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The onscreen credits contain the following written dedication: "To the memory of Harry Carey, bright star of the early western sky." Carey, who died on September 24, 1947, was a longtime friend of both John Wayne and John Ford, and starred in two previous screen versions of the story. Peter B. Kyne's short story "Broncho Billy and the Baby," which appeared in The Saturday Evening Post in 1910, is identified in some sources as the basis for his novel The Three Godfathers. The novel first appeared in the same magazine on November 23, 1912. Pre-production news items in Hollywood Reporter noted that Argosy Pictures negotiated a one-picture releasing contract with M-G-M for this film, and that it marked the first time that M-G-M accepted a distrubution deal without a financial investment or creative input in the production.
According to an April 1948 Hollywood Reporter news item, director John Ford initially planned to film the picture in Mexico. The film was shot on location in Death Valley, CA, with some additional shooting in Lone Pine, CA. Hollywood Reporter also notes that some filming was set to take place at RKO's Culver City studios. As noted above, other screen adaptations of Kyne's story include the 1916 Bluebird film The Three Godfathers, directed by Edward J. Le Saint and starring Harry Carey and Stella Razeto; the 1919 Universal picture Marked Men, directed by John Ford and also starring Carey (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1911-20; F1.4453 and F1.2823); a 1930 Universal picture called Hell's Heroes, directed by William Wyler and starring Charles Bickford (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30; F2.2414); and a 1936 M-G-M film directed by Richard Boleslawski and starring Chester Morris and Lewis Stone (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films 1931-40; F3.4609). A made for television version of the story, entitled The Godchild, appeared on the ABC network in 1974, directed by John Badham and starring Jack Palance.