Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Most Shocking Moments From 1883

The hottest wild western on the air, "1883" was the surprise spin-off of one of the most talked about dramas on television. Set nearly 150 years before "Yellowstone" the series was led by western movie veteran Sam Elliott ("The Big Lebowski") and country music superstars Faith Hill and Tim McGraw. A somber, more subdued series that eschewed the faster pace of its parent series, "1883" instead went for a stirring character drama that riveted audiences with its unpredictability, including the surprise reveal after its final episode that wasn't intended to be a continuing series.

From its first moments to its final parting shot, "1883" was full of unforgettable twists and turns, startling revelations, and dramatic life and death struggles. Set on the American frontier along the famed Oregon Trail, "1883" showed a different side to the west than audiences may have been used to. Instead of rousing cowboy adventure, it portrayed a harsh world of ugly truths and unsettling events that would make even the biggest western fan think twice about wanting to live in the era of gunslingers and outlaws.

After its stunning premiere, audiences learned to expect the unexpected on "1883," and now that it's concluded we can look back on its most shocking moments. Did your favorite make the list? Read on to find out.


Hotel horror

When we first met James Dutton (Tim McGraw) and his family, including wife Margaret (Faith Hill), children Elsa and John, and his sister and niece, they had just converged on Fort Worth to begin their travels north to start a new life. There, James encountered two Pinkerton agents, Shea and Thomas (Sam Elliott), who were about to embark on their own journey guiding a wagon train to Oregon. Shea recognized James as a kindred spirit, and good with a six-shooter, and tried to recruit him to join their group, but he declined.

Later that night, a vicious attack forced him to reconsider. It began when James and his family spent a night at a hotel in Fort Worth and a strange drunken man stumbled into the room of his teenaged daughter Elsa. Right away, audiences knew something was wrong as the creaky footsteps made their way into the room and Elsa's eyes widened with fright. Approaching the young girl, the man grabbed Elsa, and while she put up a valiant fight, she was struck down harshly with a massive fist. But just as the inebriated man was about to have his way with her, a shot rang out and he fell dead from a bullet ... from James' gun. 

The attack was a shocking and sudden wakeup call to the audience of the real dangers that lurked around every corner and could strike without warning. It's also the moment when James realized that his family might be safer if they were to join Shea's group.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Claire and Mary Abel's sudden exit

In the second episode "Behind Us, A Cliff," several men on horseback rode up on the group while they were camping outside Fort Worth. Unfortunately, Shea, Thomas, and James were elsewhere, leaving the wagon train largely unprotected. But while the men claimed to simply be there to enjoy the river, Margaret and Claire Dutton were concerned they might have other aims. Claire was a proud, harsh shrew of a woman, and had no time for their games. Claire sent a clear message to the men that she wanted them gone, but made the mistake of hurling rocks at their leader as their horses sipped the river's water.

Enraged, the man attacked Claire, held her down, and suggested something worse would be coming her way. Aiming her double-barreled rifle, Margaret defended her sister, sparking a fight between the groups that quickly led to bloodshed. The armed men began shooting at the group, firing indiscriminately at anyone in their sights. It was a scene that stunned the audience with a hail of unexpected gunfire that killed Claire Dutton's daughter Mary Abel. In the aftermath of the attack, Claire was beside herself with grief, and saw little use in continuing the journey to start a new life without her beloved daughter. After burying Mary Abel, Claire took her own life by the riverside.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

Courtright's justice

Following the attack on the camp in "Behind Us, A Cliff," the trio of James, Shea, and Thomas head into town to seek justice for the death of their people. They brought Josef as a witness to the attack, and the U.S. Marshal stationed there turned out to be real-life gunslinger Jim Courtright, played by none other than Billy Bob Thornton. As both Shea and Thomas are Pinkerton Agents and ex-soldiers, Courtright noted that James was the only one without a badge, and promptly deputized him, saying, "It'll keep a rope off your neck if things go sideways."

