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Since the hit neo-Western drama Yellowstone premiered in 2018, Montana has seen a large increase in visitors. However, not all of the attention the Big Sky state is receiving is positive.
Yellowstone follows the powerful Dutton family on their valuable Montana cattle ranch. The ranch is in constant battles with its borders, which include an expanding town, the Broken Rock Indian Reservation, and America’s first national park.
With corrupt politics and shifting alliances, things often get messy in Yellowstone. The Duttons frequently find themselves involved in bloody conflicts and murder cover-ups, which Montana residents say gives “a bad name” to real ranchers.
Fans of Yellowstone know that the hit TV series does not shy away from violence. The series regularly depicts gun fights between the Duttons and their rivals, as well as bodies being disposed of at the notorious train station. This couldn’t be any further from what life is like for Montana ranchers.
While there are aspects of ranch life Yellowstone does a good job of depicting, the drama, rivalries, and gunfights do not paint an accurate picture of Montana ranch life.
In an interview with the Washington Post, Mark Greeno, a Montana rancher at Nine Quarter Circle Ranch, said “The show has given our ranchers a bad name.”
The many highly dramatized aspects of Yellowstone depict Montana still operating as it did in the Wild West. However, unlike the show, you won’t find gun battles and assassination attempts happening at Montana ranches.
The Wild West way of ranching is not the only misconception of Montana life in Yellowstone. The show also fails to accurately depict Montana’s frigid winters, which often consist of below-freezing temperatures, snow, and wind.
For tourists who visit in winter, many aren’t prepared for the frigid weather of Montana. It is not uncommon for temperatures to drop into the negatives during winter.
“One thing I’ve noticed is that Yellowstone was only shot in the summer so people are blown away that it’s cold, that the wind blows up here. It looks like it’s 80 degrees and perfect temperatures in Yellowstone,” said Nathan St. Goddard, a Blackfeet tribal member and Montana Tourism Advisory Council committee member.
Although the series is set in Montana, the first three seasons were primarily filmed in Utah. The backdrop for Yellowstone Dutton Ranch is filmed at Chief Joseph Ranch in Darby, Montana. However, many fans are shocked to learn that Chief Joseph Ranch is 300 miles away from the Montana entrance of Yellowstone National Park.
Another thing the show gets wrong is how nicely people dress. While several characters throughout Yellowstone wear expensive, well-tailored suits, like Thomas Rainwater and Jamie Dutton, that is not a common occurrence in the real Montana.
“I think it’s a requirement that you wear your great-grandpa’s suit. Every legislator wears brown and the suits aren’t tailored,” said St. Goddard.
While Yellowstone may not get everything right about Montana, the TV series has a positive effect on Montana’s tourism economy. The state has seen a boom in visitors thanks to the TV show’s depiction of Montana’s stunning wilderness.
In 2021, Yellowstone tourists spent a whopping $730 million in Montana, according to a study by the Bureau of Business and Economic Research and the Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research at the University of Montana. The study also stated that an incredible two million visitors were inspired to visit the state after watching Yellowstone.
Yellowstone does a wonderful job portraying Montana’s beautiful and diverse landscape from picturesque mountains to rolling prairies. The state is home to diverse wildlife that can be found in the eight national parks located within Montana.
“It’s absolutely a welcome surprise. Every week or so someone tells us: We decided to look into dude ranches because of the show Yellowstone,” Sally Kelsey, co-owner of the Nine Quarter Circle Ranch, told the Washington Post.
Montana is home to numerous dude ranches that offer guests an escape into the serene countryside. At these ranches, visitors have the opportunity to ride horses, hike, and fish, among other activities as they soak in the glorious Montana views.
“It’s the scenery that is a big pull, and I think [that] is why people watch it. Our life here is so different from city life. People are in awe when they get here,” said Kelsey.
Thanks to Yellowstone, Montana has also seen over 10,200 new jobs across various industries, including tourism-related and other industries.
“Everything from food services, hotels, rental companies, and transportation services to high tech and skilled trades such as electricians and carpenters, are benefiting from the film industry’s activity in the state,” said Todd O’Hair, president and CEO of the Montana Chamber of Commerce.
“It is also clear that Yellowstone has proven to be a big economic driver of tourism, creating more jobs, tax generation, and a wave of economic activity,” he continued.
While the increase in tourism has been an overall good thing for Montana, there have been some downfalls. Fans have also been creating unrealistic expectations for themselves, like believing they will be able to gallop on horses for hours with no prior riding experience. They want to dress like the Duttons and experience the West to its fullest.
Sadly, the increase in tourists has also led to an increase in trash. According to Greeno, he has found trash along the Yellowstone River for the first time in decades.
Residents of Montana are advocating for educating tourists about environmental stewardship. To combat the issue, Glacier Country Tourism launched a stewardship program to balance the increase of tourism with the sustainability of local communities in Montana, natural resources, and quality of life for those who call the state home.
While overall Yellowstone has been positive for Montana it has created some misconceptions and unrealistic expectations. However, the tourism generated from the series has proved to be beneficial to Montana and many local businesses within the state.