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I have a very specific setting in mind that can be pretty much summed up as "Wild West with Dinosaurs". However, I'm still trying to figure out the details of just how the people native to a rural county between Wyoming and Montana would deal with both the sudden massive environmental changes as well as now being completely separated from the broader infrastructure of the United States forever.

Why and how it happened isn't important. Somehow a rural county during the late 1920s was just teleported back in time, which for convenience sake I'll just call the "time change".

The specific time period is the late Campanian stage of the cretaceous period (about 75 million years ago). So no T-Rex or Triceratops, in their stead there's Daspletosaurus and Chasmosaurus just to name a few. The climate was warmer and the area between Montana and Wyoming at the time was more swamp like and was close to a massive inland sea dividing North America in two

Much of the infrastructure of the county is intact initially at the time change, but the environment surrounding it is the unaltered cretaceous environment. As for the population, let's say the county has between 10,000 and 15,000 initially.

The wildlife from the anthropocene era within the county's area were also brought along for the ride in the time change.

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  • $\begingroup$ As difficult as it would be, I'm optimistic about the resilience of humans in an unfamiliar and potentially hostile environment. Even more so when it comes to communities in rural areas as they tend to have a lot of skills that would be relevant for survival. Plus my setting would be pretty short lived if the time change just up and killed everyone soon after the initial impact $\endgroup$ Jan 14 at 18:13
  • $\begingroup$ The minimum skill for a community (as we know it) is how to hitch and use an animal-drawn plow. Hunting is insufficient; the community will degrade to a set of nomadic tribes or subsistence gatherers. $\endgroup$
    – user535733
    Jan 14 at 19:44
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    $\begingroup$ keep in mind Montana and Wyoming are several thousand feet higher today. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Jan 14 at 22:12
  • $\begingroup$ John makes a good point, one you could take advantage of. Have you ever seen a glitched chunk in Minecraft? Your county could be surrounded by huge, sheer cliffs on all sides as it brings it's radical difference in elevation into the new world. At least in the original county/transported region, the starting conditions give you essentially a huge fortress (gradually collapsing/eroding, but that's a problem for a sequel... $\endgroup$
    – DWKraus
    Jan 15 at 0:40
  • $\begingroup$ You may need to address your population. "Small town" in Wyoming is not "small town" in the East or West Coast. For reference the U.S. census says the population of Wyoming's third largest city in 1925, Laramie, was 12,000 $\endgroup$ Jan 15 at 3:13
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In the short term they might survive, on the long term they are screwed

There are a lot of things that can go wrong if a 20th century Wyoming-Montana town got transported to the Campanian period. Also for references check out my answer on (this question), which covers a lot of the same things.

Some of these problems include:

A lack of edible vegetation among the native flora

You got really, really lucky by proposing the Campanian as your time period of choice. The Campanian is the point in time that the conifer-dominated floras of the Mesozoic were replaced by the angiosperm-dominated faunas that characterized the Cenozoic or later. Campanian-Maastrictian forests would have looked essentially modern with an odd abundance of gingkos and dawn redwoods.

However, the broader problem is that most of the edible plants we know and love had not evolved yet by the Campanian. Most edible fruit and nut-producing plants hadn't evolved yet, because these plants evolved their edible seed coverings due to coevolution with primates and other fruit-eating Cenozoic animals. Maples (maple syrup) and oaks (acorns) also hadn't evolved by the Campanian.

Your sources for native vegetation are going to be few.

  • Sago palm (very toxic if not cooked properly)
  • Pine nuts
  • Fern fiddleheads

The good news is that the native wildlife should be fine to eat as long as it's sufficiently cooked. Disease transmission from eating dinosaurs should be low, though not completely impossible. Meat is meat and hasn't changed its structure in hundreds of millions of years. Dinosaur meat should be as safe to eat as alligator or chicken. Large animals generally don't have toxic meat because it costs a lot, metabolically speaking. The biggest thing to worry about would be if the local animals have accumulated arsenic or heavy metals in their tissue due to the plants they ate. But this is unlikely.

Huge risks for crop failure

So, the thing about Wyoming and Montana is there isn't a lot of crop farming there. It's some of the driest territory in the lower 48 outside of outright deserts like Nevada and most farming there today is restricted to areas where it's easy to get water, especially around large rivers like the Missouri and North Platte.

So very few crops are going to be taken with this town into the Cretaceous, which raises the risk of a single wheat blight or corn smut completely wiping out the town's food supply. In the 20th century if you have a mass crop failure you can always replant the wheat and corn fields with seeds from elsewhere. In the Cretaceous you can't.