Walking over to the local tavern with his own deputies in tow, Courtright and the three men entered with Josef, who pointed out the men who had killed his people. It's not much of a surprise that they all wanted justice, but viewers are given a shock when Courtright simply shot the leader of the men point blank without warning after he admitted to being at the camp. The man's crew stood to fight, but it was a quick one as Shea, James, and Thomas filled them with hot lead, and in a flash vengeance was done. Not long after audiences had seen the cruelty of random violence on the American frontier, they were rudely greeted to its swift and merciless justice as well.

Shea's sentence

They'd been the victims of a brutal attack, and would surely face many obstacles, from the forces of nature to raiders and bandits, but one enemy the settlers didn't expect was from within. But not long after setting out on their long journey to Oregon, Shea and Thomas discovered that Noemi, whose husband died in the camp attack, had been the victim of theft. A fellow traveler and his companions had stolen all of her food stores, leaving her with nothing for herself or her two children to eat. 

But if that wasn't enough of a bombshell, it was Shea's reaction that loomed most shocking, as he and Thomas didn't ask for the goods back. They took them at gunpoint. Shea boldly strode up to the lead thief and gave him a boot to the face, while Thomas threatened to beat his accomplice to death if he resisted. Then, showing absolutely no forgiveness or mercy, Shea set the men's horses loose, broke their wagon's hitch and banished them from the wagon train. Threatening them not to follow, Shea said if he saw them again he'd kill them. We'd seen Shea's mean streak before, but this was a sign that he was willing to show the same ruthlessness when protecting the wagon train as he would to protect himself.

The river's cruelty

As one crisis ended another began, and the group's troubles continued in "The Crossing." Approaching the first river on their journey, Shea was concerned that the group of immigrants were not prepared enough to survive the first river, and was forced to get tough with them. Not only could most in the group not swim, Shea was furious when he discovered that they had brought with them a variety of heavy belongings, wooden chests, and other cargo that he knew would never make it through the river crossing. 

After abandoning their cargo — and in some cases their entire lives — Elsa walked through the field and discovered a jettisoned piano. She began to play, and the scene intercut with images of the group beginning their short trek across through the river's water, struggling to stay alive in the water. What made the moment all the more haunting was that it was not a rapid raging river, nor did it play out in a fast-paced action sequence. Instead, the moment was captured with stillness and calm as the immigrants, to the tune of Elsa's piano, were one by one quietly swept under and drowned. 

It's there that Elsa learned a lesson about the viciousness of the land. "The river doesn't care if you can swim, the snake doesn't care how much you love your children, and the wolf has no interest in your dreams."

The bandit's brutality

Still reeling from the devastating losses suffered from the river crossing, the cowboys knew that things were only going to get harder from there. Wade and Ennis warned Elsa that they were now entering areas patrolled by bandits, and they'd better be careful to stay together and stay sharp, as their cattle made them a prime target. Ennis held her hand and tenderly told her not to go anywhere alone. That night, the pair consummated their relationship for the first time and became lovers.

As the blossoming relationship between Elsa and Ennis was one of the bright spots early in "1883," but it all came crashing down when the group did indeed become the target of cattle rustlers. Ennis and Wade joined James, Shea, and Thomas in chasing them off, with Ennis noting that he'd never killed anyone before. In a thrilling gun fight on horseback, audiences were treated to the series' first real nail-biting action sequence, and it was one for the ages. Not just for its excitement but for its consequences: In the melee, Ennis was struck down, and shocked the audience with his sudden death. As he lay dying, he told James that he truly did love his daughter, and in an emotional moment, James — who had not approved of their romance — acknowledged: "I don't doubt it, son." 

Ennis' death was a gut-wrenching moment for viewers who had high hopes for the romance building between he and Elsa. Little did we know it would not be the last crushing heartbreaker in "1883."

Elsa's vengeful grief

Suffering a real loss for the first time in her life, Elsa struggled to deal with the death of her first true love, the young cowboy Ennis. Shattered by his death, she was more than angry, she was dead inside and considered ending her own life before being consoled by Shea, who understood her pain. It's then that Shea revealed that he had found his own reason to keep on living — to one day see the ocean, which was his wife's dream — and now she needed to find hers. 

