John Dutton’s Montana ranch may be the “size of Rhode Island” in Yellowstone, but the real-life inspiration is a 214-acre Texas paradise.
Ride 54 miles west of Waco and you’ll arrive at Cranfills Gap, Bosque County, Texas. The population (just over 200) is small, but the land isn’t. Norwegian settlers built up the area in the 1800s, and a century later the parents of Yellowstone creator Taylor Sheridan would purchase a historic ranch that would inform his entire life.
Sheridan’s production company, Bosque Ranch, is named for where he comes from. The land of his youth taught him how to ride, tend, and appreciate horses. It’s also where he learned to shoot guns and work for a living.
“I’m deeply influenced by where I grew up and how I grew up,” the Yellowstone creator tells Texas Highways of his youth. Cranfills Gap would mark Sheridan in immeasurable ways. But most of all, it raised him as a rural soul.
“Back then, the Gap had a hardware store, a grocery store, a feed store, and a fillin’ station,” Sheridan says. “And that’s about it. We were pretty isolated on the ranch. We’d get excited when the propane man would come to fill the tank.”
Cranfills Gap Boasts Incredible Native and Norwegian American History
At the heart of the Sheridan ranch was a stone house built in 1870. The masonic wonder was build by Norwegian settlers, as was all of the “modern American” Cranfills Gap. Surrounding their home are 14 other Norwegian-built homes of the same era. The community rests on a ridge overlooking what is still known as “Little Norway” in Texas to this day.
If you’ve been to this area, chances are you went to see St. Olaf’s Kirke, or “The Rock Church.” Built in 1886, the intricate stonework is remarkable – and was a childhood favorite of the Yellowstone mastermind.
“Me and a couple friends liked to sneak upstairs to the organ and wait for visitors. When someone came in, I’d wait a minute and then play a really dramatic chord,” Sheridan recalls of his teenage self.
But it was the Native American history of his home that would imprint on a young Taylor the most. And the discovery of a Paleoindian burial site in Bosque County in 1970 would bring archaeologists to his doorstep.
“We always had folks from the University of Texas digging around on the ranch,” he adds. Sheridan himself would find Native American arrowheads, tools, and remnants scattered about his family’s ranch. Local legends, too, would capture his mind, such as the 1867 kidnapping of Ole Nystel by the local Comanche population.
“We all knew that story,” Sheridan says. The impact it has had on his Hollywood work goes without saying.
‘Yellowstone’ was Born of Taylor Sheridan’s ‘Loss of Heritage’
Yet the biggest impact can be felt from the loss of this sprawling heritage. After Sheridan went off to college, his mother would sell the family ranch out from under him in 1991 – something he has yet to recover from (and never expects to).
“When you write, it’s always of an autobiographical nature,” he notes.