Whenever the cattle-baron Dutton family clashes with real estate magnates in Yellowstone—which is always—the legacy landowners growl that they’ll stop at nothing to defend their gorgeous expanse of Montana acreage. “That’s a seven-generation ranch. He’ll never sell,” one frustrated developer from Market Equities says in the most recent season. But how did John Dutton (played by Kevin Costner) and his brood acquire all this land in the first place? And who are the seven generations? To answer these questions, Yellowstone creator-on-horseback Taylor Sheridan has blown out his smash show into an ever-sprawling universe, launching a series of booster-pack programs that began last year with the magnificent and tragic 1883, starring Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, and Sam Elliott.
This Sunday night, after the second-to-last episode of the current season of Yellowstone, Paramount will premiere the next of these shows, 1923, which centers on the stubborn and snakebitten Dutton ancestors 40 years after the events of 1883. 1923 stars Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren, both of them stern yet twinkling in their roles as Jacob and Cara Dutton. And though the project was originally conceived to be set a decade later, in 1932, the finished version wound up in the whirlwind post–World War I, pre-Depression years both in the United States and abroad. According to reports earlier this fall, it will run for two seasons. And if the premiere episode is any indication, this series has a scope that leapfrogs Sheridan’s already ambitious previous work.
“This was one of the fundamental things I wanted to look at: When you have a kingdom, and you are the king, is there such a thing as morality?” Sheridan told The Atlantic in November. “Because anyone trying to take your kingdom and remove you as king is going to replace your morality for theirs. So does morality factor into the defense of the kingdom? And what does that make the king? And at the end of the day, that’s really what the show is about.”
The Duttons certainly act as a version of American royalty in Sheridan’s purview, and when it comes to their ruling lineage, the first episode of 1923 answered some questions while introducing a few others. Below is, as best as I can parse it, a guide to the clan’s family tree throughout the Sheridan-verse thus far.
(This contains major plot points from both Yellowstone and 1883, and while there are mild spoilers from Sunday night’s 1923 premiere episode, I’ve tried to exclude anything especially surprising or affecting. I’ve also had to fudge timeline math a little, but I think that’s in keeping with the spirit of the program: In the premiere of 1923, Jacob Dutton tells another dude that when it comes to newlyweds and the timing of their weddings vis-à-vis the births of their first babies, “you don’t wanna be too picky with your math on a calendar.” Noted!)
THE FIRST GENERATION: Staggering Toward Montana
Extremely ballpark birth years: 1840s–1850s (???)
Members include: James Dutton (McGraw); Claire (née) Dutton (Dawn Olivieri); Jacob Dutton (Ford)
In 1883, which premiered a year ago, Sheridan follows husband and wife James and Margaret Dutton—a former Civil War soldier and nurse—and their two children Elsa and John as they attempt to wagon-wheel their way from Fort Worth, Texas, to a wild-western homestead of their own. James and Margaret are vibrant forces who understand their daughter’s need to roam as well as they understand one another.
In addition to James and Margaret, the group initially includes James’s widowed, terse sister, Claire, and her daughter Mary Abel, as well as a large band of Nordic emigrants. But by the time the group staggers into Montana, onto the land that will become the center of the Yellowsphere, the Dutton party has been severely, excruciatingly winnowed down, thanks to snakes and guns and arrows.
In 1923—which, like 1883, is so far occasionally narrated by the ageless voice of Elsa Dutton—we learn a little bit more about the family’s ancient roots: From the Scottish highlands, to “the coffin ships of Ireland,” to the “beaches of New Jersey,” to the Civil War battlefields, the Duttons persisted. 1923 also introduces another Dutton—Jacob—who is married to a buggy-driving boss lady with a brogue and who arrives in Montana to help out the family of his brother … yep, James.
THE SECOND GENERATION: Brothers Near and Far
Extremely ballpark birth years: 1860s–1880s
Members include: Elsa Dutton (Isabel May); Mary Abel Dutton (Emma Malouff); John Dutton (James Badge Dale); Spencer Dutton (Brandon Sklenar)
Cousins Elsa and Mary Abel Dutton didn’t have much in common in life, though they both met their deaths on the same journey in 1883, with Elsa defiantly choosing her final resting place near a tree on the land that will become the Yellowstone Ranch. In addition to her surviving brother, John, Elsa’s parents would go on to have another child, a son named Spencer, whom audiences met briefly in a Yellowstone flashback scene in Season 4.
