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November 5, 2020

Montana's Granville Stuart: The Real-Life John Dutton and the Guns of Yellowstone

By Mike Burns

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If you’re anything like us, you haven’t been able to stop watching Yellowstone, the thrilling drama series from Paramount Network. For those unfamiliar with the hit show, Yellowstone centers on the Dutton family’s efforts to protect their ranch from land developers, Indian reservations, and even the Yellowstone National Park itself.

The prequel to "Yellowstone," offers four different settings, three of which happen to be major gun collecting genres: World War 1, the Old West, and Dangerous Game hunting..

The primary character is John Dutton, played by Kevin Costner, a sixth-generation patriarch of the Dutton family who struggles to defend his land while also attempting to control his family, all with their own agendas.

The Dutton Family Tree, from 1883 to the present day.

Betrayals, murder, and turf wars ensue as Dutton tries to grapple with what is right, what is fair, and what his family needs to survive all while featuring a whole bunch of beautiful firearms being displayed in the process.

Kevin Costner as John Dutton on the hit show, Yellowstone.

The Guns of Yellowstone

An interesting examination of those living on the new frontier, Yellowstone is a fascinating and entertaining look at life far beyond what is shown in traditional media. As the show’s description puts it, “it is the best and worst of the United States seen through the eyes of a family that represents both.”

John Dutton (Kevin Costner), the great-grandson of James Dutton, carries a Winchester Model 1894, a rifle featured in countless Hollywood westerns during the genre’s golden age.

Even more interesting is John Dutton’s similarities to real-life Montana pioneer and vigilante leader, Granville Stuart. Stuart, much like Dutton, walked a tightrope between what was right and what was legal in order to protect his land, his family, and the early prosperity of the Montana Territory in the late 1800s.

Granville Stuart's Items Available During the Premier Auction.

Also much like his TV counterpart, Granville Stuart had a keen interest for firearms that extended far beyond simple appreciation, they were his work tools.

“Violence has always haunted this family,” Elsa narrates after Cara Dutton confronts an intruder with her shotgun in the 1923 Yellowstone prequel series.

The Real Life Yellowstone History

Granville Stuart, also known as “Mr. Montana,” was an American businessman, gunsmith, author, rancher, politician, prospector, historian, and renowned self-biographer of the late 19th century. Besides successfully introducing the territory to cattle ranching, Granville Stuart also led a group of vigilantes famed for their merciless apprehension of livestock thieves, known as “Stuart Stranglers.”

A hero of the frontier, Granville Stuart was also an active firearms tinkerer and enthusiast who amassed a beautiful collection of some of the most rare and powerful weapons available during his life.

Kevin Costner as John Dutton and Granville Stuart.

The similarities between the two men go deeper than just a shared interest in guns, however. Besides the cold stare the two men share that is enough to send shivers down your spine, Dutton and Stuart share the same occupation and home state, albeit separated by nearly 150 years.

An L.A. Huffman print of the Montana ranch of Glenarrow in January 1926. Through his extensive photography, Huffman documented the peoples, wildlife, landscapes, and industry of Montana during the periods depicted in the two Yellowstone prequels.

So with all this being said, we thought we would look at some similarities between the real-life John Dutton, Granville Stuart, and his fictional counterpart by exploring some of the firearms used on the Montana frontier and in the Yellowstone television series.

The Guns of Yellowstone: Handguns

The very first scene in Yellowstone shows a disheveled John Dutton emerging from a horrible car crash and slowly limping besides the wreckage. A large gash on his forehead paints the left side of his face in blood while he clutches a stainless steel Ruger Blackhawk revolver. It is unclear why he is holding the revolver until a large horse mangled in the mesh of collapsed metal from the crash is seen only a few steps away.

The horse is panicking and hurt badly, Dutton knows there is only one option and quickly shoots the stallion in the head. Yellowstone is off to an interesting start. As the mighty animal collapses to the ground, Dutton’s stone-faced reaction indicates that while he isn’t happy with what he has just done, it was not the first time he has had to take matters into his own hands–and it will not be the last.

Dutton comes from a long line of ranchers who have learned over decades to protect their land, their families, and their livelihoods at any cost.

Hoping back over a century and you would probably see Granville Stuart traversing the Montana frontier with a very similar revolver in his hand. Lot 44 is a Colt Model 1877 Thunderer revolver that personally belonged to Granville Stuart. Complete with handcuffs also belonging to Staurt, you would have a hard time not imagining Stuart in a near identical situation at some point in his life.

Lot 44: Historic Granville Stuart's Documented Personal Concealed Carry Gun: Colt Model 1877 Thunderer Sheriffs Model Double Action Revolver with Handcuffs

This was the revolver his daughter recalled him carrying with him daily after the famous Stuart's Strangler raids in the mid-1880s, and is the weapon he trusted with his life when it was on the line. The fact that it continued to see regular use by his son-in-law, the famous "Teddy Blue," after his death is very fitting as Stuart passed down many of his firearms with the direct stipulation that they be used.

