‘1883’: Tim McGraw Says James Dutton Suffered From ‘PTSD Before We Knew What it Was’

by Suzanne Halliburton
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

PTSD didn’t become part of our vernacular until a few decades ago. But 1883 star Tim McGraw is sure his character, James Dutton, probably suffered from it.

In fact, McGraw went into some detail about the symptoms James suffered. While doctors didn’t pick up on the mass effects of PTSD until after Vietnam, McGraw’s character developed it during the Civil War.

McGraw revealed some James Dutton traits during a roundtable discussion with Outsider reporter Jon D.B. This was Sunday after the 1883 premiere in Las Vegas. Fans will be able to see McGraw, his wife Faith Hill and Sam Elliott when the show premieres Sunday on Paramount+.

Until we watch the scenes and Taylor Sheridan’s grandiose work on the Yellowstone prequel, we’ll have to settle for McGraw fleshing out his character. And he’s sure that James, who yearned for a better life for his family, was suffering from decades of trauma.

“James is called a dreamer,” McGraw said in the roundtable discussion with the 1883 cast. “And it’s odd because of the stoicism of this character. I think it is true, he was a dreamer. But I also think he was running from ghosts.”

You wonder who or what the ghosts might be. McGraw explains more, without tipping some of the 1883 plot twists. U.S. history can explain most of it.

“I think James was really suffering from PTSD, which nobody knew about then,” he said. “He was in a war he didn’t want to fight and battles where he lost all his men. Three years in prison during the Civil War. Then coming back, certainly there were things going on in the South during Reconstruction and after Reconstruction … I think he was looking for an untainted part of America.”

That’s why James and Margaret Dutton were leaving Texas. They wanted a new life. We know that the group of settlers was headed Northwest, possibly to Oregon. How they end up in Montana is the 1883 story. These Duttons were the great grandparents of John, the patriarch of Yellowstone.

But 1883 does look back at some of what James endured. That’s where the Civil War comes in. There is a flashback that focuses on the Battle Of Antietam. It’s still the bloodiest day in our military history. The battle started unfolding on Sept. 17, 1862 as Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia surged against Union Gen. George McClellan’s Army of the Potomac. The battle scene was Antietam Creek near Sharpsburg, Maryland.

James picks himself up off the ground and looks out at the thousands of men who are dead or wounded. The battle killed or maimed more than 22,000 soldiers. Dutton, an officer, feels a hand tap him on the shoulder. It’s Tom Hanks, who is playing a character based on a Union general inspired by George Meade.

McGraw said he didn’t “overly prepare” for the scene. You just go with what comes from the gut.

“I knew that scene was there,” he said at the 1883 roundtable. “For me, reading the script, knowing that scene was there, knowing what James’ past was. … There’s a couple of scenes later where he explains it even more at a pivotal moment when he has to with his daughter, without giving too much away.

“So I knew that was there,” McGraw said of the scene. “And in my mind, I knew that was a moment that was going to change everything about what people thought about James. “

Outsiders, we can hardly wait to see 1883.