In the 1923 premiere, viewers meet both John and Spencer, though not in the same place. The former is still in Montana, working the land, leading cattle drives and trying to figure out what to do about a whole bunch of dead livestock. (It was ever thus.) He is married to a woman named Emma and has a fine boy named Jack.
And then there is Spencer, the Tristan Ludlow of the bunch and the spiritual predecessor to Kayce Dutton. He shoots big game in the bush outside of Nairobi; he has vivid PTSD dreams about fighting in World War I; he threatens a man with a gun and then apologizes profusely. It seems likely that Spencer will be getting into some deep shit, perhaps literally, what with all those hippos around.
THE THIRD GENERATION: A Rancher’s Life for Me
Extremely ballpark birth years: 1900-ish
Members include: Jack Dutton (Darren Mann); TBD?
In the 1923 premiere we meet John Dutton’s son, Jack. Is he the future grandfather of John Dutton (Kevin Costner edition)? Hard to say: I kinda believe he is, but I am not 100 percent sure that he doesn’t have a cousin or brother we haven’t met (or who hasn’t been born) yet. What we do know for certain about Jack is that he’s strapping, cocky, engaged, and totally fine with postponing his wedding so that he can tend to his first love: moving some cattle from one place to another. “She’s marrying a rancher,” he explains to an alarmed Jacob Dutton in the premiere episode. “Dunno why the wedding should be different than the marriage.”
Jack’s fiancée’s name is Elizabeth Strafford. In the trailer for later 1923 episodes, a real mean-seemin’ Timothy Dalton, playing a rival to the Dutton family, boasts that “I’ve acquired the Strafford ranch.” Ruh-roh …
THE FOURTH GENERATION: Tired of Talking, Son
Extremely ballpark birth years: 1920s
Members include: John Dutton II* (Dabney Coleman)
As played by Dabney Coleman in Episode 10 of the second season of Yellowstone, John Dutton II was a man whose 90-plus years on earth were filled with pride, stewardship, and regret. “When you get my age, the only thing you miss is being young,” he tells his son, another John Dutton, in a flashback in that episode. “A chance to do it all over, see the look of wonder in grandchildren’s eyes—the look in your eyes when you was a kid.” He fills his son in on a little secret: Back in the day, when the younger John used to think he was sneaky, dipping into the cookie jar every night? His dad totally knew and just didn’t say. Now that’s love.
*A note on the various Johns Dutton: There’s been a bit of confusion when it comes to the naming convention of the many John Duttons in the wide world of these shows. While Coleman’s character is credited on IMDb as “John Dutton Sr.,” I hereby declare him a II because there’s already another John Dutton above who is older than he is. [Bangs gavel at the Livestock Commission meeting.]
THE FIFTH GENERATION: The Love Guv
Extremely ballpark birth years: 1950s
Members include: John Dutton III (Costner and Josh Lucas); Peter Dutton
Costner’s John Dutton III, the central character at the heart of the entire ecosystem of programs, is so not-particularly-nice that they’ve cast him twice. In addition to Costner’s lead performance as the steadfast and selfish family patriarch in Yellowstone, the character has also been played, during flashback scenes throughout the series, by Josh Lucas sporting a spectacular ’stache.
Ever the boomer, Costner’s John Dutton is at once beleaguered and braggadocious, NIMBY and nimble, principled and a prick. He is a widower who can get it from a hot senator; he is, somehow, a state governor who refuses to ever get along. He has blood on his hands, but he knows that it’s hard to see amid all the dung and dirt.
He is a man who has been repeatedly gutted by tragedy—his brother passed less than a day after being born; his beautiful wife was killed in a horseback accident that his daughter effectively caused; his firstborn son, Lee, was killed in the Yellowstone pilot and has been mentioned distressingly little ever since; his adopted son Jamie’s biological dad tried to kill him—but even after all that, he’s still got guts. He’s not mad, he’s just disappoin— No, no, actually, he’s pretty damn mad.
