Howdy. My name is Gary Shelton, and I’m a rancher.
I grew up in Montana and have always enjoyed Westerns, even though it seems like they don’t make as many good ones as they used to do. I like the vistas and the freedom they represent. As a true blue Montanan, I also enjoy horses, cattle, and all creatures that make their home on the range. And I don’t mind a little shootout or brawl now and then.
I’m old enough to remember the golden age of TV Westerns, when shows like The Rifleman, Have Gun, Will Travel, and Gunsmoke filled the few channels we did get. Hell, I’m old enough to remember getting our first television, an enormous humming Philco that made an awful wheezing racket in its tubes when you turned it on. After settling itself down, it would warm up sufficiently to do its best impression of a snowstorm. Then the rabbit ears on top of the television would somehow gather up, seemingly out of the very aether, the magic, invisible signals that, if rearranged in a certain way, produced Wagon Train.
I’d sit about two feet from that great big monster, staring in wonder at a muddy, black and white image that I believe we would call “low resolution” today. But I didn’t care. I cared that Marshall Matt Dillon kept the town safe—especially Miss Kitty, whom I found to be an enchanting creature, if a little too old for me.
As a man in my late twenties, I also appreciated the 1978 miniseries Centennial, a sprawling epic that began with mountain men charting an unexplored West in the early nineteenth century and ended with a group of bell-bottomed urbanites dealing with urban planning. I guess you can figure which end of the series I preferred.
If it sounds like all I did was watch TV, you’re wrong. I also slept and ate.
In all seriousness, there was very little time for television, as work around the ranch, school, and my own designs to stay as far away from home as possible during the sunlit hours kept me away from my beloved boob tube. But the few hours a week that I did spend in front of that elephantine box of tubes were largely spent looking at Westerns because, well, they’re the best.
And for many of us who grew up in the American West, they’re also a way of seeing our own dreams brought to shadowy life before our very eyes—what boy or girl who grows up in Montana, whether in the mountainous western part or the flat, prairies of the east, doesn’t want, at least a little, to be a cowboy or a cowgirl?
Then came Lonesome Dove, which some critics credit with bringing the Western back for an audience for whom they had grown old, creaky, and passé. But Gus and Call (played expertly and singularly by Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones, respectively), and their mythic saga of driving cattle from the mesquite Hell of Texas up to the lush green Heaven of Montana sure rekindled my love for a good Western. Matter of fact, I’ve always sort of considered myself a Gus type—reliable in a pinch, good at talking, a real raconteur!
So when Paramount came out with Yellowstone, with frequent movie cowboy Kevin Costner, I was excited. And now, since Yellowstone is one of the most-watched shows on TV, I reckon it’s not just me and mine who still like a good Western.
In short, my DVR (no modern cowboy should be without a DVR) is set never to miss an episode. It’s action-packed, well-directed, top-notch Montana (well, sometimes Utah) scenery, some of the best horsemanship and horse-flesh you’ll ever see, and a dash of romance for the little lady. It’s so good and full of action that you can miss something vital if you go to the fridge for a beer. So I have to either rewind the DVR, so I don’t miss a second, or line up the beers I’ll need next to me before it even commences.
Now that we’ve gotten all the way through season three and nearly wrapped up filming on season four, I’m delighted to hear they’ve already approved a season five and six. It’s not like there are no more stories to tell; they could make another decade’s worth of melodramatic takes on topics like low cattle prices, tight margins, droughts, grasshoppers, predators, and poachers. And if they ever do run out of ideas, I’m available to consult for a modest fee.
The Dutton family has already dealt with all sorts of big problems typical of a big ranch: cattle rustlers, brazen biker gangs trespassing on their land, and developers of all types, including a nearby Native American tribe trying to buy the area they understandably claim as rightfully theirs since time immemorial. As season three neared its end, the Dutton family faced the worst possible foe yet, a company with billions that wanted 50,000 of their acres to build an airport and ski resort complete with million-dollar homes and commercial strips. Hmmm, that doesn’t sound familiar, does it?
In fact, the show’s portrayal of land use and eminent domain may be the only unrealistic thing about the series: if there is a part of Montana that has seen more than its share of subdividing, it is the Paradise Valley. Few large tracts are left. There might be some ranches nearly the size of the Duttons’ in Montana, but they sure as hell aren’t in Paradise Valley.
