In Yellowstone season 1, episode 2, “Kill the Messenger,” the audience learns that John’s wife, Evelyn, died on March 30, 1997 after he pours the ashes of their son, Lee, into a hole in front of her grave. However, the story behind her demise isn’t shared until episode 3, “No Good Horses.”
Up until this point all we know is that Beth’s feelings on her mother must be complicated and that she and John promised Evelyn that they’d protect Kayce. They both agree that her youngest son was her favorite which is why the decision to exhume Lee’s body and cremate it to hide the fact that he didn’t kill Robert, Kayce did, is an easy one in Beth’s eyes.
However, earlier in “Kill the Messenger” when Jamie put a family picture back on the wall after Beth had clearly taken it down, Beth got up from the bed and smashed the frame causing the glass to break. It was a violent reaction and one that would have viewers wondering what happened decades ago. The answer given in “No Good Horses” explains some of Beth’s behavior via a flashback of the day itself.
How did Evelyn Dutton die on Yellowstone?
In the flashback, we see Evelyn with two of her children riding horseback. Kayce is sitting his horse fine, but Beth is struggling with hers much to her mother’s irritation. Evelyn explains to her daughter that her horse is only scared because she is. Her exasperation doesn’t let up by the time they get to an old riding ring.
Kayce passes through with his horse with no problem, but when Beth attempts it, her horse ends up spooking Evelyn’s. The horse goes down with Evelyn on it and falls on her, crushing her. Seeing their mother down and injured, Kayce hops of his horse to help while Beth cries as she sits on her own.
Evelyn instructs Beth to go get their father, John. Kayce protests saying that he’s faster, but Evelyn tells him that “she did this” so Beth should be the one to fix it. Beth rides off to get John, leaving Kayce and Evelyn by themselves. Evelyn tells her son that if he’s the last thing she sees, she’s fine with that and then she dies.
Back at the ranch, John is branding cattle with Jamie and Lee’s help when he notices two horses return without riders. He rounds up a posse and charges off to find the rest of his family. They come across Beth’s horse riderless as well before stumbling across her.
She’d clearly fallen off her own steed and was injured, but he couldn’t get her to tell him where her mother was. Finally, after some cajoling, Beth admitted that she didn’t know where she was. By the time John comes across his wife’s body, it’s nighttime. His son Kayce, armed with a pocket knife, was bracing for a coyote attack when John shined a light on him.
In the present, neither Kayce nor John seem to blame Beth for what happened, but it looks like she blames herself. Likely that’s largely to do with her mother blaming her moments before her death. Also, it’s unclear if Jamie blames Beth, but he does tell Beth she killed their mom as a parting shot in a verbal altercation they get into in the barn that swiftly becomes a physical one once he says that.
Evelyn’s death had such an impact on the Duttons that John believes his family died with her even though he’s managed to keep them all together. In his mind, it’s simply happening slowly, but it’s happening nonetheless.