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James And John Dutton's Relationship In Y: 1883 Explained

"1883," the Paramount+ prequel series to Paramount Network's "Yellowstone," brings with it all the gritty brutality that makes its parent show so captivating, transferring the ruthless tone of "Yellowstone" from the present day to the Old West. "Yellowstone," of course, follows John Dutton (Kevin Costner), the patriarch of the Dutton family and owner of the show's titular ranch, as he fights tooth and nail to keep it from being taken from his family. As the show progresses, viewers learn that the Duttons will, indeed, do anything to protect their family legacy.

"1883," meanwhile, begins before said legacy was even created. The prequel series follows the first Duttons to ever enter Montana as they flee from poverty in the hopes of making a fortune out on the frontier. Leading the pack is James Dutton (Tim McGraw), who might be an even more brutal man than Costner's John. 

The first episode of "1883" sees James gun down a group of highwaymen all by himself. He later shoots a pickpocket in full view of numerous witnesses. The character fully embraces the lawlessness and unforgiving nature of the Old West, something his descendant, John Dutton, tries to emulate in his own story, though, murder is a bit harder to get away with in the present day. 

That said, their reckless brutality makes it clear that both characters are definitely cut from the same cloth. So, what is their relationship, exactly?

Long before John Dutton III, there was James

Though Costner and McGraw's characters are separated by more than a century, the two men are technically only removed from each other by a mere three generations (via Yellowstone Wiki). Neither series has explicitly spelled out how much the modern-day Dutton knows about his lineage, but John's devotion to his family's property makes us think he's probably spent quite a few hours on Ancestry. 

If he researched a family tree on the famous genealogy website, he'd see the faces of a variety of notable people, including: his father, John Dutton II (Dabney Coleman); his grandfather, John Dutton I (portrayed regularly by Audie Rick in Season 1 of "1883" and by Jack Michael Doke in a flashback sequence of "Yellowstone"); his great-grandfather, James Dutton (McGraw); and his great-grandmother, Margaret Dutton (Faith Hill).

Of course, it doesn't take much math to figure out that John Dutton III never got an opportunity to meet his great-grandfather. However, it remains unclear exactly when James Dutton died and when John Dutton II was born. As a result, it remains a distinct possibility that John Dutton II might have actually met the grizzled old cowboy featured so prominently in "1883." 

Despite the sizable difference in years, a relatively close familial relationship such as this could indicate that any number of traditions were passed down all the way from James himself and, perhaps, even generations beyond.

Dutton family traditions

In "1883" Season 1, Episode 3 ("River"), James helps his son shoot his first deer. As the father and son approach the deceased animal, James notes that the deer will feed the family for a week. While the conditions of the hunt are notably more dire than those faced by their descendants in the 21st century, there is a definite commonality. James says that because the deer is John's first kill, he needs to "blood" John. James proceeds to softly smear blood from the animal on John's cheeks. 

"You took a life to give us life so now we say thank you," James says as he explains a Dutton tradition that will ultimately carry on long past his own lifespan. This short scene is an obvious callback to "Yellowstone" Season 2, Episode 6 ("Blood the Boy"), in which John Dutton III does the very same thing for his grandson, Tate Dutton (Brecken Merrill).

Taking all this into account, it will be important to monitor anymore parallels that emerge between the two protagonists as more episodes of each series are released. After all, based on everything we've seen in "Yellowstone," it certainly seems like violence and toughness might simply run in the Dutton family. John Dutton III is a formidable man in his own right, but he wasn't the first member of the Dutton family to embrace the ruthlessness of the West. "1883" proves that McGraw's James started doing that long before Costner's John ever did. 

As time goes on, fans will get to see just how much the lives of the Dutton family are ultimately changed by James' fateful journey into the Wild West.