‘Yellowstone’ TV: Who is Kevin Costner’s Character John Dutton Based On?

by Katie Maloney

We all know the actor behind Yellowstone‘s John Dutton is Kevin Costner. But is the character John Dutton based on a real person?

On Yellowstone, John Dutton is a ruthless businessman who’s dedicated to keeping his land in his family name. Over the last three seasons, we’ve seen just what John is willing to do to protect his ranch and family. So, is John Dutton based on a real-life person? The creators of Yellowstone haven’t yet revealed any real-life inspiration behind John. But, we have a few theories as to where writers may be pulling ideas from.

What Real-Life People Could John Dutton Be Based On?

First up we have the Waggoners. Dan Waggoner established W.T. Waggoner Ranch in Texas in 1849. In 1873, Dan and his son W.T. brought a herd of cattle to market in Kansas. They made $55,000 which, at the time, was a fortune. The two used the money to start an empire. They gradually moved to the west buying land that spanned six counties. In 1923 W.T. expanded his ranching interests and established the W.T. Estate which included ranching, oil, and about 26,000 acres of cultivation.

In total, the W.T. Waggoner Estate spans about 525,000 acres. Waggoner sold the estate in 2016 but the family spent almost two centuries working to keep the ranch in their name. The new owners have maintained operating practices and W.T. Waggoner Estate is now one of the largest cow/calf enterprises in the country. That whole story definitely sounds like it could be fodder for John Dutton and a few good Yellowstone storylines.

Next, we have current Montana ranching kingpin, Bill Galt. Galt owns his family ranch, Galt Ranch. They specialize in raising premium cattle and quarter horses. They also offer guided hunts as well as helicopter services. Just like John Dutton, Bill Galt has been seen flying around in a helicopter and meeting with high-powered politicians. Galt Ranch spans 100,000 acres nestled between the Big Belt and the Little Belt Mountains near White Sulphur Springs in Montana.

Kevin Costner Finds Inspiration For Yellowstone Through His Dad

Kevin Costner’s late father, William Costner, had a lot in common with John Dutton. William was one of 11 children raised on a wheat farm in the panhandle of Oklahoma. Their farm performed well until the Great Depression and Dust Bowl took over. After the Depression, William moved to Compton, California to find work. For years, he worked on the dams. During an interview, Kevin Costner talked about a key trait his father possessed.

“He [My dad] was tough. He was a fighter, he could fight. And he taught me in a way that was designed to win,” said Costner.

During another interview, Costner shared how he keeps his dad close to him while playing John Dutton on the show.

“Yeah. My dad was a fistfighting, single-minded tough guy coming out of the Dust Bowl in the Great Depression,” said Costner. “He wanted a job and never let it be taken away from him. The [Winchester] .30-30 gun I use in the show was his. When I put it up to my cheek, my dad’s right there. I know what it’s like to be a person that’s kind of a John Dutton—minus the murder.”