Wait, there's more. The Cretaceous lacks any native pollinators for major crops like butterflies and bees. Good news is that major American staple crops like wheat and corn can self-pollinate or pollinate via the wind and thus don't need bees. However any crops that do need pollinators like apples or most other domesticated plants would be highly dependent on whatever few bee hives or wandering butterflies were grabbed by whatever cosmic power dragged the town back into the Cretaceous. The survival of the pollinators, like the crops, would be heavily dependent on whether they are lucky enough to not get snapped up by some Cretaceous insectivore.

Cattle Trouble

Wyoming and Montana's biggest agrarian output, bar none, is cattle, with sheep also being important in some areas. This means cattle are going to be the town's main source of food unless they can start reliably hunting dinosaurs, especially given they can't supplement their diet using local flora and wheat and corn supplies will be limited.

As with domestic crops, cattle will be highly vulnerable to being wiped out by disease given how few of them there are. One cow with foot-and-mouth disease might end up wiping out your entire herd.

The bigger problem will be native predators. Big predators like theropods will be leery of novel prey like cattle but eventually they will figure out they are viable food sources. Grizzlies, coyotes, and wolves in modern Wyoming and Montana rapidly figured out that cattle were easy prey, despite their ancestors having never seen domestic cattle before. This will be amplified by the fact that cattle ranching practices in Wyoming and Montana often involves just leaving cattle where they die rather than disposing of the body. This will result in native predators having an easier time associating cattle with food (This is one reason why modern ranchers in Wyoming sometimes get wolf problems). The native predators will also lack any intrinsic fear of humans.

Once the theropods do figure out that cattle are easy prey, it's open season on the cattle. Cattle are almost the ideal prey size for large predators like tyrannosaurs, being about the size of a juvenile hadrosaur. Additionally, the cattle breeds used in the 1920s-1930s in Wyoming and Montana tended to be the more docile breeds used today rather than the more aggressive semi-feral breeds such as the Texas longhorn. Longhorn will fight back against predators, more modern beef cattle like Angus are so docile that (in Wyoming mind you!), they've been known to see their calves slaughtered right in front of them by coyotes and do nothing about it. They won't meaningfully fight back against a tyrannosaur.

Another problem is that cattle waste might not break down. There were likely dung beetles and other decomposers would be around, but they would be adapted to breaking down dinosaur dung, not mammal dung. So what would end up happening is you would get massive pile-ups of cattle dung that would never go away. This is what happened in Australia, where you had cattle dung just plain not decomposing because the native dung beetles preferred marsupial and bird dung. The only way this wouldn't happen would be if you brought enough modern dung beetles with you, but even then the small founder population might end up shredded by small mammals and reptiles and go extinct.

It's open for debate whether your cows would even be able to survive long-term. Wyoming thrives because it has huge areas of grassland with little water, and there isn't much else you can do with them than use cows to turn that grass into edible calories. It's not clear if they could do the same in a world where most of that grass has been replaced by ferns, horsetails, and relatives of cannabis. Some edible plants like buttercups and nettles might be around, but its unclear how much. Some native plants might have anti-dinosaur toxins and be lethally poisonous to cattle. The large quantities of herbage necessary to support cattle herds might not be present.

Enjoy your scurvy

This brings up a bigger problem. Your people will eventually start suffering from massive vitamin deficiencies. A diet composed solely of dinosaur meat, beef, and edible grains with no fruit or leafy vegetables anywhere in sight would soon be suffering from scurvy.

Best options? Hopefully some of the rare orchards that exist in Wyoming or Montana might have survived. Alternatively you might be able to figure out some part of native wildlife that has vitamin C and start eating that for all it's worth, like how the Inuit survived on a solely meat-based diet by eating animal liver, brain, and seaweed.

Gradual loss of advanced technology

Towns in the American West in the early 20th century weren't full self-sufficient. They were heavily dependent on the railroad sending raw material out of the town in exchange for machinery and processed goods being brought in. This includes things like gunpowder/firearms, gasoline, farming equipment, etc. Neither Wyoming nor Montana have never had much of a manufacturing industry.

What would end up happening in the long term is that your 20th century technology would break down due to long-term use and inability to replace them. More notably, eventually you would just plain run out of gunpowder to use for firearms.

Insufficiently powerful firearms

One problem you might have is that people might not have powerful enough firearms to meaningfully ward off dinosaurs. By the time of the Great Depression the largest mammals like bison and grizzlies were restricted to the Yellowstone Basin, and animals like wolves were outright extinct in Wyoming until they were reintroduced. Most firearms people had are going to be hunting rifles with the caliber tailored for hunting bighorn, elk, mule/white-tailed deer, and pronghorn. Maybe something like a Winchester. Is a Winchester going to stand up against a Daspletosaurus or an angry ceratopsian?

