Friday, April 12, 2024

Breaking Down the Dutton Family Tree of Yellowstone, 1923 and 1883

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Yellowstone has always been a series interested in, if not outright obsessed with, legacy. That of the Yellowstone Ranch, upon which the fictional Dutton family has lived since the late 1800s, is foremost in the mind of patriarch John Dutton III, played by Kevin Costner with the gruff bluster of a cowboy past his prime. He often seems more interested in the well-being of this land than that of his own children—or, perhaps, it’s simply that he has an easier time understanding what it needs to thrive. But if the ever-expanding Yellowstone Cinematic Universe has anything resonant to say about legacy, it’s that the land’s legacy is determined by the people who care for it, and that means the Dutton lineage—the fathers and sons of this century-spanning epic—matters as much as the borders of their property.

And so we turn to 1883 and 1923, creator Taylor Sheridan’s Yellowstone prequel spin-offs, which chronicle the upper tiers of the family tree as they branch down to John Dutton III and his four(ish) children. 1883, which concluded its first season in February 2022, featured Tim McGraw and Faith Hill as the central Duttons, who claim the infamous patch of Montana wild known as the Yellowstone Dutton Ranch after the tragic death of their daughter, Elsa. The story picks back up in 1923—set to drop its first episode December 18—with Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren as this chapter’s key Duttons. Ford’s Jacob Dutton, brother to McGraw’s James Dutton, is tasked with caring for his brother’s home and family, a challenge complicated by the expected 20th-century problems: disease, drought, the Great Depression, post-war fallout, and “the violence that has always haunted this family,” as the 1923 teaser trailer reveals. That last line in particular is intriguing, given the ways in which the Yellowstone universe concerns itself with the romanticism of tradition, the nobility of the past—though only certain portions of it—and the passing-down of intergenerational trauma. (A trauma that will, inevitably, impact the land.)

So, to understand this “haunted” family best, it’s essential to parse its origins. Below, a closer look through the knots of the Dutton family tree. Spoilers ahead if you haven’t watched Yellowstone, 1883, or 1923.

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James Dutton

One of the leads of 1883, James Dutton (Tim McGraw) was the original patriarch of the Dutton family, and the first to claim the family’s home in Montana. Originally a farmer from Tennessee, he traveled west with his wife and children after fighting as a Confederate soldier in the Civil War. He intended to journey further beyond Montana, but settled there after the death of his daughter, Elsa.

Margaret Dutton

A nurse for the Confederate Army, Margaret (Faith Hill) farmed beside her husband, James, in Tennessee before the family headed northwest for new territory. She and James had three children in total: Elsa, John, and Spencer.

Jacob Dutton

Brother to James, Jacob Dutton (Harrison Ford) took over caring for the Yellowstone homestead in the early 1900s. He is the leading man in 1923.

Cara Dutton

Played by Helen Mirren in 1923, Cara Dutton is the wife of Jacob and matriarch of the Dutton family following Margaret’s death.

Claire Dutton

Sister to James and Jacob, 1883’s Claire Dutton (Dawn Olivieri) was a recent widow who traveled in search of a new home with her brother’s family and her daughter, Mary Abel. But after Mary Abel was killed by a gang outside of Fort Worth, Texas, Claire—who had lost her husband and all seven of her children—died by suicide at Mary Abel’s grave.

Mary Abel

Daughter of Claire Dutton and niece to James, Jacob, Margaret, and Cara, 1883’s Mary Abel (Emma Malouff) died on the road west when a gang attacked the family’s camp in Texas.

Elsa Dutton

The eldest child of James and Margaret Dutton, Elsa (Isabel May) served as the narrator of 1883 before her death in season 1’s final episode. Traveling west at the age of 17 with her parents and younger brother, John, Elsa fell in love twice on the road—first with cowboy Ennis, who was killed by bandits, and then with Comanche warrior Sam, to whom she promised she’d return after her family found their homestead out west. But she was never able to make it back to her love, as she was shot and killed before they could be reunited. In her honor, James and Margaret founded the Dutton family homestead at the site of her grave.

John Dutton I

The oldest son of James and Margaret Dutton, John Dutton I appears in 1883 as a child and in 1923 as an adult, played by James Badge Dale. He worked the Yellowstone land alongside his uncle, Jacob, and had his own family with wife Emma and son Jack. Although 1923 has yet to reveal this, it is presumed John Dutton I is also the father of John Dutton II, who in turn fathers John Dutton III.

