After the first Yellowstone spin-off series, 1883, hit Paramount+ in late 2021, a new spin-off titled 1923 just emerged and took fans by storm. This series, however, follows a new generation of the Dutton family, led by Jacob (Harrison Ford) and Cara Dutton (Helen Mirren). That made fans wonder, where is James Dutton? And, if he’s dead, how and when did he pass away?
James Dutton died in 1893, ten years after starting the ranch in Montana. He was chasing horse thieves and got severely wounded by gunshots in the process, eventually collapsing and dying in his home. It was shown in a flashback in Yellowstone but confirmed in the pilot episode of 1923.
Elsa Dutton, James and Margaret Dutton’s daughter who died in the finale of 1883, served as a narrator in 1923. She explains almost immediately how both of her parents died and how Jacob – James’ brother, found her two brothers almost starved to death before taking them in and taking over the ranch. Let’s dig into James Dutton’s life and death in a bit more detail.
Who is James Dutton?
For those who haven’t seen the first Yellowstone prequel spin-off series, 1883, you might wonder who James Dutton is in the first place and what his role is in the history of the Dutton family and their renowned Montana ranch.
James Dutton was a first-generation Dutton patriarch who was also the founder of the Dutton ranch in Paradise Valley. James and his family were living in Texas, and he was a Civil War veteran. After the War, he took his family on a wagon journey out west to find land and peace.
The journey was perilous and cost the Duttons more than they bargained for. Their daughter, Elsa, was shot with a poisonous arrow on the trip and unfortunately didn’t survive for long after that. It was actually Elsa that chose Montana’s Paradise Valley as the place where the Duttons should situate, picking it as her final resting spot.
It was then and there, in 1883, that the Yellowstone Ranch was founded. The Duttons never left their land despite dozens upon dozens of territorial disputes, huge financial offers to sell, and so much more.
James and Margaret had two other children to support – John Dutton Sr., their eldest, and Spencer, the younger son, who was born after the ranch was already founded, making him the first Dutton to be born on the ranch.
Now, the next prequel series, 1923, obviously happens 40 years later. In theory, James and Margaret could’ve still been alive by that point – they would be somewhere in their seventies, but still. However, neither of them is still alive by that point. In fact, they have both been dead for decades. James was actually the first to die – here’s how.
How and when did James Dutton die?
The 1923 series follows a new patriarch on the Dutton ranch, Jacob Dutton, and his wife, Cara. Jacob is actually James Dutton’s younger brother, who took over the ranch after his brother’s passing. So, how and when did James Dutton die?
Well, Yellowstone fans will likely already know what happened, as we somewhat saw it in one of the flashbacks in Yellowstone Season 4. The flashback saw James Dutton bleeding heavily from gunshot wounds, which would eventually be his demise.
In the pilot episode of 1923, it was elaborated further by a narrator you might’ve recognized – Elsa Dutton. Yes, she died in the finale of 1883, but in the new show, her voice leads us through the story of how things changed so dramatically and so quickly on the ranch.
By 1893, James Dutton was already an established society member in Park County, Montana, where he was a ranger. The ranch already took off as well, but one day, a group of horse thieves attacked the ranch and stole several horses.
James Dutton tracked and took down all but one of them, who managed to hit the Dutton patriarch and cause severe gunshot wounds. James returned his horses, but after the adrenaline stopped kicking in, he realized just how bad his injuries were.
James Dutton collapsed and died on the ranch, right in his family home, in 1893, leaving behind his wife and two young kids. Spencer was still little, and John was a young teenager. Unfortunately, Margaret passed away shortly after, getting caught in a snowstorm, and the freezing blizzard took her life.
It left the boys all alone and nearly starved to death until Jacob Dutton came to visit his family on the ranch and found them all by themselves in 1894. Jacob and his wife, Cara, decided to continue the family legacy and took over the ranch, as well as the two boys, who they continued to raise as their own children.
Do James and Margaret Dutton appear in 1923?
The deaths of both James and Margaret Dutton are explained through the narrator in the first episode of 1923. The narrator, as we mentioned, was Elsa Dutton, their daughter, who passed away in the final episode of 1883 due to a poisonous arrow.
We don’t actually see their deaths, but we do see Jacob arriving at the ranch and finding the boys all alone, as well as Margaret’s frozen body.
The entire situation was just heartbreaking, but through all of that, it had somewhat of a happy ending as the ranch continued to prosper under Jacob and Cara’s leadership. Also, James’ lineage didn’t end, as John Dutton Sr. – his eldest – already had a son come 1923 named Jack Dutton.
All of that also explains why the Duttons are clinging on to the ranch so hard, even over a hundred years later, in modern-day Montana, as seen in the Yellowstone series. It’s not about the money, fame, or prosperity for them – it’s about family legacy, heritage, and honoring the huge sacrifices their ancestors made to be where they are today.
It’s where the final resting place for numerous Duttons is, and no matter what happens, I’m sure the ranch will always remain in the property of the family.
The new episode of 1923 is streaming on Paramount+ on December 25, 2022.