Is Yellowstone a true story? Inspiration behind Paramount+ western series, and are the Duttons real?

Yellowstone is a western drama series airing on Paramount+ about a family of Montana ranchers. The series is inspired by real events.

Western drama series Yellowstone, starring Kevin Costner, has seen rapid success since it launched four years ago - already the series has spawned one spin-off with two more due in the coming months. The series, set in the modern American West, and focusing on the Dutton family, a combative bunch of ranchers who will do anything to protect their Yellowstone ranch, has really connected with audiences.

Kevin Costner in Yellowstone season 5
Kevin Costner in Yellowstone season 5
Kevin Costner in Yellowstone season 5

Is Yellowstone based on a true story?

Not as such - the Yellowstone ranch isn’t a real place, and the Dutton family are, unfortunately, entirely a work of fiction. However, that’s not to say that the series isn’t inspired by true events.

Yellowstone creator Taylor Sheridan, who owns two ranches himself, spoke to The Los Angeles Times in 2018 about changes he witnessed living in Wyoming and as a ranch owner in Texas. He said: “These issues of land development, resource mismanagement, oppression and extreme poverty and inequity in government, they exist here.

“But when it happens in a small area, in a rural area … and because there’s fewer people, the consequences seem much more acute. 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.”

Sheridan also spoke to Deadline about his motivation behind the series - he said: “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.

Yellowstone creator Taylor Sheridan
Yellowstone creator Taylor Sheridan
Yellowstone creator Taylor Sheridan

“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.”

These themes of gentrification and the changes in land development are brought to the focus in Yellowstone, as the series follows the Duttons, an established western family and the owner of the largest single ranch in the US. Throughout the series, the Duttons are challenged by outside interests who want to take control of their land.

Is 1883 based on a true story?

The first Yellowstone spin-off series, 1883, which aired in late 2021, is set against the historical backdrop of westward expansion, but like Yellowstone, the characters and events are all created for the show. The prequel series follows an earlier generation of Duttons as they embark on a perilous journey along the Oregon Trail in search of a better life in the west.

The Oregon Trail was a wagon trail used throughout the 1800s by miners, businessmen, ranchers, and other intrepid travellers who were looking for wealth in the western states and territories. The trail stretched more than 2,000 miles from Missouri to Oregon and due to the challenges of travelling such long distances, an estimated one in ten travellers died on the journey.

The upcoming Yellowstone prequel, 1923, which is expected to come out in December, is also based on real American history. The series will be set against the backdrop of Prohibition and the Great Depression.