Best option for long-term survival? Revert to a seminomadic hunter-gatherer lifestyle with some herding and spend your time eating baby dinosaurs and dinosaur eggs, which should be everywhere because dinosaurs are explosive breeders. Supplement with what little cattle survive as necessary. Based on what technology is available to a 20th century Wyoming/Montana town (e.g., ferriers), you might be able to retain iron working and use iron spearheads and arrows.

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  • $\begingroup$ This is the best answer I've gotten so far! So there's not going to be much I can do without broadening the area sucked in & at least some contrivance for a reliable food supply? I can work with that $\endgroup$ Jan 15 at 9:42
  • $\begingroup$ @EthanPhilpot You're better off transporting almost anywhere else to the Cretaceous. For example in the 20's and 30's most Rust Belt cities had booming manufacturing capabilties, and the surrounding areas were actually more devoted to agriculture than they are today (where a lot of old farmland has been replaced with parks, suburbs, or just allowed to go wild) $\endgroup$ Jan 15 at 18:14
  • $\begingroup$ So what do you think the most ideal towns for this specific scenario? $\endgroup$ Jan 16 at 16:56
  • $\begingroup$ @EthanPhilpot Probably somewhere east of the Mississippi. Maybe unironically Cleveland, Cleveland had a lot of manufacturing in the 20s-30s, as did nearby Akron and Youngstown, but the surrounding area contained a lot of flat, open farmland with a variety of crops. Detroit and Pittsburgh might work too. Not sure if there were any towns between the Cascades and Mississippi that had a good manufacturing base in the early 20th century. $\endgroup$ Jan 16 at 17:31
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You have many problem.

First no fuel and no electricity which means most of modern technology becomes useless in short order. I will tell you from experience when I had to work in a wild life refuge where power tools were forbidden, most people do not know how to do things entirely by hand anymore and even fewer have tools to do so. Few know how to hunt without guns. Few people know how to make glass, or bricks, or iron, especially without modern tools. The great depression is not far enough in the past to get away from this.

They may well starve, they will have little stored food once the electricity goes out. enough for a few months at best. They likely do not have anything to plant. They likely do not even have seeds for the next round of planting unless it is very close to planting season. Buying seeds is more common than keeping them. That is IF they even have human food producing crops, few places in those states do, mostly only in the modern age with modern irrigation. Wyoming had almost no crop agriculture at the time, the ones that did where strictly grains or animal feed. Montana is better off agriculture wise even if it ends up short on almost everything else, downside Montana is almost entirely underwater, so you are probably stuck with Wyoming. Although if you go at the very very end of the cretaceous this is not true. Go 60 million years ago and you conditions similar to the modern east coast, lots of forest and good soil.

What about ranches you might ask, they may well do more harm than good, groups of easy to catch cattle and sheep are just going to act as a predator magnet, you are talking about the time of huge pack hunting dinosaur predators. There is almost nothing your humans can eat, no fruit, no recognizable plants, meat is it, and what bullets they have won't last long, and they don't have the knowledge or infrastructure to make more. Livestock may run into similar problems with few plants they can find edible especially with the climate change.

They will probably have to move. With the landscape change they may not have a nearby fresh water source especially with no pumps.

They don't have enough people for a stable population, a small rural community will not have enough people to maintain a population, especially once disease and dinosaurs set in. The smallest town in Wyoming is Bob Wyoming population 4.

If they survive it will be as hunter gathers, in which case their population is too large, and they will likely have to split up in many small groups. Maybe, maybe if they are absurdly lucky they have enough seeds and skill to restart agriculture, but they will have to survive many years before they will be producing enough to be self sufficient from agriculture.

Solution:

You may want to consider going with multiple towns, maybe even the entire state of Wyoming. this gives them what they need to keep everything going. There were coal mines and oil refineries in Wyoming at the time plus an abundance of equipment to make both. Wyoming was actually experiencing a boom in both coal and oil in the 1920's. this gives you some electricity, oil, and trains. which will go a long way to making things better. Even better a lucky train might be loaded with seeds for crops or machinery for well machining. There was actually hydro-electric dams in Wyoming at the time if you want to handwave them somehow still being in a location that works. Electricity makes it possible they could be making their own bullets, although expect a reversion to caseless ammunition as they will be hard pressed to get them metal needed for brass.

A larger town also means a lot more people to start with so much greater likelihood of having the right skill sets to keep technology going. A 1920 Wyoming census they may be useful. keep in mind in 1920 there was only 194,400 people in the entire state of Wyoming, Montana had far more despite being further north. You could move the entire population of both states and get what you want. Both states would also give you the tech to extract and use: oil, coal, copper, iron, and food, which will allow a reversion too wild west level technology but not past it. You will have a massive die off but you will have that anyway. you also start with enough livestock some surviving is likely. As a side benefit using the entire state will give you a buffer to slow the encroachment of the native wildlife, so your humans have some time to get everything set up.

