Where was The Big Country filmed?
Jawbone Canyon, CA. Red Rock Canyon, CA. Stockton, CA. Mojave Desert, CA.
NatureScapes, American, Cabins
Americana/Anywhere America, Beachfront, Desert
About The Big Country
The Big Country is a classic western film with age-old storylines about family feuds and loyalty. The film was written by Donald Hamilton and directed and produced by William Wyler when it first came out in August of 1958. This early western movie opens with Jim McKay, a former sea captain who is arriving in the town of San Rafael, Texas.
He shows up in the town to meet up with his fiancé, Patricia Terrill. Her father is also the well-known cattle rancher Henry Terrill. Steve Leech, the foreman for the Terrill Ranch, is also there. He accompanies both Jim and Pat for a few minutes before Pat takes Jim to the ranch of one of her friends.
Buck Hannassey of the Blanco Canyon, and Terrill’s neighbor, gives the couple a hard time while they are on their way. Pat tries to use her rifle on Buck and his ranch hands but is stopped by Jim. During his time at the Terrill ranch, Jim is pushed toward violence and dangerous actions multiple times.
Steve first tries to get him to ride a wild stallion, and Jim is then gifted dual pistols. When Jim reveals what happened with the neighbors, he refuses to retaliate with the Terrill family. Pat assumes he is a coward for doing so, but Jim remains at the Terrill ranch with an old ranch hand while the other men seek revenge.
During a party to announce the engagement of Pat and Jim, Rufus, Buck’s father, interrupts, because he is angered by the constant aggression and violence of the families. Jim escapes for a camping trip because of all the feuding. He ends up at the Big Muddy ranch where Pat’s friend Julie owns the only water source.
She can’t sell it to either family because of the feud, so Jim buys it. Pat is still upset by what she believes is cowardly behavior on Jim’s part, and the tension between the two families only gets worse. Things reach a head in a fight between both families, which leaves multiple men dead. Spoiler Alert: If you have not seen this movie yet, you may want to skip the quotes and main scenes below.
The Big Country Locations
The Big Country was filmed using multiple outdoor locations in the state of California. Canyons, deserts, and ranches were used as backdrops for many of the movie's most iconic scenes. When it comes to Westerns, the setting is as important as the characters and script, and The Big Country filming locations help bring the iconic story of feuding families to life.
Many of the scenes were filmed in the Red Rock Canyon State Park, which is still regularly visited by tourists today. The state park was used in more than one western during the early days of movies. Scenes featuring the green ranch were mainly filmed at Snow Ranch. Areas in Farmington were also used for filming, including Rock Creek which was used as the Big Muddy. Red Rock Canyon was the location for most shots of Blanco Canyon.
These outdoor settings were used in numerous western movies over the years. Many of the best scenes in The Big Country are outdoors, like most western films released around the time. Historical buildings in Stockton were used in the background of the film, but they have since been moved to Pollardville, California which is just a few miles away. They can still be seen by visitors today.
Jim meets Julie scene in The Big Country
Little John’s Creek, Farmington, CA
When Jim first gets into town to see his fiancé Patricia, she takes him to visit her friend, Julie. Julie is a schoolteacher, and her family also owns the ranch called Big Muddy. Big Muddy acts as the only source of water for the town and becomes a focal point for the entire movie. The area used for filming the movie was Rock Creek, which is also called Little John’s Creek. Groves Ranch is also in this area and was also used for a portion of the scenes.
It is during one of these scenes when Patricia and Julie are talking about Jim’s cowardice. Patricia says, “But if he loved me, why would he let me think he was a coward?” and Julie replies, “If you love him, why would you think it? How many times does a man have to win you?”
The characters can frequently be seen riding through Rock Creek as they go to and from Julie’s. The scene where Jim is introduced to Julie is the first look at Big Muddy. It becomes clear quickly that it is important to the livelihood of the town. Buck, a character from the rival family feuding with Pat’s family, visits Big Muddy a few scenes later with a proposal to join her land with his family’s. However, Julie refuses the offer.
Buck Hannassey harasses the couple scene in The Big Country
Rock Creek, Rock Creek, CA
When Patricia and Jim are on their way to Julie’s ranch, they get harassed by Buck Hannassey and a few of his ranch hands. This happens along the roads through Rock Creek and Groves Ranch. Pat wants to shoot at Buck and the other men but is stopped by Jim. The ranch hands continued harassing the couple. Jim is even roped by one of them and pulled from his wagon, but when he does nothing to fight back they eventually leave.
