National Cowboy Day: How ‘Yellowstone’ Resurrected the Western Genre

by Katie Maloney

Here at Outsider, we have always understood the allure of the West. We admire the way its landscapes can simultaneously test you and bring you back to yourself. We honor the way the area has maintained its ruggedness and desire to fight for its survival. And we respect the way simply walking the land reminds you that you’re not its first explorer, that decades of brave travelers have traversed the area before you, and that they may still be with you, in spirit, now.

There’s something about the West that cannot be explained but it most definitely can be felt. This is because the west is far more than a geographical location, it’s a way of life. The West is in our bones and in our souls. And countless filmmakers, actors and television shows have attempted to capture the indescribable essence of the West for decades. James Arness’ Gunsmoke became an icon of western television starting in the 1950s. And its 20-year run proved that Americans long for the energy the West provides. John Wayne, the man whose name is almost synonymous with “cowboy”, managed to depict the ruggedness of cowboy life from the perspective of a man whose gentle heart was tied to the western landscape.

However, eventually, Americans grew tired of shoot-outs and canned “wild west” action. And the western fell to the wayside. Contemporary shows like “Justified” attempted to bring the West back to the big screen. But even “Justified” blended western themes with the South to make the show more palatable to a wider audience. “Deadwood” was another show that attempted to revive the West but it was canceled after only three seasons. “Hell on Wheels” also drew in some western-loving viewers but it never grew past its niche audience. It wasn’t until “Yellowstone” came onto the scene that the western was internationally revived. So, in honor of National Cowboy Day, we tip our hats to “Yellowstone” for bringing the West back to our screens.

The Way ‘Yellowstone’ Honors The West Sets It Apart From Other Modern Day Westerns

But we’re not just celebrating “Yellowstone,” we’re celebrating what makes the show different. We’re celebrating what drives the success of the show versus other modern-day westerns.

In our opinion, “Yellowstone” is successful in part because it makes the western landscape a main character on the show. The story doesn’t simply take place on the land, it unfolds along with it. The sweeping mountains and breathtaking Montana landscapes are the stars of the show. Not only does this give the West the attention and admiration it deserves, but it also makes the Duttons’ drive to protect their land all the more relatable.

We, as viewers, feel the energy of the land through its characterization on the show. For this reason, we want to fight alongside the Duttons to maintain the land’s wildness, to maintain its freedom. Even actor Ryan Bingham, who plays Walker on “Yellowstone,” can’t help but be moved by the show’s landscape. Like a true cowboy, Bingham describes how the energy of the mountains can get “into your blood” and change you forever. Watch his interview in the video below.

Ryan Bingham talks about being changed by the landscapes of the West.

What makes “Yellowstone” different is its willingness to honor the truth that the West exists all on its own. And we are all simply secondary characters exploring its landscapes. The West’s ability to endure with or without us, and its occasional willingness to let us into its world, is all part of its allure. So, thank you “Yellowstone” for featuring the West in all its rugged glory and for reuniting us with the western worlds our souls have always craved. Happy National Cowboy Day, Outsiders!