Out of all the guns of Yellowstone, the Winchester 94 carbine is one of the most well-recognized.

Concerned about the longevity of the town at the hands of criminals, Granville took the law into his own hands, forming a vigilante group of his own to stop out of control criminals and thieves in the area.

Known as Stuart’s Stranglers, Granville and a group of about 15 other men launched a merciless and extensive effort to find, capture, and ultimately execute as many criminals as they could get their hands on.

Because of his prominent status in multiple public offices, Stuart’s Stranglers danced along the line of what was ethical and what was within the law of the land. Killing about 20 men in total, Stuart’s Stranglers were fabled and famous for their excessive use of violence and hangings.

Map of Montana Territory in 1865

Even a young Theodore Roosevelt inquired about enlisting in the Strangers, but was denied by Granville himself saying that he was too afraid of the increased publicity the group would receive as a result.

While legends and myths reported the group killed over a hundred different criminals, there is little historical evidence to support this claim. However, the group was responsible for returning over 300 horses back to their original owners.

The trusty 12 gauge side-by-side, a classic choice for self-defense.

While certainly subject to modern scrutiny and criticism like many other vigilante groups of the time, one cannot deny the effectiveness of the group whose reputation extended across the country.

The Guns of Yellowstone: Rifles

Throughout much of the Yellowstone, John Dutton can be seen sporting a blued .30-30 Winchester Model 1894 saddle ring carbine. Interestingly enough, the rifle used on the show actually belonged to Kevin Costner’s father and his father before him, and is a fitting tribute to his family. Costner described that the choice to use his father’s rifle reminds him of his own time spent on his grandparent’s small Oklahoma farm as a child.

Yellowstone television show from Paramount.

Another interesting comparison between the two was Granville Stuart’s own collection of Winchester lever action rifles. While not an 1894, Stuart amassed a beautiful assortment of these rifles in rare and nonstandard calibers and configurations. An excellent example, Stuart’s “One of One Thousand” Winchester Model 1873.

Costner reflected on his own father’s relation to the character he portrays in Yellowstone, saying “My dad was a fist fighting, single-minded tough guy coming out of the Dust Bowl in the Great Depression. He wanted a job and never let it be taken away from him.

The [Winchester] .30-30 gun I use in the show was his; when I put it up to my cheek, my dad's right there. I know what it's like to be a person that's kind of a John Dutton—minus the murder. Now that my father is no longer alive, I carry on his legacy through my work in Yellowstone.”

Lot 42: Historically Significant, "National Treasure," Factory Documented, and Iconic Factory Engraved "One of One Thousand" Winchester Model 1873 Lever Action Rifle Inscribed to Montana Pioneer and Frontier Vigilante Leader Granville Stuart with Extensive Documentation, Factory Letter, and Pack Saddle

Another interesting comparison between the two was Granville Stuart’s own collection of Winchester lever action rifles that were meant to be eventually passed down to his children. In fact, Stuart explicitly wanted his firearms passed down to his family with the intent that they be used. While his is not an 1894, Stuart amassed a beautiful assortment of these rifles in rare and nonstandard calibers and configurations.

Historically Significant, "National Treasure," Factory Documented, and Iconic Factory Engraved "One of One Thousand" Winchester Model 1873 Lever Action Rifle Inscribed to Montana Pioneer and Frontier Vigilante Leader Granville Stuart with Extensive Documentation, Factory Letter, and Pack Saddle

Known as the “the gun that won the West,” Winchester 1873s are among some of the most valuable items known to collectors with this example being exceptionally rare because of its historical significance, condition, and extremely desirable One of One Thousand configuration. Winchester only produced 132 of these “One of One Thousand” Rifles for the Model 1873 and only two that featured the “Style 3” barrel inscriptions as seen here.

This beautiful piece of period technology remains an amazing representation of the frontier, the Montana territory, and one of the state’s founding fathers, Granville Stuart. A Winchester One of One Thousand is a holy grail for collectors–now combined with this fantastic Frontier Era history, it is sure to generate its fair share of excitement this December when it will be offered at Rock Island Auction Company.

Lot 43: "One of the Most Historic & Deluxe 19th Century Winchesters Known": Legendary Montana Pioneer Granville Stuart’s John Ulrich Master Panel Scene Engraved, Signed, and Inscribed Winchester Model 1876 Lever Action Express Rifle: "The Boss Game Gun of All Creation" with Factory Letter

Stuart’s engraved Winchester 1876 express rifle will also be available for auction this December at Rock Island Auction Company. Beautifully engraved throughout, this rifle comes from the John Fox collection and is perhaps one of the most historic and deluxe 19th century Winchesters known and certainly one of the most beautiful examples ever sold at Rock Island Auction Company.

Engravings found on Lot 43: Granville Stuart's Winchester Model 1876 Express Rifle

Though clearly in possession of several firearms already, Stuart loved collecting high-quality guns. This beautifully John Ulrich engraved Winchester Model 1876 from lot 43, is serial number 10001, engraved “Granville Stuart/1880” on the elevator, and features a scene of what is almost certainly Stuart himself shooting a grizzly on the left side.

