The Fort Worth Stockyards
If you had been in the Fort Worth Stockyards about 150 years ago, you
would have been surrounded by a virtual sea of grass. The gently rolling
prairie was broken here and there by generous ribbons of timber. There
was an abundance of food and water for all of the deer, buffalo, and other
wild game that inhabited the area.
The land itself was inhabited by Indians, who were not very hospitable
to the settlers who wanted to go West. Comanches roamed to the north and
west, Apaches and Lipans to the west and south, and there was also Kiowas,
Wacos, Delawares, and Tonkawas.
In 1849 there was a troop of soldiers led by Major Ripley Arnold who
were ordered to North Texas to protect the settlers that were scattered
along the frontier. One of the soldiers remarked that it was the most beautiful
spot he had eve seen: “Buffalo all around. There were more panthers than
I have ever seen before or since. Antelope without number, and wild turkeys
in every tree.” The soldiers built a camp here and it soon turned into
As time when on the town had acquired the name that it would be known
as forever: ”Where the West Begins.” The phrase resulted after Indians
by treaty agreed to remain west of a line that ran through Fort Worth.
However, the soldiers only remained in Fort Worth for four years. By
1853 the frontier had moved 100 miles west and Fort Worth’s troops moved
to a new line of outposts. * (For more information check out our Texas
Trail of Forts.) The buildings that were abandoned by the soldiers became
an instant town. One merchant set up shop in a barracks.
From this humble founding, Fort Worth discovered that its first love
and enduring passion has been with livestock and with those who work livestock.
The city is still “COWTOWN” in heart, mind, body, and soul.
Fort Worth found itself on the leading edge of many cattle trails as
the 1800s begin to close. The herds the cowboys brought prosperity and
purchased entertainment and luxury that they could now afford. By the end
of the decade Fort Worth found itself with 37 saloons, 17 blacksmith shops,
24 wagon yards, six hide dealers and seven barbers in town. In 1873 the
Hutton & Peter Bathhouse advertised:” One hundred dozen clean towels
always on hand.”
What brought all of this prosperity? Well, during this time Texas had
open ranges that were overrun with wild Longhorn cattle. All a cowboy had
to do was round ‘em up, put his brand on ‘em, and they were his. they weren’t
much in Texas, but up north they might bring as much as $40 or $50 a head!
This princely sum ignited a 20 year trail drive and the name Cowtown for
Prior to the railroad being brought into Fort Worth the cowboys had
to drive the cattle across many hundred of miles in order to get their
cattle up north. When the first railroad wobbled its way out of Fort Worth
it hauled flour from the city mill. However by 1882, Fort Worth was shipping
350,000 head of cattle per year! The first railroad attracted others and
by 1873 Fort Worth had become a major rail center.
In order to hold all of that cattle that was waiting to be shipped Fort
Worth built the stockyards which at one time held as many as 2,600 pens!
This tremendous wave of prosperity brought a building boom that launched
Fort Worth as a major factor in the beef producing and slaughtering business.
However, all good things must end, and the late 20th century saw a transformation
of the famed stockyards into a manifestation of rodeos, shops, museums,
and other attractions that people yearn to visit. Following is a synopsis
of what Fort Worth has to offer in the stockyards area.
LIVESTOCK EXCHANGE BUILDING
- Built in 1902 this fine old building was the heart of the Stockyards.
It has been described as “The Wall Street of the West:. Inside were the
many commission companies which served cattlemen. You can compare a commission
man to a pro football player’s agent. When a rancher shipped his cattle
to Fort Worth , it was the commission man’s job to negotiate the best price
possible for consigned cattle. Also inside was a bank, a post office, five
railroad offices, and three telegraph offices. Livestock prices at markets
around the world were posted here. The building is comparatively quiet
now, with various offices, a museum and the headquarters of Lone Star Airlines
inside. But imagine the hectic pace when as many as 5 million animals were
traded each year. Tromping in and out of the building were cowboys, ranchers,
commission men and cattle buyers.
The building can be appreciated for its architecture as well as its
history. There was no air conditioning and very poor lighting when the
Exchange Building was erected, so it has high ceilings to help keep it
cool, and several skylights to illuminate the inside. Photographers seem
to love the Spanish-style interior.
