‘1923’ World, Explained: What Were The Social Parameters Of The People Living In The Montana State Of America?

“1923,” created by Taylor Sheridan and directed by Ben Richardson for Paramount Plus, is not just a show about the Dutton family and how they try to keep a hold of their ranch to make sure it stays in the family. “1923” consists of business rivalries, hunger for power, death row without a trial, and constant dependence on livestock. The country is just out of the perils of the Great War and saw an economic collapse of the market. Rich families like the Duttons have a say over livestock management in the state, with the not-so-rich men following their set guidelines. Taylor Sheridan made sure to cover all of this in a matter of eight episodes, and does not stop talking about the businesses, the family dynamics, the rule of the rich, and how to bring two equally powerful people into an eventual face-off.


So that’s a bit about the economics in the show, but what about the social condition of the people in the show? Taylor Sheridan surely does not shy away from projecting what was going wrong in the United States of America back in that year and in years before that. He is in no mood to sugarcoat the history of ethnic cleansing, genocide, and draconian racist laws that affected everyone who was not of white skin, and portrays how the laws only and only benefitted them and their families. Taylor wants the audience to know about the dark side of history, which should not be swept under the rug. It is obvious that whatever is shown in “1923” is just one portion of the actual atrocities that took place in the country in the name of Christ. Truth is sometimes stranger than fiction and that holds true here.

The show begins with Teonna Rainwater, a young Native American girl in her teens, being forced to behave a certain way in the convent where she has been admitted. Teonna has no legal guardian, and as per the law, she will have to be taken in by the Christian convent without her consent to make sure she comes out as a perfect woman. The convent is one place where Teonna feels the most uncomfortable; she is pushed to take up activities that are alien to her because she was born and raised in an environment that was not as cramped and oppressive as the one in the convent. Teonna is forced to learn to be a perfect American woman whose aim is to be presentable to the men of society, conduct themselves according to social norms, and be a perfect homemaker, wife, and mother. All these are hammered into the young native American women studying in the convent with the hope of erasing their culture, faith, rites, and rituals, leading them to embrace Christianity as their only way to live life from thereon.


Slowly, yet steadily, ethnic cleansing was taking place. Native Americans were forced to give up their culture to make way for Christianity. Convents all around the nation made sure to collectively bring in the young boys and girls of the Native American community and worked hard on making them gradually forget their culture. Their hair was cut at some point, and they were belittled for speaking in their native tongue. The ordeal that Teonna went through with the other Native Americans is not an easy watch. Teonna was at one point verbally, physically, and sexually abused by the people running the convent, and her desperation to run away is palpable. The convents need to suppress and use their power and influence on the state government to make sure laws are made to favor them.

Teonna’s escape is a long time coming, but not before she takes revenge on those who put her through rigorous torture; she ends up killing two nuns who relentlessly harassed her. Teonna’s ordeal was the condition of many men and women in the community who faced brutal fates because of laws that never bothered to factor them in. Teonna’s host, Hanks’ son Pete, was also put through a similar ordeal, but he managed not to get carried away by the brainwashing. Teonna’s grandmother, unfortunately, became a victim of police officers taking advantage of their power who killed her in the process of executing their ‘duty’. The convent had such power that it crossed state borders, and the priests tracked Teonna for miles to ensure she was caught and made to pay for her crimes. Teonna has so far survived the expedition she has undertaken, but her story is the tale of every Native American girl of that age.


What Taylor also added by the end of the first season of “1923” is the draconian law of not allowing white Americans to marry women of different races. One of the cowboys working for Jacob Dutton is spied on, only for the said spy to find out that the man is married to an Asian woman and that he has kids with the said woman. The cowboy’s home is raided, and he is severely injured by the local policemen; they arrest the wife for breaking the law, unlawfully marrying a white man, and giving birth to his kids. Such laws were not just rampant, but they are sure to show up in the second season of the series. Such laws were not just brutal, but they made sure to build an unnatural case against the family. Something of this sort was also a part of the Nazi party’s propaganda against the Jews. But there are few portrayals of what was happening in the United States and more portrayals of what happened in Europe before and during the Second World War.

Cara Dutton, Elizabeth Dutton, and Alexandra carried a certain amount of power when it came to handling men; they were treated as equals only by a certain few. Cara Dutton was not taken seriously when she took over Jacob’s seat after his injury. Her presence on the hiring committee to bring in more livestock agents, was not taken well by prospective candidates. This paints a picture of how women were treated in the 1920s. Women had to fight their way up, and they were constantly shamed for crossing the line; case in point, Alexandra was constantly out in the open, answering plenty of questions about marrying someone they considered not rich and capable of taking care of her. Not to forget Teonna’s struggle to be herself and how she was treated in the convent.


1923 was also the time when electricity was starting to be rolled out for household purposes, and people all around the country were benefiting from the new technology that would make plenty of their chores easier to conduct. The Dutton Ranch, on the other hand, was not very keen on taking up the electricity because they assumed that would mean many on their payroll might lose their jobs. Don Whitfield, Jacob Dutton’s rival, makes it clear to the family that electricity is where the future of America lies, not livestock rearing. He puts it across in such a manner that puts Jacob and his family on the back foot. There is a high demand for electricity-run devices like refrigerators and washing machines, but the Dutton family is not keen on pursuing the use of electricity, as Don Whitfield is doing. Don Whitfield makes a compelling argument that the ranch might become obsolete, but the irony remains that the Dutton ranch “Yellowstone” stayed long after the advent of electricity, the internet, and the automobile. Nothing changed in the “Yellowstone” universe where John Dutton is one of the strongest figures in the state of Montana, and they stood up to all the technological advancements. Technology probably helped the Duttons propel their ranch, but it did not make them obsolete.

Most of the social and economic welfare measures were put in place to make sure there was advancement in the later decades and that every living being could live and had the right to live the way they wanted to. Be it different genders, races, or religions. Taylor Sheridan did not shy away from projecting the lives of all of them strongly, something that will make you unsettled for quite some time after viewing the show. “1923” is a must-watch show not just for its solid screenplay but for bringing up such uncomfortable subjects and making sure the audience understands the country’s brutal history. 


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Smriti Kannan
Smriti Kannan
Smriti Kannan is a cinema enthusiast, and a part time film blogger. An ex public relations executive, films has been a major part of her life since the day she watched The Godfather – Part 1. If you ask her, cinema is reality. Cinema is an escape route. Cinema is time traveling. Cinema is entertainment. Smriti enjoys reading about cinema, she loves to know about cinema and finding out trivia of films and television shows, and from time to time indulges in fan theories.

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