1883 True Story & Every Real Life Character Explained (ScreenRant)

1883's story is entirely fictional. That being said, the series is rooted in social realities and people that lived in the late 19th century.

1883 is a gritty deep dive into the lives of those who lived during the peak of the Westward Expansion of America in the late 19th century. The events and cast of characters in 1883 echo the harsh realities of this era in history. Set amid the beauty of the wild and unspoiled American frontier, 1883 unravels the very beginnings of Yellowstone’s Dutton Ranch.

The story starts in Fort Worth, Texas, from which a group of German immigrants and a family from Tennessee seek out a better life and head north to the promised land of Montana. The caravan is composed mostly of people with zero to little experience surviving in the frontier, making the group vulnerable to the dangers of the wild west. However, it is led by former soldiers who are determined to protect the caravan during the perilous journey.

1883, a prequel spinoff of the neo-Western drama Yellowstone, isn’t based on real events – much like the original show. That being said, its portrayal of the frontier in the late 19th century is based on established historical facts. Here’s a breakdown of everything that 1883 borrows from American history.

1883’s Real History Explained

In 1803, the American government acquired almost the entire landmass of modern central United States from Napoleonic France through a treaty known as the Louisiana Purchase. However, as France actually controlled just small areas of the landmass in question, what the U.S. government actually bought was the right to “obtain” large swathes of Native American land through any means – without interference from the French or other colonial powers. This led to a lawless era, pervaded by frequent skirmishes between the Native Americans and the American families, war veterans, homesteaders, criminals, and many others who sought their fortune in new lands. At the time, diseases like smallpox and cholera were practically death sentences, as modern science didn’t yet offer any viable treatments for those unfortunate enough to contract these conditions.

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Image via Emerson Miller/Paramount+

By the 1880s, the American Westward Expansion was at its peak. To the north of the landmass that America claimed through the Louisiana Purchase lies Montana, seen by many as a promised land, in which they could settle away from the violence and turmoil that pervaded the rest of the country. This includes those who were part of the German emigration to America, which began in the late 1600s. As German immigrants escaping war and prosecution in Europe saw greater promise in the American frontier, despite the dangers involved, the German emigration continued on until the late 1800s. 1883 uses this historically accurate setting to flesh out the very roots of Yellowstone’s Dutton Ranch.

1883 Characters Based On Real Life People

1883’s character backgrounds are also based on historical facts from this era. Thomas (LaMonica Garrett) and Shea Brennan (Sam Elliot), for instance, are former members of the predominantly African-American cavalry and infantry regiments in the U.S. Army that were formed in the late 19th century – more popularly known by the nickname given to them by Native American tribes: Buffalo Soldiers. As Shea was Thomas’ captain in their regiment, they’ve established a close and unbreakable bond. Meanwhile, the German emigration to the U.S. serves as the historical foundation for the backgrounds of Josef (Marc Rissman) and his fellow immigrants, who struck a deal with Shea and Thomas to protect them in their journey. Such deals were common during the American Westward Expansion, as the lawless frontier gave plenty of opportunities for mercenaries to make money by escorting travelers. As for the family of James (Tim McGraw) and Margaret Dutton (Faith Hill), they represent the beginnings of the cutthroat modern ranching business, as depicted in Yellowstone season 4.

While 1883’s main characters are very loosely based on history, some of its side characters are actually fictionalized versions of real people that lived during the late 19th century. For instance, Marshall Jim Courtright (Billy Bob Thornton) is directly based on Timothy Isaiah Courtright, also known as Jim Courtright or “Longhair Jim.” Courtright served as the sherriff of Fort Worth from 1876 to 1879, and was killed in a shootout in 1887. True to the person on which he is based, Thornton’s Marshall Jim Courtright ends up helping protect the caravan from some outlaws in 1883. Meanwhile, another notable side character is General George Meade (Tom Hanks), who is based on a U.S. Army officer of the same name. Apart from participating in the Second Seminole War and the Mexican-American War, Meade also played a crucial role in the Battle of Gettysburg as well as the Battle of Antietam. Through these fictionalized versions of real pioneers, events, and sociopolitical situations from the Westward Expansion, 1883 succeeds at crafting an accurate reflection of American history – in stark contrast to the more common, idealized, and rose-colored stories of the American frontier.

How 1883 Establishes The Setting For Yellowstone

John Dutton Sr. (Audie Rick), James and Margaret’s young son, is the grandfather of Yellowstone’s John Dutton (Kevin Costner). Meanwhile, Elsa (Isabel May), who also serves as the narrator in 1883, is John Dutton’s great aunt. At the start of 1883, the Duttons are nowhere near establishing the homestead that would eventually grow into the largest contiguous ranch in the U.S. – the Dutton Ranch in Montana. Much like how Yellowstone’s Dutton Ranch provides a realistic look into the cutthroat modern ranching business, the Dutton family’s journey in 1883 offers an in-depth perspective into the foundations of this industry.

1883 is part of a recent resurgence in Western and neo-Western themes in modern entertainment. While other notable modern Westerns like The Power of the Dog and The Harder They Fall seek to respectively reverse the erasure of queer and Black history in the American frontier, 1883 offers an equally unfiltered look into the often idealized experiences of pioneers from the late 19th century. By dramatizing history, 1883 makes essential historical truths more accessible to wider audiences.

How To Watch 1883 Online – Is It Streaming On Paramount+ Or Peacock?

1883 releases new episodes Sundays only on Paramount+.

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