‘Yellowstone’ and the Sprawling Dutton Family Tree

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[This story contains spoilers from 1883, 1923 and Yellowstone season five.]

With each new series in the megahit Yellowstone franchise, a new generation of Duttons emerges. After launching in 2018 with Kevin Costner’s central patriarch John Dutton and his immediate family, creator Taylor Sheridan traveled back in time to expand the franchise and introduce elder generations of Duttons, first with the single season of 1883 and now with the series 1923, which has been renewed for a second season.

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The Dutton family tree has branched out as Yellowstone has been airing, with the flagship series currently at the halfway point in its fifth and final run. First, viewers followed James (Tim McGraw) and Margaret Dutton (Faith Hill) on their family’s treacherous journey west through the Great Plains in 1883, a trek that would ultimately lead to what becomes the Yellowstone ranch of the flagship series. And later, 1923 would introduce the audience to Jacob (Harrison Ford) and Cara Dutton (Helen Mirren), the Duttons who get the Yellowstone Ranch up and running after the untimely deaths of James and Margaret.

With both of the sequel series taking place decades before Yellowstone‘s John (Costner) is even born, it’s helpful to understand who’s who in the family saga, especially since revisiting the past helps to reframe the present. Yellowstone is now re-airing Sundays on CBS as part of the network’s reworked fall schedule in response to Hollywood’s dual strikes (the Writers Guid reached a tentative deal; SAG-AFTRA is ongoing), and 1883 and 1923 are available to stream on Paramount+. (The second-half of the final season of Yellowstone is delayed due to a Costner contract dispute that preceded the strikes, which halted productions like Yellowstone amid the work stoppage.)

Below, The Hollywood Reporter breaks down each generation of Duttons, including what we’ve learned via interviews with Sheridan and his sprawling cast.

James (Tim McGraw) and Margaret Dutton (Faith Hill); Claire nee Dutton (Dawn Olivieri); Jacob (Harrison Ford) and Cara Dutton (Helen Mirren)

Harrison Ford as Jacob and Helen Mirren as Cara Dutton of 1923.
Harrison Ford as Jacob and Helen Mirren as Cara Dutton in 1923

1883 launched on Paramount+ in 2021, three years into Yellowstone‘s run. The Western limited series, which is set in the year 1883, was narrated by main character Elsa Dutton (Isabel May), the daughter to James (Tim McGraw) and Margaret Dutton (Faith Hill). The prequel series traced the Dutton lineage back to James Dutton and his sister Claire nee Dutton (played by Dawn Olivieri; the actress who would also go on to play fixer Sarah Atwood in later seasons of Yellowstone), who died by suicide early in the season. Her daughter Mary Abel (Emma Malouff) also died; viewers never met Claire’s husband, named Henry Dutton. Viewers would later meet the brother to James and Claire in 1923: Jacob Dutton (Harrison Ford) and his wife Cara (Helen Mirren).

Elsa Dutton (Isabel May); Spencer (Brandon Sklenar) and Alex Dutton (Julia Schlaepfer); John Sr. (James Badge Daly) and Emma Dutton (Marley Shelton)

The opening of 1883 set the tone for what would lie ahead in the series when it opened with a flash-forward: The scene that would bring about the untimely death of heroine Elsa. Her spirit, however, would continue on in the franchise as May went on to narrate the next prequel series, 1923. Speaking from the grave as Elsa, she informed viewers that her parents, James and Margaret, died after the events of 1883; first James, followed by Margaret. But before her death, Margaret wrote a letter to her husband’s brother, Jacob, who then found and raised Elsa’s surviving brothers, John Sr. and Spencer.

1883 viewers met John Sr. as a young boy, played by Audie Rick. Spencer, however, hadn’t yet been born.

“Upon my father’s death, my mother wrote to his brother, begging that he bring his family to this wild land and save hers,” Elsa explained in voiceover in 1923. “A year later, he arrived to find my mother frozen in a snow drift, her two boys half-starved and barely able to speak. He raised them as his own and took my father’s dream and made it into an empire. Then the empire crumbled.”

Isabel May as Elsa, Faith Hill as Margaret, Tim McGraw as James and Audie Rick as John of 1883.
Isabel May as Elsa with her family in 1883: Faith Hill as Margaret, Tim McGraw as James and Audie Rick as young John Sr.

Sheridan explained of his decision to jump the series to the year 1923: “I chose that moment in time to peek back in because you’re seeing the children that we’ve met in 1883 attempting to raise another generation of Dutton.” Yellowstone viewers will recall a flashback in season four, which introduced James and Margaret, as well as a young John and Spencer, when James was shot (that scene served as real-life couple McGraw and Hill’s audition, giving Sheridan the idea to center them in 1883).