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  • $\begingroup$ If you move the whole state it would probably be some time before you even saw Cretaceous wildlife unless the story is set on a city near the Wyoming border like Laramie or Cheyenne. A city like Casper might not see dinosaurs for months due to any dinosaur having to trek 200 straight kilometers across unfamilliar, near-barren land to get there. $\endgroup$ Jan 15 at 3:16
  • $\begingroup$ @user2352714 possibly but some dinosaurs were migratory, then you have things like pterosaurs. and of course they will notice the days are shorter, then of course you have cars and trains. And honestly you want months, otherwise there is not enough time to recover. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Jan 15 at 6:17
  • $\begingroup$ Large-scale environmental disruptions can stop migration patterns. For example when the railroads were built in the American West the bison were afraid to cross them because they were novel. Replacing an entire state's worth of subtropical forest with sagebrush steppe is going to be a lot more scary to animals. $\endgroup$ Jan 15 at 17:49
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I think they will have huge problems. They basically land in a wild region which they don't know with scarce supplies. I say scarce because I doubt that they have supplies sufficient for at least 1 year of anything.

With those supplies and what they have with them they need to:

  • protect their settlement with something sturdy enough to push away curious dinosaurs.
  • fence a large enough plot of land to try some agriculture. I doubt planks and barbed wires will do anything against dinosaurs.
  • plow that plot and make it suitable for farming. I doubt they have enough forage for the beasts of burden or fuel for the tractors to complete the task. And they know nothing about the local weather patterns.
  • Defend the plot from grazers. If a mole in your garden is annoying, imagine a dinosaur.
  • Gather food and water. I doubt that Montana had plenty of dum dum bullets at the time.

All the above points seem to pointing in the direction of a large number of casualties due to attacks from predators, hunting incidents, farming incidents and famine. Top it with lack of medicines and you have a pretty grime picture.

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The biggest problem I can see is farmland. Not so much that dinos wandering over a wheat field will ruin the harvest (though it will) it's that they know NOTHING about soil content, weeds, other plants, etc etc etc. I would say your best bet is to transplant the town and a decent amount of surrounding farmland. That'd give them (hopefully) some silos of grain to survive the short term and various farming implements to maybe get things going in the medium-long term. Though with the temperature change et al they're unlikely to get harvests in successfully for years.

Speaking of short term, I don't think predatory dinos will be a huge problem at first. Most wild animals are intensely conservative, especially predators. If I drop a human by a pack of wolves or pride of lions that has never seen a person before their instinct isn't "attack and get free lunch" it's "man that things weird imma stay over here." Eventually of course this would change, but at least they'd be able to avoid widespread predation. Especially if you "Swapped" a few square miles so they wouldn't instantly be in something's territory.

Another huge problem they'd have is identifying things to eat. Sure a dino is tasty but plants? It'd be a crapshoot, literally. You'd lose dozens of people trying to figure out which local plants are safe to eat, even in the best of circumstances. Diarrhea, straight-up poisonings, you name it. With 65+ million years of evolution between them and Paleo-botany more-or-less not a thing (certainly not for a rando midwest town) they'd have almost nothing to go on. At best they could find some small mammal, nibble whatever it eats, and hope to eventually find something you could cultivate in quantity. Good luck.

That being said, they'd be REAL efficient hunters. Remember the Dodo, which was so unused to people you could just walk up and kill them? Think that, but for literally every species on the planet. Humans aren't a thing, so to dinos they're not a threat. It would take a LOOOONG time for animals to figure that out, especially since humans attacking herds would shoot animals from afar. We're probably talking multiple-generations. So even if your agriculture goes to crap, you'd be unlikely to straight-up starve. This super-hunter status might even help with the big carnivores, either by hunting them to extinction in the local area, or by killing big herbivores far enough away from where the town is that the predators are satiated and distant from the town itself.

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    $\begingroup$ This is good stuff, however I think the logic behind the last paragraph is a bit flawed, especially with the Dodo comparison. Dodos weren't wary of humans because they had no predators so their self preservation instincts were a bit atrophied. Cretaceous America has lots of predators & megafauna. Closest ecosystem to compare it to would be African Savanna. Megafauna in general tend to be very aggressive & territorial, especially herbivores, so I doubt they'd assume humans aren't a threat & leave them be if they're nearby. I agree with the sentiment though, especially about ranged hunting. $\endgroup$ Jan 14 at 19:41
  • $\begingroup$ oddly the soil was probably amazing, much like the east coast today. You have uplift combines with a retreating seaway. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Jan 14 at 21:38

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