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In the first episode of 1883, the Dutton family’s ancestors are introduced. James Dutton arrives in Fort Worth, TX followed shortly by his wife, daughter, son, sister, and niece. Elsa reveals that she and her family are originally from Tennessee. From Texas, they embark on a dangerous journey with Shea Brennan’s company. Yellowstone fans know the Duttons eventually wind up in Montana, but what did James do for work in Tennessee?

Tim McGraw as James, Faith Hill as Margaret and Isabel May as Elsa of the Paramount+ original series 1883. The Dutton family pose for a formal photo.
Tim McGraw as James, Faith Hill as Margaret and Isabel May as Elsa of the Paramount+ original series “1883′ | Emerson Miller/Paramount+

What did James Dutton do for work in Tennessee?

While the Dutton family in 1883 are by no means wealthy, they seem to have a decent amount of money. They are able to afford the train tickets to Texas (though not in first class) and James splurges on a nice hotel for his family before they begin their journey. The Duttons also have an adequate amount of supplies for the trip. So what exactly did James do for work in Tennessee?

James is referred to as “the farmer” multiple times in 1883. Farming wasn’t exactly a glamorous lifestyle. However, Outsider suggests that the family likely sold their property and any livestock they owned before heading West. This would have earned the family a decent amount of money for supplies and other expenses.

James Dutton was also a Confederate soldier in ‘1883’

Elsa also mentions that her father was a Confederate Captain in the Civil War, though he refuses to talk about it. One flashback scene shows James awaking at the Battle of Antietam, the bloodiest day of the Civil War. After that, he was taken prisoner for three years.

James actor Tim McGraw explained the effects of the War on his character, and why he decided to leave Tennessee afterward. “I think James was really suffering from PTSD, which nobody knew about then,” McGraw told Outsider.


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“He was in a war he didn’t want to fight and battles where he lost all his men. Three years in prison during the Civil War. Then coming back, certainly, there were things going on in the South during Reconstruction and after Reconstruction … I think he was looking for an untainted part of America.”

Although the War was clearly a nightmarish experience for James, it was also likely an additional source of income. James was a Confederate Captain which according to would have earned him a sum of around $130 per month or about $3,500 per month in today’s money. James’ military wages combined with the income from farming probably put the Dutton family somewhere in the working class.

The Dutton family travel to Montana

Yellowstone fans know that eventually, the Duttons become the owners of the largest ranch in the United States. However, the 1883 Duttons are a long way away from their future home. In fact, as of episode 5, Shea’s group has not even made it out of Texas. There are plenty of dangers ahead on the Duttons’ journey and the first episode’s opening scene hints that not everyone will make it to Montana alive.

New episodes of 1883 release Sundays on Paramount+.