Taylor Sheridan’s Yellowstone is such a well-written neo-western drama that you would easily think he based it on a book or even a true story. With the release of its highly anticipated fifth season on November 2022, the hit TV show managed to rake in more fans once again.
Yellowstone is a show that follows the story of the Dutton family, one of the largest landowners in Montana. Together, they continually struggle to keep their beloved land safe from developers, investors, and, ultimately, “progress.”
The series is well-known for its characters, who have so much depth in them. It is one of those shows where fans quickly struggle to categorize characters between “good” and “evil.”
Besides the amazingly well-written story, Sheridan’s dedication to showing the authentic representation of cowboy life throughout the series is another reason it became a worldwide hit. Since it’s so life-like, it’s easy to think the story came from a novel or true-to-life events.
So, Is Yellowstone Based on a Book or a True Story?
Yellowstone’s story didn’t come from a book or true-to-life events. It’s a fictional series that John Linson and Taylor Sheridan created. As far as how the storyline came to be is concerned, it simply came from the brilliant minds of Sheridan and Linson.
That said, the two did draw inspiration from the struggles that ranchers and cowboys faced in the modern day and throughout the industry’s history. Real-life issues such as poverty, injustice, oppression, corruption, and racism also influenced both writers.
One part of the show where these real-life issues are abundant is on the Native American reservation where Kacey Dutton lived with his family. It is a place where the Native Americans have to deal with poverty, injustice, and racism constantly. They also had the oppression and corruption from law enforcement and even their fellow Native Americans who are in a position of power.
Sheridan’s dedication to giving his show the most authentic cowboy feeling is simply unparalleled. That is the main reason why it feels so real.
He used his experience growing up and working as a cowboy on his family’s Texas ranch and even hired real-life ranchers and cowboys for the show. He is so serious about the authenticity of his show that he even has a cowboy camp for his actors to learn the ropes of cowboy life.
Where Did Sheridan Draw Inspiration for the Show?
While Yellowstone might be a work of fiction, the issues that inspired Sheridan while writing the story are quite real. His storylines touch on the elements of change he has observed shaping the Western United States in the past few years.
These elements are ranching, land development, and power. All these are present and act as the pillars of Yellowstone’s story.
The root of the Duttons’ problems originates from the desire of big businesses and ambitious people to make more money by turning the ranching lands of Montana into a city. It’s basically about powerful people seeking to take advantage of the profits brought about by land development projects without considering the damages it can cause to the ranching industry.
While the series happens primarily in Montana, the issues Yellowstone tackles are all present and happening in all the Western States. It’s something that the ranching industry is facing in modern times as progress starts creeping into the pristine lands it calls home.
Sheridan once said during an interview with the Los Angeles Times that the issues of land development, resource management, extreme poverty, oppression, and inequity in the government are happening everywhere. However, Sheridan says that if they happen in smaller and more rural areas, the consequences may seem more acute because fewer people live in them.
What’s Their Process of Creation for the Show?
It’s rare to see only two people working on writing the story for an entire TV series. After all, it’s a task usually done by a team of writers. Most series even have episodes written by different individuals. However, that is not the case with Taylor Sheridan and John Linson since they decided to write the Yellowstone storyline alone.
In hindsight, the approach Sheridan and Linson went for isn’t unheard of in the film industry. Their creation process for Yellowstone drew inspiration from the 2014-2019 American crime drama series called True Detective.
Similar to Yellowstone, two writers, Cary Joji Fukunaga and Nic Pizzolzatto are the only ones that wrote the first season of True Detective. Sheridan even revealed that he adapted their writing process during one of his interviews. He said that, like Cary, he is simply writing 10-hour movies and shooting them.
The similarities between the two series don’t end there too. Like True Detective, the story of the characters in Yellowstone gradually unfolds throughout each season. They even go through their respective character arcs that significantly impact each story.
With all these things said, Sheridan admitted that he has no clue about writing scripts for TV shows. He says his approach is like writing a novel, which explains why it feels like Yellowstone’s story was from a book. Sheridan’s way of storytelling gives the series a multi-layered storyline that is immersive and perfectly translates on the screen.
Was the Character of John Dutton Based on Someone?
John Dutton is the owner of the Yellowstone Dutton Ranch in the Yellowstone series. As a character, he is stubborn and will do anything to keep his family’s beloved ranch intact.
Although John Dutton isn’t a character based on any particular person, people like Bill Galt and W.T. Waggoner may have inspired Sheridan when writing him. Both Waggoner and Galt owned massive ranches in the United States.
W.T. Waggoner, for instance, is a ranching legend that once owned the Waggoner Ranch, a 525,000-acre ranch in North Texas. It was America’s largest ranch for decades and got passed down from several generations of the Waggoner family. It stayed in the family’s possession until 2015, when Stan Kroenke purchased the massive property for an estimated $725 million.
On the other hand, Bill Galt, dubbed “The Last American Cowboy,” can be considered the modern-day inspiration for the character of John Dutton. Galt is a rancher in Montana known for using a helicopter to scout his lands, and he occasionally meets up with politicians. All these things are similar to what John Dutton does in the Yellowstone series.
Are The Main Ranches in the Show Fictional Too?
As far as the ranches shown in the series are concerned, both the Yellowstone and 6666 ranches are actual working ranches in the world and not just a film set the production put up.
The Yellowstone Dutton Ranch is called the Chief Joseph Ranch. It’s a 150-acre property operating in Darby, Montana, since 1880. Surprisingly, people can rent the cabins when the Yellowstone crew isn’t filming on the ranch. However, if you want to enjoy the one-of-a-kind Yellowstone experience, you’ll need to prepare your wallet since a night’s stay does cost a bit, and they have a minimum three-night stay policy.
As for the 6666 or Four Sixes Ranch in Texas, where Jimmy went to in the show, it’s the real deal. The 6666 Ranch is well known for producing the best quality Quarter Horses and Angus cattle in the country.
The ranch has been standing ever since the 19th century. In May 2021, Taylor Sheridan and a group of investors purchased the ranch. Besides maintaining its operation, they’ve also turned it into the filming location of the Yellowstone series, including the spin-off 6666, which is under development.
Given the amount of work and passion that Taylor Sheridan put into writing the Yellowstone storyline, it isn’t surprising for some people to mistake it for something that came from a book. It is, after all, a rich story designed to provide immersion for its viewers through its authentic and realistic portrayal of its characters and the world they live in.
Taylor Sheridan, Yellowstone