Three decades ago, only Indians and wild animals roamed through this remote stretch of Amazon jungle. Today, ranchers and sawmill owners in pickups speed past new stores selling building materials, farm tools and chain saws.

The poor cram into homemade jalopies, called paco pacos for the sound of their diesel engines. And where the town gives way to cow pastures and fields of rice and soy, a sign marks the spot where a slaughterhouse will go up with a daily capacity of 500 head of cattle.

There's even a small red-light district.

This is Novo Progresso, a Brazilian boomtown built by migrants from far-flung parts of Latin America's largest country in an influx reminiscent of the 19th century settlement of the American West.

All are speculating that the dirt highway cutting through the town's center -- a muddy track during the six-month rainy season -- will be paved into a modern toll road traveled by thousands of tractor-trailers a day heading to Amazon River and Atlantic Ocean ports.

In a region where land conflicts, labor abuses and illegal logging are commonplace, Novo Progresso's population has doubled to 40,000 in just five years. The number of sawmills turning huge trees into high-quality, usable wood has risen from five to 34 in the same period.

"When they pave the highway, it'll be cheaper for our products to get to Europe and the United States," said Luiz Bazanella, a beer and soft-drink distributor who heads the town's business and industry association. "Novo Progresso's population could grow to 200,000."

Environmentalists say illegal deforestation is rampant around Novo Progresso, while sawmill operators say they use only wood cut legally by people living on land where the government allows 20 percent of each plot to be felled.

But Novo Progresso's sawmills laid off thousands of workers this year when the government put a halt to most logging, questioning the validity of documents used to justify land ownership. Town officials warn that the stoppage could backfire.

"If the government doesn't act soon to resolve the situation, the loggers are just going to cut it all down," said Mayor Tony Rodrigues.

Novo Progresso also is saddled with a reputation as one of the most lawless spots in Para state -- a place where pistoleiros working on behalf of land speculators and rich landowners force poor subsistence farmers off their land.

Last year, a farmer who accused a logger of illegally cutting trees on Indian reservations and national park land was shot to death outside his house by two gunmen. In February, gunmen in another Para town killed an American nun, Dorothy Stang, in a crime authorities have linked to a land dispute.

The federal government reacted by sending policemen and soldiers into Novo Progresso and elsewhere. Now armed soldiers check all passengers coming or going on the town's only daily commercial flight.

Rodrigues bristles at comparisons with the Wild West, saying crime is much worse elsewhere in Brazil and insisting most townspeople are law-abiding citizens.

"Sure, there are pistoleiros here, but they can't just walk around freely with their guns drawn," he said. "Most of the people in Novo Progresso came here with a dream to build something, because land prices were cheap, and with the hope that the road would be built and there would be jobs and more business."

A cargo ship is loaded with soybeans at the terminal in Para state. A paved highway could link Brazil's main soy state to the Amazon River.