The Fort Worth Stockyards
Looking for a fun Texas experience, we decided to visit the Stockyards during a short stay in Fort Worth. It was my first visit to the city and I was looking forward to seeing its skyline. For some reason, I expected the downtown area to be very nearly the same size as Dallas. It’s actually much smaller.
We didn’t stop in downtown Fort Worth but continued to an older version of town, an area through which cowboys once drove large herds of longhorns, on their way much further north.
Texans and non Texans alike think of cattle herds and cowboys when they imagine Texas of old. The era of the great cattle drives in the 1800s is long gone, yet most of us have a sense of how it would have looked and sounded thanks to a number of western movies. It must have been an impressive sight to see a large dust producing herd moving toward you! The era of the cattle drives is long past, but at least there is a place you can visit to see it reenacted.
I had read about the twice a day cattle drive and had imagined a herd of 100 or more longhorns running down the street. That turned out to be pure fantasy. There were about 25 longhorns making their way down East Exchange Avenue with maybe five cowboys guiding them down the short stretch of road for their performance. Think I was disappointed? Not at all! It seemed very clear afterwards that allowing a large herd of cattle through town would be too much of a risk. The longhorns are tough animals and well suited to surviving the hardships of a long cattle drive, but they are also known for a tendency to stampede.
The Fort Worth Stockyards are the last standing stockyards in the United States. As such, it seems very right that the memory of the cattle drives is kept alive here. The cowboys that ride with the cattle are volunteers and I imagine the longhorns selected for the job are chosen based on a predictable temperament.
Seeing the small herd ambling its way down the street is wonderfully impressive. You just aren’t likely to see something like that very often. I worried a little that the herd would be moving fast, and that I would have a hard time getting some good pictures, but that just wasn’t the case. There was plenty of time to take it all in and also get a lot of pictures.
The crowd lining both sides of the street seemed to enjoy the experience as much as we did. There were certainly more people than I would have expected on a Thursday afternoon. I had read that the cattle drive draws mainly tourists and had expected to hear a lot of different languages but that wasn’t the case. The crowd seemed mainly to be made up of Americans.
Once the herd had passed us, we decided to take a closer look at the town, which has historic district status. In this generally flat area of Texas, we enjoyed the novelty of walking up a hill at the western end of town. Stores and restaurants line the streets, offering plenty to see.
After enjoying a few beers, followed by a good barbecue dinner, we made our way back to the Stockyards Hotel where we had reserved a room for the night. If you visit, I would recommend staying there. The hotel opened in 1907 and has a very authentic feel to it. If you’ve arrived to relive something of the past, you might as well make sure your accommodations match the time period.