Montana is a beautiful state, and the Dutton ranch, the Yellowstone, is supposed to be located in the Paradise Valley, arguably one of Montana’s most beautiful locales. However, I think the whole of Montana is just as beautiful, not only the western portions.
From Troy to Alzada, Westby to Monida, Lost Trail Pass to Ekalaka, I have never seen any part of it that I didn’t think was drop-dead gorgeous. I have seen most of it, by the way; in my motorcycle hippy days, I rode every paved road in the state, and most of the gravel and dirt ones as well from the western forests to the Golden Triangle to the Missouri River Breaks. I guess I’m like John Steinbeck, who said, “I am in love with Montana. For other states I have admiration, respect, recognition, even some affection, but with Montana it is love. It’s difficult to analyze love when you’re in it.”
And so in the show, the company with the billions offers $10,000 per acre for the afore-mentioned 50,000 acres. And that sorta makes you think, Couldn’t the Duttons take the $500,000,000 and in the tax-free exchange purchase a ranch that could make some money somewhere else in the state? After all, there are 147,040 square miles in Montana, or 94,105,600 acres.
Having said that, I think about my own slice of paradise in Montana, and after counting the cows and finding them all accounted for, I find myself and my trusty steed at the highest point on my ranch east of Havre and looking to the south at the Bears Paw Mountains. I only have to stand here but a moment to be convinced anew that Montana is easily the most beautiful state in the union.
On a fine day with the high clouds rafting across the sky, this ranch can hold its own for sheer visual beauty with any landscape on earth.
So I can see why the Duttons don’t want to sell; it’s only $500 million, after all.
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Whenever I drive across the State I get a bit melancholy whenever I see the next State's signs.
Moved back a couple times and met my husband who is from Paradise. Together we ran the paradise bar for awhile.
I still at 73 call montana home
This show is obviously exaggerated for Hollywood but I think one of the main themes in the show “New vs. Old Montana” or “Progress vs. Preservation” is really important to highlight for our entire country. I’m sure it’s very prevalent in a state like MT as well.
I started to enjoy the show once I heard them using Puscifer songs/samples during key scenes; nothing beats Maynard’s voice accompanying picturesque American landscapes!! It’s also great to see different sides of “organized crime” so people realize it’s not just “thugs” in inner cities; all these cowboys run around with (legal) guns too! Very exaggerated for tv but still a great/entertaining show to watch!
I was born dirt poor in the Appalachian Mountains. I babysat for folks and every penny I saved till I could buy the entire series of Zane Grey books. Keep in mind I was a teenage girl! I swore I would leave those hollers and never look back.
The very moment I crossed into South Texas on a motorcycle, I was enamored. And then came my beloved New Mexico. Where I settled. My.Western dream came true. I rode my little black horse, pearl handled gun in my holster, across the Rio Grande.
If I never receive another blessing in my life; i.would be content with just that memory. The creaking of the leather, the bees buzzing, that endless big blue sky. I have never felt more free.
That was over 25 years ago. And life's roads have led me to South Carolina. Where I live alone and still yearn for the smell of mesquite and sage. Still got my saddle!
Thank you so much for painting such a beautiful picture.
Having lived a couple of years recently in Missoula, and driven around much of the state looking for fish, I am sensitive to the animosity towards Bozeangeles and Missoula. But it's still a gorgeous state with fabulous hot springs. I am fascinated by the show. Theatrics aside, those horses in season 4 are a wonder.
Years ago when I worked for the airlines and lived in Chicago, those I met overseas would mimic a machine gun when I told 1them I lived in Chicago. They connected that city w the TV show The Untouchables.
Yellowstone is America's first national park. People around the world want to come visit it. There are ranchers in that area who are hardworking folks who care about the environment too. And concessionaires who want to share the beautiful outdoors w our nation and the world.
I did some wildlife fieldwork at University of Montana in Missoula years ago radio-tracking grizzly bears and pronghorn antelope. Gorgeous country. It is a sad tragedy for the world to think the word Yellowstone refers to American decadent values (of a few) rather than the triumph of America to designate the Yellowstone region as the first national park in the entire world, leading the way for other countries. I wish the series writer, Taylor Sheridan, would keep our national heritage foremost in his mind in the days ahead.
We'll keep our slice of heaven!