“Yellowstone” Captures Hearts of Wyoming Viewers

On eve of “Yellowstone’s” season five premiere, Wyomingites weigh in on how TV series portrays Mountain West

Kevin Costner stars as John Dutton, patriarch of the Dutton family, in the highly rated western drama "Yellowstone." The series begins its fifth season on Paramount+ on Sunday. (Courtesy photo from Paramount)

By Ellen Fike

Special to the Wyoming Truth

More than 60 years after John Wayne dominated the box office in a variety of Westerns, the legend of the American cowboy continues to capture the public’s attention through “Yellowstone.”

Rip Wheeler (played by Cole Hauser) and Beth Dutton (played by Kelly Reilly) are fan favorites on “Yellowstone.” (Courtesy photo from Paramount)

The neo-Western series, which premieres its fifth season on Paramount+ on Sunday, has become one of the most popular shows currently streaming. It’s a cultural phenomenon of sorts, with millions of viewers tuning in weekly to follow the continuing saga of the Dutton family, led by Kevin Costner.

“[My fiancé and I] can’t wait for the next season,” Cheyenne resident Traci Maher told the Wyoming Truth. “The characters are real and raw and very easily could be someone you know and relate to everyday. You’re drawn to their stories, and it becomes almost personal to you as you watch it unfold.”

Maher said her favorite character is Beth Dutton, the daughter of Costner’s character, because of her quick wit, fiery temperament and foul mouth.

The Duttons are a typical Western ranching family, save for the murders and corruption that’s rampant in the series. The family owns the largest ranch in Montana, the Yellowstone Dutton Ranch, but finds itself in constant conflict with the bordering Yellowstone National Park, land developers, a private equity firm from New York and a Native American reservation.

But Americans are engrossed with the Duttons’ saga and their dirty deeds. The “Yellowstone” season four finale that aired in early January managed to pull in 9.3 million viewers, according to Forbes. Numerous fan groups on social media are filled with viewers who share their thoughts about what may happen in the next season, when Costner’s character, John Dutton, is sworn in as the governor of Montana. They also discuss their favorite characters, particularly “power couple” Rip Wheeler and Beth Dutton, and share memes about the series.

Maher believes the show has become so popular because of its storyline. “You’re excited to see the next episode,” she said. “You can’t wait for the next season, because you want to just binge the show on and on. It’s gotten better as it has gone along, because the characters have deepened and the storyline has expanded. It’s not a predictable or repetitive show.”

Acacia and Shawn Acord, of Weston, look forward to the fifth season of “Yellowstone,” airing Sunday night on Paramount+. Acacia likes the show because it is a western—a genre that Hollywood has mostly left behind (Courtesy photo from Acacia Accord)

Acacia Acord, a Weston resident, likes the show because it is a western—a genre that Hollywood has mostly left behind. “Everyone wants to be a cowboy or cowgirl when they’re little,” she said. “This is just a heavily romanticized, adult version of that dream.”

The modern day western

Laramie County rancher Colt Bruegman said he and his wife were initially turned off by the show’s extensive use of foul language and violence. But the plot was so interesting, they decided to give “Yellowstone” another shot.

However, while Wyoming viewers agree that the show’s storyline is gripping, they aren’t unanimous about whether “Yellowstone” is a good representation of life in the Mountain West.

Bruegman said “Yellowstone” greatly exaggerates the life of a ranch family and does not accurately portray western life.

“You can’t really write a story about a ranching family, because there’s too much work and not enough sleep,” Bruegman said. “There are some accurate things in the show about ranch life, but the murders and the high level of government corruption, that’s the furthest from the truth. Just like in the show, ranchers don’t like poaching. But we’re not going to kill anyone. We’re just going to call the game warden.”

“Yellowstone” depicts the life ranchers might dream of living, playing by their own rules and taking the law into their own hands, but would never actually do, Bruegman said.

And no, neither Bruegman nor any other ranchers he has ever met have gone to “the train station,” a euphemism the Duttons and their trusted ranch hands use to describe a roadside cliff somewhere in Wyoming where numerous bodies are dumped.

Said Bruegman: “The show romanticizes the Western way of life.”

Acord and her husband, Shawn, share this sentiment, with Acord comparing “Yellowstone’s” depiction of the West to a soap opera’s portrayal of real life.

“It doesn’t deal with any of the true life struggles out here,” Shawn said. “It’s not about who kills who. It’s about the market and the feed and all of the mundane things like that. It’s a fairytale story about the West. It’s how everybody, in their mind, thinks of the West, but it’s not really true.”

Maher, on the other hand, thinks that “Yellowstone” does a good job of showcasing life in the West.

“We’re easygoing like in the show, but we certainly aren’t lawless like some people might think,” she said. “We certainly don’t have the hustle and bustle of the big city, [but] the beauty of the land we have to offer and see is amazing. I would like to see more around the area in ‘Yellowstone,’ perhaps more on the reservation or around town, but the focus is on the family and what surrounds them.”

Cheyenne resident Traci Maher and her fiance, Ken Follis, are major fans of “Yellowstone.” Maher believes the show does a good job representing the laidback way of life in the West. (Courtesy photo from Traci Maher)

Ethete resident Greg Day said that the series’ depiction of Native Americans is unrealistic. Day is a member of both the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribes.

“When was the last time you saw a Native in a three-piece suit?” Day said in an interview with the Wyoming Truth. “That suit represents the people that took everything away from us. We would never dress like that.”

Reservation life

Day compared the portrayal of Native Americans in “Yellowstone” to that of the depiction of Native life in the FX sleeper hit series, “Reservation Dogs,” which he described as the most realistic show about Natives on television or streaming services. “Reservation Dogs” follows a group of Indigenous teenagers who live on a reservation in Oklahoma, but dream of moving away to California.

The Natives in “Yellowstone” are usually involved in some sort of organized crime or corruption, which Day said would never happen on the Wind River Reservation, or likely, any reservation.

“The FBI would shut us down real quick if [Natives] were doing organized crime,” Day said.

Day said there is a societal ignorance about the way Indigenous people live, which is clearly displayed in the depiction of Natives in “Yellowstone” and scores of other television shows and movies. He encouraged not only film and TV production crews, but all non-Indigenous people to visit their local reservation and talk with its residents to properly understand Indigenous life and culture.

“Come and visit us, the door is always open,” Day said.

Bruegman compared the appeal of “Yellowstone” to that of NASCAR races or “Top Gun.”

“Most people can’t drive at top speed, so they watch NASCAR to live out that fantasy,” he said. “For some people, the idea of having a front yard is a fantasy, much less all of the land you have on a ranch. You’re just living vicariously through the characters.”

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