Is Yellowstone Based on a True Story? Sheridan's Inspiration Revealed (2024)

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The world of television has long blurred the line between fact and fiction, crafting narratives so compelling that they often leave audiences pondering the boundary between reality and imagination. The hit show Yellowstone is no exception.

With its vivid portrayal of ranch life and intricate family dynamics, viewers are naturally left asking, “Is Yellowstone based on a true story?”

We into the heart of this question, exploring the inspirations, influences, and creative liberties behind the popular series.

We’ll trace the threads of fact and fiction, painting a clearer picture of the true origins of Yellowstone.

Is Yellowstone Based on a True Story?

Yellowstone is not based on a true story, but it is inspired by real events and people. The show’s creator, Taylor Sheridan, has said that he was inspired by the changes he has seen in the western mountain states of Montana and Wyoming.

He has also said that the show explores the “issues of land development, resource mismanagement, oppression and extreme poverty and inequity in government” that exist in these states.

While the Duttons are not a real family, they are representative of the many families who own and operate ranches in the western United States. The show’s portrayal of the conflicts between ranchers, Native Americans, and developers is also based on real-world events.

So, while Yellowstone is not a true story, it is a realistic and thought-provoking portrayal of the challenges facing ranchers and other rural communities in the western United States.

Here are some of the real-life events and people that inspired Yellowstone:

  • The conflict between ranchers and Native Americans over land rights is a long-standing one in the American West. The show’s portrayal of this conflict is based on the history of the Crow Tribe in Montana, who have been fighting for their land rights for centuries.
  • The issue of resource mismanagement is also a major theme in Yellowstone. The show’s portrayal of this issue is based on the real-world problems caused by the overgrazing of cattle and the exploitation of natural resources in the West.
  • The show also explores the issue of poverty and inequity in government. This issue is particularly relevant in the western United States, where many rural communities are struggling economically.

“These issues of land development, resource mismanagement, oppression and extreme poverty and inequity in government — they exist here,” Sheridan says. “But when it happens in a small area, in a rural area … and because there’s fewer people, the consequences seem much more acute. (Source: Los Angeles Times)

Also read: 20 Challenging Yellowstone Quiz Questions

The Process Behind Creating Yellowstone

It’s very rare that two people can handle the writing for an entire TV series. This is usually done by a team of writers, and often different episodes are written by different people.

However, Taylor Sheridan and John Linson’s unique approach to screenwriting isn’t unheard of. Their work was actually inspired by the American crime drama True Detective (2014-2019).

Is Yellowstone Based on a True Story? Sheridan's Inspiration Revealed (2)

Just like Yellowstone, the first season of True Detective was also created by two writers, Cary Joji f*ckunagaand Nic Pizzolatto. In an interview with Deadline, Sheridan revealed that he has indeed adapted their writing process.

“What Cary did, I am doing,” he said. “Write 10-hour movies and go shoot them.

However, this isn’t the only similarity between the two series. Like in True Detective, the characters of Yellowstone also unfold gradually over the course of a season and go through significant character arcs.

Moreover, Sheridan admitted he doesn’t know how to write scripts for television. He approaches the task as if he was writing a novel, which explains the multi-layered and enveloping storylines we see on the screen.

Who is John Dutton Based on?

In the series, John Dutton is the owner of the iconic Yellowstone Ranch. He is a stubborn character with a mad determination for keeping his ranch in one piece.

While John Dutton isn’t based on anyone in particular, inspiration for his character could include the likes of W.T. Waggoner and Bill Galt. Waggoner once owned the largest ranch in the United States, while Galt currently owns a 248,000-acre ranch in Montana.

W.T. Waggoner is a true ranching legend from North Texas who once owned the 525,000-acre Waggoner Ranch.

Is Yellowstone Based on a True Story? Sheridan's Inspiration Revealed (3)

Founded in 1849, the ranch was passed down several generations of the Waggoner family and was America’s largest ranch for decades.

The ranch stayed in Waggoner ownership until 2015, when it was bought by Stan Kroenke for approximately $725 million.

Meanwhile, Bill Galt works perfectly as a modern-day inspiration for John Dutton. The Montana rancher is known for scouting his lands via helicopter and meeting up with politicians every now and again. He has also been dubbed as “The Last American Cowboy,” which makes him all the more similar to John Dutton.

Kevin Costner on Playing John Dutton

In an interview with Outsider, Yellowstone lead actor Kevin Costner opened up about his performance on screen. According to the actor, many traits of John Dutton are based on his late father William Costner. He even uses his father’s real 30-30 rifle on the set!

William Costner grew up as one of 11 children on a wheat farm in Oklahoma. His life was largely overshadowed by the events of the Great Depression (1929 – 1939).

“My dad was a fistfighting, single-minded tough guy coming out of the Dust Bowl in the Great Depression,” Costner toldOutsider. “He wanted a job and never let it be taken away from him.

Who Owns the Real Yellowstone Ranch?

Is Yellowstone Based on a True Story? Sheridan's Inspiration Revealed (4)

While the Yellowstone Ranch isn’t real, the Dutton family home is located on a real working cattle ranch called the Chief Joseph Ranch. The 150-acre property is located near Darby, Montana, and has been in operation since 1880.

