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1883 introduced us to James and Margaret Dutton, the founders of Yellowstone Dutton Ranch. James and Margaret, along with their children Elsa and John, joined a wagon train in Texas headed out to Oregon.
After tragedy strikes the family, the Duttons decide to settle in Paradise Valley, Montana instead of finishing their journey to Oregon. This is where they go on to establish the Yellowstone Dutton Ranch.
So, just why did the Dutton leave Tennessee in 1883? What made them decide to make such a big move?
The Duttons left Tennessee for a fresh start and to escape poverty. James Dutton was also struggling with his experiences of being a Confederate soldier in the Civil War.
Haunted by his experiences in the war, James Dutton wanted to start a new life for his family in a place where they would be safe from the violence and turbulence of the post-war South.
In the war, James fought in the bloody Battle of Antietam and was later held as a prisoner of war. Tennessee was a constant reminder to James of the horrors he experienced in war.
Perhaps the biggest why the Duttons left Tennessee for Oregon is that the South was in an economic depression after the Civil War. Many families, including the Duttons, were struggling to make ends meet. James Dutton believed that he could find a better life for his family in the West, where there was more land and opportunity.
Not only poverty but the West was seen as a land of opportunity in the late 19th century. Many people, including the Duttons, believed that they could achieve the American Dream by starting a new life in the West. The West was full of opportunity and the perfect place for new beginnings.
Cheaper land was available out West, which was intriguing to many people. The Duttons, along with many others, saw the land as an economic opportunity.
Also, see our guide and map of the Duttons’ route to Montana.
While their journey was filled with hardship, heartbreak, tragedy, and suffering, the Duttons knew the risk they were taking to move out West. To them, they had nothing left but pain and despair in Tennessee, so they did not regret their choice to leave.
The death of Elsa took a big toll on the family. Her death led them to settle in Paradise Valley, Montana instead of their original intended destination, Oregon. While tragic, the Duttons were able to build a homestead and a ranch in Montana.
However, their struggles were still far from over even though they left poverty behind. They faced horse thieves, freezing cold winters, and starvation. Eventually, their humble homestead would turn into a cattle ranching empire.
The Duttons found a new beginning and greener pastures in Montana. For the Duttons, they had nothing meaningful left in Tennessee. Montana gave them a new start in life that they wouldn’t have found if they stayed in Tennessee.
In Montana, they received a valuable plot of land with abundant natural resources. They were able to build their home on this land and a ranch that gave them a new source of income and a fresh beginning.
Montana is also the spot where Elsa is buried. The Duttons did not want to continue their journey to Oregon after the death of their beloved daughter. So, they decided to build their new home at the site of her grave.
The Duttons headed to Oregon as they were looking to settle out West. They joined an immigrant wagon train in Texas led by two former Pinkerton Agents.
To the Duttons, Oregon was a land of new opportunities where James would be able to provide for his family. It offered the family everything they were looking for to begin the next chapter of their lives.
While still dangerous, traveling with a wagon train was less expensive than a train and safer than just traveling on their own. The Duttons knew it would be a long, harsh journey to Oregon but were willing to take the risk.
The reason the Duttons went off-route to Montana was to try to save Elsa. They traveled to Fort Casper in Wyoming for medical help but were unsuccessful in their quest. At this point, the wagon train decided to winter in Montana before continuing their journey to Oregon.
It quickly became clear that Elsa did not have long to live. After choosing her final resting spot in Paradise Valley, James and Margaret decided to settle in Montana as they want to stay where their daughter was buried.