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Is Western Drama, ‘Yellowstone’, Based On A True Story?

An investigation into the Dutton family drama, IRL.
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If you, much like the rest of the world, have become quickly obsessed with the Kevin Costner-led Western drama Yellowstone (and are ready to watch the drama unfold in the newly released season four), you might have wondered over the past several years if there is any truth to the Dutton family and their seemingly never-ending drama. 

Sadly, while the series offers up a captivating and compelling look at life on the Montana ranch, the largest contiguous ranch in the United States, it’s not actually based on a real family in American history. That being said, while the show doesn’t appear to be based on specific people or events, Yellowstone creators Taylor Sheridan and John Linson, definitely did their research into American history in the region, with some fans relating the story back to ranchers that were as equally as menacing and protective as that of John Dutton. 

Intrigued? Read on to discover more about the story of Yellowstone. 

Does Yellowstone Take Cues From America In History? 

Yellowstone chronicles the Dutton family, led by John Dutton (Kevin Costner), who controls the largest contiguous cattle ranch in the United States. Dutton, alongside his family, must grapple with shifting alliances, shocking crimes including murders, and earning respect amongst the Montana locals of which they are in constant conflict. 

While sadly there’s no real John Dutton, nor any of the cast’s powerful characters roaming around out there, TV Insider has previously reported that Costner took his time researching American history relating to the Montana region to create his own backstory for the tough-as-nails rancher. 

Looper adds that one such figure who might have inspired Dutton’s character is that of W.T. Waggoner, an American rancher, oilman, banker and philanthropist from Texas. He was the owner of the Waggoner Ranch, American’s biggest ranch (sound familiar?) where he found oil in 1903. Much like the Dutton family in the series, W.T. Waggoner was obsessed with keeping the 510,000-acre ranch family-owned, with the land continuously passed on to Waggoners and their descendants for almost two centuries before it was eventually sold in 2015. 

Costner has also notably mixed in some other realist aspects into the John Dutton character, including elements from his own family’s tragic farming past. The actor, according to Looper, used his late father’s real-life 30-30 rifle as a prop on the series. 

“My dad was a fistfighting, single-minded tough guy coming out of the Dust Bowl in the Great Depression,” said Costner, per Outsider. “He wanted a job and never let it be taken away from him. The [Winchester] .30-30 gun I use in the show was his. When I put it up to my cheek, my dad’s right there. I know what it’s like to be a person that’s kind of a John Dutton—minus the murder.”

Costner’s father, William Costner, grew up on land not that different from the Duttons’ and was one of 11 children raised on a wheat farm in Oklahoma. 


Yellowstone Is Filmed On A Real Montana Ranch, Chief Joseph Ranch. 

While the characters in the Western drama might be largely fictional, the locations in which it is shot are not. The first three seasons of the series were filmed across 20 locations around Utah and Montana, including in Salt Lake City, Summit, Weber and Wasatch, including at the Chief Joseph Ranch, a historic working ranch in Montana. 

“I don’t think we ever tire of seeing running rivers, valleys, and mountains. If you can set a drama against all that, it’s fun,” Costner once told CBS This Morning.

Luke Grimes, the actor behind Kayce Dutton, also previously spoke on the breathtaking locations. “Taylor [Sheridan] is a huge fan of authenticity and he wanted us to all really understand what we were getting into,” the actor told Vanity Fair. “It’s great to be able to show this to people who normally wouldn’t understand that this is still a way of life for a lot of people.”

And as location manager Mark Jarrett told the New York Post, “The ranch is one of the main characters on the show, and its scope and scale make it that way.” 

You can stream all three seasons of Yellowstone on Stan. Season four will be released from November 8, 2021. 

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