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Tim McGraw joined the 1883 cast as James Dutton, one of the leaders who guides a group of immigrants across the Great Plains in search of a better life. McGraw’s real-life wife, Faith Hill, plays his on-screen wife, Margaret Dutton. Together, their characters truly shine. But James has a difficult backstory that showrunner Taylor Sheridan developed — and McGraw confirmed his character has PTSD that he needs to deal with throughout the season.

Was James Dutton a confederate soldier? What’s the ‘1883’ character’s backstory?

James Dutton and his son, John Dutton, riding horses in '1883'
Tim McGraw as James Dutton and Audie Rick as John Dutton | Emerson Miller/Paramount+

So, who is James Dutton in 1883? For those who watch Yellowstone, James is the father of John Dutton Sr., who then becomes the father of John Dutton. This makes James the great-grandfather of John Dutton from Yellowstone.

Aside from James’ family ties, he was also in a war. The Cinemaholic notes the events of 1883 take place after the American Civil War. Shea Brennan, another lead played by Sam Elliott, recounted his own experiences fighting in the war. According to the show creators, Shea was part of the Buffalo Soldier regiments formed in 1866 and part of the Union Army. As for James, he reportedly fought as a Confederate officer.

This means the two main male characters fought on opposite sides of the war. This makes them joining sides to cross the Great Plains together even more interesting, and it certainly adds to their characters and their relationship.

Tim McGraw says his character has PTSD as a result of the Civil War

James Dutton and Margaret Dutton sitting next to each other and looking out in '1883'
Tim McGraw as James Dutton and Faith Hill as Margaret Dutton | Emerson Miller/Paramount+

The American Civil War likely affects a number of 1883 characters — and it certainly affects James Dutton. Tim McGraw talked about James’ PTSD on the Yellowstone Official Podcast.

“You get a sense of who James is because of the flashbacks in the second episode, during the Civil War,” McGraw explains. “In my mind, when I’m developing my character and thinking about who James is and what drives him, to me, James didn’t want to be in that war. He didn’t believe in what the cause was, and he was forced to be in it. And then he goes into a battle and loses a thousand men. And to me, James is PTSD. I mean, that’s clearly part of his character, clearly part of his psyche.”

McGraw also talked about how “deep” and “troubled” James felt to him. “I think James’ motivation was to get his family to an untainted part of the world,” he added. “That’s really what he wanted to do. And he was trying to outrun ghosts. He was trying to get past some of the ghosts in his life.”

Does James Dutton die in ‘1883’?


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The beginning of 1883 shows a desperate scene for the Duttons. Elsa Dutton gets shot with an arrow by a Native American, and it’s unclear what becomes of her parents. So, does James Dutton die in 1883?

It seems he does die — but not in the prequel show. The Cinemaholic explains James’ death scene is actually explained in Yellowstone Season 4 Episode 8. According to the episode, James hunts down horse thieves in Montana, and he kills all but one of the thieves. Sadly, he also gets shot — and when he gets home, he dies from the injury.

The publication notes this event happens about a decade after 1883 occurs. It’s highly unlikely fans will see this play out in the prequel.

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