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Press Releases - Colorful Cowboy History of Fort Worth, TX

It is a legacy of pioneers and Indian fighters. Of cowboys and wildcatters. It may appear at first glance that Fort Worth, the city "Where the West Begins," is the stuff of legends. But for Fort Worth, the legends are its history.

What began as a military outpost with a mission to protect settlers and keep the peace between the Comanche, Tonkawas and Caddo Indian tribes gave birth to a town where the spirit to survive outlasted the military's mission. With the open prairie as their backyard, the settlers built a city where today, 150 years later, its western heritage is as alive as the day the longhorns first stampeded through town.

The city was first settled by Major Ripley Arnold in June 1849, one of eight military forts stretching north and south throughout the state to protect settlers in the east from Indian attacks. Fort Worth became a refuge for many of the pioneering settlers moving west. As homesteads went up around the fort, businesses, churches and homes followed. By the time soldiers left Fort Worth in 1852, they left behind a community growing daily as families migrated further west, many choosing to stay in safety of the town on the bluff.

Fort Worth's fortune changed dramatically in the 1860s, and its fate was forever tied to the cattle industry, as the town became an important stop on the Chisholm Trail. The first cattle drive north arrived in Fort Worth in 1866 as hundreds of longhorns thundered through the streets on their way northward to Kansas and the slaughterhouses.

From the moment the first herd of cattle reached its streets, Fort Worth became known as "Cowtown," a label that lives to this day. A new breed of pioneer was also born on its dusty streets: the cowboy. Rough and ragged, these men and boys of the trail drives saw Fort Worth as the last vestige of civilization between the prairies of Texas and the Great Plains of Oklahoma and Kansas. The few saloons and gaming houses in the city prospered, and other establishments soon followed in hopes of drawing the rowdy cowboys to their bars.

At the time of the first drive, Fort Worth was just a few streets and a handful of one-story buildings near the fort site. Over 18 years during the height of the cattle boom, more than three million head of cattle moved north through Fort Worth with more than 35,000 cowboys working the herds. As the cattle moved northward, Fort Worth cattlemen brokered peace with Comanche Chief Quanah Parker to protect their herds in Indian territory. Quanah Parker, whose mother was the white captive Cynthia Parker, became a frequent visitor to Fort Worth and a friend to cattlemen like Burk Burnett.

By the early 1870s, Fort Worth's collection of saloons, gaming houses and brothels had located on the south end of downtown in an area that came to be known as Hell's Half Acre. The red light district was legendary on the Chisholm Trail, drawing some of the West's most notorious criminals and bandits, among them Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the Wild Bunch gang and Sam Bass. Buffalo hunters rode in regularly to replenish their supplies, sell their hides and shoe their horses.

But the Iron Horse had yet to arrive in Fort Worth. A nationwide financial panic stopped construction and the Texas & Pacific Railroad track stopped 24 miles short of Fort Worth.

With their population dwindling, the citizens of Fort Worth rallied together in June 1876 to finish what the railroad started. Working on a deadline and laying track at a rate of one mile per day, Fort Worth's citizens completed the job in time to see the first Texas & Pacific train pull into town on July 19, 1876. With the railroad, stage service and mule-drawn trolleys operating regularly, Fort Worth boomed again. Seventeen years later, there were five more rail lines built into the city, and Fort Worth became the hub of rail service in the southwest.

As the cattle industry evolved with growth in rail transportation, Fort Worth's prosperity next came from underneath the ground when oil strikes in West Texas brought rich oilmen and their millions to the city's banks and other businesses. Meanwhile, Fort Worth businessmen crossed the Trinity River to the north and began establishing meat- packing plants in hopes of pulling some of the slaughterhouse business away from the north. The Fort Worth Stockyards became nationally important in 1902 when the nation's two largest meat companies, Armor and Swift, each opened modern meatpacking plants. The plants drew thousands of immigrants to the north side to work in the plants.

