Increasingly cantankerous and addled solo-dad patriarchs. Stubborn redheaded daughters with slimy yet misunderstood brothers. Hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of show-stopping real estate spreads and market-moving stock sale maneuvers. Big wooden ranch lodges whose walls have seen heartbreak, power, and strife. In many ways, Yellowstone is what might happen if Succession and Legends of the Fall met at Chico Hot Springs for a bourbon-fueled one-night stand.
Yellowstone, which enters its fourth season on the Paramount Network with a two-hour premiere this Sunday (and which will have a prequel event called 1883 that is scheduled for December), is the story of the mighty and doomed Dutton family, with Kevin Costner’s sensibly dressed John Dutton at the helm. The clan has owned a sprawling cattle ranch in Montana’s Paradise Valley called Yellowstone Ranch for generation upon generation, and the Duttons now find themselves in a position that their manifest destiny–spouting ancestors were once on the other side of: trying to prevent others from taking their land.
In Yellowstone, there are dead brothers and dead mothers, corrupt politicians and devious fly fishermen, indentured cowboys and feral horses. There are plans for the property that range from a casino to a ski resort, from a land grab to an airport. There are siblings—namely Jamie, Kayce, and Beth Dutton—who alternately jostle over and scoff at their birthright and the dark, deadly forces required to preserve it. Whether you’ve seen all three seasons or intend to skip right to the upcoming fourth, here are some people, places, phrases, and things that might help get you up to speed faster than Jimmy learned to ride a horse. Giddy up!
airport (n.): A place to land and launch planes, and in Yellowstone, the discovery that changes everything. The series’s longest-running theme is the ongoing battle over land rights in an untouched-for-generations slice of the Mountain West. But the realization in Season 3 that one or more of the Dutton family’s many opponents might be scheming over not just any development on their family land, but a whole airport, which would both prompt and support an explosion of tourist growth, and, crucially, be placed on the land via government-sanctioned eminent domain—well, that puts all their battles on a new trajectory, and one that doesn’t seem to be landing smoothly for anyone involved.
bikers (n.): A group of folks who learned the hard way that Yellowstone Ranch ≠ Yellowstone National Park.
Bozeman (n.): One of Montana’s most populous cities and the home of Montana State University, Bozeman is, in the land of Yellowstone, a 30- to 40-minute drive from the Dutton ranch and thus the place where one “goes into town.” It’s where Beth Dutton sloppily boozes and righteously vandalizes snooty boutiques; it’s where Monica teaches; it’s where Kayce buys ice cream for his son Tate and is befuddled by all the people who aren’t wearing rancher dungarees.
And in real life, it’s a Zoom town boomtown that The Wall Street Journal referred to as “Boz Angeles” thanks to its soaring housing prices and influx of Californians. In 2018, when Yellowstone premiered, creator Taylor Sheridan told Deadline that one of its themes was “the gentrification of the West.” Since then, the median home price in Bozeman has gone up more than 50 percent.
brand (v., n.): To sear one’s recognizable mark into a surface with a smoldering, custom-shaped iron—and also the mark itself. In Yellowstone, that mark is a “hooked, rocking Y,” and the surfaces it is singed onto include wood fences, leather saddles, cowhide, and human flesh. The series has a distinct version of personal brands and influencer culture: Over the years, many men and one particularly tough woman have endured the telltale burn of that iron into their chests as a show of loyalty to (and control by) the Dutton’s Yellowstone Ranch.
Broken Rock Reservation (n.): The show’s local Native American reservation, led by Chief Thomas Rainwater, where Kayce Dutton and his wife, Monica, initially live at the start of the series. The reservation is also home to the Painted Horse Casino, owned and operated by Rainwater, who remains in dogged pursuit of reclaiming the Duttons’ land. While the setting is fictional, Broken Rock Reservation was shot on Crow Reservation land, under an agreement between Sheridan and Crow Nation tribal chairman AJ Not Afraid.
buckle bunny (n.): A pretty young thang for whom bronc riding prowess—represented by the acquisition of shiny victory belt bling—is an aphrodisiac so powerful that it can lead to boning a neck-brace-wearing virgin felon in a hospital bed.
cellphone (n.): Like all Boomer parents, John Dutton hates the damn thing—until it (maybe?) saves his damn life when he’s ambushed in a roadside shoot-out in the Season 3 finale and the bullet strikes the pocketed phone’s screen.
