Why is the Dutton Family Tree Such a Controversial Topic In 1923?
2023/11/15

Taylor Sheridan threw his fans a curve ball last year when 1923 hit Paramount+. His original series, Yellowstone, with five seasons under its belt, tells the story of the Yellowstone Dutton Ranch in Montana’s Paradise Valley and the people who live and work there. Yellowstone and 1883 revealed the various branches of the Dutton family tree, but 1923 is when it started to get complicated.

Let’s backtrack. Spoilers ahead for Yellowstone, 1883, and 1923.

The Story of One Montana Family Over 140 Years

The Dutton family is headed by John Dutton, III, played by Kevin Costner, and the main storyline follows his life, challenges, and relationships, as well as those of his three adult children,

Jamie (Wes Bentley), Wes Bentley, Beth (Kelley Reilly), and Kayce (Luke Grimes.) The Dutton family tree was colorful but easy to understand.

1883 was released on Paramount+ in late 2021 and touted as a Yellowstone origin story. 1883, a single season with ten episodes, telling the story of James and Margaret Dutton, played by Tim McGraw and Faith Hill (married in real life), as they head west as part of a wagon train.

1883 filled in the holes of how the Duttons came to Montana, and sharp-eyed viewers recognized McGraw and Hill from flashbacks in Yellowstone’s Season Four.

After watching 1883, we have more information about the Dutton family tree. It’s still easy to understand.

Sheridan’s New Show Brings More Questions Than Answers

1923 is where it gets complicated, and the primary source of frustration is that we don’t know who John Dutton Jr. (or possibly John Dutton II) is.

John Dutton III is the present-day character played by Kevin Costner. We got a brief flashback of his father, also named John Dutton, during the Season Two finale (Dabney Coleman.) So it’s a reasonable assumption that John Dutton III’s dad is also named John Dutton.

But We Learn What Happened to James and Margaret

After watching 1883, we know John Dutton Senior is James and Margaret’s son, portrayed as a small boy (Audie Rick.) The opening episode of 1923 filled in a few more holes about what happened to the Duttons after settling in Paradise Valley.

The family settled in Paradise Valley because that is where James and Margaret’s daughter Elsa (Isabel May), died. When the family learned of her imminent death (she was shot through the torso with an arrow and developed an infection), they agreed to settle wherever Elsa took her last breath so Margaret could regularly visit her grave.

We see a pan of the family graveyard in the premiere of Season One of 1923. The tombstones reveal James didn’t live long after they settled in Montana. A flash of Margaret’s headstone teases us. The dates aren’t visible, but the narrator (Elsa, back from the dead to provide voice intros to the first few episodes of 1923) fills in the gaps, and we learn Margaret froze to death trying to keep her sons warm during a Montana winter storm.

That’s right, two sons.

Who is John Dutton, Jr. (And Why Do We Want to Know So Badly?)

James and Margaret had another child after settling in Montana. His name was Spencer, and although that might seem like a revelation, Yellowstone fans realize they’d seen Spencer before in flashback episodes.

When 1923 opens, John and Spencer Dutton are adults. John is married and has a young adult son, Jack. Spencer, as far as we know, has no children. So, who is John Dutton Jr? The internet has questions, but the internet also has answers. Correct ones?

Only time (and new episodes) will tell.

Since 1923 hit Paramount+, various Dutton family trees have been circulating the internet. People take these family trees very seriously, although none originated from the show’s creator, who has been silent about the Dutton family tree.

Naturally, the silence continues to bring speculation, so let’s discuss some possibilities.

What We Know For Sure (Mostly)

John Dutton III is somewhere in his sixties when Yellowstone beings.

John Dutton Jr. was elderly when he appeared on Yellowstone in 2019. His character’s age wasn’t mentioned, but he appeared to be around 85-90.

Following this math, John Jr. would have been 20-25 when John III was born, which would be reasonable for that period. Going backward, that would have made John Jr.’s birth year between 1925-1930, give or take.

Using this version of events, we deduce that John Dutton Jr wasn’t born when Season 1 of 1923 closed, which we knew anyway because no babies were born.

Are Spencer and Alex John Jr.’s Parents?

There’s some suspicion that Alexandra Dutton, Spencer’s bride, was pregnant at the end of Season One of 1923. Of course, this speculation is based solely on the fact that she was queasy on a ship, but it seems reasonable, given the amount of baby-making practice these popular lovebirds were getting.

If Alex is pregnant, baby Dutton would be born in 1924, so the math above would hold up, making Alex and Spencer John Jr.’s parents.

But would Spencer and Alex name their son John Dutton II after Spencer’s deceased brother? That seems wrong.

Are Jack and Elizabeth John Jr.’s Parents?

Jack (John Senior’s son) and his wife Elizabeth are also not slacking when it comes to baby-making practice, and they get pregnant. Unfortunately, Elizabeth suffers a miscarriage, and the couple has a lot of what-iffy dialog about their life if they can’t have kids.

This causes some fans to assume Elizabeth will never bear children, although the doctor never said that. We can’t assume Jack and Elizabeth will never have little Duttons running around based on one miscarriage. However, the “what if” conversation seems a normal reaction to a miscarriage of a first pregnancy.

Would Jack name his son John Jr. after his father, John Sr.? Maybe. The dates would certainly fit, giving Elizabeth time to recover from her miscarriage and get pregnant again.

But what if Jack Dutton Is John Dutton II?

We don’t know precisely how old Jack Dutton is at the start of 1923. He’s a young man but old enough to marry and grow whiskers. What if Jack is a nickname for John, and his family calls him Jack to distinguish him from his dad?

The math is a stretch, but what if Jack was 18 in 1923? That would mean he’d have been born in 1905. If he lived to the ripe old age of 114, he’d have died in 2019, give or take. That’s pretty old, pushing the world record for the oldest living person.

However, when Taylor Sheridan started writing this family’s saga, did he anticipate the massive level of interest in the Dutton lineage?

Are Viewers Meant to Dive this Deep?

Even though Yellowstone first aired in 2018 and seemed in line with the present day, could the story have started slightly earlier? Could we give leeway?

Speculation is fun, albeit frustrating, for instant gratification seekers who want answers yesterday. But are we meant to scrutinize the possible birthdates of fictional television characters to this degree?

We expect the answer to be revealed in the second season of 1923, but Taylor Sheridan knows he has a fully hooked fan base. Will that cause him to drag out the mystery of where John Dutton, Jr., belongs on the Dutton family tree? Only Taylor Sheridan knows, and for now, he’s not telling.

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