Did you know that Fort Worth is part of what’s called the Texas Lakes Trail regions, one of the 10 historic Texas areas bisected by the old Chisholm Trail? You probably learned about the Trail in the sixth grade –– it was the central mover of Lone Star beef from Lockhart through North Texas and up though the stockyards in Kansas City. The Trail ran through Downtown Fort Worth and Sundance Square as we know them today.
The Chisholm Trail came up through central Fort Worth from the south along what is now Hemphill Street. Although the Trail was active for about a decade in the post-Civil War Reconstruction, the impact of the influx of cattle, cowboys, and ultimately the railroad which followed in its path shaped our city. In 1923, historic markers were placed along the Trail. A marker remains in Fort Worth’s historic Ryan Place neighborhood.
The Trail entered downtown near what is now the T&P Station –– a hub for rail travel for nearly 90 years, and the location of the T&P Tavern. It traveled along Commerce Street, formerly known as Rust Street, into some pretty rough territory. The bars and brothels of Hell’s Half Acre were the first things that the cattle drovers would see pulling into Fort Worth on the trail, and there are two markers at north end of the Water Garden, referencing the “notorious red light district” spawned by commerce, first from the Chisholm Trail, then from the railroad.
You might sit a spell across the street at the Omni Hotel’s Whiskey and Rye and contemplate the rich history of the area –– outlaws and gamblers from Wyatt Earp to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid spent time in the area. There’s also a Chisholm Trail marker at the Sheraton Hotel.
Just a few blocks north of the Sheraton Hotel and Water Gardens, Acre Distilling & Coffee House will sell you cocktails made with Hell’s Half Acre rum and other assorted spirits that bring up the ghosts of Fort Worth’s outlaw past.
The Santa Fe Freight Station, which is also a national historic site and steps away from Acre Distilling, dates back to the Chisholm Trail days. The railroad was built after a metaphorical bare-knuckles brawl with the City of Dallas for railway supremacy. The building was re-purposed to host the University of Texas at Arlington’s Fort Worth Education Center and Automated Robotics & Research Institute.
Moving into Sundance Square, the Chisholm Trail Mural is probably the most recognizable piece of art celebrating the Trail’s history. The three-story, almost three-dimensional tromp l’oeil mural on the historic Jett Building celebrates Fort Worth’s cattle connections. Rumor has it that the building’s haunted by the shades of a pale woman and a cowboy dressed in black.
While you’re pondering this, you’ll be within easy walking distance of Bird Café, Del Frisco’s Grille, Taco Diner, The Flying Saucer, and at least two dozen other restaurants. Don't miss the newly renovated Main Street Visitor Center's permanent exhibit, A Brief History of Fort Worth, curated by the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History.
Conveniently nearby, The Sid Richardson Museum is hosting "Hide & Horn on the Chisholm Trail" through the end of May. The exhibit features artifacts from the cattle drives during the Trail years, including a drovers’ map that dates back to 1873. Thanks to the legacy of the legendary oilman/philanthropist Richardson, admission to the museum is free.
The historic Tarrant County Courthouse was an extravagant-for-its-time creation of red granite built just after the last days of the Chisholm Trail. Near the courthouse, you’ll find a statue of a panther catnapping on the grounds. The panther became the city’s symbol in 1873, as a nationwide depression threatened the cattle business, and pretty much everything else.
Finally, the “Eastern Cattle Trail” marker at the end of Commerce Street in Heritage Park is made of stone dug from the Trinity River bed. The marker commemorates the area where the cattle were rested in the relative safety of the grassy hills prior to being taken across the Trinity River to the Stockyards.