‘Yellowstone’: What’s Accurate About the Show, and What Isn’t? A Real-Life Rancher Tells All
SPOILER ALERT: This article discusses general themes from the first five seasons of “Yellowstone.”
The heart of “Yellowstone” is the Dutton family’s work protecting, preserving and making money from their namesake ranch. With the current impasse in producing scripted shows because of the ongoing writers and actors strikes, CBS is bolstering its fall schedule by rerunning “Yellowstone,” the Taylor Sheridan-created saga that’s been a massive hit on Paramount Network since its 2018 premiere.
To commemorate the show’s broadcast network premiere on Sept. 17, Variety spoke with Jessie Jarvis, a third-generation Idaho rancher who documents her Western lifestyle on her blog and Instagram, in order to get her view of what’s realistic in the show, and what’s over the top.
Jarvis lives and works alongside her husband, parents and one other employee, raising and selling cattle on a remote ranch 75 miles north of the Nevada border. She’s a big “Yellowstone” fan, but, in a testament to its accuracy, she notes that she has a different relationship to it compared to escapist fare, like the “Real Housewives” franchise.
“When I sit down to watch TV at night, I want to watch something that is relaxing, where I can turn my brain off after work,” she says. “And ‘Yellowstone’ isn’t necessarily that for me, because it reminds me of my problems. In a way, it’s kind of like I’m watching my life all over again.”
In her own words, Jarvis details the most realistic elements of the series below — as well as a few things that only happen on TV.
Family farming (and family drama)
The Dutton family has a lot of family dysfunction: 97% of ranching operations in the United States are family owned, so family business issues are definitely a challenge. I wouldn’t say that our family is dysfunctional by any means, but when you’re working with your spouse and your parents every day, or your children every day, there can be a lot of tension — especially on ranching operations, or farms where you live as well. You own a business, and you live on the business. There’s not an opportunity to really turn it off, versus if you own a hardware store, you shut the lights down, you lock the doors and you come home. So holidays can be a struggle for people. But the family dysfunction is much more dramatic on screen.
One thing we’ve seen a lot throughout the seasons is there’s a lot of expansion or encroachment on the Yellowstone Ranch. That is something that a lot of rural areas are facing, with more people due to the growing population. COVID has also played a part in people wanting to get out of the city. They want to move to smaller towns. Well, small towns can’t hold them anymore, so they’re buying up land. But there’s that struggle with needing to feed a growing population. We need the resources that we have, but then how are we also going to house a growing population when those homes are going to take over resources? That’s something rural America is definitely facing.
State government has a big focus on ranching
In Idaho, our governor is a rancher and comes from a long-standing ranching family. They were in the sheep industry, and in the cattle industry. There are a lot of ranchers who are in our State House and Senate, too. We also have really strong organizations like Idaho Cattle Association, for instance. They are an organization of ranching families. They probably have close to 1,000 members, and they have really strong relationships with our state legislature — people who are in office, and also on the federal level. So we when we do have issues in the industry, they are addressed pretty quickly.
A lot of the clothes they wear are brands from the Western industry. You’ll see a lot of Kimes Ranch on the show — that’s a brand we wear. The hats they wear, they’re from brands like American Hat and Greeley Hat, which we also wear. I think that’s because Taylor Sheridan is so invested in this lifestyle, so he wants to bring the truth and depict the correct image. He does a phenomenal job at that.
The most accurately-dressed cowboy is Rip, for sure. I feel like John kind of floats between what he wears. He’s got the business side of things, and also the rancher side of things. On his ranch days, he does look like a true rancher. Honestly, all of the ranch employees are dressed very accurately — with the exception of Jimmy’s cowboy hat in the first season. That looks like it came from a country music festival. We don’t wear those.
Real-life rodeo athletes
There are times when you’ll see guys on horseback and they’re in an arena doing what are called reining patterns. Those are all our professional athletes, real riders — not actors. They also talk about the horses in a realistic way, as they are actual competitors in those sports.
Pride in the land
The Duttons appreciate the land, their cattle and what it is they do. They’re very proud of it. That is something that is absolutely true every single day for us. Unlike on TV, I can tell you it doesn’t pay well to be a rancher, so we’re not here for the paycheck. We’re here because there’s no better way to raise your family. There’s no better way to work. And it’s really rewarding to be around animals and continue the heritage of what our nation was founded on.
Not so realistic:
The Duttons are very wealthy, and that does not track with the majority of farms and ranches in America right now. We don’t own a helicopter. A lot of the pickups and trailers that are featured, they are top of the line, like Dodge Trucks and Bloomer Trailers. They are used in our industry, but they’re actually more on the Western sports side of things, not necessarily what you would find if you were to walk into a family farming and ranching operation.
That being said, there are some ranches that are investor-owned that have access to those types of things, but that is a very small percentage. Their money isn’t necessarily a good depiction of what ranchers and farmers are working with financially.
Violence and profanity
The violence, obviously, is something that is not accurate whatsoever. Sometimes it seems like someone is getting shot every single episode!
“Yellowstone” is also kind of crude with its language, which would be, aside from the violence, the thing that does not track whatsoever. I mean, I’ve yelled some curse words at a cow before, and we always joke that when you’re sorting cattle with family, no one’s going to come out without having been yelled at. But it’s nothing like this. Honestly, and I hate to say this because I do love the show, and I’m not a prude by any means, but after a while I would like a normal conversation without any cursing.