1883: Is The Yellowstone Prequel Based On A True Story?

In December 2021, the Paramount+ network debuted "1883," a long-awaited prequel to the popular drama "Yellowstone." As The Cinemaholic notes, the show takes place 150 years before the events of "Yellowstone," and is intended to chronicle the story of the ancestors of the Dutton family, the wealthy ranching family headed by patriarch John Dutton (Kevin Costner). Unlike the modern-day Duttons, who live in wealth, the family's progenitors faced considerable hardship in the waning days of the Old West, including smallpox outbreaks and battles with Native Americans.

As ranching and the Old West are and were very much real things — the former a part of the American economic fabric to this day, the latter a much-romanticized part of our history — questions have arisen as to whether or not "Yellowstone" is based on a true story (long story short: it isn't). Similarly, now that "1883" has premiered, some fans are wondering if this part of the Dutton narrative is based on a true story.

1883 is not (directly) based on a true story

As Outsider reports, "Yellowstone" is not specifically based on any one historical narrative; the Duttons are made up, as is their ranch and their story. However, great pains were taken to ensure that the show sticks to the realities of ranching, life in the American West (even the modern-day iteration), and similar elements.

In much the same way, according to The Cinemaholic, "1883" is not directly based on a true story. However, taking a page from its predecessor's book, "1883" seeks to stick to gritty realities of life in that time and place, including the very real possibility of being maimed or killed by smallpox, and presents those challenges unflinchingly on the screen. Further, some real-life Old West historical figures, such as "Longhair Jim" Courtright, will appear as fictionalized versions of themselves in the show. Similarly, in Episode 2, Tom Hanks appears as a fictionalized version of General George Meade, who commanded Union forces during the Civil War.