The rancher who Kevin Costner portrays on “Yellowstone” is a fierce defender of his ranch, which is so sprawling that he needs a helicopter to patrol it. In fact, in the show, the Dutton Ranch is supposedly the largest remaining contiguous ranch in the United States.
Whether “Yellowstone” was inspired by ranchers from Montana or Texas – where the largest American ranch in the real world is located – one thing is clear: John Dutton is a fictional representation of a dying breed.
But where did series co-creator and writer Taylor Sheridan get the idea for a character like John Dutton? Is he based on any real-world figures? Maybe, maybe not – but there’s at least one potential candidate.
Is ‘Yellowstone’ Character Based on a Real-Life Rancher?
One of the biggest ranches in Montana is Galt Ranch, which boasts more than 3,500 cattle, 100 horses and 100,000 acres of land. And according to Tri-State Livestock News, rancher Bill Galt presides over the ranch from his very own helicopter.
Galt reportedly uses the helicopter to watch over his land and cattle, hunt down predators and herd elk that try to eat his cattle’s food stores. He believes ranching has a future, and he feels technology is an integral part of it.
The ranch, located in White Sulphur Springs, Montana, employs 10 people, according to its company profile. It also offers guided hunts and helicopter services as a way to supplement its core business: raising cattle and quarter horses.
Fictional Rancher John Dutton Is a Lonely King Figure
Meanwhile, on “Yellowstone,” running alongside John Dutton’s battle to preserve his way of life are complex family dynamics that feed into the metaphor Sheridan is building: that of Dutton as a feudal king, fighting the inevitable decay that time inflicts. While a king might not sound very Western, ultimately, both kings and cowboys fought over land.
There’s a duality that runs throughout the history of the West, Sheridan told Deadline in 2019. It’s the interplay between land and morality, and how the fight for one tests the mettle of the other.
“I think Gretel Ehrlich said it best in a book she wrote, where she talks about that moment when you own land. With ownership comes a moment where you stop walking the land and you are patrolling it,” Sheridan said. “We refer to a man’s house as his castle. That nature of kingdom and morality exists. If you’re a king, your morality is only tethered to your kingdom, it’s not really morality. It’s protecting and preserving the thing that you own. And you’re going to be defined by whether thing thing survives, or doesn’t.”
In some ways, it goes back to the scene in which Dutton confronted a tourist from China, who climbed off the tour bus to tell him he had too much land and it should be shared by the people. The standoff ended with Dutton firing his gun in the air, then telling the tourist: This is America. We don’t share land here.