Shirleen Davies

Boom or Bust. The Undeniable Appeal of the Flourishing Frontier Town

Splendor, Montana, the setting of Wildfire Creek, has an undeniable ability to draw people in and keep them there. Luke and Dax, Rachel, Noah Brandt, Gabe Evans, and of course, Ginny Sorensen, are all transplants drawn to Splendor searching for economic opportunity. Its growing economy results in ample opportunity for enterprising, hardworking people to make their homes in the frontier town.

     Boomtowns are a common theme in western narratives. Whether or not you can call Splendor a proper boomtown is debatable. Let’s take a look at the facts on boomtowns, shall we?

     Boomtowns sprung up across the United States during the 19th century. The very nature of a boomtown rests on a positive feedback loop—people are drawn to a budding town for opportunity, their presence helps the economy grow, more people are drawn to the town, and so on. But boomtowns are also defined as much by their growing pains as they are by their actual growth.

     Rapid, exponential expansion based on a single industry such as mining, often meant that boomtowns suffered from a lag in social services like healthcare, hospitality, and education. People who came to cash in on its booming industry often acquired big incomes to spend. Money created a serious demand for additional service industries.

     Many of the transplanted residents of Splendor, Montana make their living attending to such needs. Rachel assists with her uncle’s medical practice, Ginny tends bar and helps with housekeeping at the boardinghouse, and Noah provides blacksmith and livery services. What most people think of when they hear the word “boomtown” goes something like this:

     A town springs up around an industry, grows at an unsustainable rate, enjoys a temporary “boom” period of tenuous prosperity, then goes “bust” when local resources are depleted. Some variation on this is certainly true in many cases.

     The town of Cripple Creek, Colorado, boasted a population of over 10,000 people in 1900, following the last great Colorado gold rush, but fell to an all-time low of 400 residents during the 1970s. A gold mind still operates in Cripple Creek, but the town’s recently climbing population is due more to its viability as a tourist attraction than gold.

     Deadwood, South Dakota, never as large as Cripple Creek, is now more history than town, with a population of approximately 1200 people. The northern plains states in the US are dotted with ghost towns that went bust over lack of transport options and renewable income sources—Virginia City, Montana; Nevada City, Montana; and Barrack, Montana are examples.

     Not all boomtowns fit that narrative— Denver, Colorado; Atlanta, Georgia; Houston, Texas; and San Francisco, California were all boomtowns at some point,      and are now major metropolitan areas. Some towns gracefully transition out of the boom stage, creating well-rounded economies that support their populations in a more balanced fashion after the initial draw of the town is less viable.

     Wildfire Creek presents Splendor at this critical moment in 1867 Montana. Will it continue to boom or will it bust, like so many before it? 

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