Secrets from Behind the Scenes of ‘1883’
When Yellowstone first premiered in 2018, viewers couldn’t get enough of the Dutton family and their trials and tribulations on the open ranges of Montana. So, it was no surprise when Paramount announced that they were working on 1883, a prequel that follows the ancestors of the characters from the original show 100+ years beforehand.
While the show is largely not based on real people or real events, producers on the show did everything they could to create a world that looked and felt authentic to the spirit of the late 19th century on the American frontier. And boy did they do a good job with that!
1883 wrapped up its run in February of 2022, and at this point, viewers and fans still don’t know if the show will be returning for another season or not. So, if you still need some western action and adventure in your life, we’ve got you covered!
Today, we’re taking a look at some of the behind-the-scenes secrets from the set of the show. From glaring inaccuracies to actors who hate their cowboy hats, we’re breaking down all the things about 1883 that you didn’t see on the TV screen.
Let’s get started!
Significance of the Year 1883
The year 1883 is a very significant year for one big reason. On March 1st, 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant signed the Yellowstone National Park Protection Act that made Yellowstone the world’s first national park. Eleven years later, in 1883, the construction of the Northern Pacific Railroad finally reached Yellowstone.
Yellowstone is largely located in the Northwest corner of Wyoming and extends into Montana and Idaho. The Yellowstone National Park is known for its diverse wildlife but also for its geothermal features like the Old Faithful Geyser. Native Americans have lived in the 2,219,791-acre area for at least 11,000 years.
Fort Worth, Texas scenes were filmed in the Fort Worth Stockyards historic district.
The Forth Worth Texas scenes were all filmed in the Fort Worth Stockyards historic district. The 98-acre area was listed in the National Register of Historic Places as Fort Worth Stockyards Historic District in 1976. Included in the listing is a total of 46 buildings and one structure.
Among other things, the historic district had a livestock market that was operated by various owners as far back as 1866. By 1876, with the arrival of the railroad, it became an important center for livestock trade. The Livestock Exchange Building is one of the contributing structures of this historic district.
The show is loosely based on the years after the Louisiana Purchase.
1883 (and its predecessor Yellowstone), are much more fiction than fact, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a nugget of truth that the show’s premise is based on. The show follows a group of pioneers as they head west in the years following the real-life Louisiana Purchase, but that’s about where the accuracy ends.
The Duttons themselves and most of the show’s other characters are purely a work of fiction, although the show did do its best to make these people look and feel as realistic as possible. However, a few minor characters are actually based on real-life people!
The White Elephant Still Exists
The White Elephant Saloon that is featured on the show still exists in Fort Worth. The historic, legendary saloon is owned by Tim Love, a celebrity chef and TV personality. It’s a great place to grab a drink and enjoy the Fort Worth Stockyards, according to the official website. But the real reason to go is for its history.
The White Elephant Saloon may have been around as long as the late 1800s but it is not in its original location. Originally located in Hell’s Half Acre, it remained dormant for a while until it was moved to the historic Stockyards in 1970. Since then, it has become a hot tourist spot.
The Tarrant County Courthouse is an accurate depiction of the one in 1883.
The Tarrant County Courthouse used for filming 1883 can be seen in the background of several scenes taking place in Fort Worth. This Courthouse is a perfect stand-in for the historical one as it is an accurate depiction of that same courthouse – more or less, anyway. However, the current courthouse was built 10 years later.
In the show Walker, Texas Ranger, the courthouse was used as the Dallas office of the Texas Rangers. Sadly, nobody in 1883 are doing any roundhouse kicks, nor is Chuck Norris anywhere to be seen. Of course, if Chuck Norris had actually lived in 1883, there probably wouldn’t be any lawlessness at all and that wouldn’t make for an entertaining show.
Elsa Dutton’s birthday is the same day General Robert E. Lee surrendered.
Elsa’s 18th birthday on the show is also the anniversary of the day General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox. This marked the end of the Civil War. The date this occurred was on April 9th 1865. Therefore, Elsa was born the very same day that the Civil War had ended.
However, there would be one more battle fought after this surrender that occurred on May 13, 1865 in Palmito Ranch, Texas. Among the lives claimed at the battle was Union Private John J. Williams who is believed to be the very last person killed during the war. In total over 600,000 soldiers died during the Civil War.
