Is ‘Yellowstone’ Based on a True Story? Here’s if the Duttons Are Inspired by a Real Family

Photo: Emerson Miller / Paramount Network / Courtesy: Everett Collection.

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If you’ve followed the Dutton family’s story since season one, you may be wondering if Yellowstone is based on a true story and if the Duttons or their ranch are real.

Yellowstone, which premiered in June 2018, is a Western drama series that follows the Dutton family, the owners of the Yellowstone Dutton Ranch—also known as the Yellowstone—the largest ranch in Montana. The show follows the Dutton’s family drama at the ranch, as well as with the nearby Broken Rock Indian Reservation, national park and developers wanting a piece of their land. Yellowstone revolves around  John Dutton III, played by Kevin Costner, a widowed, sixth-generation patriarch of the Dutton family who runs the ranch and defends it from those seeking to take control of his family’s land.

In an interview with The New York Times in 2021, Yellowstone executive producer, Taylor Sheridan, explained why he thinks Yellowstone has been such a success with audiences, even if it hasn’t been popular with critics or awards. “I don’t care if critics hate it and I don’t care if they like it. I’m not resentful. I just simply do not care. I’m not making it for them; I’m making it for people who live that life. The audience has expanded beyond that because, you know, a lot of people love westerns,” he said. “I think one of the reasons the critics haven’t responded to Yellowstone is that I’m breaking a lot of story rules. I’ll jump the plot ahead for no reason whatsoever except that I wanted to and it’s entertaining. The people who get it eat it up, and the people that try to look at it with a critical eye see a mess. But that’s what I love about Yellowstone, the way that it flows from being campy to melodramatic to intensely dramatic to violent. It’s every old western and new western and soap opera thrown together in a blender. And yes, I think it infuriates and confounds some people who study storytelling. They don’t understand why this thing’s such a hit.”

He continued, “Here’s why: It’s wickedly acted and the location is fantastic, and we’re peeking into a world that no one really knows. I am chewing the scenery and having a blast doing it, and the actors are having a blast as well. It is powerhouse actors getting to say some real chewy stuff.”

So is Yellowstone based on a true story? Read on for what we know about if Yellowstone is based on a true story and what the inspirations could be for the Duttons and their ranch.

Is Yellowstone based on a true story?


Image: Emerson Miller / ©Paramount Network / courtesy Everett Collection.

Is Yellowstone based on a true story? The answer is no, however creator Taylor Sheridan explained to The Los Angeles Times in 2018 that Yellowstone is inspired by the changes he’s seen in western mountain states like Montana and Wyoming, where he lives. “These issues of land development, resource mismanagement, oppression and extreme poverty and inequity in government — they exist here,” he said. “But when it happens in a small area, in a rural area … and because there’s fewer people, the consequences seem much more acute.” He continued, “When you start seeing Costcos in a landscape of farms and ranches, it’s much more dramatic than if they jam one in the San Fernando Valley.” He also told Deadline in 2018 about how Yellowstone was based on the “gentrification” he’s seen in the west.

“What you have is the three versions of assimilation. I placed the white rancher in the position that the Native Americans were in 100-plus years ago because that is accurate to what’s taking place in what you can call the gentrification of the West right now,” he said. “It is the most American of us, the West, and land developers sell that fantasy. And people who can afford the fantasy are very, very wealthy people from LA to New York, Dallas and Florida. They buy their slice of it and use it for a weekend getaway. In the process, those land values and inheritance taxes are killing a way of life.”

Sheridan, who owns two ranches in Texas, also told CBS News in 2022 that Yellowstone is inspired by his own experience as a rancher. He also told CBS News that most of the horses filmed in Yellowstone are his own. “All the horses, for the most part, in our business are terrible,” he said. “They’re not very broke. They’re not very safe, which is one of the reasons you don’t see actors on ’em very often. And I didn’t want to do that. So, I bought all the horses for the show, and then taught the actors how to ride ’em.”

Are the Duttons a real family?

