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Everything Yellowstone Got Right and Wrong, According to a Real Rancher

Yellowstone has taken America by storm and made it cool to be a cowboy – or at least cool to be a fan of professional actors who pretend to be cowboys on the silver screen. There still are plenty of real cowboys in America, and some of us watch the show on Paramount every Sunday night. A few of us even admit it in public. 

Since Season 4 just ended and now we have to wait several months for new episodes, here’s a little insight into the accuracy of the hit show. Because we all watch network dramas for their accuracy, right? 

Here’s what Yellowstone got right and wrong, straight from a real life cowboy’s wife.


Casting: Kevin Costner is the man. His character, ranch patriarch John Dutton, hits the main points of the aging bachelor rancher: felt hat, canvas barn jacket, eats beef every day, carries a gun in his truck, and solves problems with squinted eyes and a set jaw. 

The guitar-pickin’ Ryan Bingham is a badass musician from Texas who was cool before his portrayal of ex-con Walker on the show. In general, all the actors are solid. Even more important, their hats are nicely shaped.

Veterinarians: The rural medical practice portrayed on Yellowstone is accurate. “Call the vet” is standard procedure for most cowboy injuries. Vet bills are cheaper and they often use the same drugs. There isn’t a cowboy alive who hasn’t sliced his thumb wide open, looked at a bottle of penicillin in the barn fridge, and thought “What the hell.” 

Way Off

Mafia vibe: As for the main theme of Yellowstone, it’s all wrong. Entertaining, but totally false. Ranches are not run like the mafia. Cowboys are not branded, and ranches don’t hold tryouts when hiring new cowboys. Getting hired by a ranch usually goes something like this:

“Can you ride?”


“Can you rope?”


“Can you be here tomorrow?”

Fights: Cage fights are not commonly held in round pens. Cowboys fist fight in the usual places – front yards, parking lots, behind the barn, at family reunions.   

Vengeance: If a cowboy gets his ass kicked in a bar after work, his boss will not defend his honor by turning an angry bull loose in the bar to wreak havoc. He’d only release a gentle bull. Just kidding! He wouldn’t do anything except chew the cowboy out the next morning if he was too crippled to get on his horse and go to work.  

Wranglers: This commonly used term on the show is way off. No self-respecting cowboy (or even the ones with a confidence problem) would ever tolerate being called a “wrangler.” A wrangler is someone who works on a dude ranch during the warm summer months and leads city slickers on trail rides at a slow walk for a salary plus generous tips. A cowboy is someone who rides bad horses and ropes fast cattle every day of the year for poverty wages. 


Relationships: Kayce and Monica’s relationship is the closest to real life cowboys and their wives. Ranch people are just like regular people – we get pregnant, get married, split up, get back together, buy a house with a front yard and a dog. 

Rip and Beth’s tumultuous connection is pretty far-fetched. It’s not that cowboys don’t date crazy chicks, because they do, but Beth’s penchant for wearing spotless Gucci silk skirts doesn’t jive with the reality of ranch life. At some point after moving in with a cowboy on her family’s ranch, a real Beth would have to put on faded jeans, something from Carhartt, and get mud on her cotton shirt. 

Oh, but cowboys do occasionally get busy with their wives under an aspen tree, a` la Kayce and Monica in Season 2. Ahem. 

Ranch work: When it comes to horseback cowboy work, Yellowstone allows brilliant flashes of reality to come through, mostly through extras such as famed horse trainer Bob Avila and the entire Four Sixes crew. If you see a guy in Season 4 wearing a long sleeve shirt with “6666” stitched on the breast pocket and swinging a rope (except Jimmy), then you’re looking at a bonafide, real-deal, modern day American cowboy. 

But you’d better not call him a wrangler unless you’re ready to throw hands.