The Red River D Belt Buckle

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  • Hello members, I've recently been doing a lot of reading about the history of the Red River D belt buckles made during the production of the Howard Hawks film "Red River" in 1946. I have recently purchased a brass replica of the buckle with the initials "HWH" that John Wayne wore in nine of his films beginning with "Rio Bravo" in 1959. I'm curious if anyone has any unknown bits of information about the buckles to talk about.
    From the information I have gathered I'm pretty sure that the buckles were made at the La Azteca Silver Shop in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico beginning in 1946. The 1946 buckles were made for John Wayne, Howard Hawks, Montgomery Clift, Walter Brennan and several other members of the cast and crew of "Red River." These buckles had the initials of the recipients included into the lower left hand corner of the buckles. John Wayne and Howard Hawks swapped their buckles out of mutual admiration and respect for each other. John Wayne frequently wore the buckle with the initials "HWH" on it for the rest of his life including in nine of his movies. There was another batch of buckles made for the release of the movie in 1948. These 1948 buckles left the lower left hand open for the recipients to add their own initials after receiving them. It is unknown exactly how many of the 1946 and 1948 buckles were made by the La Azteca Silver Shop. The shop was owned and operated by the Martinez family during that time.
    I have recently acquired a post card from the 1950s of the street in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico showing the store front of the La Azteca Silver Shop where the buckles were made. I believe that the Martinez family sold the La Azteca shop in the 1960s and relocated to Scottsdale, Arizona were they continued their silver and jewelry business. John Wayne continued to use them to make belt buckles for his "26 Bar" ranch located near Eager, Arizona.
    I have attached the photo from the post card showing the La Azteca Silver Shop in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico.
    Please reply here with any other information you may have concerning these Red River D buckles.

  • Thanks for the link Kevin. Yes, the articles are very interesting indeed! It's very likely from what I discovered that the Red River D buckles were made at the La Azteca Silver Shop in Nogales, Mexico. It was owed by the Martinez family. Brothers Jose and Elias Martinez were the silver craftsmen at the shop. I would like to learn if other people in the shop worked on the buckles besides them. I would also like to find out the year that the Martinez family relocated to the other shop in Scottsdale, Arizona.
    I ran across an article about Elias Martinez working at the jewelry shop at 3941 N. Brown Avenue, Scottsdale, Arizona. The Article did not mention his brother Jose. Elias passed away in 2005. The obituary mentions brothers Jose and Alfonso as still living at the time. More information is needed about the Scottsdale shop.
    Here is the link to Elias Perez Martinez's obituary in 2005.
    Elias Martinez Obituary - Phoenix, AZ | The Arizona Republic

  • Drpmkp, I too wear a brass replica of Wayne's Red River buckle that I bought at the Winterset Museum several years ago but, I don't know as much history about it as you do Sir. Just wouldn't be caught dead without it holding up my britches.
    Big Iron

  • Big Iron, I also proudly wear a solid brass Red River D belt buckle that I purchased on Ebay. I'm currently having a silversmith in California make me a more exact replica of the famous buckle made in silver and gold like the originals were made.
    Fortunately, I have recently had the opportunity to contact an individual who claims to have an original unfinished Red River D buckle in their possession. They have family ties to the Nogales area. I was informed that the buckle is about 75% completed. They have it in a safe place and will provide me a photo of it soon! I will provide more information about it when I can.

  • Please do keep us updated on that buckle, Drpmkp. I'm sure they will want a pretty penny for it, though.


    "I couldn't go to sleep at night if the director didn't call 'cut'. "

  • Drpmkp, was wondering if you have researched the movie and what you think of it. I like it and enjoyed the story line but, there's a couple things I can't figure out.
    Big Iron

  • Big Iron, I really don't know too much about the movie except from the information already available online.
    'Red River' was shot on the vast Rain Valley cattle ranch near Elgin, Arizona from June through November 1946. The San Pedro River stood in for The Red River. Several dams had to be built along the river to make enough water for filming the movie. The filming location was about fifty miles northeast of Nogales. I thought the movie was very good and understand it is one of the top ten best Western films of all time.
    I was born in the late 1950s so the John Wayne image I remember most begins with the film "Rio Bravo" and then his movies of the 60s and 70s.

  • Besides the Red River D belt buckles here is another interesting mystery surrounding the film "Red River"

    In the 1948 Howard Hawks film 'Red River' the music score was composed by Dimitri Tiomkin. During the opening main title sequence the choir singing lyrics to a song named "Settle Down." There is, however, debate as to what the exact lyrics to the song are. They apparently never were written down and saved anywhere. The only way to find out is to listen to the choir singing the cong. There are several opinions of what they are based on whose ear is listening to them.

    Dimitri Tiomkin also scored the music for the 1959 Howard Hawks film 'Rio Bravo." Dean Martin sings a song named, "My Rifle, My Pony and Me." The song is the same wonderful melody as the song in 'Red River' but with different lyrics.

