Similar to the other shows in the Yellowstone universe, 1883’s characters are made up of tough, complicated, and compelling individuals. The show follows James Dutton as his family makes their way from Texas in search of a new home in Montana, cementing the Dutton family dynasty in tragedy and death. While set in a very different time period from Yellowstone, the show is every bit as rugged and dangerous, with the 1883 characters enduring one hardship after another in their brutal journey.
Just as Yellowstone takes advantage of a talented cast to tell its story, 1883’s cast has some big names, as well. Among the list, fittingly, are plenty of country stars and actors well-familiar with cowboy roles. Most interestingly, many of these characters connect to the story of John Dutton and Yellowstone with the story of how his ancestors founded this land adding context to the overall journey of this family. They are joined by other 1883 characters on their own difficult, heartbreaking, and captivating journey across the unforgiving country.
Tim McGraw As James Dutton
1883’s protagonist is James Dutton, a capable gunman taking his family West to find good land to settle on. James’ chief concern throughout the story is protecting his family at all costs. Sadly, just as their journey is coming to an end, he loses his oldest daughter, Elsa. James was first seen in flashback sequences in Yellowstone season 4, one of which sees him getting shot in a gunfight and appearing close to death. It is confirmed in episode 1 of 1923 that James died of his wounds. James serves as the founder of the Dutton’s Yellowstone legacy, which is carried on by his great-grandson, John Dutton III (Kevin Costner), in Yellowstone.
Dutton is played by Tim McGraw. McGraw is, of course, best known as a three-time Grammy award-winning country singer. However, he’s also had some notable acting roles as well, such as Sean Tuohy in The Blind Side, husband to Sandra Bullock’s Leigh Anne Tuohy. McGraw is also in another well-known football film, 2004’s Friday Night Lights, as Don Billingsly’s alcoholic father, Charles.
Faith Hill As Margaret Dutton
James’s wife, Margaret Dutton, is similarly tough and provides a very compelling match to James’s adventurous spirit. She is much more reluctant to make this journey and fears for her children along the way yet is an asset to the family’s survival. Along with Elsa, she is the mother of John Dutton and, later, Spencer Dutton from 1923. Following the death of James, she sends for his brother Jacob (Harrison Ford) to take over the ranch but dies in a brutal winter before he arrives.
Margaret is played by another country artist: actress and producer, Faith Hill, who is married to McGraw in real life, which certainly contributes to James and Margaret’s chemistry on-screen. Also best known as a musician, Hill’s film roles include Sarah Sunderson in 2004’s The Stepford Wives and Arletta in 2017’s Dixieland. She has also contributed to the soundtracks of many films.
Isabel May As Elsa Dutton
James and Margaret’s daughter, Elsa Dutton, seems to be the heart of the Yellowstone universe, as she narrates both this series and 1923. Full of wonder and a sense of adventure, Elsa likes to think of herself as tougher and more grown-up than she really is— more like her distant descendant, Beth from Yellowstone. Throughout her journey, she discovers love and tragedy before dying in her father’s arms just as they reach their new home.
She’s played by actress Isabel May, whose most noteworthy parts have also been in TV. She stars in the Netflix original Alexa & Katie as Katie Cooper and has also appeared in many episodes of Young Sheldon as one of Sheldon’s tutees, Veronica.
Sam Elliott As Shea Brennan
1883’s opening reveals a tragic story behind the no-nonsense Captain Shea Brennan, who along with his partner, Thomas, is charged with guiding a large group of settlers to Oregon. After losing his family to disease, Brennan struggles with carrying on but sees purpose in helping these people survive their dangerous journey. He is hard on them but he also clearly cares about their safety. Sadly, once he completes his mission, Brennan kills himself to be with his family, though he may return in another Yellowstone prequel spinoff.
Brennan is played by the iconic cowboy actor, Sam Elliott. He presents a rather classic cowboy image himself, so it’s no surprise to see Elliott in another Western with 1883. His iconic roles include Wade Garrett in Road House and The Stranger in The Big Lebowski. Fittingly, given his country music royalty co-stars in his 1883 characters, Elliot has also been in country music-centered films, The Hero and A Star is Born.
LaMonica Garrett As Thomas
Thomas is a former slave and Brennan’s more level-headed but equally competent partner, who leads the settler caravan alongside him in their perilous journey west. Like Brennan, Thomas is also not part of the Dutton family tree, however, he is another fascinating character in the series. He does not voice the same compassion Brennan does for the settlers, but he proves that he has a bigger heart than he lets on. This leads to him forming a bond with Noemi, a recent widow on the trail. In the end, they get one of the series’ only happy endings with Thomas, Noemi, and her children starting a life together in Oregon.
Thomas is played by LaMonica Garrett. Garrett, a former professional slamball player, has played many other tough-as-nails characters in his career. His first major role was as Deputy Sheriff Cane in the series Sons of Anarchy, and he has also been in Designated Survivor as Secret Service Agent Mike Ritter and featured in the Arrowverse as Mar Novu/The Monitor.
Billy Bob Thornton As Jim Courtwright
As one of the real-life 1883 characters, Jim Courtwright has a brief but memorable role in one episode. Marshal Courtwright was a well-known and highly effective Fort Worth lawman and the show suggests some no-nonsense tactics on his part. After the wagon train is attacked by outlaws, Courtwright leads James, Brennan, and others to a saloon to question the supposed criminals. However, not interested in waiting for answers, Courtwright shoots the men dead to send a message.
Though 1883’s cast of characters is fairly heavy-hitting all around, Billy Bob Thornton is still one of its biggest names. The actor and filmmaker has starred in noteworthy films such as A Simple Plan, The Man Who Wasn’t There, and Monster’s Ball, but is probably best known for writing, directing, and starring in 1996’s Sling Blade, for which he won an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay and was nominated for Best Actor, as well.
1883’s Supporting Cast & Characters
Audie Rick as John Dutton – Before appearing in the future Yellowstone spinoff 1923 (played by James Badge Dale), John Dutton is introduced as a young boy in 1883. He doesn’t play as big of a role as his other family members in the series, being too young to help much, and mostly just kept out of trouble. Rick also recently played the young version of another hero as Luke Skywalker in Obi-Wan Kenobi.
James Landry Hébert as Wade – Wade is one of two cowboys that Brennan hires to help round up cattle. The actor is most recognizable as Clem from Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and for his small role, Axel, in Stranger Things season 2.
Eric Nelson as Ennis – Aside from Wade, Ennis is the other cowboy Brennan hires. He quickly develops a passionate romance with Elsa that mirrors Spencer and Alexandra’s romance in 1923. Wade quickly married Elsa only to be killed by bandits shortly after. Nelson is known for playing Fred in Nightmare Cinema and Howie in A Walk Among the Tombstones.
Marc Rissmann as Josef – The only member of the German group fluent in English and its de facto leader is Josef. Though he earns the respect of Brennan and Dutton for his determination, Josef’s journey is a tragic one, ending with him losing his leg to a snake bite and his wife to an injury falling off her horse. He is played by Marc Rissmanbest, known for his roles as Harry Strickland in Game of Thrones and Wilhelm Goertzmann in The Man in the High Castle.
Tom Hanks as General George Meade – Though not a recurring role, it’s certainly worth mentioning the renowned Tom Hanks’s appearance in 1883’s second episode. Continuing 1883’s exploration of American history, “Behind Us, A Cliff” features a Civil War flashback in which Hanks plays a sympathetic Union general who comes across a traumatized James Dutton following a bloody battle.