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Our Firearm Heritage Explored in Yellowstone

Beyond the Yellowstone ranch and its explosive drama, there is something even more important — legacy. By now, the hit Paramount show Yellowstone hardly needs an introduction. The latest season finale drew about 10 million viewers and the popularity has launched the show into the era of franchises with multiple spinoffs, widespread merchandise, and legions of fans. It’s a show about the American pursuit of life, liberty and happiness as the Dutton family protects their ranch – the Yellowstone – against every manner of attack from legislation to armed assaults. It may even be one of the most entertaining shows out today when it comes to life on the ranch, but that’s not the only reason it has connected to audiences so well.

Family is at the core of Yellowstone, and it doesn’t pull any punches in exploring the good and bad of the relationships that make families so relatable. From the brother and sister conflict found between siblings Beth and Jamie to the significance of “found family” as Rip finds a home with the Duttons, family is the heart of the story and behind some of its most impactful scenes. But why has it captured the love of so many? In a sense, our family is our legacy. Our heritage. It means the continuation of us through what comes next. For the Duttons, the Yellowstone ranch is their legacy stretched out in front of them as far as the eye can see and nothing could be more important than protecting it, and those who are set to inherit it.

Protecting What’s Most Important

Yellowstone’s authenticity comes from its acknowledgement of defending one’s legacy, and not just from the Duttons’ perspective either. Chief Thomas Rainwater’s profound fight for the legacy of something larger than family strikes the same chords and it’s one we can all relate to. The show doesn’t just say these things though, it shows them. The cultural norms of rural living that go so often unnoticed are more prominent than ever in Yellowstone. In one of the show’s earliest moments, we find Kayce Dutton and his son Tate plinking cans in the yard. There is a genuineness that makes this feel like any other day, because that’s exactly what it is.

Teaching the next generation how to protect themselves is a core principle of upbringing for so many in America, it’s a part of our own heritage for who we are. It might start with plinking in the yard making tin cans dance, but it is always based on the long-valued understanding of firearms and how respect for their use often starts at a young age. These are the building blocks of traditions that shape us, and its representation on screen has connected with millions everywhere. In these moments we find authenticity that resonates more emotionally to us than simply running a ranch or fending off politicians.

This also goes beyond our own relationships with loved ones, however, exploring our relationship with nature and the tools we need to survive in it. The ranch work is depicted much more beautifully than it may be in reality, but the hardships can be every bit as dramatic. Rope and barbed wire are as commonplace as the saddle rifle, and for good reason. They are part of our everyday lives.

A Tool of Necessity

In one of the most memorable moments of Yellowstone, we happen upon a bus full of tourists who have made it their prerogative to wander off the road and into private property, only to be confronted with a wild bear. John Dutton arrives just in time to run everyone off without any harm, but not before showcasing one of the most fundamental truths of our cultural relationship with firearms while wielding a lever-action rifle. It’s an exchange that is representative of a power balance we share with nature, one that is tipped in our favor even with an understanding of its own fragility.

In the most extreme cases, there exists situations where this power balance is upended and self-defense becomes a necessary force. Rarely seen in television and movies outside of sensationalized antics — some of which are undeniably entertaining, but most are shockingly unbelievable — it’s a moment that every person who cares about protecting their loved ones and their livelihood has considered. And it’s a moment that the series tackles repeatedly with surprising nuance.

Strip the pomp and drama of the attack on the Yellowstone ranch in season 3 down to its core and you find individual encounters where self-defense is the only option. These explore perspectives from home invasions to public shootings, and how protecting ourselves and one another can so quickly change the course of lives. Yellowstone goes all out with a shootout involving Kayce Dutton in the middle of a street where bullets are flying with civilians nearby. Kayce’s training, skill, experience and yes, a bit of luck, pull him through the fight in one piece while showing just how bad $#*! can hit the fan. But it doesn’t always go that way…

At the same time across town, John Dutton is being a good samaritan to a stranger when he falls victim to a violent shooting that simply catches him off guard. Amidst the chaos and despite the entertaining high-production value, we discover a worldview in this duality of events that delivers a genuine sense of realism in our own struggle for survival. The situations of self-defense are drastic, but they are also indicative of the world we live in, what could make the difference and what really matters in life.

Who We Are Everyday

Yellowstone’s ability to capture each of these fundamental moments, from plinking in the yard to everyday work and even when self-defense is required, is unique thanks to its willingness to shine a light on the experience of so many in America. This genuine authenticity has helped to catapult the show into historic success and carve out its own place as a pop cultural phenomenon. That doesn’t mean there aren’t lessons still to be learned in the story of the Dutton ranch, however, because you don’t have to look hard to see that Yellowstone is bringing the normalized usage and profound respect of our firearm heritage to the forefront in a way you just don’t see everyday.

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