Though the talk with Shea pulled her out of her darkest moment, it did little to reignite her passion for life, and while visiting a trading post, an aggressive stranger drew her ire. Confronting the man for looking at her with lustful eyes, Elsa unexpectedly drew a gun on him. The two got into an armed standoff before Elsa's father arrived to prevent bloodshed, but the turn for Elsa from innocent high plains cowgirl to hardened steely-eyed gunman was a shocking one. What's more, when James scolded his daughter, telling her that you never draw a gun unless you plan to use it, her response was chilling: "I was gonna use it."

With that single scene, audiences now understood that Ennis' death had changed Elsa forever. 

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

A tornado's wrath

Whether man or nature, it had been one threat after another, and now the wagon train had to deal with the sky's wrath from a raging storm. Warned by a group of friendly Native Americans, Shea wanted to wait until morning, but the group's newest addition, a cook named Cookie headed out early, wanting to get ahead of the storm. When morning broke, Shea regretted not joining him, as the sky was filled with dark clouds, and unlike the 21st century, there was no place to take shelter, and they couldn't outrun it. Their only hope was to simply try to survive it.

As the wagon train departed, thunder began to roll and the winds picked up ... and so did ominous music, signaling that disaster was about to strike. Wade and new cowboy Colton let the cattle go, and Elsa took refuge with a newfound friend, the Comanche named Sam. But as the storm approached, they suddenly noticed it had turned into a tornado. Shea laid down with his horse in a field as the funnel rolled in and we were treated to a startling scene as winds tore the abandoned wagons to pieces. 

It's a horrifying and unsettling reminder of the dangers all around them, and how something that we take for granted today could then be just as deadly as any bandit with a six-shooter. The storm provided another shocking a moment, and prompted Elsa to dub the untamed western landscape "the land of no mercy."

Sam's fury

Though the group survived the storm, they took a beating. They lost a number of wagons, and their horses scattered, but worst of all, the cattle had escaped the storm only to be found by a group of bandits. Shea, Thomas, and James knew their road would be hard enough with the loss of wagons. But without food provided by the herd, they'd have no chance at all, so they set out to take on a group of 12 armed outlaws. Outnumbered and outgunned, things didn't look good for them, and Elsa was being chased by a gunman who looked certain to deliver a killing shot.

But just as her fate seems sealed, Sam and his Comanche brothers arrived to save her, with Sam unleashing a hail of tomahawk chops on the man who had put a gun to Elsa's back. Elsa was in awe at Sam, and her breathy narration turned a shockingly violent and bloody scene into a piece of modern poetry. "Watching Sam kill was like watching a lion hurl itself into a deer. His fury was so magnificent there was no time for horror, not even for the men he killed." What had once seemed like a moment where tragedy would strike yet again became a rousing moment of triumph thanks to Sam.

Comanche confrontation

When the premiere episode of "1883" opened we were greeted to the sight of Elsa Dutton, a fair haired young woman, laying in a field. As her narration began, we saw that she was not waking from a tender slumber under the stars, but was under attack from a group of Native American warriors. The series then flashed back to the start of the Dutton's journey north, and it wouldn't be until the series' ninth episode, "Racing Clouds" that we'd revisit that scene and find out exactly what led up to it. 

It began an episode earlier when the wagon train came upon a grizzly scene, a Native American encampment that had been slaughtered. Knowing that the Comanche would return to find their family dead, and fear they'd think they had committed the horrific acts, Shea, Thomas, and James set out to find the outlaws responsible. But it was too late, as the Comanche found the wagon train first. It was here that we found Elsa running from warriors on horseback, attempting to lead them away from the wagon train. But in doing so, she was shot through the belly with an arrow. Whether in the premiere or in the penultimate episode, it was a shocking moment as Elsa continued fighting even with an arrow straight through her. Unstoppable and spirited, it was a testament to her strength and determination.