Steve tells Jim, “I don’t know that I would wear that hat too long around here, Mr. McKay.” Jim replies, “Oh, why not?” and Steve exclaims, “Oh, one of these wild cowboys might take it into their head to shoot it off you.” The Hannassey crew and Pat believe he is a coward. However, Jim is just happy to see his hat, which was shot off, is completely fine.
This scene in The Big Country is the first look at the feud between the two families and the first glimpse of Jim’s strict no violence stance. Jim’s reasoning for not being upset is that the ranch hands were just messing around and meant no actual harm. However, when the rest of Pat’s family learns of how he acted they become angry.
Jim tames Old Thunder scene in The Big Country
Drais Ranch, Drais, CA
One of the best scenes in The Big Country is when Jim tames Old Thunder, a stallion at the Terrill ranch that is wild and dangerous. Jim was challenged by the family to ride the horse on his first day but refused. He later goes out to the horse when the Terrills seek revenge on the Hannasseys.
When Jim refuses to go with them and states he does not like violence, the Terrill’s become even more upset with him and consider him a coward as well. This is also the scene where Jim first connects with Ramon, who is the only one that watches Jim’s attempts with the stallion.
When Jim asks Ramon for any advice the ranch hand’s response is, “Yes! Don’t do it.” It takes multiple tries, but Jim is eventually able to successfully ride Old Thunder. After doing so, he makes Ramon promise not to tell anyone about it. Many of the shots of the Terrill ranch were filmed at Drais Ranch, including the taming of Old Thunder. This ranch is in Stockton, California.
Jim goes camping scene in The Big Country
Red Rock Canyon State Park, Rock Creek, CA
After the gala that Rufus crashes, Jim disappears and heads to Julie’s ranch alone. He learns that Big Muddy keeps the peace by providing equal water access for both ranches and persuades Julie to sell it to him as a gift for Pat. Jim promises that he will continue using Big Muddy to keep the peace, letting both families use it. Before buying the ranch, he spends a night camping alone in the wilderness.
Many of the shots of Jim camping on his solo trip were filmed in Rock Creek and Red Rock Canyon State Park. The same outdoor locations were used for many of the outdoor shots used in The Big Country. Pat convinces her family to look for Jim while he is gone, as many of them worry he will get lost or not be able to handle it. However, they have to return without him. Jim eventually returns to the Terrill ranch after buying the ranch, and he is completely unscathed. When he tells everyone he was never in danger or lost, Leech replies, “If you ain’t the mother and father of all liars!”
Jim and Buck dual scene in The Big Country
Drais Ranch, Drais, CA
In one of the final scenes of The Big Country, the feuding is starting to reach a head. During one of the final fights of the movie, Buck attacks Jim while the other man is unarmed. However, Rufus stops him and is upset that his son would do something like that. Rufus tells Buck, : You don’t shoot an unarmed man… not while I’m around.” Rufus then makes Buck have a proper duel with Jim. Buck shoots early, but his bullet hardly even grazes Jim.
This gives Jim a clear shot to kill Buck, who is clearly terrified when he realizes the same thing. Jim shoots into the ground though, and when he turns to leave Buck tries to shoot him. This leads Rufus to shoot his own son. The final few fight scenes were also filmed in Drais Ranch and Red Rock Canyon State Park. They are considered some of the best action scenes of any western movie during the time.
Final showdown scene in The Big Country
Red Rock Canyon, Cantil, CA
The final showdown scene in The Big Country also takes place in Red Rock Canyon, which is Blanco Canyon in the movie. During this scene, Rufus has decided that he and Henry, the two patriarchs of the dueling families, should face off in one last fight against each other to end the feuding once and for all. Before the fight, Henry says, “If there’s anything I admire more than a dedicated friend is a dedicated enemy.” The two men face off in Blanco Canyon and end up killing each other.
This is followed by one of the best scenes in The Big Country, when Jim, Julie, and ranch hand Ramon ride their horses off into the sunset. With the deaths of Rufus and Henry, the fighting will not go on. Many of the shots used in the final showdown in The Big Country were filmed in Red Rock Canyon, while some shots were filmed at Samuel Goldwyn Studios. This canyon has appeared in many western movies over the years and is a top destination spot today.
One of the top western movies of all time is The Big Country, and it used a massive indoor and outdoor set for filming. A lot of the shots were made in Red Rock Canyon, the Mojave Desert, Drais Ranch, and Rock Creek. The old western historical buildings seen in the background of multiple shots are from Farmington, California. The classic old western movie starred Charlton Heston, Carroll Baker, Burl Ives, Jean Simmons, and Gregory Peck. Many of the locations found in the iconic scenes can still be visited in the deserts of California. They can also be glimpsed in other western films that came after The Big Country.