‘Yellowstone’: Why Do They Brand the Cowboys?

Fans of the Paramount Network western Yellowstone know that the Dutton Ranch is an exclusive, one-of-a-kind club. Getting in is a big deal, and the price of full admission is painful. The only way out is a trip on a train that “only runs one in direction.”

Yellowstone stars Ian Bohen, Kevin Costner and Denim Richards in June 2020
‘Yellowstone’ cowboys Ian Bohen and Denim Richards with Kevin Costner | Paramount Network

What does a brand mean on ‘Yellowstone’?

On the Dutton ranch, the livestock have a brand of the ranch logo — a hooked, rocking-Y — burned onto their skin. The mark signifies they are Dutton property. And it’s how a rancher finds the animals when they get lost.

But a brand isn’t just for the livestock. The Dutton Ranch logo is also put on the chest of a dedicated wrangler. And the meaning is both physical and metaphorical. Not just anyone wears that Y. To those who have it, bearing that brand is worth the pain they went through to get it. It’s about belonging to something bigger than themselves.

Yellowstone has featured the symbol often during the first three seasons. Fans often talk about the mark on social media. But there has been some confusion about what it means. One fan on a Reddit thread dedicated to the Yellowstone brand thought it meant that “we own you forever.”

“Get the brand or we kill you/leave you to die/leave you to the cops,” the fan wrote.

Others compared it to getting made in the mafia. Once you’re in the family, you are owned and will do anything you’re told. But one Redditor explained that it was a badge of honor.

“It is both a mark of being ‘beyond redemption’ to society, but also a badge of honor on the ranch itself,” u/thehackneyedcarriage wrote. “It signals you removing yourself from regular society, and those who’ve been through the same will defend you with their lives unless you betray them.”

Which characters have the brand?

When Yellowstone began, the characters who had the Y-mark on their chests were Kayce Dutton (Luke Grimes), long-time wrangler Lloyd (Forrie Smith), and Rip Wheeler (Cole Hauser). The first character to get branded on the series was Jimmy Hurdstrom (Jefferson White), after Rip gave him an ultimatum.

As Looper points out, when Rip presented Jimmy with his initiation branding, it meant that Jimmy was willing to sacrifice for the sake of his job at the Dutton ranch.

RELATED: ‘Yellowstone’: Wes Bentley Knows Jamie Could Go ‘Full Villain’ in Season 4

Walker (Ryan Bingham) also received the brand after walking out of prison. But, not everyone gets it immediately.

It wasn’t until late in season 3 when fans saw Colby (Denim Richards) and Ryan (Ian Bohen) get branded. Even though they both had been around since season 1. On the other hand, Teeter (Jennifer Landon) didn’t become a wrangler until season 3, and she received the brand at the same time as the boys.

‘Yellowstone’ star Denim Richards explains branding on the ranch

During an interview with TV Insider, Richards talked about the intense episode that featured his character’s branding. He says that it wasn’t just a ceremonial rite of passage.

“We’re also getting branded because there’s a big fight that’s going to end up happening and you need to have all hands on deck,” Richards said. “You can’t have any of this happy go lucky and just go and have fun. We’re getting ready to gear up for a war.”

Richards went on to say that the brand is also John Dutton’s (Kevin Costner) way of letting everyone know that the way things used to look are not going to be the same going forward.

“It really was a different way, especially to end it on that note, which is very beautiful, very ceremonial, but also really, really intense, as we begin to move forward into Season 4,” Richards said.

Season 4 of Yellowstone is expected to premiere in June 2021 on the Paramount Network. Seasons 1 through 3 are available on Peacock.