Choco Chimps (n.): The breakfast of champions.
This season of @Yellowstone was chock full of highlights & memorable moments.— Pod Clubhouse Podcast Network (@PodClubhouse) August 28, 2020
But, can we all agree that the highlight of S3 of #Yellowstone is Gator's culinary aesthetic being visibly offended at having to serve "Choco Chimps" to Tate and John? #ChocoChimps #YellowstoneTV pic.twitter.com/UWbeXQLx8q
clover (n.): A member of the legume family that, when overeaten by cattle, can kill them by causing a fatal (and relatable) condition called “bloat.” In Season 2 of Yellowstone, a Dutton family foe—the mafioso-esque, gas-station-casino-and-local-liquor-license-kingpins Beck brothers—is so intent on sending a threatening message that they send planes over their pastures to drop clover in bulk. The result is the painful death of a half-million dollars’ worth of livestock, and the ramping-up of intra-valley warfare.
cruel and uncaring (adj.): Life, according to John Dutton in the Yellowstone Season 4 preview trailer.
euthanize (v.): To help nudge man or beast into the great beyond; the opening and closing act of Yellowstone so far. When the series began in 2018, it was with John Dutton in the midst of ending a horse’s misery following an accident on the side of the road. When Season 3 ended in 2020, it was with Rip Wheeler shooting a dying horse as vultures circled. “I’d rather kill a thousand men than shoot another horse,” Rip says, and if Season 4 previews are any indication, he well might.
exhume (v.): To dig up the dead. Poor Rip: Even his happiest life events are incredibly dark and doomed. After his great love Beth Dutton asks her dad for her own hand in marriage so she can propose to the ranch’s foreman herself, Rip goes out and digs up his murdered mother’s body so he can give Beth her wedding ring. A nice enough gesture, but also one that feels pretty haunted.
Gator (n.): The Duttons’ private chef, who is in his element when he’s offering up grilled octopus (to John Dutton’s disgust) and visibly deflated when he’s asked to serve Choco Chimps rather than tasty bacon. Gator is also a real-life dude named Gabriel “Gator” Guilbeau who runs craft services on the set and cooks up feasts for all the cast and crew. “No matter where we are, we’ll be in the middle of nowhere, no cell service, freezing fucking cold,” one actor said in a behind-the-scenes video. Another recalled: “Gator will pull up with a big tub of gumbo and étouffée. …It gets you through those long nights.”
Governor Lynelle Perry (n.): The head of the state’s executive branch and John Dutton’s on-again, off-again, on-again, off-again lover. A longtime ally to the Dutton family, but also a savvy politico who senses which way the winds are blowing and isn’t necessarily in John’s pocket the way he thinks she is.
grandson (n.): John Dutton’s preferred form of address for his grandchild, preferably delivered in his trademark mumble-growl; we rarely hear him utter the name Tate.
Josh Lucas (n.): The answer to every viewer’s snap inquiry of “huh, hey wait a sec, isn’t that … what’s his name …?” upon seeing the actor who plays a mustachioed younger John Dutton in the show’s flashbacks to the family in the 1990s.
Josh Lucas is such a legit Young Kevin Costner in Yellowstone...like...casting people were so right for this pic.twitter.com/HzWVYUFf8S— MekareMadness⭐ (@MekareMadness) February 25, 2021
kill the king (v.): The advice Jamie Dutton gets from his newly discovered biological father, Garrett Randall, in the Season 3 finale. “The Yellowstone ain’t a ranch, it’s an empire,” Garrett tells him. “Empires you take.” When Jamie protests that he doesn’t know how, his convict dad says: “It’s the simplest thing on earth. You kill the king.” Not long afterward, three different Duttons—John, Kayce, and Beth—appear to be down for the count, though it’s not yet clear who is (a) alive and (b) responsible.
