As we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Chisholm Trail, it’s especially fitting to talk about the path that the original Trail carved through what we now call the Stockyards National Historic District.
At the time of Trail, the Main Street Bridge did not exist for cowboys to herd cattle across the Trinity River.
If you can picture this, Samuels Avenue was the north entrance to the city. Historic homes lined the route and it was in this area that some of the cattle were bedded down to allow time to resupply before going north. Fort Worth was the last comfortable rest between Texas and “Indian Country.” Over the nearly two decades of operation, an estimated four million cattle were herded up the Trail. No wonder they call Fort Worth “Cowtown!”
Chief Quanah Parker’s legacy is intricately linked to the history of the Trail and the Fort Worth cattle industry. The Chisholm Trail drove through Comanche territory, and cattle drovers who trespassed were subject to raiding parties. But Parker, who was a successful rancher, leased land to ranchers to hold their cattle. You can view a statue dedicated to the last Comanche chief in front of the Hyatt Place Stockyards Hotel.
Hispanic cattlemen also played a significant role on the cattle drives. The vaqueros developed the techniques for handling cattle on the long, dusty drives. The Vaquero de Fort Worth statue located on the corner of North Main Street and Central Avenue pays homage to this.
The Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame has a standing Chisholm Trail exhibit with authentic saddles, spurs, hats, guns, chaps and maps. The “Adventures of the Cowboy Trail” exhibit features three hands-on stations where little buckaroos can learn about branding, chuck wagons, and how a cowboy would pack for the long trail ride.
Many of The Texas Trail of Fame bronze markers embedded in the streets around the Fort Worth Stockyards have been dedicated to people who helped make the Chisholm Trail history, including: Jesse Chisholm and the venerable trail driver Oliver Loving and his business partner Charles Goodnight who was credited with inventing the chuck wagon. You’ll find a star for Stagecoach Mary Fields, a woman born into slavery who became a stagecoach driver for the U.S. Postal Service. The Texas Trail of Fame also honors modern day folks who keep the history of the Trail and the Stockyards alive and vibrant, like the jovial Steve Murrin, the unofficial mayor of the Stockyards.
A living embodiment of life on the Chisholm Trail, the Fort Worth Herd honors the industry the city is rooted in. Everything the drovers wear, from chaps to hats, is authentic to the time period. The world’s only twice-daily cattle drive occurs daily at 11:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. You’ll get a great view of the action from the lawn of the Livestock Exchange Building or from an outdoor patio of one of several Stockyards Station restaurants like Habanero’s Grill and Cantina.
After the trail drives ended in the late 1880s, Fort Worth leaders sought to establish a strong position in the cattle industry by formally establishing the Fort Worth Stockyards a decade later to take advantage of rail lines serving the city. The first Stock Show and Rodeo was held outdoors alongside Marine Creek in 1896, bordering what is now the Historic Stockyards and not too far from River Ranch Stockyards. In 1908, the Cowtown Coliseum was constructed to house the Stock Show and Rodeo. It was the home of the world’s first indoor rodeo a decade after opening, and currently is home to the world’s only year-round rodeo. Elvis Presley even played there to a rowdy crowd of 7,000 in 1956.
Although Riscky’s Steakhouse doesn’t date back to the Chisholm Trail days, it’s arguably the oldest surviving area restaurant, dating back to the 1930s. Rumor has it that calf fries got their start as an appetizer here; it makes sense considering the local meat packing industry and waste-not, want-not time between the Great Depression and World War II. The venerable Cattlemen’s Steakhouse arrived a decade later.
The Livestock Exchange Building used to be the site of daily auctions of the cattle herded to Fort Worth. So much money was once trafficked through this area that it was referred to as “The Wall Street of the West.” These days, the building is home to the area’s historical society because most cattle are sold online. Companies like Superior Livestock now facilitate auctions all over the country via their internet site. This kind of livestock auction ultimately causes less stress and fewer health problems for the animals, and less time in transport for the ranchers.
To learn more about the time when cattle was king in Fort Worth, take advantage of the Stockyards Adventure Pass. It packages admission to the following with a historical walking tour of the district:
- Admission to Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame
- Admission to Stockyards Museum
- Daytime Admission to Billy Bob's Texas and Photo Bull Souvenir
- Spirit of the West video at Stockyards Visitor Center
- Fort Worth Herd Cattle Drive