WEstren Movies: Towns in The desert?

I watch a lot of old western movies, and it has always seemed to me, that the towns seem to be in the middle of nowhere. I woulf think that a western town would have to be near a lake or river (people need water), and unless it was a mining town, near some reasonably fertile soil. Hence, a town in the middle of Monument Valley would be unlikely. The westerns always portray them the same way-wide dustry streets, and LOTS of sallons!
Also, when you went to a bar for a drink, did they really leave the bottle with you? :smiley:

A town doesn’t necessarily have to be near a lake or river. There could also be wells or springs that could be used as a source of water.

Also, I don’t know if you’ve ever traveled out west, but you can find dozens of ghost towns in seemingly water-bereft locations (e.g., Bodie, California). Often these were mining towns that were quickly deserted once the mines gave out. Others were shipping points for cattle or sheep herds (e.g., Shaniko, Oregon) that diminished in importance when either the wells gave out or there was a sharp downtown in the cattle or sheep market.

As to if the bottle was left with you. Liquor by the shot is a fairly new concept. As is social drinking. The cowboys of the Old West on a daily basis could make a frat party look like a Girl Scout social. Most men who drank, drank heavily. So it would not be unreasonable to expect him to finish the bottle in one sitting. Also, IIRC, in many places you would buy the bottle and be able to do with it as you wish. Kind of like modern day bottle clubs. It took until the late 1970’s before you could buy a shot of liquor in South Carolina, and many people felt that would lead to the decline of Western Civilization.

SSG Schwartz

Las Vegas, for instance, was settled because it was lush with plenty of water - I believe the Spanish translation for Las Vegas is “the meadows”? Now it is just a city of lushes…with Lake Mead providing the water.

The point is, many of those old cowboy towns were settled because of location - railways that passed through, cattle drives nearby, sometimes rivers and lakes that might no longer be there today, often because of minerals found nearby (many abandoned mining towns) and sometimes because the wagon broke down and they simply stayed where they were and lived off the land as best they could.

Yes, you would think that people would only settle where there was great land for farming, ample water and good weather…but sometimes they settled for less and, as the many ghost towns suggest, it wasn’t such a great idea in the long run.

But to be honest, there are small towns all over the USA that, though not exactly Ghost Towns per se, are sadly run down and have only the shell of what used to be a thriving business community - but the factories closed, people moved away, shops closed and all that remains are a few local business on a boarded up Main Street. I can think of dozens of such towns just in Illinois alone.

That always gets me too. If one 750-ml bottle yeilds approx. 25 one-ounce shots, and you tried that at a $5.00/drink bar today, what would they say? “That’ll be $125.00.”

Any cites? I can’t think of any such example, besides fantastical movies like High Plains Drifter, where there’s no attempt at verisimilitude. Otherwise, most towns are, in fact, near a mine or something of that nature.

Sometimes towns were planned out in advance, and lots sold to suckers who never saw the place before it was too late. Mayber a railroad was scheduled to make a stop there, but the town planner was out bid, or maybe a rancher decided to drive his cattle in a different direction. The buyers might be able to make a so so living off the land, and probably did not have enough to ditch it and buy something new. So they stayed on, and either the town did not grow or died off gradually. What better way to ease the pain of economic and social distress but have a drink or too. I always thought that if you wanted an individual drink in those days, it was from a keg or barrel, and a bottle was reserved for expensive booze - fragile bottles are tough to transport. I would think that if you bought a bottle, it was yours, and a good bartender would keep it for you at the bar.

Even newer concept in South Carolina. It got rid of the minibottle in 2006 (warning: PDF) Some South Carolinians use Apocalypto as proof of the decline of Western Civilization. [chuckle]

Wasn’t the town in High Plains Drifter by a lake (or maybe that was another Eastwood western)?

Could be; it’s been years. I was just making a general point that in some such movies, logic never rears its ugly head.

