Patriarch James Dutton appears in 1883 and is portrayed by Tim McGraw. James and his wife Margaret have three children: Elsa, John and Spencer. The patriarch is originally a farmer from Tennessee and a Confederate veteran of the Civil War. He decides to go West in a wagon train with his family, including his sister Claire and her daughter Mary Abel, to start a new life. At the end of the limited series, he survives the harsh winter and settles on the future Yellowstone Dutton Ranch.
Faith Hill joined her real-life husband, McGraw, in 1883 as his onscreen wife Margaret. She has three children, Elsa, John and Spencer — the latter whom she gave birth to sometime after the family arrived in Montana. Margaret was a nurse in the Civil War and is the strong-willed matriarch whose determination helps establish the Yellowstone Dutton Ranch.
Elsa, played by Isabel May, is the eldest daughter of James and Margaret Dutton in 1883. She takes the journey westward with her family and along the way, she meets a cowboy named Ennis, whom she plans to marry, but he is killed by bandits. In Colorado, Elsa begins a complicated relationship with Sam, a Comanche warrior who saves her life. The two have an unofficial wedding ceremony and she vows to return to him after her family settles. However, Elsa dies from an arrow shot during an attack on the family's wagon train, and the couple never reunite. She chooses her burial spot to be in Paradise Valley, which eventually becomes the Yellowstone Dutton Ranch.
Sam appears in 1883 and is portrayed by Martin Sensmeier. He is a Comanche warrior who falls in love with Elsa after saving her life. He is loyal to his community and land, and he marries Elsa, but the two do not unite again.
The Dutton family's legacy continues in 1923 with John Dutton Sr., portrayed by James Badge Dale. The older son of James and Margaret Dutton, John Sr. remains close to his uncle Jacob and aunt Cara after his parents' deaths. He marries his wife Emma, and they have a son, Jack. John helps work the land of the Yellowstone Dutton Ranch with his uncle until he is killed by the family's enemy, Banner Creighton.
Emma appears in 1923 and is portrayed by Marley Shelton. She is the wife of John Dutton Sr. and the mother of Jack Dutton. After her husband's death, a heartbroken Emma dies by suicide.
Jack is a character in 1923 played by Darren Mann. The son of John Dutton Sr. and Emma Dutton, he works the land of the Yellowstone Dutton Ranch with his father and great-uncle, Jacob Dutton. He marries his wife, Elizabeth Strafford, during season 1.