In a season 1 episode, Yellowstone dedicated an entire backstory episode to Rip Wheeler that explained exactly why he’s John Dutton’s right-hand man.
Since the series debuted, the bond between Rip and John has been one of the most captivating storylines, and it’s kept us tuning in week after week. Despite not being family by blood, Rip has always been heavily involved in all of the Dutton dealings. And even before marrying Beth, the ranch hand proudly carried the Dutton brand on his chest.
His place in Yellowstone is solid—if John Dutton has business to take care of, Rip is the man he calls to get the job done, no matter how dangerous or unlawful the deed may be. But how did he become such a loyal Dutton soldier?
In 2018, Yellowstone answered that question with a brutal backstory episode that took viewers all the way to 1997 when Rip Wheeler was a teenager in desperate need of help. And as you can guess, John Dutton was the man who could.
The Yellowstone Rip Wheeler Backstory Goes Back to a Pig Farm in 1997
During The Unravelling: Part 1, we watched as the show opened with a flashback in Miles City, Montana.
In a terrifying scene, a young Rip lay unconscious on the floor of a farmhouse with his face covered in blood. When he woke up, he found his brother dead and his stepfather beating his mother.
The stepdad had returned to get revenge after his wife left him. And her sons were collateral damage. But Rip managed to get out alive by breaking the man’s skull open with a skillet and killing him. Unfortunately, it was too late for Rip’s mom, though. By the time he reached her, she was already dead.
Scared of the law, Rip Wheeler took refuge in a hayloft. And when the local sheriff found him still covered in blood and asleep, he calls John Dutton for advice. Because just as he does in present-day, John had his hands in everything that went on in the area.
At that point, everyone already knew what went down with the Wheeler family. And John suspected that the boy was involved, which Rip confirmed.
John Dutton Invites Rip to Work on the Ranch and the Bond Begins
Rip wasn’t considered a town hero by the locals for killing his murderous father, either. Instead, everyone dubbed him a “monster” and figured he was responsible for the deaths. However, John had a different opinion. And he also thought the boy deserved a fresh start.
So, he offered Rip a job on his Ranch. But he made it clear that working there wouldn’t be easy.
“You gotta pay a price if you wanna work for me,” he said to Rip. “I ain’t got to money,” the boy says.
“It doesn’t cost no money, just pain,” John responds with a smirk. ” Well, sir, pain, I’m used to.”
And with that, the ominous bond between Rip Wheeler and John Dutton began.
As Josh Lucas, who plays the young John Dutton, explains in a behind-the-scenes clip, “the power of what happens between the two of them is Rip instantly knows this guy can save his life and save his life for the rest of his life. And Rip immediately feels that he will do anything for John.”
And as we learn through the years, he really means “anything.”
The episode also introduced Rip to Beth Dutton. As we’d expect after seeing their intense chemistry as adults, there was an immediate attraction between the two as teens. And their shared willingness to do anything to survive and protect their kin became the glue that connects them for life.