lawyers (n.): Defined by John Dutton—as he explains to a young Jamie why he has to be a good boy and go to law school—as “the swords of this century,” because “words are weapons now.”
leverage (n.): Defined by John Dutton—as he surveys his vast landholdings—as: “knowing if someone had all the money in the world, this is what they would buy.” For some strange reason he totally glosses over other aspects of leverage, such as the way a reliance upon it can leave a person, or a family, insolvent …
livestock commissioner (n.): Simultaneously the most chill and chaotic job imaginable. A sinecure that involves long stretches of just sorta hangin’ out brushin’ horse tails punctuated by the occasional deadly shoot-out and subsequent cover-up. A position that, in the span of three weird weeks, is occupied by three different men (John, Jamie, Kayce) who go by “Commissioner Dutton.”
Market Equities (n.): EvilCorp. ACME. Buy n Large Corporation. Gekko & Co. And now, Market Equities, the latest big bad shadowy moneybags enterprise that is trying to make a profit off of someone else’s downfall. As the employer of hedgie-type Roarke Morris and executive Willa Hayes (and, in the upcoming Season 4, of a character named Caroline Warner played by the great Jacki Weaver), Market Equities not only fought off Beth Dutton’s attempt to nuke their stock price but also took over her firm, Schwartz & Meyer, as part of their quest to acquire a significant amount of adjacent local land and then force the Duttons to give up more via eminent domain.
"People make toast for breakfast. He crushes companies and makes cities." @JoshHolloway's Roarke Morris means business! Holloway and the rest of the cast break down "An Acceptable Surrender." #YellowstoneTV pic.twitter.com/TL9mq6Cdjx— Yellowstone (@Yellowstone) July 6, 2020
meaner than evil (adj.): The attitude necessary to defeat evil, as John Dutton tells his son Kayce, and part of John’s own personal three-pronged grindset: “Learn to be meaner than evil and still love your family and enjoy a sunrise,” he counsels his boy.
Montana attorney general (n.): The top legal counsel for the state of Montana and Harvard graduate Jamie Dutton’s brass ring. In his first attempt to win the powerful legal-eagle office, Jamie knocks up his cutthroat campaign manager Christina (speaking of which, when’s that baby due?) and is sabotaged by his father, who brings in rodeo queen Cassidy Reid to run against Jamie and win. But when Cassidy is tapped to join the feds, Jamie gets another chance: For the time being at least, he now serves as the acting attorney general, at quite an inopportune time for his increasingly estranged family.
New York Magazine (n.): The publication for which reporter Sarah Nguyen was working on a Dutton family exposé when Jamie murdered her with his bare hands and then sent her off in an upside-down kayak. (Remember how he forgot her phone and kinda threw it in afterward? When will that come back to haunt him?)
“office help” (n., v.): The contents of the text message Beth Dutton managed to send to Rip right before the first time someone tried to kill her in her place of employment.
oil deal in Yemen (n.): The Market Equities version of “kill the king”: When company top dog Willa Hayes learns that Beth Dutton has orchestrated a faux complaint about “workplace harassment” that threatens to sideline her, she starts playing war games. “Don’t feel much like a land deal in Montana, does it?” observes Roarke. “No, it feels like an oil deal in Yemen,” Willa says, “and from now on, that’s how we treat it.”
Paradise Valley (n.): A Montana region nestled between the Absaroka and Gallatin mountain ranges and traversed by the Yellowstone River; also the name of the late, coulda-been-great Dan Jenkins’s proposed fancy-schmancy development in the same region.
poncho cloak thing (n.): My official nomenclature for this legendary Pendleton-meets-Slanket fit.
rustling (v.): Stealing someone else’s cows. Frowned upon.
