‘Yellowstone’ prequel ‘1923’ reveals the fate of core Dutton family members

Photo via Paramount Plus

Warning: This article contains spoilers for 1923.

Paramount’s number-one series, Yellowstone, tells the heartwrenching yet beautiful story of the Dutton family, led by Kevin Costner’s John Dutton, as they navigate life on their ranch as enemies dare to attack them at any given moment. Taylor Sheridan writes a compelling storyline brought to life by multifaceted characters, and the family has so much to tell that prequels and spinoffs are necessary for fans to get the complete picture of their powerful way of existing.

One of those prequels is the newly released 1923, and while there have been just two episodes so far, we’ve already been pushed to the brink of life or death with the Duttons of days past. Helen Mirren’s Cara Dutton and Harrison Ford’s Jacob Dutton lead the charge in 1923 as the series highlights the family amid turmoil with an early great depression, lifestyle changes, and lawlessness taking hold. By the end of the second episode, we’d already seen two characters stare death in the face like it is their old friend and discovered the true fate of another Dutton pair who we last saw in 1883.

While fans of the Yellowstone universe are familiar with death, it’s still a heartbreaking turn of events to know what happened to characters we’ve loved or to be greeted with the idea of death touching those we’re just growing familiar with. So, with 1923 still in its beginning stages (the series has already been picked up for a second season), we know we’ll see more loss on the horizon, but here’s where the fate of four important characters stands as of now.

Margaret Dutton

Margaret Dutton, the wife of James Dutton and the matriarch of the family in 1883, was a character as rough around the edges as she was fueled by love for her family, where it mattered most. Margaret forged a path west with her family to create a better life for their children and the rest of their own days. Margaret and James loved each other with passion and honor, but they also knew how to push each other’s buttons.

As they faced everything from brutal weather conditions to villains so evil it was hard to imagine they could have been accurate in the 1880s, Sheridan’s series shone a light on the trials and tribulations of leaving everything you’ve ever known for the hope of something greater. Though they initially set off towards Oregon, the Dutton family ended up settling in Montana. But it wasn’t because they’d simply desired to start fresh there. They’d lost their daughter, Elsa, and decided to set up a home wherever they’d lay her to rest.

James, Margaret, and their son took up residence in 1883 before having another son that fans were introduced to in flashbacks of Yellowstone. Of course, as the series continued, we came to know that Margaret had passed away, but it wasn’t until 1923 that we were given the reason why.

After struggling with the loss of her husband, James, she wrote a letter to his brother asking him for help. When Jacob Dutton (Harrison Ford’s character in 1923) came to find them, he realized that Margaret had frozen to death in a snowdrift. The already heartbroken widow, who had also lost a daughter, died a painful and quite unfair death.

The two sons Jacob Dutton found were barely clinging to life, but he was able to bring them to Montana and help them survive — a gift to Margaret and James after their death.

James Dutton

Again, fans went into 1923 knowing that James Dutton would eventually perish, and it’s Yellowstone that revealed the cause of his death. During episode eight of season four of Yellowstone, fans saw James warding off thieves in an attempt to get his horses back and stop it from happening again. Killing all but one of them, he gets everything in order to return home, but not before stringing one of the men up with a sign that warns other thieves of the pain they’ll endure if they steal from the Dutton family. But his victory is short-lived as he realizes he had been shot.

“You can’t let me die out here; they ain’t gonna make it,” he whispers to the heavens before collapsing in the kitchen, having shut the door for the audience. We don’t see his untimely death happen, but we do hear Margaret’s scream of despair while the cabin they lived in stands idyllically in the background. The family had already suffered a significant loss; Margaret surely couldn’t be losing her husband, too, could she?

The horrible truth is, she was, though it wasn’t confirmed with an immediate burial or anything like that. But fans were sure of one thing — with James’s death, Margaret lost another piece of her heart; she’d never be the same. Margaret was a strong woman, capable and full of power, but her heartbreak was impossible for her to overcome. We’re not sure when Margaret died after James passed away, but it couldn’t have been long.

While their children had to live with the painful loss and Margaret and James’ story ended rather tragically, we’re sure the latter found one another in the afterlife and are living the ‘forever’ life stole from them.

Spencer Dutton

Spencer Dutton walked into 1923 and stole our hearts immediately, so we were a little distraught when he faced a life-or-death situation in the first episode. Brandon Sklenar brings Spencer to life with a heaviness in his heart but a charming sense of self, and let’s be honest; he’s almost painfully handsome.

In the first episode, we learned that Spencer was running from himself by chasing the wild game in Africa; having experienced horrors in WWI, he didn’t feel safe anymore. But no matter how far he runs, he can’t outrun himself; he can’t escape the images that play out in his mind repeatedly nor can he find a space to exist that doesn’t bring him pain.

So, the thrill for Spencer is the chase; it’s in those moments when death is peering back at him that he feels the most alive. Luckily for us, being alive is a status he will be sticking with after it’s revealed that the jaguar didn’t kill him at the end of the first episode. While what he does for a living is dangerous, it’s not his time to fall victim to it. He’s got life left to live.

However, for him, living means existing on the edge, and he explains that very idea to Alexandra, whom he meets at a bar at the resort he’s staying in. They start talking about romance and falling in love, two things not on Spencer’s radar, but as he explains the brilliant moment you experience right before death lunges at you, she explains that it’s the most romantic notion of all.

She gets into his head with that comment, and the two embark on a journey of will they/won’t they that ends in as one heck of a show as the episode concludes. We’re not going to spoil it all for you, but we are certainly glad Spencer survived, and we can’t wait to see what’s in store for him next.

Jack Dutton

Another Dutton whose life hung in the balance at the end of episode one was Jack Dutton. In 1923, he happens upon sheep, belonging to Banner Creighton, who have crossed over to their land. Of course, this presents a problem as the sheep are grazing where they don’t belong. When a man near the sheep notices Jack, he shoots in his direction, but audiences wouldn’t find out what happened to him until the next episode aired.

While his death, in general, would have been quite sad, the fact that he rode off having promised a wedding to the love of his life made the idea even more harrowing. He was beginning to start this exciting chapter of his life with a woman he loved and wished to start a family with; could they really take all of that away from him so quickly? This is the Yellowstone universe, so audiences knew it was a likely option.

Luckily, the second episode proves that Sheridan isn’t done with Jack just yet as he lives to see another day. Maybe it’s because he’s got a would-be wife at home waiting for him, perhaps the reason is that he’s young and dedicated to the Dutton family, or that he’s willing to learn what it takes to be next in command. Whatever it may be, there are a lot of stories left for Jack to tell and to be the star of. While the cast is jam-packed with all-stars, we have a feeling that Jack Dutton is the one to watch.

Being a Dutton in any timeline is a dangerous game, so we can’t say he’ll survive for the entire series just yet, but we’ll take what we can get. Here’s to the future and a Dutton wedding on the horizon.

You catch up on the first two episodes of 1923 streaming now on Paramount Plus, which is also home to the first Yellowstone prequel, 1883. To know the story in its entirety, you should examine each branch of the family tree. And there’s no better time to dive in than right now.