SUPERIOR LIVESTOCK AUCTION
- Is a modern way to auction cattle. Normally, to sell cattle, a rancher
must round ‘ em up, haul them somewhere, and parade them around. The animals
lose weight and when an animal loses weight the rancher loses money. An
even more modern way is to videotape the animals. Bi-monthly video auctions
by satellite are scheduled by Superior. the auctioneer in the southwest
corner of the room starts his sales pitch.. A rancher in Montana, say,
need only look at his TV see animals that he wants, dial one of the operators
manning the bank of telephones and begin bidding. Superior sells nearly
a million head a year, in 38 states, including Canada and Mexico.
STOCKYARDS MUSEUM -
is operated by the North Fort Worth Historical Society. The museum has
an excellent collection of Fort Worth Stockyards memorabilia, and Western
and Indian Artifacts. Of particular interest is a collection from the Sesquicentennial
Wagon Train that toured Texas in 1986. The museum also has a fine gift
shop and is a good place to purchase Stockyards books and gifts.
If you wish to examine the building’s design you may go to either the
east or west wings and find a stairway to the second floor.
- This is where the auctioneer sits at a counter on a raised platform and
animals are paraded in a pen below him. Bidders sit on rows of benches
around the pen. There they can see the animals in which they are interested
and signal their bids.
THE PENS -
Just ask anyone in the stockyards area and they will direct you to the
old cattle pens. Except for a few head of Longhorns, the cattle pens normally
are quiet now. In 1960 the pens were reduced from 80 acres to only seven
- The small building beside the turnstile is the timekeeper’s shack. The
dim sign above the turnstile warns workers to put out their cigarettes
before entering the yard. Fire starting I the hay and among the wooden
pens was a constant threat.
- You will notice that all of the cattle pens were paved with brick.. More
than 10 million brick were required to pave the 2,600 pens in use when
the Stockyards was in full operation. The object was to keep the animals
clean and healthy and to deliver clean animals to the packing houses. You
will see the name “THURBER” on many of the brick. Thurber is now
a tiny town bout 70 miles west of Fort Worth. At the turn of the century
its thriving economy was based on producing coal for steam engines and
to fire kilns for making brick. Most of the brick utilized in the Stockyards
was made at Thurber. Time passed Thurber by, however. Railroads converted
their steam engines to oil, and brick fell out of favor as pavement. Thurber
became a ghost town - though you may still pull off I-30 and read the historic
market near the remaining smoke stack of the old power pant.
THE CATTLEMEN’S WALK
- Access to the Cattlemen’s walk is restricted to people who are on escorted
tours from the Visitors Center. An elevated walkway crosses over the cattle
pens and provides a panoramic view of the Stockyards and of the remain
of the old Swift and Company and Company meat packing plants.
THE COWTOWN COLISEUM - This is the home of the world’s first indoor
rodeo, and it still hosts rodeos and other events year round. the building
is open most days. The Fort Worth Stock Show was born in 1896 along Marine
Creek near the coliseum and was an immediate success. In 1907, it was decided
to build the coliseum as a permanent home for the Stock Show. the coliseum
was wanted so badly for the show in 1908 that this magnificent building
was erected in only 88 working days. The Stock Show rodeo was held in the
Coliseum until 1942, when larger show facilities were built around the
Will Rogers Coliseum. In the front lobby you will discover a statue of
the great Comanche Chief QUANAH PARKER, once a frequent visitor to Fort
Worth. The bronze was dedicated during an Indian Pow Wow in connection
with the 1994 Chisholm Trail Round-up in the Stockyards.
BILL PICKETT -
outside the COWTOWN COLISEUM is a magnificent bronze portraying
the world famous bulldogger. This prominent piece of art by Lisa Perry
shows Pickett throwing a Longhorn. Pickett was the first African American
cowboy to be inducted into the Cowboy Hall of Fame. He appeared at the
Cowtown Coliseum when it opened in 1908. Pickett was honored in 1994 with
a 29 cent postage stamp. The stamp caused considerable embarrassment at
the Post Office. The photo of Pickett’s brother was used on the stamp by
mistake. The stamps were recalled and the error was corrected, but not
before some of the incorrect stamps were sold.
- is located to the west of the Coliseum. It is a pedestrian walk which
once served as a midway for the Stock Show. At the northwest corner of
Exchange and Rodeo Plaza is a white, two-story building built on a bridge.
(Marine Creek flows under the structure.) It originally was known as the
Stockyards National Bank, but is now part of a western wear store. The
bank vault is still operative and now houses some of the store’s boots.
STOCK SHOW EXHIBIT BARNS
- These now contain individual shops. On the west side of the building
are balconies from which one may view Marine Cree. The building once spanned
the creek, but a flood in 1942 weakened the structure. Officials saved
half of the building by simply cutting it diagonally and demolishing the
portion that spanned the creek.,
- This is a massive bronze located at the northeast corner of the Stockyards
Boulevard and Main. It shows a cowboy headed up the trail with some longhorns.
