How Taylor Sheridan's Yellowstone Character Made A Fun And Unexpected Reference To An 1883 Prequel Star

Mild spoilers below for the fourth episode of Yellowstone Season 4, so tread carefully if you haven't yet watched.

Anytime Taylor Sheridan makes an appearance on Yellowstone as horse trader Travis Wheatley, you know it's going to be a damned good time. After dropping some of the best lines of the season so far in multiple episodes, Travis delivered quite a few more whoppers in Episode 4 as he and Jimmy bonded somewhat during their trip to the 6666 Ranch in Texas to help set up the impending 6666 spinoff with Jefferson White starring. During one scene, Sheridan also tipped his hat to the upcoming prequel spinoff 1883 in a fun way.

After Travis makes it abundantly clear why Jimmy will never be allowed to drive that particular pickup truck on that particular drive, the horse-riding maestro drops a memorable quote from the somewhat influential movie Road House, and goes on to call it the best movie of all time. (Jimmy’s probably lucky Travis didn’t make him feel even worse for not immediately recognizing it.) And while that already might have been enough to spark fourth-wall conversations, Travis flat-out name-checks Sam Elliott:

Ever fuckin' made. Goddamn, when I grow up, I wanna be Sam Elliott. With Patrick Swayze's hair. Man, I wish the mullet would come back in style, don't you?

So, even though 1883 hasn’t yet premiered on Paramount+ and Paramount Network, and thus hasn’t yet canonically established Sam Elliott’s rootin’est-tootin’est cowboy Shea Brennan into the Yellowstone-verse, we are living in a world where Elliott will exist on two different planes. He is a legendary actor to Travis and others, much like he is in our world, and he will also be portraying the person responsible for getting John Dutton’s ancestors to the Montana land that would become the family’s expansive ranch.

Yellowstone wrapped up most of its filming in late 2020, long before the 1883 prequel announced that Sam Elliott was cast alongside Tim McGraw and Faith Hill. However, part of the reported reasons why Season 4 took so long to debut on Paramount Network had to do with additional scenes being shot. So at this point, it’s unclear whether or not Taylor Sheridan was already aware of Elliott’s prequel involvement at the time when that scene was filmed. 

But I think I’d prefer the idea that Sheridan definitely knew about Elliott serving such a pivotal role for the Dutton family so long ago when he talked about Road House and made everyone think of the iconic actor rocking Patrick Swayze’s mullet. That makes things more interesting in the long run, because now I want one of these two ideas to happen:

  • John Dutton pulls out some old family photo albums and comes across some portrait featuring James and Margaret Dutton along with Shea Brennan, and Travis walks by and notices it, and then everyone starts talking about how much Brennan looks like Sam Elliott, complete with The Big Lebowski references. 
  • It's revealed that there's a time machine somewhere on the Yellowstone ranch, and someone goes back in time and gets James and Margaret Dutton to watch Road House, and they call in Brennan and his mind is, like, totally blown. By the time travel. But then also by seeing a man that looks exactly like he does.

Whether or not that ever happens, we’ll just have to wait and see. But be sure to check out Yellowstone every Sunday night on Paramount Network at 8:00 p.m. ET, and tune into the 1883 premiere when it debuts as a simulcast across both Paramount Network and Paramount+ on Sunday, December 19. 

Nick Venable
Assistant Managing Editor

Nick is a Cajun Country native, and is often asked why he doesn't sound like that's the case. His love for his wife and daughters is almost equaled by his love of gasp-for-breath laughter and gasp-for-breath horror. A lifetime spent in the vicinity of a television screen led to his current dream job, as well as his knowledge of too many TV themes and ad jingles.