Blackfoot Valley Dispatch - The Blackfoot Valley's News Source Since 1980

Guest Editorial: What makes a community


January 2, 2019

Gary Cooper in 'High Noon,' a story about a town that hadn't become a community,

Some of the first towns in Montana were Virginia City, Helena and Ft. Benton. In the 1860's these small collections of huts, founded on natural resource extraction or river boat trade to support the gold fields, grew quickly. They evolved from settlements into camps and from camps into towns. The towns all had the same things in common in the early days: saloons, banks, doctors, newspapers, churches, law enforcement and schools.

What makes a town?

Real communities are not just convenient locations for people to gather while they pursue their own individual goals. The man-camps of the Bakkan oil fields with hundreds of instant living quarters for oil field workers are not real towns. The lumber camps and gold rush gulches of the 19th century were not real towns. Men and women were there to make their fortunes and get out, hoping to travel back to civilization with as much earnings as they could carry, back to their families, back to a world where lives were knit together in a common vision of "life together."

A profound movie that develops this theme of 'community' is the 1952 Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly classic "High Noon." The 1880's Old West town of Hadleyville, New Mexico Territory, looks like a community. It has all the essential parts. The plot centers around Will Kane, the sheriff, as he seeks help from other men in the saloon and church to help him defend the town against a gang of outlaws who are returning to punish the citizens for sentencing one of them to jail for murder years before. In desperation, he turns to folks he thought were his friends.

Slowly the audience realizes that every person the sheriff approaches is going to let him down. Each individual, even his new wife, has a reason to run, hide, or ignore his plea.

As the judge packs up a horse to make his escape, he says to Will, "A town has to learn what it means to be a town. It takes them awhile to make up their minds to it."

After standing alone to kill the outlaws, the dramatic ending shows the sheriff flinging his tin star into the dirt at the townspeople's feet and leaving forever. It is as if he is saying, "You wouldn't come together for the common good. If all you want are your own individual hopes and dreams, you can have them without me."

Fictional Hadleyville hadn't learned w to be a community.

The concept of personal sacrifice for the common good is a hard sell in our current selfie-generation. Do we need each other anymore? Does our own personal bottom line drive our dreams or is there room in our vision for a community of mutual help, an "all for one, one for all" theme? What does it take to be a real town? Or, are we just a collection of individuals, pursuing our own ends?

If Lincoln is going to survive and thrive in the new year, we need to come up with the right answers to these questions. A real town cares and makes sacrifices so that all of us can prosper. The citizens of a real town support their local businesses, medical clinic, school, newspaper and bank.

Let's not be Hadleyville.


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