Although James Dutton of 1883 might be a fictional character, he has some very real similarities to actor Tim McGraw, especially his protective nature over his daughter.
In the series, James keeps careful watch over Elsa as she takes on more responsibility within the caravan. He teaches her to ride, shoot, and herd cattle, not only to help him with the animals but also to make sure she only has to rely on herself and can protect herself if she needs to. Of course, this doesn’t keep him from watching over her from afar, especially when a rugged cowboy steals her attention and earns her favor.
However, in a tense moment between Ennis and James, it appears the 1883 father has revoked his approval of his daughter’s courter, but then the cowboy demonstrates how deep his love runs for Elsa.
“I ain’t asking nothing. If she loves me… I’m taking it,” Ennis said, referring to marrying Elsa. “If you won’t give her to me, I’ll goddam steal her, I swear it.”
That’s when James utters this heart-melting line that captures the sentiment of every daughter’s father.
“You say you love her… but you won’t ever love her like I do,” James told Ennis. “That’s my heart you’re running off with. You’d better cradle it like an egg.”
He then added, “A little warning, that girl is gonna run you ragged.”
How ‘1883’ Actor’s Hit Song Applies to the Storyline
So, how does this scene apply to Tim McGraw’s real-life hit song, “My Little Girl”? The sentiment of his 1883 character’s speech is exact same in his song dedicated to his three daughters, Gracie, Maggie and Audrey.
The sweet song tells the tale of a father who is giving away his daughter to her future husband, and he looks back at her life and how she has grown so quickly. During the bridge, McGraw describes the exact situation that 1883 characters James and Elsa find themselves in, when Ennis promises to marry his daughter.
Here are some of the touching lyrics:
Someday, some boy will come and ask me for your hand
But I won’t say yes to him unless I know
He’s the half that makes you whole
He has a poet’s soul
And the heart of a man’s man
I know he’ll say that he’s in love
But between you and me
He won’t be good enough
Throughout the series, James has demonstrated the internal struggle that a father faces when his daughter is no longer a child. As much as he would like to protect her from the world and all of its uncertainties, he knows that he has to let go of the reins and allow her make her own path.
But no matter where she goes, the 1883 father made sure she knows she will always be his little girl.