Buckle up, ‘pardners’ cause this here’s to the wildest backstory in the wilderness! Most of us visit Disney Parks and ride attractions, taking them at face value. A dark ride is a dark ride. A coaster is a coaster. However, every single ride Walt Disney Imagineering creates has an incredible backstory that only makes the ride that much better! I’ve ridden Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and never knew its incredible (and spooky) backstory. I’m willing to bet you don’t either, so grab a snack and settle in for a spooky tale of revenge! What follows is my own telling of the Big Thunder Mountain backstory based on official Disney Sources.
In the late 1800s, the gold rush brought about the Westward Expansion. People from all walks of life flocked to the frontier and started over. The town of Tumbleweed was formed by would-be miners hoping to find gold and strike it rich.
Just outside of town was a mountain called Big Thunder. The old timers in the area warned new prospectors not to mess with Big Thunder because strange things occurred on the mountain. If you listened closely, you could hear singing up there during periods of drought. Strange rumblings could be felt by anyone that got too close and none of the animals that had ventured to the mountain ever came back, but at night you could sometimes see what looked like glowing eye-shaped embers.
Newcomer Barnabas T. Bullion was unphased by the locals’ warnings. He came from a powerful East Coast family and due to his name, considered striking gold to be his birthright. He founded the Big Thunder Mining Co. and ran the operation with an iron (err…golden?) fist. He wouldn’t hear any talk of the strange occurrences that miners encountered.
Because Barnabas Bullion wouldn’t listen to their concerns, miners turned to superstition for protection from the mountain’s protective spirits. To this day, you’ll find horseshoes over every doorway and mine shaft. That don’t seem to work all that well, you’ll know which areas the spirits have attacked by the fact that the horseshoes have been turned upside down!
A series of natural disasters plagued the area: earthquakes and floods became commonplace. Miners didn’t last long on the mountain. Those that didn’t disappear quickly quit. Still Big Thunder Mining Co. carried on. Bullion, driven by greed and a constant supply of new migrants from the East, simply (and callously) replaced the miners and carried on. No one was allowed to discuss the missing miners and no search effort ever took place..
As time went on, the initial gold strike started to become depleted and Big Thunder Mining had to blast deeper and deeper into the mountain. Soon, eerie noises echoed through the new shafts, cave-ins became frequent and equipment would mysteriously fail. As soon as the mine trains began rolling out of the station on their own, people started fleeing the area. Many believed the souls of the missing miners became part of the spirit that protected the mountain and that’s why equipment began failing and trains became possessed- they were working with what they knew.
One day, unsatisfied with the progress being made in the mines, Barnabas Bullion paid the mountain a visit himself. Strangely, the mine shaft he was visiting mysteriously caved in and Bullion was never heard from again. The disappearance of the towns (malevolent) benefactor was too much. Residents were so scared of the mountain and the protective spirit that was no longer a whispered superstition that they abandoned the town of Tumbleweed, leaving everything still intact.
Occasionally, someone will stumble upon the ghost town and start exploring. It never goes well. The mine trains have been known to strap explorers down and take off on their own as if driven by ghostly engineers through a death defying ride through the mine before returning the terrified explorers back to Tumbleweed. Don’t worry though, as long as you turn tale and run, no harm will come to you, the spirits only want to scare you away.
Did you have any idea the last time you rode Big Thunder Mountain Railroad that you were actually aboard a mine train possessed by the mine’s lost souls? This incredible ride is the brainchild of Imagineer Tony Baxter (who also created Splash Mountain). He was inspired after a trip to Monument Valley in Utah. A version of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad can be found at Magic Kingdom Park, Disneyland Park, Disneyland Paris, and Tokyo Disneyland.