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 a fort.

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 Fort Worth.

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.


- 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.


- 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.


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.


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 acres.


- 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.


- 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.


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.


- 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.


- 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.


- 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.


- 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.


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 “hotel”.


- 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.


- 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 elephants.


- 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 in place.


- 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 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.


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 flavor.


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.


- 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.