In the series premiere of Yellowstone, John Dutton, patriarch of a Mountain ranching family and owner of the largest ranch in the US, fights to defend his land and his family from the modern-day forces that threaten his way of life: land developers, an Indian reservation and America's first National Park.
In the opening scene, John Dutton appears reaching out to a horse to comfort it. John's head is bleeding and the horse is severely injured after an accident with a vehicle. John shoots the horse in head saying, "I know you deserve better, best I can offer you is peace."
As John walks around the accident scene, it is clear there were many vehicles involved. He comes upon a fatally injured big rig driver for Paradise Valley Capital Development who is lying bloodied in the wreckage. Police cars arrive on the scene as John leans against a fence, watching cows to whom he says, "The things we lose to keep you fed." The police officers rush to John to see if he is hurt.
Later, Jamie Dutton speaks to a commission in the Montana capital building. He is arguing that land preservation and property rights take precedent over public expansion, making his position clear against a housing development that would take up part of the Dutton's Yellowstone Ranch. The chairwoman of the commission, Governor Perry, states that the plaintiff, Alan, must show public need, not public desire. She dismisses the case without making it go to a vote. The plaintiff approaches Jamie after the dismissal saying it's only 30,000 acres which is a very small amount of the ranch. Alan suggests the Dutton's can harvest the timber first without an environmental review. Jamie dismisses the idea and suggests that the town should expand up by building condos.
Elsewhere, Kayce Dutton attempts to get horses out of an area that is actively being drilled for oil. The oil drillers from IL Energy don't believe he'll be able to wrangle the horses on his own. He says that if he can get the stallion out, the rest of the horses will leave on their own but that he should leave the horses there to prevent anymore drilling. As Kayce rides toward the horses, the oil drillers comment that they think he's crazy and that they found him through his ad in the Yellow Pages indicating he works with problem horses.
In the city, Beth Dutton works at one of the most powerful banks in Montana where she is a cut throat executive. Her bank is the largest creditor for IL Energy. She is the "hatchet man" who comes in after 3 hours of negotiations. She tells the founder of IL Energy that she will either force them into bankruptcy or IL Energy must suspend the dividend and allow the bank to assume management. Beth shows herself to be ruthless and harsh, willing to do whatever it takes.
Later, back in the country, Kayce has successfully caught the stallion and is transporting it back to Broken Rock Indian Reservation where he lives with his wife, Monica, and son. The stallion thrashes around the trailer showing his spirit but Kayce manages to get him out of the trailer and into the corral. Kayce's brother-in-law, Robert Long, asks if he's free the next day and tells him to bring a horse. It's clear from the exchange and Monica's response that Kayce and Robert are not on great terms.
In the Dutton family home on the ranch, John is attempting to stitch up his forehead and talks to Jamie about Alan's offer to allow timber harvesting with no environmental review. John is staunchly opposed to it and presses Jamie that he needs to learn how to think like a lawyer and other times as a land owner. Jamie argues that he did say no but that his father should consider it because they could use the money and the leverage. Lee, John's oldest son, arrives asking if John is coming out with him to round up strays. John instead leaves the ranch getting on a private helicopter saying he has a meeting in Bozeman.
On Broken Rock Reservation, Chief Thomas Rainwater has been elected and is hosting Senator Huntington. She has taken a tour of the reservation and has seen the poverty and inequity of the living conditions of the reservation's residents. He tells her about his background, growing up under the belief that he was Mexican and finding out that he was Native American at the age of 18 when his adoption records were unsealed. They discuss the policies set up towards Native Americans. Rainwater says that he will use money from the casino to buy land back for his people because every area of Montana belonged to Native Americans before. Huntington asks what she can do to help and Rainwater says she can help him spend that money, setting her up as an ally to the reservation.
Later, back in town again, Dan Jenkins is talking to managers at a bank about financing the subdivision that Paradise Valley is attempting to build. They discuss several of the particulars about the subdivision and Dan says that if they build a mill, they don't need a permit to build a power source. He argues that the mill will cut down the timber cost for the subdivision and allow them to build a power plant without a permit. He says that in Montana, they can do whatever they want to the river on their land. In the bar below the conference room where Dan is talking with the bank managers, Beth sits drinking alone. After verbally castrating a tourist who attempts to pick her up, she goes to join the bank managers who have left the meeting. She later tells John that they're building a city and hands him a copy of the Paradise Valley master plan for the subdivision.
