Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Old West Towns

by Anna Kathryn Lanier

As usual for me…here it is the night before my post is due and I’m just now writing it. No matter how much I promise to get it done earlier, I don’t seem to do it. I guess I like deadlines.

So, with my deadline looming before me, I have decided to write about the Old West Town, using as a reference HOW THE WEST WAS WON – THE WILD WEST by Bruce Wexler.

The look and feel of the old west town is very familiar to us, thanks to Hollywood.  We can easily imagine the dusty streets, the wooden boardwalks, the hitching posts with their horses.  Wexler says that “thousands of Western towns sprang up in the region as frontier life developed.  They grew up at railheads, along cattle trails, near gold fields and silver mines and around military forts.”  And, sometimes, they closed down just as quickly – when the mines played out or the military moved on or the ranchers found other ways to get their cattle to market.

Yet, while they thrived, the towns were hustle and bustle places, usually each with all the same commerce.  Often the first place to open was the saloon, which generally served as a town meetinghouse, too.  Wexler tells us that Brown’s Hole, which opened in 1822 near the Wyoming-Colorado-Utah border “was the first drinking house that became known as a saloon. It catered to the region’s fur trappers.” Saloons were frequently disproportionate to the town’s population, with, for example, Livingston, Montana having at least 33 saloons for its population of 3,000.  In addition to serving whiskey, beer and other spirits, saloons also served up women, soiled doves, usually one for every one hundred men.

While the saloon was an important and prominent business in any Western town, the general store was equally important. Without the general store it would be nearly impossible for a town to get off the ground, Wexler writers.  “Depending on the location of the town, the store would stock farm supplies, mining equipment, or cowboy gear. They also carried basic foodstuffs and seeds to get the ‘sodbuster’ farmers started….” Because they were often a monopoly in the area, store owners were able to charge exorbitant prices, which in turn made them both rich and unpopular with townfolk.

Other businesses established in frontier towns included banks, hotels, restaurants, gunsmiths, liveries, blacksmiths and the local jail.  As wives, mothers and sisters moved into towns, the West became more civilized. Educated women came to teach in schools.  Doctors came to practice their skills. Ministers came to spread the Word of God. So, schools, hospitals and churches were built.

People came West.  Towns grew. Some stayed, some faded away into history. If you’d like to visit a real life Old West Town, check out this website.

What business do you think was most essential for a Western Town?

Anna Kathryn Lanier
Never let your memories be greater than your dreams. ~Doug Ivester 


  1. Anna Kathryn, I think it would be a toss up between the general store and the blacksmith. Great post.

  2. I wonder what it really would have been like to live in an old western town back in the 1800's. No air conditioning would have been a big drawback for me.
    I loved all your pictures. Very nice presentation, Anna.

  3. Hi, Caroline and Sarah. Thanks for stopping by. Sarah, I know what you mean about actually living then. In addition....no indoor plumbing! I didn't mention the outhouses!


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