Fort Worth entered the 20th century prospering from its western roots. But the city also began to refine itself as a modern American city. Higher education found its way to the city and by 1910 two universities and a seminary were teaching to full classrooms.

Not wanting to leave its pioneer spirit behind, city leaders and local businessmen like Amon Carter turned their attention to the newest mechanical marvel of the time: the airplane. By the time the city saw its first airplane flight in 1911, Fort Worth was already looking for opportunities to take the sky. Its reputation as an aviation center grew and many fliers came to Fort Worth to train. The Royal Canadian Flying Corps established three flying fields in the area to train World War I pilots.

The city's first municipal airport came along in 1927 and air passenger service was becoming a reality. Fort Worth-based Texas Air Transport opened in 1929, and later grew to become American Airlines. General Dynamics and Bell Helicopter followed in later years making Fort Worth an aviation capital with more than 3,000 B-24 bombers and C-87 cargo aircraft built in the city during World War II.

The post-war years found Fort Worth capitalizing on its strengths as a transportation, business and military center. In the 1960s the Stockyards slowed and the meatpacking plants closed. Cultural pursuits included the development of the city's internationally known museum district, built alongside the Will Rogers Memorial Complex, which opened in 1936, and Casa Maņana Theatre.

As the population expanded out to the suburbs in the 1950s and early 1960s, Fort Worth's once-thriving downtown fell on hard times. What was left of Hell's Half Acre gave way to the Fort Worth Convention Center, in hopes of drawing more visitors to the city. It wasn't until the mid-1980s that downtown saw the beginnings of its remarkable revitalization. The billionaire Bass family began their restoration of historic structures along Main Street's red bricks and new tenants began moving in. The development of the Sundance Square retail and entertainment district saw the rebirth of Fort Worth's glorious central city. Just two miles to the north, the Stockyards found its second wind as businesses capitalized on the tourists' interest in cattle and cowboys by opening new businesses along Exchange Avenue. Today, people are working, living and entertaining in downtown Fort Worth once again. The long silent Stockyards are alive again with the sounds of trains and longhorns as visitors relive the city's western heritage daily. And, 150 years later, Fort Worth has once again proven its pioneering spirit and strength.

FORT WORTH TIMELINE
1849 Fort Worth founded by Major Ripley Arnold
1850 First county elections held
1853 Troops leave Fort Worth and civilians take over abandoned structures
1853 Troops leave Fort Worth and civilians take over abandoned structures
1866 First successful cattle drive on Chisholm Trail through Fort Worth
1876 First train comes to Fort Worth
1887 The last great gunfight of the Old West takes place in Fort Worth as "Long Hair Jim" Courtright is killed by Luke Short
1889 Monnig brothers open first downtown store
1896 Fat Stock Show, later the Southwestern Exposition & Livestock Show and Rodeo, held on the North Side
1902 Swift & Armour companies open meat packing plants in the Stockyards
1909 Fort Worth Zoo opens as the first zoo in Texas
1910 Texas Christian University opens
1911 First airplane flies in Fort Worth
1917 Fort Worth prospers from oil strikes west of the city
1917 Camp Bowie, World War I army training camp, opens
1927 Charles A. Lindbergh flies into Fort Worth
1936 Original Casa Maņana theater and Will Rogers Coliseum open
1961 The Amon Carter Museum, highlighting western art, opens
1961 The Amon Carter Museum, highlighting western art, opens
1952 WBAP, first television station in Texas, goes on the air in Fort Worth
1963 President John F. Kennedy delivers his last public speech in Fort Worth before leaving for Dallas
1969 Fort Worth resident and astronaut Alan Bean walks on the moon
1973 Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport opens
1981 Downtown Fort Worth revitalization begins
1991 Stockyards revitalization capped by arrival of Tarantula Steam Train
1997 Texas Motor Speedway, second largest U.S. sports facility, opens
1998 Nancy Lee and Perry R. Bass Performance Hall opens downtown
1999 Fort Worth Herd daily cattle drives begin in the Historic Stockyards


Fort Worth Convention and Visitors Bureau