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Fort Worth Stockyards Keeps the Old West Alive

The sounds of saloon singers, lowing cattle and jingling spurs still echo on Exchange Avenue in the Stockyards National Historic District. But they aren’t ghosts of past inhabitants. They’re real.

The area grew as a satellite of Old Fort Worth, located 2.5 miles to the south of the Stockyards. Fort Worth first was settled in 1849 as an outpost along the Trinity River. It became a stop for cowboys driving cattle from South Texas along the Chisholm Trail to Abilene, Kan.

By 1876, rail lines that extended like spider’s legs from downtown Fort Worth included the Fort Worth Stockyards Belt Railway, which began moving livestock from the Stockyards area to the packing plants.

Within a few years, both Swift and Armour, the country’s two largest meat-packing companies, located packing houses in the Stockyards. The area was the second-largest stockyard in the country and headquarters of several agricultural companies.

Cattle pens extended for nearly a mile and property values were so high in the area, incorporated in 1911 as Niles City, it became known as the “Richest Little Town in the World.”

By the 1960s, the cattle industry slowed, and although the Fort Worth Stockyards continued to function, the area deteriorated. But civic leaders with sentimental attachments to the historic area launched major efforts to restore it. The entire area is on the National Register of Historic Places, a fitting recognition to the great care taken to preserve one of the most beloved attractions in all of Texas.

Today, Western festivals throughout the year commemorate the history of the pioneers who once settled here and celebrate the city’s heritage on the Chisholm Trail.

In shops that line brick-paved Exchange Avenue, craftsmen use time-worn tools to hand-craft saddles, chaps and boots. Some of the finest Western shopping found in America is located here, along with a number of restaurants and saloons to rest your heels.

At the legendary White Elephant Saloon, named one of the Top 100 Bars in America by Esquire magazine, live country music is performed seven nights a week. And the famous 1887 gunfight between the White Elephant’s owner Luke Short and T.I. “Long Hair Jim” Courtwright (a former marshal) is re-enacted on February 8 each year.

The mission-style Cowtown Coliseum (built in 1908) was home of the world’s first indoor rodeo, and hosted performances by Enrico Caruso and Elvis Presley. It’s alive most weekends with professional rodeo competitions and wild west shows.

The Stockyards Hotel (where Bonnie and Clyde once stayed) has been restored to its original splendor, its lobby decorated in “Cattle Baron Baroque.” Within the hotel, the restaurant and saloon sports saddles for bar stools.

The old hog and sheep pens have been restored and now house Stockyards Station, a festival marketplace and depot for the Tarantula Excursion Train. The 165,000-square-foot space has a selection of merchandise varying from art galleries and antiques to clothing, gourmet items and music, and Texas fare to please every palate.

The Western theme reigns throughout the 30-plus shops and restaurants in the marketplace. And a Western-themed amusement park is adjacent to the Station, offering fun rides for kids. No visit to the Stockyards is complete without a horseback ride. Try your skills on horse by taking a gentle trail ride along the banks of the Trinity River. Rides depart from Stockyards Stables.

The Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame, located in the Stockyards’ original mule barns, pays tribute to the cowboys and cowgirls of the Lone Star State. The museum also features the Sterquell Wagon Collection of over 60 authentic wagons, plus several others acquired for display, and the John Justin Trail of Fame.

Named after the myriad rail lines extending from downtown Fort Worth, the Tarantula Excursion Train, with its 1880s steam engine “Puffy,” makes a daily round-trip from Grapevine and cross-city trips into Stockyards Station from its Eighth Avenue depot.

Billy Bob’s Texas, known internationally as the “World’s Largest Honky-Tonk,” features the best in country music entertainment nightly, and live indoor bull-riding each weekend. The Country Music Association and the Academy of Country Music have both honored Billy Bob’s Texas several times with the distinction of “Club of the Year.”

Lawyers, cattle brokers, marketing firms, an art gallery, the North Fort Worth Historical Society and the Stockyards Collection & Museum occupy the Spanish-style Livestock Exchange Building. Livestock auctions are still held here, although now entire herds of cattle are bought and sold by satellite in keeping with today’s technology.

In June 1999 the Stockyards launched yet another unmistakable attraction - the Fort Worth Herd - to celebrate the city’s 150th anniversary celebration. A herd of live Texas longhorns makes its home right in the Stockyards, tended by real cowhands, and is driven down Exchange Avenue twice a day for tourists and locals alike to enjoy.

It’s all a happy reminder that the Old West - its lifestyle, culture and spirit - is thriving in the Stockyards National Historic District.

The information in this report is provided courtesy of the Fort Worth Convention and Visitors Bureau.

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