge of high and majestic peaks, steep pine-covered limestone grades, and rock shelves which look out over high meadows. A desperate dash for help takes Mattie and Rooster down the dangerous descent out of the Winding Stair, then back north again to Fort Smith.
The circle of the journey through the Choctaw Nation, the journey that changes Mattie Ross’s life, is complete.