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The Truth About The Yellowstone Ranch

Over the course of its first two, pulse-pounding seasons on Paramount Network, the Kevin Costner-starring, neo-Western series Yellowstone has transformed itself from the little cowboy show that could into a legit ratings powerhouse. It seems primed for an even bigger breakthrough when its eagerly-awaited third season finally makes its premiere later this year. If you're among the viewers who have never caught an episode of Yellowstone, the series follows a ranching dynasty in Montana bent on keeping their land in the family despite the best efforts of all sorts of nefarious schemers with designs on making it their own.  

If you're wondering what makes the Montana-based Yellowstone Dutton Ranch so valuable, the reasons are many. First of all, the ranch is advertised on Yellowstone as being the largest in America, which means it's sitting on a prime cut of Big Sky Country land that developers deem fit for condos and casinos. The sprawling ranch also shares a boundary with a local Native American tribe, who likely also have a legitimate claim to land currently within the Dutton Ranch's borders. To make the Dutton Ranch even more of a real estate prize, it actually shares a different border with the titular national park.

There's really no end to folks with eyes on claiming the ranch for themselves, and fans of the series can no doubt confirm that there's not much some of those folks wouldn't do to make it theirs. Of course, the often violent entanglements that ensue with those attempted land grabs are all of the fictional sort — Yellowstone is just a TV show, after all — but that fact hasn't stopped viewers from taking an interest in the disputed plot of land. Here's a couple of things you may not know about the Yellowstone Dutton Ranch.

The Yellowstone Dutton Ranch is not a real ranch

In all likelihood, the first thing folks are going to find out when they start digging into the history of Yellowstone's prized Dutton Ranch is that it doesn't really exist. That'll hardly come as a shock to many, because as authentic as the show might feel when it's not indulging in overtly melodramatic shenanigans, it is an entirely fictional tale. As such, there is not now, nor has there ever been, a functioning Yellowstone Dutton Ranch in Montana. Nor has there ever been a real, true-grit styled rancher by the name of John Dutton who could call that ranch his home.

That's not to say, however, that there isn't any sort of real-world basis for such a ranch, or even such a person. Though Yellowstone creator Taylor Sheridan has never confirmed as much, it's a safe bet that there's more than a little bit of historical basis for both the man and the land at the center of the Yellowstone fray. 

In terms of the man in the middle of Yellowstone's narrative, John Dutton is most likely a composite character based on a couple of different North American ranching icons. Chief among them are current Montana kingpin Bill Galt, who (like John Dutton) has a penchant for flying around in a helicopter and taking meetings with high-powered politicians. The other is Texas ranching legend W.T. Waggoner, who was every bit as hell bent as John Dutton on keeping his 520,000 acre, North Texas Waggoner Ranch (itself the likely inspiration for Yellowstone's Dutton Ranch) in the family for as long as possible. While it remains to be seen how successful John Dutton will be in that endeavor, Waggoner managed the feat for nearly two centuries.

The ranch in Yellowstone is also nowhere near Yellowstone National Park

We're assuming most of you were not entirely surprised that the Yellowstone ranch is, in fact, not real. But if you're a die hard fan of the show, you also know the sprawling fictional ranch and the jaw-droppingly gorgeous vistas contained within its borders are as much a character on Yellowstone as Jaime, or Beth, or any of the Dutton Ranch crew. 

As such, the series makes no apologies for shamelessly indulging in long shots of the largely untamed Montana landscapes. And to be certain, Sheridan and the entire Yellowstone creative team make ample use of those lavish, often perilous landscapes in telling their stories. It might surprise you to learn that even if Yellowstone National Park features prominently in those stories, the ranch most frequently featured in Yellowstone is nowhere near the park itself. 

The ranch in question is the Chief Joseph Ranch, which stands in for the land occupied by John Dutton and his family. That ranch can be found in the beautifully named Bitterroot Valley, which is located deep in the heart of Darby, Montana. For the record, Darby, Montana is roughly an eight hour drive from the Montana-Wyoming border, which is essentially where the boundaries of Yellowstone National Park end (give or take a few thousand acres on the Montana side). That meansthat  anyone tuning in to Yellowstone with the idea they're getting a free look at America's first national park are sorely mistaken.

Does that make Yellowstone any less intriguing? No. Does it make the series any less lovely to look at? Certainly not. In our eyes, it doesn't even make Yellowstone feel any less authentic. It might, however, slightly change the way you see the coveted land at the heart of the storm.