    Here is a transcription of the song "Settle Down" but some of the words are not certain based on the recording quality of the time.

    "your doggies have traveled all day
    Our doggies keep strayin' away
    Settle down little doggies
    We'll be home before tonight
    Settle down little doggies
    You'll be travelin' soon in time
    Look away little doggie
    Steal away through the pines
    Look away little doggie
    So for now you better settle down"

    Dimitri Tiomkin was a Russian born composer and recorded the 'Red River' score with a Russian orchestra and the Moscow choir. It is almost impossible to hear a word they are singing beyond "Settle down, little doggies." - and even that is not very clear. Perhaps it was due to Russian speaking singers singing English written lyrics.

  • I've always thought it was interesting to read about and visit movie locations. I'm sure you'll agree that the location used in Arizona looks very much like southern Texas. I haven't watched it in a long time and can't remember the town they were initially going to, just some place someplace in Missouri
    but, they ended up in Abilene Ks. Not sure how they found their way across Okla. but, guess that's Hollywood. Red River is still a good JW movie and worth watching again.
    Big Iron

  • Howard Hawks 'Red River' is a sweeping, epic story about a cattle drive historically based on the opening of the Chisholm Trail in 1867. The film spans a time period of fifteen years.

    At least 27 movies have depicted fictional accounts of the first drive along the Chisholm Trail. From 1867 to 1871, the trail ended in Abilene, Kansas, but as railroads incrementally built southward, the end of the trail moved to other cities.

    The route to the trail heads in Missouri was the earlier Shawnee Trail among other names. However by 1855 angry farmers in western and central Missouri no longer wanted the Texas herds coming into the state because they brought diseases to their cattle that the Texas cattle was already immune to.

  • Drpmkp, I agree with you on most points. The Shawnee went up to Sedalia Mo. before the railroad went into Ks. The old Chisholm passed by 5 miles west of where I live and Jesse Chisholm is buried on a river bank about 40 miles NW. At one time it went to Wichita when the Earps were there.
    The Chisholm never went to Dodge City, that was the Great Western and it's ironic that Jesse Chisholm never drove cattle up the trail named for him.
    I had a great-great uncle who drove a herd up the Chisholm from Tx. to Abilene and lost his life on his way back home.
    No matter, RED RIVER is a terrific western movie.
    Big Iron

  • Great Western films like 'Red River’ can be classic films but do not have to be historically accurate for sure.

    There is an interesting website that is run from the descendants of Jesse Chisholm called Chisholm's Old West Leather Goods. They make old west reproductions of leather goods and belt buckles from museums and Western films including the Red River D Buckle. A lot of interesting reading there about the old west.

    I live in Missouri near Westport in the Kansas City area. That is where the three famous westward expansion trails began. The Santa Fe, Oregon and California trails. There are some areas in Kansas that you can still see the original wagon wheel ruts in the dirt of the original trails.

  • Yes Sir Drpmkp, I've seen the Santa Fe ruts in Kansas and the panhandle of Okla. West of us in Red Rock Canyon you can still see wagon ruts of the Calif. Trail where the wagon trains camped.
    I've flown low over the Chisholm from Ft. Worth to Wichita and it looked like there were areas where the ground was lower than other areas. Some experts believe that it could been caused by the many cattle drives. No proof of that but, it's interesting to see.
    Big Iron

  • Of course you know Duke and Howard swapped their belt buckles and Duke wore Howard's for several films after Red River. At the end of his life Michael took the belt buckle to have one made at Bohlin's for commemorative replicas which are the ones that you can see now that are available for over $2500 they are solid Sterling silver some also have gold on them. After Bohlin's apparently received the buckle it was lost and was never found again. These buckles have a tendency to disappear. Norman Cook gave his buckle to the family to be put in the 2011 auction and when it was sent to Heritage Auction house it also ended up missing and had to be pulled from the auction before it started.

  • It would be interesting to see photos of some of the other 1946 buckles that were given out to the cast and crew of 'Red River' before they are lost or mysteriously disappear.
    The buckle that Howard Hawks owned with the "JW" initials is also unaccounted for. The close-up photos I have seen are the ones for John Wayne, Montgomery Clift and Norman Cook. I don't know who now owns the Montgomery Clift buckle.
    Apparently the women in the cast and crew received buckles made in a different size. I have never seen a photo of any of those buckles.
    There was a 1948 version of the buckle made for the movie's opening that year. I don't believe I have seen any photos of any of those either.

  • I agree that the buckles were probably intended to look exactly the same. However, each of them were individually hand crafted by a skilled silversmith that would more than likely show slight unintended differences in each. Just looking at the John Wayne, Montgomery Clift and Norman Cook buckles you can see that the Norman Cook buckle does not have the "r" loop in the word "River." It originally could have had it but perhaps maybe repaired at some point after it was made.