Spencer Dutton

Although we don’t meet him in 1883, we learn in 1923 that James and Margaret had a third child, Spencer Dutton (Brandon Sklenar), who was born after the family settled in Montana. A veteran of World War I, he’s a main character in 1923.

Emma Dutton

We don’t know much about Emma Dutton (Marley Shelton) just yet, but she’s the wife of John Dutton I and mother to Jack Dutton in 1923. Presumably, she is also the mother of John Dutton II.

Jack Dutton

The eldest son of John Dutton I and Emma Dutton, Jack Dutton (Darren Mann) works with his father and great-uncle to tend to the Yellowstone land. He’s expected to fall in love with the beauty Elizabeth, and—presumably—marry her.

Elizabeth Strafford (probably, eventually Elizabeth Dutton)

Set up as a love interest in 1923, the lovely Elizabeth Strafford (Michelle Randolph) will likely become the life partner and wife of Jack Dutton.

John Dutton II

Presumably the son of John Dutton I and Emma Dutton, John Dutton II is not guaranteed to appear in 1923, though he appears as an old man in flashback episodes of Yellowstone. He was once the Dutton family patriarch, and is the father of Costner’s John Dutton III.

John Dutton III

The current owner of the massive Yellowstone Dutton Ranch, Costner’s John Dutton III is an uncompromising traditionalist, a rugged cowboy, a survivor of multiple near-death experiences, and the governor of Montana. He yearns for nothing more than the continuation of his family’s land in the exact state it was bequeathed to him.

Peter Dutton

In Yellowstone season 5, John Dutton III reveals to his daughter-in-law, Monica, that he had a brother named Peter, who died only 18 hours after being born.

Evelyn Dutton

Once the wife and true love of John Dutton III, Evelyn Dutton (Gretchen Mol) died when her four children—Lee, Beth, Kayce, and Jamie—were still young. A horseback riding incident resulted in her being crushed, an accident for which Beth still blames herself.

Lee Dutton

The eldest child of John Dutton III and Evelyn Dutton, Lee (Dave Annable) was always meant to carry on the Dutton ranch’s legacy, but he died in the first season of Yellowstone after a battle over stolen cattle.

Beth Dutton

John Dutton III and Evelyn’s only daughter, Beth (Kelly Reilly) is the signature spitfire of the family, a pure force of nature with the cutting stares and ragged bangs to prove it. The only people for whom she’ll acquiesce—if only barely—are her father and her husband, the cowboy Rip Wheeler.

Rip Wheeler

A cowboy through and through, Rip Wheeler (Cole Hauser) first arrived on the Yellowstone Ranch as a traumatized teenager, where he met and slowly fell in love with his boss’s daughter. To this day, he is John Dutton III’s most trusted man.

Kayce Dutton

Forever untethered within the Dutton family and at one point estranged from his father, Kayce (Luke Grimes) is the youngest of the Dutton brood but the first to have his own family. He married Monica Long of the Broken Rock Reservation, and together they had Tate Dutton, whom John Dutton III eventually grows close with as Kayce’s wariness subsides.

Jamie Dutton

Desperate to please and easily manipulated, Jamie (Wes Bentley) is an attorney and the adopted son of John Dutton III and Evelyn Dutton, whom John later disinherits when things get a little—ahem—dicey between them. Jamie’s biological father was Garrett Randall, who killed Jamie’s mother when Jamie was just a baby. Jamie himself kills Garrett when things get dicey between them. Gotta love family!


Once an employee of Jamie’s during his campaign for state attorney general, Christina (Katherine Cunningham) became briefly romantically linked with Jamie and fathered his child. As of season 5, they seem to no longer be together.

Unknown Dutton

Jamie and Christina had a baby boy together, and though we know he’s named after his father, it’s unclear if his name is Jamie or James.

Monica Long

Raised on the nearby Broken Rock Reservation, the loyal and intelligent Monica Long Dutton (Kelsey Asbille) is naturally suspicious of the Dutton family’s intentions, though she has grown fonder of them as her son grows up and her husband, Kayce, falls back within his father’s grasp. She has worked as a teacher both on and off the reservation.

Tate Dutton

The only surviving child of Kayce and Monica, Tate Dutton (Brecken Merrill) is an adventurous boy who—like his father and grandfather—has been through hell more than once. But as one of the few Dutton descendants who seems to appreciate the land as much as his forebears, it seems possible, if not likely, that the ranch will eventually fall to his care. If Yellowstone goes down that route, it would invite some welcome nuance for the series to explore, as the mixed-race son of a cowboy and a Native American re-inherits the land once taken from his ancestors.

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