The engraving patterns were copied from Stuart’s own sketches given he was a lifelong artist himself, but at least two of the scenes strongly resemble known 19th century paintings that Stuart had likely seen prints of.

Lot 43: "One of the Most Historic & Deluxe 19th Century Winchesters Known": Legendary Montana Pioneer Granville Stuart’s John Ulrich Master Panel Scene Engraved, Signed, and Inscribed Winchester Model 1876 Lever Action Express Rifle: "The Boss Game Gun of All Creation" with Factory Letter

Stuart himself was very pleased with the rifle and even wrote to Winchester expressing his satisfaction with their product. After his death, Stuart’s rifle was passed down to his son where it remained in the possession of Stuart’s family and close friends until it was sold to John Fox in 1983.

Cole Hauser, Samuel Hauser, and Yellowstone

Another interesting comparison between the cast of the Yellowstone TV show and the life of Granville Stuart is the relation many of the actors share with real historical figures of the 19th century Montana Territory. Cole Hauser, who plays the character Rip Wheeler, has deep connections with the state of Montana and is the great grandson of Samuel T. Hauser, the seventh governor of the Montana Territory and business partners with none other than… Granville Stuart. In fact, the senior Hauser and Stuart formed the DHS Ranch together in 1879, effectively introducing the territory to large-scale cattle ranching.

Samuel T. Hauser

Samuel T. Hauser opened many opportunities for Granville Stuart. As governor, Hauser appointed Stuart the president of the newly established livestock commission, an occupation very similar to Yellowstone’s John Dutton who is a Livestock Commissioner of the Montana Livestock Association. Hauser’s political connections would also propel Stuart into life in the public office and essentially secured him a position as the Minister of Plenipotentiary in Uruguay and Paraguay.

Rip Wheeler Actor from Yellowstone, Cole Hauser.

Cole Hauser has starred in a number different films and television shows such as Dazed and Confused, Goodwill Hunting, and ER; however this role meant something special to the Yellowstone actor.

“Yeah, my family has been in Montana since 1862. My great grandfather, Samuel T. Hauser, was the seventh governor of the Montana territory. So, it’s an honor to do a job and work in such a historic and great state. We spent most of our time shooting in the Bitterroot Valley around Darby and Hamilton, but I like spending time anywhere in Montana and have been all over the state from Whitefish to Bozeman to Helena. It is all great.”

Lot 43: Granville Stuart's Engraved Winchester Model 1876 Express Rifle

Granville Stuart or John Dutton?

With the conclusion of Yellowstone season 3, everyone here at Rock Island Auction Company has been frantically trying to find something to preoccupy our imagination until the show returns for its promised 4thseason. John Dutton and his efforts to protect his ranch are eerily reminiscent of Montana pioneer and vigilante leader, Granville Stuart.

Yellowstone telelvision show from Paramount

Besides sharing the same tenacity on the Montana plains, the two also share an avid interest in firearms and have very similar models. Dutton and Stuart also share the same home in Montana and similar occupations as ranchers. Besides all of this, both men are tough as nails and would rather take matters into their own hands, which is more often than not, what they do.

Granville Stuart's firearms available during Rock Island Auction Company's December Event.

While John Dutton leads his family in protecting their land from encroaching corporations, competing ranches, and Native American groups, Granville Stuart mirrored an almost identical life almost 150 years earlier where he protected his land from cattle thieves, competing industries, and Native American raids. An interesting look at how history inspires legends and how fiction is, sometimes, only a stone’s throw away from reality.

Granville Stuart's firearms.

Guns of Yellowstone: 1883 and 1923

Yellowstone's recent spin-off prequel series, 1883, is a sprawling Western that serves as an origin story for the Dutton family and charts their epic journey across the Great Plains. James Dutton, the original Dutton family patriarch, has a story with even more parallels to the historic ranchers who tamed Montana Territory. Being well supplied was often the difference between life and death, and carrying the right firearms was essential.

A Sabatti or similarly affordable modern Italian model is likely the gun during 1923’s dangerous game scenes in Africa.

James and Margaret Dutton, played by country music icons and real-life married couple Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, are well aware of the dangers they’ll face on their journey from Fort Worth, Texas, to their eventual home in Montana, and they’ve packed accordingly.

Three Winchesters, a pair of six-shooters, and a double hammer shotgun are brandished before the end of the second episode, and two of their companions are just as well-armed.

Jim Courtright’s Colt SAA sold for $18,400 at Rock Island Auction Company.

Gun collecting and pop culture have always gone hand in hand, so subscribe to the weekly Rock Island Auction newsletter to receive new gun blogs and gun videos every week. From articles on the Old West gun of True Grit, and Quigley Down Under to comparatively modern hits like the Walking Dead and Star Wars, (where Rock Island Auction Company offered the original Han Solo Blaster), we explore the most popular and intriguing guns of Hollywood.

Authentic Winchester 1885 High Wall rifles like this example are offered by Rock Island Auction Company, as well as Uberti reproductions.

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