The real Yellowstone Ranch is owned by Shane Libel and his family. After the property was scouted as a potential filming location for Yellowstone, the Libels signed a five-season contract with the filmmakers.

Other than the 5,000-square foot log mansion, filming locations on the property include the barns, corrals, arena, armory, and cabins.

When Yellowstone isn’t filming at the ranch, the cabins are available to be rented out for a minimum of three nights for a one-of-a-kind Yellowstone experience.

The 6666 Ranch is a Real Ranch?

The 6666 or Four Sixes Ranch appears in Yellowstone Season 4 when Jimmy is sent to Texas to become a real cowboy. However, unlike the Yellowstone Ranch, the 6666 Ranch is a real operational facility producing high-quality Angus cattle and Quarter Horses.

Established in the 19th century, the 350,000-acre ranch was purchased by Taylor Sheridan and a group of investors in May 2021.

6666 Ranch also serves as a filming location for Yellowstone, but also for the upcoming spin-off 6666.

Is Yellowstone Based on a True Story? Sheridan's Inspiration Revealed (2024)


Is any of Yellowstone based on a true story? ›

No, Yellowstone is not based on any real events or people that exist in real life. However, the creator of the show explained that the issues that are explored in the show are inspired by problems that exist in western mountain states in the US.

How much truth is there to Yellowstone? ›

Yellowstone Does Get Many Things Right

He is, after all, a rancher himself and truly understands the nature of the beast. So, when you see how the characters within the series deal with ranch life, the cattle, and the respect they show towards the cattle, this is all accurately reflected.

Do ranches like Yellowstone exist? ›

Once again, yes! When Yellowstone is not filming on the 2,500-acre ranch, the owners rent out some of the cabins on the property to visitors. Guests can spend their time fishing, horseback riding, and hiking through the area's beautiful mountains. (All while fantasizing about John Dutton showing up, of course.)

What do Montanans think of Yellowstone? ›

The Washington Post reported not all Montana residents were pleased with "Yellowstone." A Bozeman rancher told the publication that "the show has given our ranchers a bad name." That's because the ranching family on the show often resort to violence to solve their problems.

How close to real life is Yellowstone? ›

Reality paints a different picture. The Dutton Ranch is nowhere near Bozeman, or Yellowstone. To drive to Bozeman would take 3 ½ hours, while the closest entrance to Yellowstone National Park is about 4 ½ hours away — making it a bit trickier for characters to have quick trips to "the park."

Who owns the Yellowstone ranch in real life? ›

Glass tycoon William S. Ford purchased the location in 1914, until it was eventually sold to ranchers Shane and Abigail Libel. The Libel family has completely bought into the fame of the show, reportedly leaving the "Yellowstone Dutton Ranch" sign on full display all year long.

What do real cowboys think about Yellowstone? ›

This is a show that, at times, shows how things actually work out West and why. Most folks have no idea where the food comes from or the care ranchers take of their cattle and the land they live on. He thinks that Yellowstone actually positively portrays this.

Is there any accuracy to Yellowstone? ›

Yellowstone's depiction of Montana's winter is far from accurate, as the state experiences heavy snowfall and harsh conditions that the show fails to capture. The series primarily shoots during the summers, missing out on the true Montana experience.

Is there a real family like the Duttons? ›

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.

What is the largest ranch in Montana and who owns it? ›

Beaverhead Ranch

Beaverhead Ranch is a 113,000-acre working ranch in southwest Montana, with grazing rights on another 226,000 acres. The property was purchased by Rupert Murdoch in 2021 from the founder of Koch Industries, making it the biggest ranch sale in the state's history.

How much does it cost to stay at the Yellowstone Ranch? ›

Staying for a few nights at the famous ranch is sure to cost a few pretty pennies, however. As of October 2023, the average price per night is just over $3,200. According to the listing, those prices could spike for holidays or depending on the season.

How do Native American feel about Yellowstone? ›

There is much evidence put forth by Weixelman, Haines, and Nabokov and Loendorf that a number of tribes considered the Yellowstone country sacred and used it as a vision- questing, prayer-making, and gift- bequeathing place, and there is much other material in their writings that disproves the theory that Indians ...

Why are so many people moving to Montana? ›

Newcomers are seeking the quality of life that Montana communities offer, and they are actively taking advantage of the amenities that set life in Montana apart from other places.

Why did the Duttons settle in Montana and not Oregon? ›

The caravan was heading toward Oregon, but the Dutton family had to settle in Montana after the death of their daughter, Elsa (Isabel May).

Is 1923 based on a true story? ›

The show is not based on a true story, however, it does include real-life events that took place during the time. The Dutton family are not based on any real-life people, and are fictional characters created for the show.

Is 1883 based on a true story? ›

1883, the Yellowstone prequel series set over a century before the main show, was based on a fictional story but accurately portrayed the challenges faced by pioneers traveling from Texas to Montana.

What do real cowboys think of Yellowstone? ›

This is a show that, at times, shows how things actually work out West and why. Most folks have no idea where the food comes from or the care ranchers take of their cattle and the land they live on. He thinks that Yellowstone actually positively portrays this.

How big is the Yellowstone ranch in real life? ›

In real life, the Yellowstone depicted in the show is the Chief Joseph Ranch in Darby, Montana – a 2,500-acre working cattle ranch with cabins for rent as a vacation destination.


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