1923 introduced the boys as adults, with John Sr. played by James Badge Dale and Spencer played by Brandon Sklenar. John Sr., who did not have any children with wife Emma (Marley Shelton), suffers an untimely death early on in 1923, pivoting the series to focus on Spencer and setting him up to be the Dutton to take over the Yellowstone ranch from an ailing Jacob. Season one ended with a Spencer-heavy cliffhanger, as he was separated from his new bride Alex (Julia Schlaepfer).

Jack (Darren Mann) and Liz Dutton (Michelle Randolph)

After five seasons of Yellowstone and trips back in time to 1883 and 1923, one over-arching question remains: Who is John Dutton’s grandfather? Yellowstone viewers were introduced to his elderly father, John Dutton Sr., played by Dabney Coleman, in a season two flashback. John’s mother has yet to appear or be named. Now that the audience has met the generation that preceded him on 1923, a guessing game even among the franchise cast has begun about which character Sheridan will reveal to be the Dutton son who begins the Yellowstone family line.

Darren Mann as Jack and Brandon Sklenar as Spencer in 1923

Some viewers believe Spencer is John’s grandfather, and that he and Alex could have a child down the line. While others believe that John Sr.’s son, Jack (Darren Mann), serves that role. Later episodes of 1923 revealed that Jack’s pregnant wife, Liz (Michelle Randolph), had a miscarriage, and she and Jack accepted they may not be able to have a child. According to Sklenar, Sheridan hasn’t yet revealed who’s who, even to the cast. “It’s something that Taylor is keeping very close to the vest. I have my own theories, but it’s to be told, to be written, to be seen. He’s always moving all that stuff around,” Sklenar told THR during the first season (and reiterated after the finale). “We like to debate what we think,” echoed Randolph.

Yellowstone star Wes Bentley said something similar when asked about his onscreen father’s lineage. “I’ve seen the [Dutton family tree] flow charts online. But I’m waiting for Taylor to really reveal things. I know how he writes. So I’m going to wipe those away for now. Good first draft, but let’s see what’s coming down the line,” he told THR after the season five midseason finale of Yellowstone.

And it’s even a mystery still to the franchise’s all-knowing narrator. “You could spend your time theorizing, all the power to you. I’d rather just be told! Eventually, we all will,” May recently told THR.

John (Kevin Costner) and Evelyn Dutton (Gretchen Mol)

Kevin Costner in YELLOWSTONE.
Kevin Costner in Yellowstone

Skipping ahead to John Dutton III (Costner) brings viewers back around to the Yellowstone flagship series, which follows the starring Montana cattle rancher (who has made his transformation into a politician by season five) and his children as the family desperately holds onto their ranch amid evolving times. Following the death of his young wife Evelyn Dutton (Gretchen Mol), the family suffers another untimely death when his oldest child, Lee Dutton (Dave Annable), is killed in the series premiere. Jamie Dutton (Wes Bentley), Beth Dutton (Kelly Reilly) and Kayce Dutton (Luke Grimes) remain alive and fiery in the fifth season. John’s brother Peter, it’s also revealed, had died shortly after childbirth.

Lee Dutton (Dave Annable); Jamie Dutton (Wes Bentley); Beth Dutton (Kelly Reilly) and Rip Wheeler (Cole Hauser); Kayce (Luke Grimes) and Monica Dutton (Kelsey Asbille)

John Dutton’s surviving children in Yellowstone: Luke Grimes at Kayce, Kelly Reilly as Beth and Wes Bentley as Jamie

The ghost of Lee returned in a key moment of Yellowstone in season four to help guide Kayce during a vision quest that would change the arc of his story. With Kayce largely forming his own path with wife Monica Dutton (Kelsey Asbille) and their surviving son Tate (Brecken Merrill), the battle for the legacy of Yellowstone boils down to estranged siblings Jamie and Beth, who were last seen on the series waging a war against one another. On Beth’s side of the battle is John as well as her husband Rip (Cole Hauser), who plays the devoted, Yellowstone ranch hand.

The Future Duttons

Brecken Merrill as Tate with Kelsey Asbille as mom Monica

Preteen Tate Dutton, son to Kayce and Monica, leads the youngest generation of Duttons. Jamie’s unnamed infant son with ex Christina (Katherine Cunningham) has been largely absent from the fifth season. Beth and husband Rip, meanwhile, have all-but adopted teen cowboy Carter (Finn Little), however, he is not in the Dutton bloodline.

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