Travel was slow in those days. When people migrated across country, many of them walked the entire way, even if they had a wagon with them for their possessions. Oxen moved slowly and horses tired quickly as well. The first settlers didn’t have towns to get supplies from, and the death rates were extremely high. Having a town increased the chances of survival for travelers in the beginning, and then became the centers of farm, ranch, and mining operations for a district. Not only did those people benefit from a central source of supplies and services of all kinds, but they needed stopping places on their way to railroads or other sources of shipping, to and from. The more towns, the better. And any source of water would become a center for at least a small village.

Even in movies, most of these towns didn’t have LOTS of saloons. Most movies had one, maybe two across the street from one another. They never needed any more for the plot, so they never built any. That’s probably fewer than in real life. The more distant a place, the more likely it attracted men - usually single, always away from their families - who were there for hard and isolated work. They didn’t need lawyers or teachers. They came to towns for booze, broads, and gambling. Salons were the social halls that everyone went to. You needed more of them than any other type of business until the families arrived and civilized the place.

That’s from Saloons of the American West, a site that has lots of good stuff on it, and the pictures show that the image of the saloons and the western towns in movies are about as accurate as everything else in the movieland is.

I watched *High Plains Drifter * a few weeks ago on AMC. The mining town was built on the shore of a large lake. Wiki says Mono lake in California.

Pale Rider also features water. If I remember correctly, the mining company had dammed the river to power its water cannon used to strip mine for gold. This left the original miners downstream to make do with panning and breaking up rocks with manual tools.

Well, one reason is that the Ghost towns that are sometimes used for filming are often out in the desert as they were abandoned for that very reason (no good water).

And one place that the “west was wild” was “the spung up out of no-where overnite mining town” which happened in the desert as often as anywhere else. Deadwood is a good example, but of course Deadwood has water.

Well, off the top of my head, how about Silverado?

The group Focus used their name in numerous songs: “Focus,” “Focus I,” “Focus II,” “Focus III,” “Focus IV,” “Focus V,” “Focus VII,” “Focus, Part 7” (evidently a different song), “Focus, Part 9,” “Focus Medley,” and “Mother Focus.”

Van Dyke Parks has the song “Van Dyke Parks” on his Song Cycle album. You could even post the lyrics here, since they are public domain.

Bo Diddley wrote and performed “Bo Diddley.”

Gallup New Mexico, Amarillo Texas, are two places that seem to only be there because that’s where your car runs out of gas.

I saw a children’s TV show several years ago in which a cowboy explained ghost towns. I don’t know how accurate this is, but he said the government made a deal with railroads in which the rail companies were given strips of land (20 miles wide, IIRC) in which to lay tracks down the middle of the strips.

Along the way, the rail companies would tack together small towns, then give the property away to those willing to move there and set up shop. This was a way to get the people in the east to spread out west. The rail companies spaced out the towns as they wanted people to rely on rail service to get around. Some of the locations were places that really never should have been towns, where people lived briefly only to migrate on to other towns with better conditions.

Somewhere out there folks are asking themselves why RealityChuck is suddenly talking about ghost towns in the middle of their music thread.

Interesting post, though. I might check out Focus.

Now for the real reason. Back in the 1850’s, there was a lot of open land and such around lakes and rivers, towns were started, became populated, and things like modern buildings and roads were built. Fast forward to 1950, Tex Droptop, famous Hollywood director, wants to make a western movie. Where in 1950 is Tex going to find a location berift of thing like automobiles, airplanes, paved roads and other modern conveniences to film his movie? Either out in the desert or in the mountains. The mountains have lakes and streams but lots of hills and trees that make building a temporary set difficult. But out in the desert is it perfect. Relatively level, easy to build his movie set and a definite lack of modern conveniences. The same still holds true today. Go check out your favorite western movies on the IMDB and go to the goofs listed for each movie. Many westerns will have something modern slip in that could not have been around in the old west.

Works for me, I’d never considered that.

My friend swears he overheard someone at the Alamo ask their friend “why did they build it in the middle of the city?” :smack: He should have told them because downtown is zoned for basements.

Hello? Is this thing on? Goodnite!