By: Ashley Kath-Bilsky
As a writer, I often find inspiration for my work in many forms -- music, art, people, and especially places. One of the places that has stirred my imagination for quite some time is the Fort Worth Stockyards National Historic District. In fact, this location plays a pivotal role in my historical western romance entitled Whisper in the Wind.
Located north of Fort Worth, the 98-acre historical district was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. Apart from being the last standing stockyards in the United States, the Historic Fort Worth Stockyards offers visitors a glimpse into the past of Fort Worth, once known as the "Queen City of the Prairie".
Whether you drive to the Stockyards or take the Grapevine Vintage Railroad to the heart of the historic district, you will find everything from authentic cowboys driving cattle through the Stockyards, the infamous White Elephant Saloon, championship rodeos and Pawnee Bill's Wild West Show, to an array of great restaurants like the Hunter Brothers' H3 Ranch,
or shops that offer fine western art, jewelry, furnishings and apparel, including M. L. Leddy's where you can order custom made cowboy boots and saddles.
For those interested in history, there is the Stockyards Museum and the Cowboy Hall of Fame. Here you will be able to learn about the important role the cattle industry and the Stockyards had in Fort Worth's history. It isn't called Cowtown for nothing, you know.
Basically, between 1866 and 1890, cowboys following the Chisholm Trail led more than four million head of longhorn cattle through Fort Worth, the last major stop for rest and supplies before heading into Indian territory. It should be noted that a major attraction for these cowboys was found in Hell's Half Acre, located south of the courthouse and where saloons and bawdy houses could be found...not to mention any number of gunfights and rather rebellious behavior. But I digress...
Back in the heydey of cattle drives, herds were driven north through Fort Worth and just across the Trinity where drovers made camp. In 1876, the railroad came to Fort Worth and the city became a major shipping point. By the latter part of the 19th century, cattle drives beyond Cowtown had all but ceased to exist. (Pictured below: looking south on Main Street from the Courthouse in 1880.)
Realizing the need to establish a more efficient area for shipping cattle, plans were made in 1887 to build the Union Stock Yards in an area about two and a half miles north of the courthouse bluff. However, it was not until 1889 that the area went into operation. Unfortunately, the early days of the Union Stock Yards faced critical challenges, not the least of which was they didn't have funds to attract local ranchers to sell their herds rather than drive them north themselves. But when Union Stockyards's president Mike C. Hurley invited Greenleif Simpson to Fort Worth as a potential investor, the wealthy Bostonian not only saw the potential of the cattle market in Fort Worth, but invited others to join him, including a neighbor back in Boston who just happened to be in the meatpacking business. The Union Stockyards was purchased by Simpson on April 27, 1893, and its name changed to the Fort Worth Stockyards Company.
Rather than ship cattle to other markets, the Fort Worth Stockyards Company realized the more lucrative proposition of establishing a meat packing facility adjacent to the Stockyards. After a lengthy search, Armour & Co., and Swift & Co., decided to build meat packing plants in Fort Worth. Believe it or not, a coin toss decided which company would build its plant adjacent to the Stockyards; Armour won. Swift would build their plant on the more southern tract of land. Construction began in 1902. In addition, a new Livestock Exchange Building (as well as holding pens and barns) also underwent construction in 1902. The Livestock Exchange Building was designed to house several livestock commission companies, telegraph offices, railroad offices and other support businesses. In 1909, this area known as North Fort Worth was incorporated by the City of Fort Worth. The opening of the meat packing companies brought over $6 million to the local economy and Fort Worth's livestock market continued to prosper. In 1907, an indoor show facility was completed in 88 days, just in time for the grand opening of the Feeders & Breeders Show. Known today as the Cowtown Coliseum, the building was the home of the first indoor rodeo and has been used for numerous cultural, social, agricultural and religious events.
Also in 1907, the beautiful Stockyards Hotel opened. Its impressive clientele has included "cowboys and cattle barons, kings and queens of country music, even an outlaw or two" who "journeyed from near and far by foot, horseback, stagecoach, motorcar and plane to enjoy the incomparable hospitality of this premier hotel". Personally, I just love this hotel -- right next door to my favorite restaurant in the Stockyards, the H3.
As I mentioned before, this area provided great inspiration for my recently completed, exciting and wonderfully romantic novel, Whisper in the Wind, and continues to entice me to visit on a regular basis. One of my favorite things to do is take the Grapevine Historic Railroad to the Stockyards, stay over at the Stockyards Hotel, and just live the unique, colorful, and compelling history that is the Fort Worth Historic Stock Yards.
If you want a true taste of Texas, along with some living history that will sweep you back in time, I strongly encourage you to visit this wonderful place.
Besides, where else can you have your photo taken on a longhorn steer. Look at this one, all dressed up for the holidays!
Happy New Year everyone!!!