1883: Why Germany Banned Swimming


  • Swimming was indeed illegal in Germany, although not in the 19th century as 1883 claimed. The ban started in the 1530s and expanded to punish drowned offenders by whipping their bodies before burial.
  • Despite Josef’s claim about the swimming ban, it is possible that he was exaggerating to gain sympathy and find a safer place to cross.
  • The spinoff series 1923 portrays the immigrants of the time with better historical accuracy, showcasing violent conflicts between established cowboys and immigrant sheep-herders over grazing land, similar to the real frontier.

Taylor Sheridan’s Yellowstone spinoff 1883 is filled with various historical facts about the late 19th century, including how it was illegal to swim in Germany at the time — a seemingly minor detail that ended up causing tragedy for the caravan of German, Romani, and American settlers being led by Shea Brennan (Sam Elliot), Thomas (LaMonica Garrett), and James Dutton (Tim McGraw). In 1883 season 1, episode 3 “The Crossing,” as the caravan prepared to cross the dangerous Brazos River, the laws that prevented the German settlers from learning to swim back home threatened their very survival.

For many of 1883‘s immigrants who lived and struggled through the early Yellowstone timeline, it wasn’t merely illegal to swim back home — it was a grievous and shameful offense. As the leader of the German settlers Josef (Marc Rissmann) explained, the bodies of those who drowned were even whipped before they were buried as punishment. Many of the European immigrants in the show who never learned to swim drowned in the Brazos River and failed to make the crossing, as 1883 is based on true stories of pioneers who barely made it through the late 19th century.


1883 True Story & Every Real Life Character Explained

1883’s story is entirely fictional. That being said, the series is rooted in social realities and people that lived in the late 19th century.

Was It Really Illegal To Swim In Germany In The 1800s?

The Immigrants In 1883 Have Some Historical Inaccuracies


The fate of the German 1883 immigrants is based on historical facts, as at one point swimming was indeed illegal in Germany — just not in the 19th century. While the Scandinavian and Germanic people developed swimming skills throughout the centuries, the frequency of accidental drownings prompted German schools and universities to impose a total ban on the activity. Situated on the Danube river, the university town of Ingolstadt punished drowned offenders by whipping their bodies before burial. However, this started in the 1530s, and in the centuries that followed, German attitudes towards swimming became more amiable.

There were even instructional books about swimming that were released in the 17th century, not just in Germany but across Europe. This means that Josef’s claim that it was illegal to swim where they came from is an 1883 history error. Although some European governments still frowned upon swimming during the late 19th century, by that time, the laws against the activity had long been overhauled.

On the other hand, it could be that Josef was simply trying to earn sympathy for the 1883 immigrants. Throughout nearly every step of the journey, Josef and the German immigrants have been nothing but trouble for Shea, who openly expressed his disappointment for those who had no business being on the frontier. Well aware that American cowboys would know nothing about local European laws and customs, Josef’s claims about the German swimming ban could’ve been a subtle request for the caravan leaders to find a less dangerous place to cross.

For the same reason that the Duttons had no plan in 1883 or even a map to guide their way, most pioneers had no plans or established routes either. This was because information about the frontier was highly limited at the time, which meant that they mostly relied on improvisation. In any case, even if Josef was lying about Germany making it illegal to swim, 1883 still fairly accurately the real-life struggles of pioneers.


1883 Ending Explained (& Future Yellowstone Shows Setup)

In 1883’s bittersweet ending, the pioneers reach the end of their arduous journey, but the Yellowstone prequel spinoff finale has deeper meaning.

1923’s Immigrants: Are They Historically Accurate?

The Next Historic Yellowstone Spinoff Followed 1883’s Trend

Revealing more about the early days of the Yellowstone Dutton Ranch, 1923 portrays the immigrants of the time with arguably better historical accuracy than 1883. This can be observed in the range war between cattlemen and sheep-herders, led respectively by rancher and lawman Jacob Dutton (Harrison Ford) and Banner Creighton (Jerome Flynn). Just like in 1923, the real frontier saw violent conflicts arise between established cowboys and immigrant sheep-herders over grazing land, which were claimed on a first-come-first-served basis.

One of the most notable events in the so-called “sheep wars” happened in the winter of 1900 on the Montana-Wyoming border, during which unknown men slaughtered 2,113 sheep by beating them to death. Similar to how the Duttons in the 1923 cast bend the laws to their favor, those responsible for the “Slaughter on the Otter” were never persecuted for their crimes, and were protected by the established cattle ranching community in Montana and Wyoming until they died.

Eerily, their fates echo that of the Duttons, who have gotten away with uncountable murders for the last 100 years. By borrowing from real history, the 1923 and 1883 immigrants succeeded at painting a more compelling picture of the dark beginnings of the Yellowstone Dutton Ranch.

1883 TV Series Poster


1883 is a Western drama series set at the beginning of Taylor Sheridan’s Yellowstone franchise and explores the origins of the Duttons and how Yellowstone came to be. The show chronicles a generation of the Dutton family as they embark on a difficult journey to the western frontier to establish a new legacy.

Release Date
December 19, 2021

Isabel May , Tim McGraw


Story By
Ron Burkle

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