Are the Duttons' chances of saving Yellowstone’s eponymous ranch all in the details? Heading into Season 4, John Dutton and his children’s top priority is surviving the shocking events of last season’s cliffhanger ending. But when they complete that mission, the next big thing will be keeping their ranch. So far, the Duttons have run up against a brick wall, but could the return of a Season 1 discovery by the Duttons’ youngest family member be the key to saving the titular location?
One fan theory suggests it is possible. Over on Reddit, the user "phonebook29" suggested that Tate Dutton’s potential discovery of dinosaur bones back in Season 1 could play into saving the Duttons’ ranch. Yellowstone has not revisited the storyline in a long while, and it's been a mystery for years whether it was a plot thread that simply got dropped with no intention to ever pick it back up, or if there was a larger purpose behind it. The first seasons of many series have featured plot points that get lost in the shuffle – hey there, Lost! – but is Yellowstone experiencing that too?
If memory serves, Tate discovered the potential dinosaur bones at his home on the reservation in the series premiere, which is available for re-watching via Season 1 on Peacock. That discovery in and of itself would not save the Duttons’ ranch, since it happened on Kayce's land. However, if John and Kayce pulled a fast one and confiscated the bones before moving them to his property so they could get “discovered” there, then that could set up a situation where the land gets protected by the government.
To add fuel to the fan theory, it makes sense to me that Yellowstone incorporated the dinosaur discovery for some later purpose. Like the California biker gang that was introduced only to possibly be involved in John’s shooting, the bones should have an impact greater than a one-off episodic storyline, since Yellowstone is definitely not that kind of a show. It is a drama that trades in meaningful storytelling and episode-to-episode flow, and it's perfectly comfortable shielding audiences from key info for years at a time.
Tate, playing a role in saving the family by mentioning to his grandfather that he found some dinosaur bones, could be the answer to John Dutton’s quiet prayers. The patriarch's chances of keeping his family’s land has diminished with every episode as ruthless outside forces aim to develop it for their own ends. Whether or not such antagonists are willing to kill to get it done is a mystery for Season 4 to solve.
The driving force of Yellowstone is the question of if Kevin Costner's John Dutton can keep his family’s ranch. John’s vow to keep it at all costs has run up against some stiff opposition. If planting some dinosaur bones illegally is what it takes, then by golly, he would probably do it without so much as blinking. I have to say that I love the idea of this dropped plot coming full circle.
It bothers me when storylines don't produce meaningful outcomes, and this rabbit hole is worth the Duttons digging into in Season 4. While I have thought the discovery of an endangered species might do the trick, dinosaur bones would be a more original remedy, and one that was already built into the earliest episodes. John is stubborn, though, and after he rejected Thomas Rainwater’s assistance in the potentially-deadly Season 3 finale, it is possible he could even refuse Tate’s dinosaur save.
That said, maybe his latest near-death experience will make John put his stubbornness in perspective. He needs this win, and if some Land Before Time magic can save the ranch, he needs to be all-in.
Yellowstone Season 4 is currently expected to premiere in 2021 after the winter/spring schedule airs. The first two seasons (with those dinosaur scenes) are streaming on NBC Universal’s Peacock, and Season 3 will begin streaming this Sunday, November 22.