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The Western River Expedition or WRE is a never-built Walt Disney World attraction which is responsible for much of the inspiration behind Phantom Manor and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.



The Western River Expedition would have been a sort of log-flume attraction themed around a romanticized wild-west. Guests would have entered via an old mine-shaft on the banks of the Mississippi in St. Louis, Missouri. Following this, guests would navigate a series of caves and caverns filled with stalagmites and stalactites which resembled legendary figures of the wild west. In these caverns, guests would meet a talking owl named, "Hoot Gibson" who would give them a safety spiel.

Following this, guests would have passed through a wilderness filled with buffalos, prairie dogs, singing cacti and a band of cowboys in their camp. After this, the flumes would come across a band of bandits in red bandanas robbing a stage-coach before warning the riders that they'd meet again down-river. The log flumes would subsequently navigate their ways to the town of Dry Gulch.

In Dry Gulch, riders would see a bank-robbery, a jail break, a gunslinger singing drunk on a saloon's roof, drunk cowboys and shoot-outs. Leaving the town, the riders went past an indigenous tribe's settlement where rain-dancers summoned a down-pour in the mesa. As the boats began going up a lift-hill, a forest-fire erupted around them caused by lightning from the storm. The bandits would reappear attempting to rob the riders at the top of the hill only for the riders' boats to go backwards down a water-fall, back into the safety of the caves.


The Western River Expedition was conceived for Frontierland of the Magic Kingdom as a sort of counterpart to the Pirates of the Caribbean. The mindset behind the attraction's development was that since Walt Disney World was being built in Florida, the Floridian populace would have little-to-no interest in a pirates themed attraction due to their history with piracy. The attraction was largely developed by animator and imagineer Marc Davis who pitched the attraction to Richard Irvine and Roy O. Disney.

Ultimately the attraction went unbuilt due to the information of Walt Disney World not having a Pirates of the Caribbean attraction breaking out. In addition to this anger, the cost of the attraction began escalating and controversy regarding Marc Davis' objectively racist depiction of Native Americans in the ride surfaced. This all lead to Disney executives cancelling the attraction in-favour of building a shortened and copy-pasted version of Pirates of the Caribbean in Adventureland. The space was ultimately utilized for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, built in 1979.


Phantom Manor

  • The name of Thunder Mesa is a tribute to the mesa which would have been plagued by storms in the Western River Expedition's climax. The depiction of Frontierland in Disneyland Paris holds many similarities to concepts and artwork made for the WRE.
  • Much of the Phantom Canyon sequence in Phantom Manor is inspired by the Western River Expedition.
  • The showgirl and bartender seen in the saloon tableau are taken almost directly from the Western River Expedition.
  • The bandit in a shoot-out with the sheriff is inspired by concept-art for the WRE.

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

  • The original Big Thunder Mountain Railroad occupies the space which was originally planned for the Western River Expedition.
  • Original plans for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad had a backwards segment.
  • The draught-stricken town of Tumbleweed in Walt Disney World's is inspired by Dry Gulch and its fate of being flooded by Cumulus Isobar's rain-making is an homage to the flooding rainmakers of the WRE.

Disney Kingdoms

  • The bandit gang in Disney Kingdoms: Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is modelled after Marc Davis' concept-art for the Bandidos, being identified as outlaws in black garbs with wide-brimmed black hats and red bandannas.