No one just decides to move across an untamed continent. 1883 protagonist James Dutton is looking for and running from many things.
Tim McGraw has talked extensively about how much he loves his character. The writing and the backstory made it impossible for the country musician to turn down the role. When studying history, one of the questions you should ask yourself is, “Why?”
Knowing the “why” behind the actions and decisions of figures from the past can give a great insight into their mindset. If James Dutton were a real figure in history and 1883 a real story, his why could be many things. However, McGraw has it zeroed in. With his PTSD, experience in the war, everything about his old way of life, Dutton wants to escape.
“I think probably after the war,” McGraw said to the Official Yellowstone Podcast. “During reconstruction, and the devastation that it wrought. I think James’ motivation was to get his family to an untainted part of the world. That’s really what he wanted to do. And he was trying to outrun ghosts. He was trying to get past some of the ghosts that he had in his life, and I don’t think he’s ever going to get past that.”
As James and his family move further west, it isn’t out of a feeling of doing something more than themselves. It is entirely self-indulgent. The family doesn’t join the immigrant caravan to save anyone or help, they did it for the extra safety and security.
For James, the why all comes down to surviving. That means leaving the past behind and looking for greener pastures literally and figuratively. But, is his why going to conflict with the why of other figures in 1883? It sure seems that way.
‘1883’ And the ‘Humanity’ Behind the Show
One of the characters in 1883 that seem to be coming up for a conflict with James Dutton is Thomas. The former Buffalo Soldier has been boiling slowly as Dutton refuses to listen to Shea Brennan. Thomas is also running from ghosts it seems. However, without a family of his own, the man seems intent on helping those looking for a better life.
1883 star LaMonica Garrett believes his character plays a very important role in the show.
“The significance of Thomas in this story,” Garrett said. “To me, he’s the humanity of the show, he’s the soul of the show. It’s a story I’m very proud to be a part [of] telling a story about Black cowboys. There’s a lot of people that haven’t been represented in other westerns so it’ll be something for everyone.”
1883 has set up quite a story for us up to this point. The trauma and death from the Brazos River crossing could cause more to boil up between these characters. As James blows off the caravan and looks out for his own family first and foremost. However, he is likely going to need more help than he believes if he wants to make it to the other side of the journey.