American Rhetoric: Movie Speech

"True Grit" (2010)


Rooster Cogburn Testifies in Court

Audio mp3 delivered by Jeff Bridges, Joe Stevens, and David Lipman


Rooster Cogburn: ...I could get him to talk sense about what he found up there. And we were close enough that Deputy Marshal Potter and me thought we'd better ride over ourselves and investigate.

Mr. Barlow: What did you see when you arrived?

Rooster Cogburn: An old woman was out in the yard, dead, with blowflies on her face. The old man was inside with his breast blown open by a scattergun and his feet burned. He was still alive but just was. Said it was them two Wharton boys done it. Rode up drunk --

Mr. Goudy: Objection. Hearsay.

Mr. Barlow: Dying declaration, Your Honor.

Judge Parker: Objection's overruled. Proceed, Mr. Cogburn.

Rooster Cogburn:  Oh, them two Wharton boys, that'd be Odus and CC, throwed down on him and asked him where his money was. And when he wouldn't tell 'em, they lit pine knots, held 'em to his feet. He told them the money was in a fruit jar, under a gray rock at the corner of a smokehouse.

Mr. Barlow: And then?

Rooster Cogburn:  Oh, he died on us. Passed away in considerable pain.

Mr. Barlow: What'd you do then?

Rooster Cogburn: Me and Marshal Potter went out to the smokehouse -- and that rock had been moved, and the jar with the money in it was gone.

Mr. Goudy: Objection. Speculative.

Judge Parker: Sustained.

Mr. Barlow: You found a flat gray rock in the corner of the smokehouse with a hollowed-out space beneath it.

Mr. Goudy: If the prosecutor's going to give evidence, I suggest he be sworn.

Mr. Barlow: Mr. Cogburn, what did you find, if anything, in the corner of that smokehouse?

Rooster Cogburn: Found a flat gray rock with a hollowed-out space under it and nothing there.

Mr. Barlow: And then what did you --

Rooster Cogburn:  No jar or nothing.


Mr. Barlow: Yeah, what did you do, then?

Rooster Cogburn: Well, rode up to the Whartons' there where the North Fork strikes the Canadian --

Mr. Barlow: What did you find?

Rooster Cogburn: -- branch of the Canadian. I had my glass. We spotted them two boys and their old daddy, Aaron, down the creek bank with some hogs. They'd killed a shoat, had a fire built under a wash pot for scalding water.

Mr. Barlow: What did you do?

Rooster Cogburn: Announced we was U.S. Marshals. I hollered out to Aaron we needed to talk to his two boys. He raised an ax and commenced to cussing us and blackguarding this court.

Mr. Barlow: What -- What did you do then?

Rooster Cogburn:  Oh, backed away from the ax and tried to talk some sense into him. While this was going on, CC, he edges over to the wash pot there, behind the steam, and picks up the shotgun. Potter seen him, but it was too late. CC Wharton pulled down on Potter with one barrel and turned to do the same for me and I shot him. And the old man raised the ax -- I shot him. Odus lit out and I shot him. CC Wharton and Aaron Wharton were dead when they hit the ground. Odus was just winged.

Mr. Barlow: Did you find the jar with the 120 dollars in it?

Mr. Goudy: Leading.

Judge Parker: Sustained.

Mr. Barlow: What happened then?

Rooster Cogburn: I found a jar with 120 dollars in it.

Mr. Barlow: What became of Odus Wharton?

Rooster Cogburn: There he sits.

Mr. Barlow: You may ask, Mr. Goudy.


Mr. Goudy:  Thank you, Mr. Barlow.

Mr. Goudy: Mr. Cogburn, in your four years as U.S. marshal, how many men have you shot?

Rooster Cogburn: I never shot nobody I didn't have to.

Mr. Goudy: Well, that was not the question. How many?

Rooster Cogburn: Shot or killed?

Mr. Goudy: Let us restrict it to "killed" so that we may have a manageable figure.

Rooster Cogburn: About 12, 15. Stopping men in flight, defending myself, et cetera.

Mr. Goudy: Around "12," he says, or "15." So many you cannot keep a precise count. I have examined the records and can supply the accurate figure.

Rooster Cogburn: Ohhhh, I believe them two Wharton boys makes it 23.


Mr. Goudy: And how many members of this one family, the Wharton family, have you killed?

Rooster Cogburn: Immediate or -- ?

Mr. Goudy: Did you also shoot Dub Wharton, brother, and Clete Wharton, half-brother?

Rooster Cogburn: Oh, Clete was selling ardent spirits to the Cherokee. Come at me with a king bolt.1

Mr. Goudy: A kingbolt? You were armed and he advanced upon you with nothing more than a king bolt? From a wagon tongue?

Rooster Cogburn: I've -- I've seen men badly tore up with nothing bigger than a king bolt. I defended myself.


Mr. Goudy: Returning to the other encounter, with Aaron Wharton and his two remaining sons. You sprang from cover with your revolver in hand.

Rooster Cogburn: I did.

Mr. Goudy: Loaded and cocked?

Rooster Cogburn: If it ain't loaded and cocked, it don't shoot.

Mr. Goudy: And like his son, Aaron Wharton advanced against an unarmed man?

Rooster Cogburn: He was armed -- he had an ax raised!


Mr. Goudy: I believe you testified you backed away from Aaron Wharton?

Rooster Cogburn: That's right.

Mr. Goudy: Which direction were you going?

Rooster Cogburn: I always go backwards when I'm backing up.

Mr. Goudy: Very amusing. Now, he advanced upon you much in the manner of Clete Wharton, menacing you with that little old king bolt or rolled-up newspaper or whatever it was.

Rooster Cogburn: Yes, sir, he commenced to cussing and laying about with threats.

Mr. Goudy: And you were backing away? How many steps before the shooting started?

Rooster Cogburn: Oh, seven, eight steps.


Mr. Goudy: [demonstrating] So, Aaron Wharton, keeping pace, advancing away from his campfire, seven, eight steps. What would that be, 15, 20 feet?

Rooster Cogburn: I suppose.

Mr. Goudy: Will you explain to this jury, Mr. Cogburn, why Mr. Wharton was found immediately by his wash pot, one arm in the fire, his sleeve and hand smoldering? Did you move the body after you shot him?

Rooster Cogburn: Why would I do that?

Mr. Goudy: You did not drag the body over to the fire, fling his arm in?

Rooster Cogburn: No, sir.


Mr. Goudy: Two witnesses who arrived on the scene will testify to the location of the body. You do not remember moving the body! So, it was a cold-blooded bushwhack, while poor Mr. Wharton was tending to his campfire.

Mr. Barlow: Objection!

Rooster Cogburn: Oh, if that's where the body was, I might have moved him. I do not remember.

Mr. Goudy: Why would you move the body, Mr. Cogburn?

Rooster Cogburn: Them hogs rootin' around, they might have moved him. I do not remember.

1 Vertical bolt connecting a wagon’s tongue to its front axle [Source:]

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