The Old Broke Rancher On How He's a Lot Like John Dutton of TV's "Yellowstone"

Old Broke Rancher Masthead

It's interesting how your notion of yourself changes over the years, as what's popular at the time comes to define your self-image. 

For instance, all through the seventies, I thought I kind of looked like Burt Reynolds.

Never mind the fact that Burt had a sleek, jet-black mustache like a muskrat drowned in crude oil while I can only grow something like an Egyptian hairless cat with mange.

In the eighties, probably for similar reasons, I rather fancied myself a Tom Selleck type. I bought a pair of aviators and some very short shorts. Hell, I even took to wearing Hawaiian shirts until I was informed by those that had to look at me every day that this was Montana, not Hawaii, and I wasn't attending a Luau. Nor was I likely to be mistaken for Magnum PI save by the stone deaf and very blind.

I won't dwell on the 90s and 2000s except to say that, as Tim Allen presided over a groundswell of affection for dumb guys whose love for tools exceeded their facility with them, I was happy to follow his example.

Tool belt

But this is all a long walk to a short statement. I think you'll find it impossible to deny the truth of it.  

I think I'm a whole lot like John Dutton, the lead character of TV's Yellowstone, as played by Kevin Costner. I've been waiting years for someone, anyone, to compare me to Dutton, but since it just doesn't seem to happen, I guess I'll have to just take the liberty and do it myself.

I mean, there are a few differences, sure. One of them being that Kevin Costner has aged like dry-aged Kobe beef. 

Hell, we can't help our genes.

And I can't very well help the fact that I've aged like a gallon of milk filled with chopped onions and left out on the tarmac of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport to stew in the afternoon sun. 

So we'll set aside the question of looks.

The other day I discussed with my wife my idea for this article, which is to say I told her how much I resembled John Dutton, at least to myself.

It took some time for her uncontrolled belly laughing to subside.

Once she could catch her breath again, she pointed out another difference between Dutton and myself that I hadn't considered. Namely, that, while Dutton has an on-again-off-again affair with the foxy Governor Perry, I am fiercely loyal to my own wife.  

Now, I take that as a virtue, my loyalty. But my lovely wife, who works so hard day in and day out to keep me attached to solid earth rather than getting arrogant and floating away into the sky, was quick to add that, even if I did decide all that fidelity was the stuff of boy scouts, a woman like Governor Perry probably wouldn't have me. Indeed, she'd be more likely to be with someone who looked like Kevin Costner.

cowboy hat

"Ok, but I look good in a cowboy hat," I pointed out. 

"Well," she said, "put it this way. The cowboy hat improves your looks, but you don't improve the cowboy hat's looks any."

"Alright, well, that's fine because I don't want to sleep with Greg Gianforte anyway," I hollered at her as I went out the back door. "Even if he does look good in camo!"

Chastened, I set out to do my chores, and it occurred to me that this was another difference: Dutton only has to do his chores when he wants to.

Later, I tried my children while I picked them up from school. "Hey, your old Dad's kind of like Kevin Costner on "Yellowstone," isn't he," I asked hopefully of my youngest son.

"Who's that?"

"That guy on 'Yellowstone!'

"That show for old people?"

I decided to switch tacts, so I pulled out my wallet. 

"Tell me I remind you of John Dutton and I'll give you $5."

"Five bucks won't even buy a burger anymore, Dad. Make it ten."


"Ok, you remind me of some old guy on some stupid show."

Thank you, son.


Here's another way we're similar. We've both got big ranches. The "Yellowstone" is a colossal stretch of Edenic beauty - so big that it strains the believability of the show, frankly, especially since thing is supposedly smack in the middle of the Paradise Valley. But I've got a big ranch too - though not as green and verdant admittedly. You ever seen one of those lotion commercials where they zoom in on dry skin until it's a nightmarish landscape of crevices sparsely punctuated by monstrous hairs? Well, my ranch kind of looks like that.

Now, the Yellowstone you could probably drive across all day and not reach the end of it. I think my ranch is almost the same in that you could probably peddle a tricycle across it all day and not see the border as long as you stopped to take a generous lunch break and a couple of breathers.

Here are just a couple more similarities in case you still need convincing: 

John Dutton has a personal chef who cooks all his meals. I do too. It's called a microwave, and it's better than John's because I don't even have to pay it, just wipe out the splashed chili now and then. 

John Dutton is a murderer. I am not (yet), but have been known to say that I'd kill for a beer.

There is, however, one significant way in which John Dutton and I are very different. He's rich and I'm, well, broke.  

But I seem to recall a passage in the good book... something about how a rich man has to pass through a camel before he gets the needle. Or was it that a rich man has a better chance of having a camel spit in his eye than a beggar—something like that. I never liked camels, anyway, so it's a good thing I'm poor.

So as you can see, I have all of John Dutton's best traits and none of his undesirable ones.

In fact, I'm actually like John Dutton but a little bit better. Everyone agrees, you see. Even my family. 

And, well, if Governor Gianforte happens to be reading this and is interested? Well, drop me an email and we'll see if we can work something out.

Camel needle

Gary Shelton was born in Lewistown in 1951 and has been a rancher, a railroader, a biker, a teacher, a hippie, and a cowboy.  Now he's trying his hand at writing in the earnest hope that he'll make enough at it to make a downpayment on an RV.  Hell, scratch that.  Enough to buy the whole RV.  He can be reached at [email protected] for complaints, criticisms, and recriminations.  Compliments can be sent to the same place, but we request you don't send them - it'll make his head big.

Leave a Comment Here

SixftPixy (not verified) , Fri, 02/04/2022 - 10:08
You’re actually ALOT better than John Dutton, you’re a REAL rancher….all of us MT born and raised creatures cherish you & everything you do to maintain our MT lifestyle!
We enjoy your articles so very much, thank you…laughter IS the best medicine!
Anonymous (not verified) , Fri, 02/04/2022 - 12:39
This was hilarious! I loved it! Thanks for your great sense of humor!
Ennis McRogers (not verified) , Fri, 02/04/2022 - 13:37
There is an old saying - “You can tell what God thinks of money by looking at who he gave it to.” Gotta admire a man that takes care of his family, his animals and his land. It’s not an easy life but it is a rich life. Glad you put pen to paper and here is hoping you get a nice used RV; one that some wealthy person bought during the pandemic and no longer wants!
John Rouane (not verified) , Fri, 02/04/2022 - 21:06
I had the honor of knowing another great rancher. Bruce Dutton was the epitome of a real cowboy living on the Musselshell near Cat Creek. As the Fall weather closed in, he had spent two days gathering cattle in the Breaks. His sunken eyes caked with age never slowed him. He has since passed, but I will never forget him.
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