Yellowstone Is Yellowstone Based on a True Story? Heres if the Duttons Are Inspired by a Real Family

Image: Cam McLeod / Paramount Network / Courtesy Everett Collection.

Are the Duttons a real family? The answer is no. However, while the Duttons aren’t based on a specific family, Horsey Hooves reported that the family’s patriarch, John Dutton, could be inspired by famous rangers like W.T. Waggoner and Bill Galt. According to the site, Waggoner was the owner of the Waggoner Ranch in North Texas, a 525,000-acre ranch founded in 1849 and passed down through several generations that was once the largest ranch in the United States. The ranch was owned by the Waggoner family until 2015 when it was sold to businessman Stan Kroenke for $725 million. Galt, for his part, is the current owner of a 248,000-acre ranch in Montana, the same state where Yellowstone is set, who is also known as “The Last American Cowboy,” according to Horsey Hooves.

Is the Yellowstone Dutton Ranch a real ranch?

Yellowstone 3 Is Yellowstone Based on a True Story? Heres if the Duttons Are Inspired by a Real Family

Image: Emerson Miller / Paramount Network.

Is the Yellowstone Dutton Ranch real? The answer is also no, though the Dutton’s home is filmed at a real 5,000-square-foot house located at the Chief Joseph Ranch in Darby, Montana, according to Cheat Sheet, which reports that the home is a real family home that doubles as a vacation and cabin rental when Yellowstone isn’t in production. Texas’ Four Sixes Ranch, which was featured in Yellowstone season 5, is also real ranch and will be the filming location for Yellowstone‘s upcoming spinoff, 6666. “Founded when Comanches still ruled West Texas, no ranch in America is more steeped in the history of the West than the 6666. Still operating as it did two centuries before, and encompassing an entire county, the 6666 is where the rule of law and the laws of nature merge in a place where the most dangerous thing one does is the next thing…The 6666 is synonymous with the merciless endeavor to raise the finest horses and livestock in the world, and ultimately where world class cowboys are born and made,” Paramount Network’s description for the show reads.

Will there be a Yellowstone season 6?

Yellowstone 2 Is Yellowstone Based on a True Story? Heres if the Duttons Are Inspired by a Real Family

Image: Danno Nell / Paramount Network / Courtesy Everett Collection.

Will there be a Yellowstone season 6? Cole Hauser, who plays Rip Wheeler, confirmed to People in November 2022 that there will be at least one more Yellowstone season after season 5.  “It’s not the last season,” he said. “What I know is that there’s a tremendous amount of great talent on the show and it goes all the way down to the crew you know, the directors, it’s Taylor’s writing, and everybody cares deeply about making the best thing they can. Usually, if that’s the case, you’ll have some… Of course, nobody would have known it would do what it’s done.”

Executive producer Taylor Sheridan confirmed to The New York Times in 2021 that he’s written the ending of Yellowstone and doesn’t want the show to run for nine seasons. “Well, I know how it ends. I’m writing to that ending. There’s only so much hovering one can do before the story starts to lose its locomotion; you can’t put it in neutral just because it’s successful. It will go as many years as it takes for me to tell the story, but you’re not going to see nine seasons of it. No way,” he said. He continued, “You can’t walk in circles, waiting to get there, because the show will stagnate. So, you have to keep moving forward, and there have to be consequences in the world, and there has to be an evolution toward a conclusion. Can that be another two seasons beyond this? It could.” The interview also hinted season 6 will be the final season of Yellowstone.

While he has the ending for Yellowstone in mind, Sheridan hinted he’s open to more Yellowstone spinoffs after 1883, 1923 and 6666. “I don’t limit myself. I’m drawn to the sparseness of the West because that’s where I’ve spent most of my life. I lived in New York for a while. I enjoyed my time there, but I would be an outsider writing about it. I like being outdoors,” he said. “I really like using the camera as a paintbrush, and I just find it’s so rare that you get to see the vastness of this nation. For the time being, that’s what fascinates me the most.”

Yellowstone airs Sundays at 8 p.m. ET/PT and 7 p.m. CT on Paramount Network. Here’s how to watch it live for free.

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