James Dutton, the founder of Yellowstone Dutton Ranch, died in 1893 after being shot by horse thieves. He managed to shoot most of them but was fatally injured himself. He returned home and collapsed, dying soon after. His wife, Margaret Dutton, died after freezing to death during one of Montana's harsh winters. Before her death, she wrote to Jacob and Cara Dutton for help.
Sadly, when they arrived at the ranch, they found Margaret's body in a snow drift. John and Spencer, Margaret's sons, survived the winter but were almost starved to death. The exact ages of the brothers when they became orphans are unknown.