Skip to Content

Is Yellowstone Based on a True Story? Sheridan’s Inspiration Revealed

Is Yellowstone Based on a True Story? Sheridan’s Inspiration Revealed

This post may contain affiliate links. We earn from qualifying purchases. Learn More

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.

Beth Dutton and John Dutton on Yellowstone

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).

Characters on Yellowstone horse riding

Just like Yellowstone, the first season of True Detective was also created by two writers, Cary Joji Fukunaga and 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.

John Dutton on Yellowstone

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 told Outsider. “He wanted a job and never let it be taken away from him.

Who Owns the Real Yellowstone Ranch?

Yellowstone Ranch aerial view

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.

Cheryl McCrindle

Wednesday 19th of April 2023

I own quarter horses, am a member of AQHA and have ridden shows in the USA. A lot of the characters I encountered along the way are pretty similar to characters in the TV show. However, the gunfighting scenes and murders are a bit over the top. More like Sci-fi than westerns. Because I am South African, our currency is weak and dollars are expensive, so I tended to hang out in low income accommodation, take buses and hire cheap cars and so made friends with fairly impecunious cowboy types and girls in bars. BUT I ride expensive horses ( lessons with Casey Deary!) so I recognized the quarter horse stars - they are the same horses I met when I rode in in the USA!

Jana Johnson

Wednesday 16th of November 2022

Is there going to be another season the mayor of Kingston

Randy Pullara

Sunday 13th of November 2022

Yellowstone reminds me of a horse stable where I grew up in my younger years before it was sold to developers for condos!I met my wife of 42 yrs.there and had alot of great memories picking her up from school on horseback and having great times there!Progress often destroys laid back towns and the loses the luster of the simple life! Rock on Yellowstone!!