Schwartz & Meyer (n.): The Salt Lake City–based financial firm for whom Beth Dutton works as the head of mergers and acquisitions. On the one hand, a great employer if you like bosses who empower their workers to make enormous land purchases willy-nilly and with little oversight. On the other hand, any positive GlassDoor reviews probably benefit from a little bit of literal survivorship bias, considering that “assistant to Beth Dutton” has proved to be a deadly job :(.
ski resort (n.): The other intended development in the local landscape and the reason for the desired airport. If this gets built, they’d just have to think of a different name from the Yellowstone Club.
spooked (adj., v.): A state of being defined by fear and panic and a word that is commonly used to describe skittish horses, such as the ones Kayce Dutton has a knack for rehabilitating, or the one that reared up and killed the Dutton family matriarch, Evelyn. (Who then made sure to guilt-trip and ruin her only daughter in her dying breath!!! Damn!!!) In Yellowstone, spooking is also an offensive strategy frequently employed tactically against competing humans, in the form of bar fights, poisoned herds, the usual.
Stock Growers Association (n.): In the Season 3 finale of Yellowstone, the newly appointed livestock commissioner Kayce Dutton is visited by the leadership of the Stock Growers Association with the suggestion that in a couple years he run for state governor with their support. There are a number of such associations out in the American West, most of which formed in the late 19th century to address and argue over the common interests of nascent cattle-ranching homesteaders on the land. (Montana’s version sprang up around the 1880s and involved both Teddy Roosevelt and a separate, I think, group of anti-rustler vigilantes known as “Stuart’s Stranglers.”)
summer camp (n.): You’re playing capture the flag and falling off the top bunk bed. John Dutton is having his workforce move his glamping tent a few dozen yards to the left out on the hinterlands of his own sprawling property so that he gets absolutely no cell service, instead of one bar, so that when the Montana governor that he sometimes sleeps with arrives she has no way of contacting him and has to be brought out on a four-wheeler. You two are not the same.
the bunkhouse (n.): The sleeping and cards-playing quarters for the Yellowstone Ranch cowboys and ranch hands (and, sometimes, wayward Dutton sons) where there is really only one rule: no fighting, or else.
the trailer park and the tornado (n.): You and Beth Dutton, respectively.
the train station (n.): Need a lift? Not so fast: Getting a ride to “the train station” is Yellowstone’s version of hiring a house painter in The Irishman. We learn this early and violently in the show’s first season, when a ranch hand named Fred picks a fight with pipsqueak newcomer Jimmy and is summarily sent packing. “This ain’t no train station,” Fred realizes aloud as Lloyd drives him off into the darkness and then starts throwing his luggage off a cliff. “Sure it is,” says Lloyd, taking aim and sending him off the cliff, too. “It’s a long, black train.”
Later in Yellowstone, a trip to the train station is threatened again; a cowboy named Walker narrowly avoids getting taken there himself (for now) by helping revenge-kill and body-dump other Dutton foes. Lloyd’s description of the place as being just across state lines and “in a county with no people, no sheriff, and no 12 jurors of your peers” has drawn comparisons to the so-called “Zone of Death” located in a remote section of Yellowstone National Park. You don’t want them to choo-choo-choose you for a one-way ticket to ride.
Wade Morrow (n.): The character of Wade Morrow—a neighboring rancher to the Duttons and friend turned foe to John who is ultimately killed along with his son after the two of them, on horseback, river-trample two Dutton Ranch workers—gets his own entry here solely because I want to point out that the actor is named “Boots Southerland”!!!! This is a man who was born to exist in the Taylor Sheridan Universe.
Weatherford Hill (n.): The official whiskey of summer camp.
Whiskey Myers (n.): The IRL band who played live in the cowboy bar where Beth Dutton bait-and-switched Dan Jenkins in Season 1 before dancing with her man Rip.
Yellowstone Ranch (n.): The Dutton family homestead, passed down through going-on-nine generations and the locus of all the drama that Paradise Valley can stand. In real life, it’s played by a 2,500-plus acre working ranch further north in Montana near the Bitterroot River. Called the Chief Joseph Ranch, it was once owned by a “glass tycoon” and nowadays has cabins that can be rented for four figures a night. (Weddings aren’t allowed on the property, but one’s personal horses are.)
zoning (v., n.): What everything always comes down to in the end, you know? You either die on horseback in a shoot-out of questionable legality whilst defending your family’s land, or you live long enough to become a NIMBY.