As a historian who loves the West, loves Texas and especially loves Fort Worth, I’m concerned that the residents of Fort Worth do not realize the importance of the Fort Worth Stockyards to the history of all three of those areas.
Almost immediately after the Civil War ended in 1865, cattlemen in South Texas saw a market in eastern cities for their cattle that, left unattended, had multiplied tremendously during the war.
Prices were low in Texas, $4 per head, but a cow to slaughter in the East would bring $40.
The challenge to transport the $4 animal to the $40 market led to the cattle drives. Fortunately for the small town on the bluff called Fort Worth, the herds came through.
Fort Worth became Cowtown and played a major role in the Texas and national cattle trade.
Smart-thinking local entrepreneurs agreed that creating a market here would boost the economy. A stockyards operation began in the latter 19th century, and owners attracted the two largest meat packing plants in the U.S. —Armour and Swift.
Fort Worth saw its population triple from 25,000 to 75,000 in the decade from 1900 to 1910 because of the livestock market here.
It remained the major economic power for the city for well over half a century, until military and defense surpassed it after the 1940s.
The Fort Worth Stockyards for decades ranked as the largest livestock market in the entire Southwest and the largest south of Kansas City.
Meat packing, with its stockyards and the railroads to bring in the animals, provided the largest business in the country in the latter decades of the 19th century and early 20th.
Once the stockyards began declining and closed, entrepreneurs in Fort Worth spent their own money so that its attractions would entertain locals and also draw tourists.
Of the 8.5 million tourists who visit Fort Worth each year, the Convention and Visitors Bureau estimates that three million, coming from all over the world, want to see the Fort Worth Stockyards.
Back in the late 1970s, we were just hoping that the tourists would come. Now that they are coming, we must assure that modern progress does not destroy the stockyards history that they have some to see.
Fort Worth has the real, authentic thing, the only big stockyards in the country left intact as it once was.
All that remains of the mighty Chicago stockyards is a concrete arch that says “Union Stock Yards.”
Beginning in 1887 when planning and activity began and continuing to 1992 when livestock sales ceased, that 105 years defined Fort Worth, created a unique city and cemented our western image.
Visitors want to see the West, live Longhorn cattle, cowboys and cowgirls on horseback, rodeo events and the setting in which all of those millions of livestock passed through the Fort Worth Stockyards for 105 years.
They don’t want “modern,” they want “historic.”
The Fort Worth City Council should enlarge the Stockyards Historic District to include all of its historic areas, protecting it from the commercialism that would destroy what uniquely exists and made Fort Worth the wonderful western city that it is.
J’Nell Pate, Ph.D., is retired from Tarrant County College in Fort Worth where she taught history and government.