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Cowboys on horseback whistle and laugh as they corral their herd. The cattle grunts as they kick the dust up, meandering down a cobblestone road. In the distance, music is playing and people are celebrating in the street. Though it sounds like a scene from a classic western film, it’s actually May 26th in the Fort Worth Stockyards. On this date every year, the state of Texas recognizes John Wayne Day. As it was The Duke’s birthday, this date was chosen to commemorate his life and legacy. In 2015, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick said “When you think of Texas you think of John Wayne. Not only does he embody our proud traditions and rich history but the fundamental can-do spirit and persevering attitude of our state.”

The team at the John Wayne: An American Experience exhibit puts on one hell of a party and this year will be no exception. They’ve invited the public to join in for lawn games, armadillo races, a cattle drive, and bourbon and tequila tastings in conjunction with their partner, Duke Spirits. Some of John Wayne’s children and grandchildren will be in attendance to cut a birthday cake in honor of their patriarch. They will also be present in the afternoon to meet with fans, take photos, and tour the exhibit that has taken up residency in The Stockyards.

Since its grand opening in December of 2020, the John Wayne: An American Experience exhibit has hosted thousands of people from all over the world – and those numbers are only going up. What started as a traveling, pop-up exhibit has turned into an absolute fixture in Texas. After touring in Nashville and Las Vegas, it was evident that The Duke’s influence was still as strong as it ever was. The Wayne family felt inspired to create a permanent destination for people to come and celebrate his life and accomplishments.

The exhibit is modeled in a way that is reflective of John Wayne as a man; each room embodies who he was as a person through each major chapter of his life. All of the pieces you see on display were hand selected by the Wayne Family from their personal archive and best represents who he was during that particular chapter. Guests can enjoy never-before-seen family photos, the Oscar Duke won for his role in True Grit, scripts, costumes, his personal correspondence with presidents and more. John Wayne truly was larger than life and there is no better place to learn about who America’s hero was on and off the screen.

The very last room in the exhibit is dedicated to Duke’s true legacy: the John Wayne Cancer Foundation. As he was dying, the film legend asked his children to use his name to help doctors find a cure for cancer. Ethan Wayne, along with his brothers and sisters, created an organization to do just that. Today, the John Wayne Cancer Foundation raises money to donate to cancer research and education. Money raised throughout the year goes to fund research programs at top universities, sponsors special research projects performed by industry-leading surgical oncologists, and runs a youth skin care education program called “Block the Blaze.”

How does this cancer-fighting organization go about raising money? Only in a way John Wayne himself would have loved! The John Wayne Cancer Foundation created a series of trail runs called The Grit Series. These runs range from 5Ks to half marathons and take place in some of the prettiest country you’ve ever seen. Runners can get outside and run through some of the most iconic locations John Wayne filmed his movies in. From the deserts in California to the mountains in Colorado, there is truly a race for everyone to enjoy.

Bailey Powell Aldrich

A seventh generation Texan, Aldrich returned home to her roots in 2022 to work alongside her father, Keith, and take over the family business of publishing Fort Worth Key Magazine.

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