Bud Kennedy

In the middle of the Fort Worth Stockyards, a mural showed a lynching. That’s not all.

Fort Worth Stockyard mural depicts ‘the dark times’ in Tarrant County’s history

The La Plaza Building at the Stockyards has numerous murals painting along its walls. One, labeled "The Dark Times," is likely to make tourists pause. The mural, commissioned by Mike Costanza, depicts a lynching, slavery and Klansmen.
Up Next
The La Plaza Building at the Stockyards has numerous murals painting along its walls. One, labeled "The Dark Times," is likely to make tourists pause. The mural, commissioned by Mike Costanza, depicts a lynching, slavery and Klansmen.

For 20 years, millions of Fort Worth Stockyards tourists have walked beneath a mural of slaves, hooded Ku Klux Klansmen and lynchings.

The La Plaza Building of small museums and retail shops, 2513 Rodeo Plaza, is lined with murals depicting Fort Worth history, from cattle drives and trains to 20th-century scenes.

Until Friday, La Plaza displayed another more complicated mural. It was labeled “The Dark Times.”

The day this column was published, the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame covered the pre-Civil War scenes of slave trading, whippings, the 1860 Dallas lynching of an enslaved African American man and the 1860 Fort Worth lynchings of two white men who opposed slavery. One was a Methodist minister.

Stockyards investor Mike Costanza Sr., a former La Plaza owner, sold the building and murals to the Cowboy Hall. He said he commissioned the murals and wrote the four-page history posted beneath “The Dark Times.”

It describes slavery as inhuman and the treatment of slaves as brutal.

But it also says falsely: “Slavery was not an issue that caused the Civil War.”

‘People have always objected’

Costanza and partners bought La Plaza in 1994 and added the murals in 1998-99. The former Merchants Exhibit Building was built in 1910 for the annual Stock Show, then in the Stockyards.

“I’m the one who wrote that history,” Costanza said by phone.

He said he included it because “Slavery was a bad time in America. It was a bad time in the country. .... I can’t undo history.”

Costanza said he gathered the details from local history books.

(That’s a problem. Even well into the 20th Century, most Texas and local histories ignored neutrality and took a pro-Southern view.)

IMG-9812.JPG
A confrontation between Ku Klux Klan like hooded riders and farmers is also shown in “The Dark Times.” Bud Kennedy bud@star-telegram.com

I’d never seen the mural. But others had.

“People have always objected to the mural,” he said.

“They should see the dark times and they should never repeat that again.”

Local historian Quentin McGown remembered the mural but not the text.

“In light of recent national conversations, the text is particularly out of touch,” he wrote by email.

In 1861, when Texas seceded from the Union, the official state declaration gave the cause as “protecting the institution known as negro slavery — the servitude of the African to the white race.”

A Dallas slave, a Johnson County minister

The Dallas lynching of “Uncle” Cato Miller, one of three enslaved African American men falsely accused of starting a downtown fire during a series of Texas arsons, is oddly included.

The garish scene shows him hanging from a gallows in front of a sign: “Fort Worth 40 miles.”

IMG-9806.JPG
A sign behind lynching witnesses locates it in Dallas, not Fort Worth. Bud Kennedy bud@star-telegram.com

Costanza’s explanation: “It was a tale of two cities. Fort Worth was a more just place than Dallas.”

But the mural also shows two dangling skeletons in Fort Worth.

One is the remains of the Rev. Anthony Bewley, a Methodist minister from a Johnson County pastorate. Bewley was lynched two months after Miller, accused of opposing slavery and organizing resistance.

Alongside is the skeleton of William H. Crawford, described as a Fort Worth bricklayer accused of helping Bewley organize against slavery. The two men were actually hanged weeks apart.

“In Tarrant County, the people got together and they [hanged] the agitators,” Costanza said, using a term straight from 1860.

So Fort Worth hanging two men for political dissent is better than Dallas hanging someone on false accusations?

Only in the Stockyards, and only on “The Dark Times.”

IMG-9796.JPG
One mural depicts Major League Baseball stars at a Fort Worth Cats game. Bud Kennedy bud@star-telegram.com

Artist Jo Eisenrich, of Hico, wrote by email that she painted the mural for Costanza but felt “VERY uncomfortable.”

She painted 28 of the 30-plus murals, she said.

“The Dark Times” was “part of my job. ... I would rather have not had to paint it,” she wrote.

‘Sobering, tragic and potentially disrespectful’

The mural’s depiction of the cruelty shown toward slaves is accurate, said Estrus Tucker, a Fort Worth consultant and former chairman of the Human Relations Commission. But the mural lacks context and any repentance or regret.

“I am not offended, but I am sure some African Americans and others, local and visitors, would be offended if they saw it,” Tucker wrote by email.

“I find it sobering, tragic and potentially disrespectful. ... What’s the story that’s being told? There’s no such thing as being neutral.”

Don’t worry about the mural’s future.

In March, the Cowboy Hall of Fame bought the building. The Cowboy Hall is raising $8 million to remodel its new home.

The murals are not in the plans and all will come down, a spokeswoman said.

Friday was not soon enough.

Related stories from Fort Worth Star Telegram

Columnist Bud Kennedy is a Fort Worth guy who covered high school football at 16 and has moved on to two Super Bowls, seven political conventions and 16 Texas Legislature sessions. First on the scene of a 1988 DFW Airport crash, he interviewed passengers running from the burning plane. He made his first appearance in the paper before he was born: He was sold for $600 in the adoption classifieds.
  Comments