Josef loses a leg

The season — and perhaps series — finale "This Is Not Your Heaven" was packed with shocking moments, and the first one came at the expense of wagon train settler and leader Josef. Having been bitten by a rattlesnake in the previous episode, he'd taken seriously ill from the poison in the wound and was getting worse by the day. Josef's wife was sick too, and she may be too far gone to be helped. As Noemi tended to them in their wagon, Thomas had a solution that could save Josef, but it had to be his choice: "We can take the leg, or you can die with it."

Thomas confirmed to Josef that it was the only way, and that he knew how to perform the surgery necessary to save his life. In a disturbing moment sure to leave fans aghast, Josef accepted his fate and gave permission for Thomas to amputate his limb. Having survived the river crossing, attacks from Comanche, bandits, and cattle rustlers; having made it through a tornado unharmed, audiences were probably hopeful that the German settler might make it to Oregon unscathed. But it was not to be, and when the series flashed forward in the finale's last moments, he'd lost both his wife and his leg. 

The wagon train's end

With the situation on the wagon train deteriorating — Josef poisoned, Elsa dying, wagons lost, and Cookie gone — Shea had a difficult choice to make. Knowing that winter was fast approaching, he told the settlers that they would have to delay the remaining part of their journey north, and would spend the winter in the mountains for safety. There they could survive better than out in the open of the plains where they'd be easy prey for bandits and the wrath of the harsh winter. 

But the settlers had too many delays already and demanded Shea take them now, all the way to Oregon. But Shea does not relent, and along with the Duttons, Josef, Thomas, and Noemi join him. The settlers on the wagon train, believing they can make the rest of their journey alone, depart. But with few wagons and no protection, the group is easy prey, and they ignore Shea's warning. In a sudden twist that viewers likely never saw coming, the wagon train was mercilessly attacked by bandits, who raided their wagons and slaughtered the entire group. It was a truly shocking and abrupt end to the long journey, and as harsh and cruel as any moment in "1883."

Elsa chooses her grave

As a prequel to "Yellowstone" many viewers were confused when the series began and it was revealed that the Duttons were embarking on a journey to Oregon. With the Dutton's legacy in Montana, that meant something would change their destiny at some point in the season, but nobody knew what it would be. The shocking truth, however, would be revealed in the tenth and final episode, "This Is Not Your Heaven."

Despite opening with a flash-forward that showed Elsa Dutton shot through the belly with a Comanche arrow, many fans still believed that Elsa Dutton would survive the season. There had been no word that "1883" wouldn't have a second season, and as the series' narrator, it seemed unfathomable that Elsa would meet her end. But after being shot the previous episode, the prognosis for Elsa didn't look good, and all of the dots began to connect. With her death approaching, James diverted to the Bozeman mountains and in one of the most eye-opening turn of events promised his daughter she could pick the spot where she wanted to die ... and that is where he would build his ranch.

Many fans were expecting Elsa to survive into a second season, but after the finale, creator Taylor Sheridan announced that there would be no more episodes, and "1883" would stand as a self-contained single season series. When it began nobody fathomed that any of the Dutton's wouldn't make it out alive — but in the final episode, the beloved Dutton daughter passed away in her father's arms.

Shea's end

In an episode full of heartbreaking moments, "This Is Not Your Heaven" delivered its final blow in its closing moments. With the Duttons losing Elsa in an area called Paradise Valley in the Bozeman mountains, and Thomas and Noemi having finally ended their journey in the fields of Oregon, viewers caught up with Shea Brennan as he completed his story. The disillusioned war veteran had made a promise to his late wife that he would see the ocean, believing that he still had a piece of her soul, and she could see it with him. Now on the shores of Oregon, Shea sat on the sandy beach and looked out at the waves. "Just look at that, Helen. Isn't it beautiful?"

Having fulfilled the only dream that had kept him alive since losing his family to disease, and having completed his task to get to Oregon, Shea had no more reason to go on. As the camera slowly panned up from the beach, the final shocking moment was delivered as Shea took his own life. It was a bittersweet conclusion to the series, but apropos, as "1883" seemed to be as much about the sadness and tragedy found on the western frontier as it was about the hope and discovery that awaited its many pioneers.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.