THE SIXTH GENERATION: The Beautiful and the Damned
Extremely ballpark birth years: 1980s
Members include: Lee Dutton, Jamie Dutton (Wes Bentley), Beth Dutton (Kelly Reilly), Kayce Dutton (Luke Grimes), Rip Wheeler, sorta (Cole Hauser)
According to a study by a wealth management group cited in Money Magazine in 2015, more than two-thirds of wealthy families squander their wealth by the second generation, and nine out of 10 do so by the third. Vacation houses get squabbled over; some ungrateful grandkid blows it all on String Cheese Incident tours; the costs of expected lifestyles, both financial and existential, start to pile up. While the Duttons’ fortunes have waxed and waned over the years—1923 opens with a voice-over that says Jacob Dutton took the family dream “and made it into an empire, then the empire crumbled”—it seems like the family’s millennial era might be its most divisive and destructive yet. (With apologies to Lee, who’d fittingly be Gen X.)
The psychic and physical wounds suffered by and among John Dutton’s biological and taken-in children, sometimes at the hands of one another, are plentiful and plenty dark. Beth and Kayce both witnessed the death of their mother. (Honorary family member Rip Wheeler, meanwhile, killed his father for killing his mother.) An impulsive, immature decision by Jamie as an adolescent did irreversible damage to Beth, who is hell-bent on stripping him of his fatherhood the way she feels he precluded her maternity. Kayce worries he’s gotten the worst curse of all: being a lot like his father. And Beth, over the years, has turned from feisty financier to straight-up farce, surviving explosions and jail fights and so, so much vodka.
On the one hand, it’s gotten increasingly difficult to flash forward to the idle rich kids of Yellowstone whining in Bozeman bars after watching the earnest hardships and straight-faced acting in 1883. On the other, it’s a lot like how real families work; the forebears sacrificed so the great-grandkids could fight over the Nintendo Switch and grow up to be little edgelords.
(One fun aside: On the very off chance that Jamie’s recent hot-’n’-heavy tryst with Market Equities rainmaker Sarah Atwood in Yellowstone ever results in her getting knocked up, it would open up a family tree wormhole in the universe. That’s because the actress who played the angry widow Claire Dutton in 1883, Dawn Olivieri, is also cast in Yellowstone as Sarah, the corporate ball-buster. If Sheridan ever needs a new angle, he can always pivot to time travel.)
THE SEVENTH GENERATION: The Doomed
Extremely ballpark birth years: the 21st century
Members include; Tate Dutton; John Dutton; That Poor Baby Dutton; Carter; The-Gleam-in-Kayce’s-Eye Dutton
Imagine being approached by a witch or a fairy who is like, Wanna be born as the seventh-generation scion to the most powerful landholding family in the state of Montana, and also your grandfather is the governor? You’d probably be all in, right? WRONG! Please run screaming instead. In the fifth episode of Yellowstone Season 5, Kayce Dutton suggests trying for another kid, which is supposed to feel hopeful; instead, I felt terrified on that future soul’s behalf.
Man, all these poor kids! Tate Dutton, over the years, has seen carnage and bloodshed and emotional trauma again and again and again, including watching his little brother (another John) die a few hours after a car-truck-buffalo-crash emergency birth and observing his mother just generally suffering at all times. He has been kidnapped; he has been shuttled back and forth from the reservation to the ranch; his dad is a stone-cold killer. Jamie’s child, born of workplace manipulation, had the recent misfortune of being discovered by its vengeful Aunt Beth. And Carter, after the death of his mother, had the misfortune of being taken in by the lady.
In an interview with Esquire, Sheridan explained the American ethos that’s present in all of his Yellowstone-adjacent projects. “Our country’s model has been, when full up here, go that way and reinvent yourself,” he said. “It’s like a parasite: Devour this region, and then move to the next.” Now, with the start of a whole new realm of globe-trotting misadventures in 1923, Sheridan has given audiences something new yet familiar on which to feast.