On the ranch, that afternoon, Lee has ridden out with other ranchers to go get their stray cattle who have wandered on to Broken Rock Reservation land. Broken Rock residents, including Robert, have taken down the barbed wire to allow the cattle to cross and are standing guard. One of the ranchers crosses the fencing line and both groups draw their riffles on each other. Robert holds one of the ranchers down in the dirt, saying that the moment the cattle walked on to their land, they could do as they pleased with them. Lee puts a gun to Robert's head so that Robert will let the rancher go. John arrives in the helicopter and talks to Ben Waters, head of the Reservation police force. Ben says that it's a tribal issue and no longer the business of the livestock commission. John however clearly lacks respect for Ben and goes to talk with Felix Long, Monica and Robert's grandfather. Felix says that he argued to give the cattle back to Yellowstone, but the new chief is hungry for a fight. He and John seem to want to work together and don't understand who benefits from the escalation of the conflict. John sees Kayce among the cattle and realizes that Kayce had helped Robert round them up. John orders the Yellowstone ranchers to clear out of the area for the time being.
On Tuesday, John goes to the Greater Montana Livestock Auction where he asks Jamie if they have any legal recourse on Reservation land. Jamie says they'll need friends in the US Attorney's office. John is approached by Dirk Hurdstram who is looking for a job his son with a criminal past, Jimmy. John says if he's going to do it, he'll do it his way. He then leaves quickly to talk to Governor Perry about the hearing about the housing development. It becomes clear that Perry and John have a friendly, possibly even romantic, relationship in which Perry favors Yellowstone Ranch in governmental issues.
Later that week, John goes to visit Kayce at his home on the Reservation. Kayce tells him he didn't know the cattle on the reservation belonged to Yellowstone. John says Kayce doesn't want to be on the wrong side of the conflict but Kayce is independently minded and doesn't want to take orders from his father. John pleads with Kayce to avoid trouble and asks if he can spend some time with Tate but Kayce says Tate is away at Monica's parents. In their conversation, John expresses a great deal of regret about their father-son relationship and says that all he wants is the opportunity to get to know Tate. After John leaves, Monica and Tate come out of the house making it clear that Kayce lied about Tate's whereabouts. Monica does not think highly of John but she agrees to it.
Rip Wheeler, one of the Yellowstone employee's, goes to see Jimmy Hurdstram at his trailer. He binds Jimmy to a chair and heats a branding iron. Rip says he'll give Jimmy two choices. He'll either take Jimmy and his stolen merchandise down to the sheriff's office or Jimmy can come to work at Yellowstone and wear the Yellowstone brand on his chest. Jimmy makes his choice and lets Rip burn him with the Y branding iron.
On Saturday, on the ranch, John and Lee are out surveying the cattle. The men begin arguing about Lee's role at the ranch because John wants him to understand the difference between working the land (what Lee does) and running it (what John wants him to do). Their fight is cut short, however, because they see a cow down in need of help delivering her calf. They run into the field showing their dedication to their animals.
John sees Dan Jenkins playing golf at the edge of the property line. There is a stark contrast between the manicured appearance of the golfing green and Dan Jenkins and the meadowlands of the ranch and John astride his horse. John tells Dan he knows about the subdivision plan and that it's not welcome. Dan tells him he can't stand in the way of progress. The two men are pitted against each other and John rides away after telling Dan he owes him a new horse.
Back at the family house, Jamie comes out on the front porch and sees Beth who he hasn't seen for some time. She tells him she's there fixing something he couldn't. Later when she goes back in the house, she sees Rip. They have a complicated romantic history together. She is verbally abusive toward him but they still have sex periodically. However, when he asks her if she wants to go to a music festival with him, she leaves in disgust throwing more insults at him.
After taking Tate to get ice cream, Kayce takes Tate to Yellowstone Ranch to spend time with the Dutton family. Kayce hasn't seen his siblings for some time. The men saddle up their horses and go out to herd buffalo but Beth stays at the house saying she won't get near the horses. The family has an idyllic day of ridding and fishing. Lee, Jamie and Kayce have chosen very different life paths though Kayce's took him farthest away from the ranch.
Elsewhere, John and Rip walk the property with an environmental consultant discussing the river. The following Monday, when Jimmy arrives for his first day of work at the ranch, his first task is to go with Rip into the mountains.
- Lee Dutton - Shot by Robert Long
- Robert Long - Shot by Kayce Dutton
- Save Your Soul (Radio Version) [feat. Black*kiss] by Joey Stylez
- Judith by A Perfect Circle
- Tennessee Whiskey by Chris Stapleton
- Tumbleweed by Puscifer
- On the River by Whiskey Myers
- Trouble About My Soul by The Trishas
- Ashokan Farewell by Jay Ungar & Molly Mason
- Stone by Whiskey Myers