The late 1800s and early 1900s saw a huge surge of western expansion in the United States. With that expansion came a number of booming towns in the west. People were settling in faster than the world thought possible, with the promise of new wealth and opportunity calling to them. For many people, this was an opportunity to start a new life and possibly be able to own a lot of land.
This time period is usually associated with cowboy films, old westerns, and saloon culture. Towns popped up so fast they began to meld into major cities at one point. Understandably, after a couple of years, some of these towns faded into oblivion. However, some still have recognizable names to this day. In fact, in some places you can still see the faint trace of a life that was once lived there.
Click ‘Start Slideshow’ to see what happened to the booming towns of the Old West.
A Gunfight in Tombstone
Tombstone, Arizona is known for having been the location of one of the most famous gun shows downs in the history of the Wild West. The gunfight went down in The OK Corral. It was set to take place the 26th of October in 1881. Two groups of people, some law enforcement and the others some outlaws, were set to duel each other. The sheriffs at the time were the Earp family.
Today the town is mostly a historical museum and can be viewed every day during business hours. You can pay money to see people reenact the famous gunfight. There is also another admission (for free) to the newspaper museum (Arizona’s oldest publication). Here you can read all of the original stories about the fight and see how it was printed. The town itself also hosts some residents but is nowhere near the same booming culture it was years ago.
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Deadwood is located in the state of South Dakota. The name is a bit depressing, but it was named after the dead trees found all over the area (so in fact, the symbolism is also depressing). The region began to get huge after the discovery of oil nearby. Oil, or black gold as it was known at the time, brought thousands of people at once to the town. The rush would overtake the area in 1874.
Many famous outlaws were known for frequenting the area…so much so that HBO even came up with a western series about the show in 2004. The town has managed to survive becoming a ghost town, unlike many other towns of the same variety. Today it is still a booming town with plenty of casinos, restaurants, and hotels for tourists who want to check out the old western city. They even offer historical tours.
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The name is not particularly endearing but Cripple Creek is an interesting town in the middle of Colorado. When it was first founded, it attracted plenty of people from all over the country. Its land was not known for being particularly fertile so the old population of people living there was around 500 people. After the gold rush however, there were more than 10,000 people living there at one point.
The town was pretty much abandoned for years after the Gold Rush. In fact, it was not until the state legalized gambling that the town began to thrive once more. Today, there are plenty of casinos; it would seem that gambling brought the city back to its former glory. However, there is more to do there than just gamble. Plenty of people also come for outdoor activities and to sightsee. There is also a historical museum for those who want to learn more about the town.
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Most people forget that technically the beautiful city on the bay was a product of the Old West. Before it became home to hipsters and overpriced housing, San Francisco was a hot spot for the California Gold Rush. A massive influx of people moved into the city searching for gold. The city population climbed from about 1,000 people to about 25,000 within the span of a year.
This caused the city structure to grow substantially. It never truly stopped afterwards, and kept growing until it became the sprawling city that it is today. The city had to deal with a lot of turmoil, especially in terms of violence and corruption while people were trying to get as much money as they could mining for gold. However it eventually calmed down once the gold was found to be gone. The population grew too fast for the city, making traffic complicated even today.
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Dodge City is a city that is located in Kansas, specifically in Ford County. Its original name however was Fort Mann. It was used as a fortress city in order to protect the many people traveling on the Santa Fe Trail. In 1848, the city originally was emptied after an attack by rival Native American groups who had been kicked off of their land. A couple of years later, it came back, and it also served as a stopping point for many people passing by.
In its prime, it was known as a true western town with plenty of cowboys and saloons. Now though, it has calmed down quite a bit. The city has preserved its rich western history and still is a thriving community to this day. Each year they get about 100,000 tourists who want to come check out some of the old grounds there are plenty of shows and films that have been made about it.
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Santa Fe, New Mexico
Most people do not believe that Santa Fe, with its particularly mellow and laid-back vibe, could have ever been part of the Old West. However, it was very much at the center of the action around the time. Santa Fe had originally been occupied by its indigenous occupants but was to be taken over by people when the United States government had taken the decision to move west.
The United States had just taken control of New Mexico by treaty. It became a haven afterwards for many artists and writers. In fact, today it is still associated with a heavy art scene. Many people even moved to Santa Fe because they thought it would cure their tuberculosis (the hot weather was thought to cause less of a risk). The city is also very concerned with its history, with plenty of museums in town for any tourists or locals who want to learn more about it.
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Virginia City, Nevada
The Old West was not just characterized by the Gold Rush or the rush for oil. The mining industry also had a huge impact on the city. One such city that was characterized by this change was the city of Virginia City, located in Nevada. It became a hugely important city in industry that was located between Denver and San Francisco. The city was so successful that people settled down and built hotels and mansions.
They built schools as well and planned for long-term settlements with their children. The city soon began to flourish with the mine rush. There was also a silver deposit that was found in the area that only further caused the town to explode to about 25,000. However, once the mines were emptied, the population went down quickly. The city has kept its historic look since then and is popular with tourists who look for an Old West vibe.
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Unlike the other names of cities, this one sounds a bit more familiar, almost like your favorite brand of cereal. Alas, this city is named after a yummy breakfast treat but instead has a much sadder tale. The Arizona city is named after a young girl named Olive Oatman, who was kidnapped in the year 1851 and sold off as slave. She was later found to be sold to another tribe who took her in as a member of the family and would be released years later.
The town that holds her namesake is deep in the mountains of Mohave County. There were mines found near there where some people had found gold. However, the area had been mostly developed already. Despite this, after the discovery the population of the town went up significantly, with people wanting to get rich quickly. The government shut down the mines a couple of years later, so today it is mostly just a tourist trap off of Route 66.
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San Xavier Mission
Deep into the Wild West, there is a mission that is used as a full church. They give services and are open to everyone who wants to come anytime from 7am all the way through 5pm. People can walk through and look at the architecture or stay for masses and services. There is a video that describes the rich history of the church and a gift shop for anyone who wanted to buy something to remember the church by.
Church services such as marriages and baptism are reserved for those who live in the area. The mission was created to serve the nearby Native American reservation (Tohono O’odham). It was founded as a Catholic mission; one hundred years later a church was built in order to facilitate this. The town was originally part of Mexico but was bought back by the United States. Today it serves as a very important spiritual place for many people.
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Cody is a city in Wyoming that was named for one of the most famous people of the Old West. That man was Colonel William Frederick Cody. He is most commonly known as Buffalo Bill. That name has made it into plenty of movies and plays since the inception of the town. He played a huge part in the original creation of the town and so they named it after him. This man was very much the definition of an Old West person.
He decided to build a town in Wyoming because he saw a lot of potential in both the land around the eventual town but also in its people. He thought the fact that it was so close to Yellowstone Park would make it a lovely place to settle down permanently. Many buildings today keep much of the old architecture he used at the time of building. It has a very touristy side to it, preserving that part of its western charm.
We just can’t get enough of this western charm!