Tom Hanks played General Meade
Tom Hanks plays General Meade in the Civil War flashback sequences on the show. General Meade was a real-life historical figure who was best known for defeating General Robert E. Lee at the Battle of Gettysburg. It is widely considered to be a turning point in the Civil War. And what better actor to portray him!
Before fighting in the Civil War, he fought in the Second Seminole War and the Mexican–American War, so he had plenty of experience in battle prior. Having been appointed command of the Army of the Potomac three days before Gettysburg, he continued to command the army until 1865. He died in 1872.
Elsa’s death was always planned.
Elsa’s death had been planned from the very start of the series. It wasn’t meant to just shock viewers but was established early on to create a tragic but memorable storyline. Taylor Sheridan wanted to give fans a false sense of security when it came to the character and it seems he did a good job at that.
The opening scene of the series features Elsa getting shot in the stomach with an arrow. Reasonably viewers would assume that the character would survive because she is its main character but they were wrong at that arrow is what kills her. Ultimately, the fact that we think she could survive is what gives the scene a greater impact.
Elsa had English training.
Elsa Dutton is well-established as an expert horseback rider, but you may notice that she rides differently than many of the other characters on the show. That’s because she is utilizing the English style of riding rather than the western style of riding. This makes her easily stand out from the others.
So far, within the first season, this isn’t something that has been demonstrated to viewers but as you continue the show, it becomes more evident that this is the style of riding. So if you thought there was only one way to ride a horse, now you know better, cause we sure do.
The Truth Behind Elsa’s Music
At one point in the show, Elsa plays the piano for Ennis and Wade. The piece she plays on the piano is Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. She plays this on a piano that had been abandoned by immigrants when crossing a river. The sad musical composition is played as tragic events by the riverside transpire.
And this choice of music is not random. The first movement of the Moonlight Sonata was inspired by a famous murder of Mozart’s Don Giovanni that occurred during Beethoven’s lifetime. Elsa plays this song for Ennis and cries, foreshadowing his tragic death that occurs in episode 5. Her mournful scream is the last “song” she plays for him.
James foreshadows Elsa’s character development.
James foreshadows his daughter Elsa’s maturation in episode 4 after catching Elsa and Ennis kissing. While audiences can’t help but laugh at James’s displeased expression, you may notice the scene turns a little more serious if you watch it a second time when you realize it’s an important moment for Elsa’s character.
James tells her he can no longer treat her like a child just because he’s worried and does express some acceptance of her relationship. He does comment that she’s like half child and half adult which signifies her maturation and gives his blessing. Only until she consummates the relationship, and after the tragedy and loss she experiences, does she transition into a full adult.
Cowboy Ennis was a plot device.
Cowboy Ennis was created merely as a plot device. He is a comic relief character for the series and has very little backstory. While he is certainly a lovable character, his character arc is relatively short and he is not as developed as the other characters despite being featured in five episodes.
His primary purpose as a plot device is to move Elsa’s storyline forward. His death signifies her loss of innocence which is essential to her development as a character. Cowboy Ennis and his partner Wade appear in the storyline upon their meeting with the cowboy Shea Brennan in a saloon.
Cowboy Ennis’s death broke everyone’s heart.
Cowboy Ennis was easily a fan-favorite character that everyone watching the series loved, and fans were heartbroken when he died on the show. Equally as heartbroken was the actor who played him: Eric Nelsen, who didn’t even know he was going to die when he signed on to do the show.
Eric Nelsen was only given the first episode script upon filming, and only after that first episode was filmed had he received the rest of the script. He read ahead to know what to expect from his character and when he found out that he died, he was disappointed, to say the least but was glad that his character died a hero.
Margaret foreshadowed Elsa and Ennis’s doomed relationship
Before Elsa and Ennis even get together, Elsa’s mother Margaret foreshadows their doomed relationship. She laments the absence of gentlemen on the frontier when speaking to Elsa’s father James. Moreover, she says, “I’m afraid it’s not fair,” which tells us the frontier is no place for a gentleman.
