Who Do Tom Hanks and Billy Bob Thornton Play in '1883'? Real Life Characters Revealed

Yellowstone prequel 1883 is available to watch on Paramount+ now and the first two episodes gave viewers plenty to unpack in this new period drama.

While Tim McGraw, Faith Hill and Sam Elliott lead the cast of this new show, two Oscar-winning actors appear as real-life historical figures to bring an edge of gritty realism to 1883. Billy Bob Thornton stars in Episode 1 "1883," while Tom Hanks makes a surprise cameo in Episode 2 "Behind Us, a Cliff."

Taylor Sheridan, the creator of the increasingly popular Yellowstone, brings 1883 to Paramount+ as a streaming original. The first two episodes of this new show are available to watch online now.

Who does Tom Hanks play in 1883?

It was announced earlier in December that double Academy Award-winner Hanks would star in the Yellowstone spinoff 1883. In Episode 2 of the new season we got a closer look at who he plays.

"Behind Us, a Cliff" opens with a flashback to the American Civil War. We see bodies lain on the ground in front of the Dunker Church after the Battle of Antietam in 1862, a real location that was utilized during the war. This flashback enables us to meet General George Meade, played by Hanks.

Tom Hanks George Meade
Tom Hanks makes a brief appearance as General George Meade in "Yellowstone" spinoff "1883." WireImage/Steve Granitz

He approaches a young James Dutton (Tim McGraw) and sits with him after he survives a battle. General Meade puts an arm around the soldier as he cries. It's implied that he then arrests him as James then spent three years in a Union prison.

It's an incredibly short role but the significance of the character is emphasized by Hanks. In real life, General George Meade was a Spanish-born Civil War general that led the Union to victory after the defeat of Confederate General Robert E. Lee at the Battle of Gettysburg.

He died in 1872 at the age of 56 and is buried in Lauren Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia. There are several memorials and statues of General Meade placed around the United States in honor of his service to the country.

Who does Billy Bob Thornton play in 1883?

Thornton's appearance is less of a surprise as we saw him in the trailers for 1883.

Like Hanks, he also had the honor of playing a real-life character who we meet in Episode 2. As Marshal Jim Courtright, Thornton shows his fellow cowboys and the audience the ruthlessness of his character by shooting a number of criminals in cold blood in a crowded bar.

Billy Bob Thornton  Jim Courtright
Billy Bob Thornton plays Marshal Jim Courtright in "1883" on Paramount+. Getty Images/Ethan Miller

Courtright was a reputable lawman in Fort Worth, Texas, where he allegedly reduced the town's murder rate by more than half. He also reportedly demanded protection money from local business owners.

He was known for killing many people and became a feared Marshal in Texas. He eventually died during a gunfight in 1887 at the age of 39. He was killed in a shootout with notorious gambler and gunfighter Luke Short. Courtright had apparently called out Short, and after a conversation, Short fired several shots at Courtright, killing him in the street.

While Thornton and Hanks both play real-life characters, it's not clear yet whether there will be many more non-fiction characters appearing in the fictional series 1883.

1883 continues on Paramount+ with Episode 3 "River" on Sunday, December 26.