T. D. Kelsey sculptured this landmark piece, which is one of the world’s
largest bronze castings. This spot provides a wonderful opportunity to
take a wonderful photograph.
BILLY BOB’S TEXAS
- This is the world’s largest honky tonk and is located in a converted
livestock exhibit building immediately north of Cowtown Coliseum. It is
a “must see for may visitors to the Stockyards.
The building is over 127,000 square feet or almost three acres under
roof. Billy Bob’s accommodates over 6,000 customers and has 31 bar stations
inside. :popular country-western singers are booked into the huge saloon
to entertain sell-out crowds.
FORT WORTH STOCKYARDS SIGN
- This sign spans Exchange Avenue. This is another photo opportunity. The
structure marks the western entrance to the Fort Worth Stockyards Company
property. It was originally built in 1910 and has become a Texas landmark.
- This was originally constructed in 1907 as the Stockyards Club. It was
here that wealthy cattlemen stayed when they visited Fort Worth. The hotel
was restored in 1984 and contains 52 rooms.
BOOGER RED’S SALOON
- This is adjacent to the Stockyards Hotel. People at the bar sit on saddles
and are cooled by belt driven ceiling fans. There is also a set of horns
that measure nine feet from tip-to-top.
STOCKYARDS DRUGSTORE -
This is the oldest continuously operated drugstore in the county and was
opened in 1913.
- Located on the south side of the street this hotel was once a bordello,
but has been converted into a unique and popular eight room bed and breakfast
- This is an old-time saloon with ornate wooden bar, now better known for
its fashionable western wear. The Maverick is one of the oldest building
along Exchange Avenue.
THE WHITE ELEPHANT SALOON
- Fort Worth had its most notorious gunfight here in the White Elephant
Saloon. The saloon’s owner, Luke Short, outdrew and killed popular “Longhair”
Jim Courtwright, a former Fort Worth city marshal.. The gunfight is re-enacted
each February 8 in the street in front of the saloon. The saloon is also
noted for its collection of hats and for the owner’s collection of white
- A short alleyway just east of the White Elephant Saloon leads to an attractive
overlook of Marine Creek, which has watered many a thirsty herd. The wooden
gates that were used when horses were stabled under the building are still
HORSE AND MULE BARNS
- These stables were large enough to house 3,00 horses and mules. They
were rebuilt in 1912 after a fire destroyed the original wooden structures.
The new fireproof bars were declared the finest stables in the world.
- This passageway separates the two strings of horse and mule barns. This
was the world’s busiest horse and mule trading center during World War
I. The animals were needed for the war in Europe. Sales jumped from about
47,000 per year in 1914 to over 115,000 in 1917. By 1919, the sales had
shrunk back to about 60,000
THE NATIONAL COWGIRL HALL OF FAME- The hall of Fame honors more than
100 women “who will live forever in your memory.” The Cowgirl Hall of Fame
was established in 1975 at Hereford, Texas. In 1994 the directors accepted
a bid to move the collection into historic Barn D at the Stockyards.
THE VISITOR INFORMATION CENTER
- The center offers information on area-wide attractions as well as on
the Stockyards. Also you can sign up here for escorted hour long historic
tours of the Stockyards. Inside is a mural of the Fort Worth Stockyards
that was painted by Stylle Read.
HOG AND SHEEP BARNS -
These barns now are known as the Stockyards Station, because an excursion
steam train chugs right into the building about three times a day. The
barns have been converted into a western shopping mall, but the original
brick floors and some of the remaining gates and pens give it a special
ARMOUR & SWIFT -
At the east end of Exchange Avenue are the remains of the Armour and Swift
packing plants. Armour and Co. was to the north but to a large part has
been demolished. Of particular interest is the old Swift & Company
Headquarters. This is a columned, historic building with stained glass
windows. It is now a popular restaurant - The Old Spaghetti Warehouse.
- Across Exchange Avenue is a small, tin shed that still has a sign that
marks it as a branding shed and testing laboratory.. This was for animals
en route to a new ranch. The animals were tested for disease and marked
with the new owner’s brand. Many brands are still visible here the hot
irons were tested on posts, fences, or the side of the building.
THE BRICK LOT
- West of the branding shed is parking area known as the brick lot. This
area once was covered with cattle pens. The pens were removed and the century-
old bricks now provide an acceptable parking surface.