Most Shocking Moments From 1883


The hottest wild western on the air, “1883” was the surprise spin-off of one of the most talked about dramas on television. Set nearly 150 years before “Yellowstone” the series was led by western movie veteran Sam Elliott (“The Big Lebowski”) and country music superstars Faith Hill and Tim McGraw. A somber, more subdued series that eschewed the faster pace of its parent series, “1883” instead went for a stirring character drama that riveted audiences with its unpredictability, including the surprise reveal after its final episode that wasn’t intended to be a continuing series.

From its first moments to its final parting shot, “1883” was full of unforgettable twists and turns, startling revelations, and dramatic life and death struggles. Set on the American frontier along the famed Oregon Trail, “1883” showed a different side to the west than audiences may have been used to. Instead of rousing cowboy adventure, it portrayed a harsh world of ugly truths and unsettling events that would make even the biggest western fan think twice about wanting to live in the era of gunslingers and outlaws.

After its stunning premiere, audiences learned to expect the unexpected on “1883,” and now that it’s concluded we can look back on its most shocking moments. Did your favorite make the list? Read on to find out.

Hotel horror

When we first met James Dutton (Tim McGraw) and his family, including wife Margaret (Faith Hill), children Elsa and John, and his sister and niece, they had just converged on Fort Worth to begin their travels north to start a new life. There, James encountered two Pinkerton agents, Shea and Thomas (Sam Elliott), who were about to embark on their own journey guiding a wagon train to Oregon. Shea recognized James as a kindred spirit, and good with a six-shooter, and tried to recruit him to join their group, but he declined.

Later that night, a vicious attack forced him to reconsider. It began when James and his family spent a night at a hotel in Fort Worth and a strange drunken man stumbled into the room of his teenaged daughter Elsa. Right away, audiences knew something was wrong as the creaky footsteps made their way into the room and Elsa’s eyes widened with fright. Approaching the young girl, the man grabbed Elsa, and while she put up a valiant fight, she was struck down harshly with a massive fist. But just as the inebriated man was about to have his way with her, a shot rang out and he fell dead from a bullet … from James’ gun.

The attack was a shocking and sudden wakeup call to the audience of the real dangers that lurked around every corner and could strike without warning. It’s also the moment when James realized that his family might be safer if they were to join Shea’s group.

Claire and Mary Abel’s sudden exit

In the second episode “Behind Us, A Cliff,” several men on horseback rode up on the group while they were camping outside Fort Worth. Unfortunately, Shea, Thomas, and James were elsewhere, leaving the wagon train largely unprotected. But while the men claimed to simply be there to enjoy the river, Margaret and Claire Dutton were concerned they might have other aims. Claire was a proud, harsh shrew of a woman, and had no time for their games. Claire sent a clear message to the men that she wanted them gone, but made the mistake of hurling rocks at their leader as their horses sipped the river’s water.


Enraged, the man attacked Claire, held her down, and suggested something worse would be coming her way. Aiming her double-barreled rifle, Margaret defended her sister, sparking a fight between the groups that quickly led to bloodshed. The armed men began shooting at the group, firing indiscriminately at anyone in their sights. It was a scene that stunned the audience with a hail of unexpected gunfire that killed Claire Dutton’s daughter Mary Abel. In the aftermath of the attack, Claire was beside herself with grief, and saw little use in continuing the journey to start a new life without her beloved daughter. After burying Mary Abel, Claire took her own life by the riverside.

Courtright’s justice

Following the attack on the camp in “Behind Us, A Cliff,” the trio of James, Shea, and Thomas head into town to seek justice for the death of their people. They brought Josef as a witness to the attack, and the U.S. Marshal stationed there turned out to be real-life gunslinger Jim Courtright, played by none other than Billy Bob Thornton. As both Shea and Thomas are Pinkerton Agents and ex-soldiers, Courtright noted that James was the only one without a badge, and promptly deputized him, saying, “It’ll keep a rope off your neck if things go sideways.”

Walking over to the local tavern with his own deputies in tow, Courtright and the three men entered with Josef, who pointed out the men who had killed his people. It’s not much of a surprise that they all wanted justice, but viewers are given a shock when Courtright simply shot the leader of the men point blank without warning after he admitted to being at the camp. The man’s crew stood to fight, but it was a quick one as Shea, James, and Thomas filled them with hot lead, and in a flash vengeance was done. Not long after audiences had seen the cruelty of random violence on the American frontier, they were rudely greeted to its swift and merciless justice as well.

Shea’s sentence

They’d been the victims of a brutal attack, and would surely face many obstacles, from the forces of nature to raiders and bandits, but one enemy the settlers didn’t expect was from within. But not long after setting out on their long journey to Oregon, Shea and Thomas discovered that Noemi, whose husband died in the camp attack, had been the victim of theft. A fellow traveler and his companions had stolen all of her food stores, leaving her with nothing for herself or her two children to eat.

But if that wasn’t enough of a bombshell, it was Shea’s reaction that loomed most shocking, as he and Thomas didn’t ask for the goods back. They took them at gunpoint. Shea boldly strode up to the lead thief and gave him a boot to the face, while Thomas threatened to beat his accomplice to death if he resisted. Then, showing absolutely no forgiveness or mercy, Shea set the men’s horses loose, broke their wagon’s hitch and banished them from the wagon train. Threatening them not to follow, Shea said if he saw them again he’d kill them. We’d seen Shea’s mean streak before, but this was a sign that he was willing to show the same ruthlessness when protecting the wagon train as he would to protect himself.