And sadly Margaret is very correct in this statement, but when watching, audiences have not quite grasped that yet in the story. But she warned us! While Ennis is certainly not a gentleman, the frontier proves that life is indeed, unfair. Their relationship ends when Ennis dies in episode 5.
Elsa and Ennis Didn’t Have Sex in Episode 4
Elsa and Ennis, despite popular belief, did not have sex in episode 4. Although, it is certainly understandable why audiences had thought they did. The young couple share their first kiss at the end of the episode while guarding cattle overnight until they are caught by Elsa’s father James.
The next morning, Elsa awakes to find Ennis already on his horse, but the fact that they are alone together in that scene is not meant to suggest that they consummated their relationship. The kiss was innocent and it’s only until episode 5 that they consummate their relationship.
After Elsa and Ennis consummated their relationship, there were rumors that Elsa was pregnant with Ennis’s child. Were that to be true, that would make the fatal arrow that kills Elsa even more tragic. However, these rumors were likely just wishful thinking since there were so many in support of their relationship.
Another thing that sparked this rumor, however, was a conversation between Margaret and Elsa in which they argued about babies and pregnancy. Further rumors suggested that her child was Spencer, a child that appeared in Yellowstone flashbacks. Nevertheless, the death of Elsa put these rumors to bed for good – although there’s really no way to know for sure whether she was pregnant.
Elsa and Ennis’s “Engagement” is a turning point.
After consummating their relationship, Elsa suggests that they are now basically unofficially engaged. This shows how seriously as a teen she took the encounter but also how naive she still is. It also sets a stage for her next relationship with Sam who becomes her unofficial husband later on in the season.
Nevertheless, it is her relationship with Ennis where the bulk of her growth occurs. Her short romance, in other words, has the long-term effects needed for her more serious relationship with Sam. That relationship with Sam conveys that growth after the crucial turning point with Ennis.
James and Margaret Dutton are married in real life.
Much of the action in 1883 centers around James and Margaret Dutton and their daughter, Elsa. The Duttons have fantastic chemistry on the show, and while some of that can be attributed to the skill of the actors, there’s another reason they mesh so well—James and Margaret are married in real life.
The pair are played by real-life husband and wife duo Tim McGraw and Faith Hill. They’re one of the most recognizable couples in the country music world, but it seems like they may have taken a liking to acting, too! We’d have no complaints if we saw this power couple on our TV screens more in the future!
Jim Courtright and George Meade are based on real people.
While most of the cast of 1883 are not based on people from real life, there are a couple of notable exceptions to this rule. Both Jim Courtright (played by Billy Bob Thornton) and General George Meade (played by Tom Hanks) were real people with important roles in America’s history.
In real life, Courtright was a gunslinger and sheriff in Fort Worth, Texas. He was feared notoriously in the area for his quick draw and sharp aim, but he was eventually shot and killed by another gunman. Meanwhile, George Meade was a general in the Union army who is most famous for leading his army to victory against the Confederacy at the Battle of Gettysburg.
‘Longhair Jim’ Courtright was actually killed in front of white elephant saloon.
Sheriff “Longhair Jim” Courtright and White Elephant owner Luke Short actually got into a gunfight in front of the Saloon, where Courtright was shot dead. He was killed in 1887 and each year on the anniversary of the shooting, it is reenacted in front of the saloon’s new location on Exchange Street.
The White Elephant Saloon is said to be haunted by “Longhair Jim” Courtright to this very day, by his spirit, if you believe that or at the very least by his memory, as he was one of the most corrupt lawmen in the history of Fort Worth. So, probably not many people are lighting candles for this guy though.
Sam Elliott has never seen Yellowstone.
Sam Elliott plays Shea Brennan, one of the most important characters on 1883. He’s a natural and a professional in the role, so you probably assumed he did his homework and watched Yellowstone before filming, right? Wrong! He recently revealed that he’s never seen an episode of the original show, and had some pretty strong things to say about it.
In a podcast interview with Marc Maron, Elliott revealed he wasn’t a fan of Yellowstone, saying, “I don’t watch Yellowstone. I love Costner, [and] there’s a lot of good people on the cast, a few of them I’ve worked with before, nothing against any of them but it’s just too much like f*cking Dallas or something for me.” He better hope the Ewings don’t hear him talking like that!
Sam Elliott hated the hat he had to wear on the show.
What’s a cowboy without his hat? Not much! Sam Elliott’s character, Shea, always seems to be wearing one, and it looks perfectly natural and realistic. However, Elliott revealed that there was a lot of behind-the-scenes drama surrounding his hat, and he was not a fan of the one that was finally picked for him.
In the same interview with Maron, he said, “I had a hat on this f*cking show[…]It was a hat that just didn’t fit. I remember talking to Taylor [Sheridan] on the phone and he said, ‘We’ll try a million hats on if we have to, you’ll have the right hat, don’t worry about it.’ And I got down there and it didn’t happen. Shea’s got a f*cked up hat.”
The actors’ teeth are too nice looking to be realistic for the time.
While the show was largely not based on real events or real people, they did their best to make everything look as realistic to the time period as possible. However, there was one glaring inaccuracy that producers couldn’t do anything about: everyone’s teeth were way too nice-looking for the year 1883.
While dentistry was definitely a thing in the 19th century, it wasn’t as widespread as it is today, and even then, most people found the services of a dentist much too expensive to consider. The show briefly thought about using prosthetics or CGI, but ultimately, that would have taken way too much time for such a minor error.
Most pioneers used oxen to pull wagons.
In one scene in “1883,” Sam Elliot’s character on the show tells a group of immigrants that they are foolish for using oxen instead of horses to pull their wagon train. However, the truth is that this was completely normal at the time. Most pioneers used oxen rather than horses.
You might remember this if you ever played the Oregon Trail game on PC as a kid but most movies do in fact show wagons being pulled by horses. Although oxen are slower than horses, they are stronger and handle stress better. They are also more useful for farming after the trip, and are not as picky eaters too!
There’s a major blooper in episode four.
1883 has a very authentic feel for the time period it depicts, but producers completely missed a major blooper in episode four that more perceptive fans were quick to point out on social media. In one scene of the episode, there’s a shot of a covered wagon with one unusual item on board: a modern-day water bottle.
This was clearly an error because no one in 1883 was guzzling bottled water. On a Reddit thread about the mysterious bottle, an extra on the show chimed in, sharing her surprise, saying, “They were SO on everyone about that, too! We had to [hide] them really well or throw them away before each take!”
James Jordan and Taylor Sheridan are in both 1883 and Yellowstone.
Taylor Sheridan and James Jordan appeared in both 1883 and Yellowstone. James Jordan played a Livestock agent in Yellowstone and then “Cookie” in 1883. Taylor Sheridan, meanwhile, played Travis Wheatley in Yellowstone and Charles Goodnight 1883.
Taylor Sheridan is the writer and creator of both Yellowstone and 1883. Previously, he acted alongside another 1883 star, LaMonica Garrett, in the show Sons of Anarchy. Sheridan has also done film work, having written Hell or High Water, Wind River and Sicario.
Billy Bob Thornton and Sam Elliott Both Starred in “Tombstone.”
Billy Bob Thorton and Sam Elliot who both appear in 1883, also appeared in the 1993 film Tombstone. Sam Elliot, who plays Shea Brennan on 1883, plays Virgil Earp in Tombstone. Meanwhile, Billy Bob Thorton, who plays Courtright, plays Johnny Tyler in Tombstone.
Tombstone, of course, is about the famous historic town and the Earp brothers as they try to enforce the law in the corrupted town, driving out the gang called the Cowboys. Forrie J. Smith who also appeared in Tombstone, is listed in the cast as Pony Deal, and stars in Yellowstone as Lloyd Pierce.
This was Tim McGraw’s and Billy Bob Thorton’s second collaboration.
1883 marks the second collaboration between Tim McGraw and Billy Bob Thorton. Previously they both appeared in the film Friday Night Lights. The sports drama follows a coach and his high school football team in Odessa. It was based on the book Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream.
The film had a budget of $30 million and earned over $60 million at the box office. It was also a success with critics. Tim McGraw, a famous country music singer, played Charles Billingsley, the father of one of the players and central characters, Donny Billingsley. Billy Bob Thorton played Coach Gary Gaines.