Taking Stock at the Stockyards
The Fort Worth Stockyards constitute an iconic symbol of Texas' role in the building of the "western myth." One of those myths is that
Texas is a western state. For most of its history, this former Spanish colony relied, economically, on slavery and cotton.
Cattle driving into
Missouri constituted an important, but relatively minor, business activity prior to the Civil War.

But after the Civil War, many events converged to make cattle driving a booming economic activity for Texas. One was the abundance of
feral longhorn cattle. Secondly, railroad companies were building west with the assistance of the federal government, which wanted to
entice Americans to settle in the Great Plains. To do this, the Plains Indian tribes had to be forced onto the reservations that the US had
set up during and after the war. Lastly, Joseph McCoy
blazed a dedicated trail from Indian Territory into Abilene, Kansas to bring the
longhorn to railheads that linked with eastern markets, like Kansas City and Chicago.

With all this activity, wealth could be gained in a much easier fashion than before the Civil War. Instead of wealth being counted in the
number of persons owned and the amount of acreage they could cultivate, anyone who knew how to swing a rope (and had registered a
brand) could catch themselves a dogie, mosey along beef trails into Indian Territory, sell some cows to the reservations, and then ship
them to the slaughterhouses in the big cities.*

Cattle trailing had a very limited shelf life, however. The railroads did not stay away from Texas, of course, and by the turn of the 20th
century, it became much easier to ship processed beef via refrigerated rail car to customers.**

This is when the Fort Worth Stockyards were born. In 1889, live cattle were sent to their ultimate doom on railroad lines that had
supplanted the cattle trail that had passed north of Fort Worth, along the Trinity River, just a few years earlier. Then, in 1893, a couple of
investors from Boston, Massachusetts saw the potential of Fort Worth as a processed meat shipping center. They incorporated as the
Fort Worth Stockyards Company and lured Armour and Swift, two major meat processors, to set up shop on the eastern end of the yards.

* With the advent of barbed wire, this rather democratic form of wealth building ceased almost immediately. Cattle could no longer be trailed if water
sources were fenced in, and large ranches replaced the trail driver as the major supplier of beef cattle.
** Joseph McCoy knew this very early on, and invested the money he had made in cattle shipping into a reefer company that was located in
Texas - the first north-south railroad connection in Texas.
Like Chicago, St. Louis, and Kansas City, Fort Worth became a major livestock and futures market, especially for customers out west. For
almost eighty years, the Fort Worth Stockyards provided a major economic engine for the growth of the Texas economy. Though labor
troubles persisted in the Armour and Swift plants, they nonetheless provided employment for least three generations of Fort Worthians,
many of whom came as immigrants to find work on the slaughter floors. They didn't just handle cattle, either. The stockyards became the
final destination for millions of sheep and pigs, as well. Horses and mules were traded here, too; the stockyards were considered "the
Wall Street of the West."

By the 1970s, however, the Forth Worth Stockyards fell on hard times. With the influx of cheap meats from South America and Asia and the
demise of shipping on the railroads, the American meat packing industry declined. The stockyards could have been all but a memory had
Charlie and Sue McCafferty not chartered the
North Fort Worth Historical Society, which preserved the history of the buildings by
obtaining inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. In the 1980s, a museum opened in the Livestock Exchange
Building, and the Stockyards grew into an internationally renowned tourist destination. It's in a state of "arrested decay," which makes it
that much more appealing to historians like me.

In 2015, a
California company purchased the rights to develop the northern and eastern sections of the stockyards. Many of the indelible
but time-worn landmarks - such as the Swift ruins - will be demolished. So make time to seek out the Stockyards, as much of their
originality might be erased, soon.
The cattle, horse, and mule pens sit behind the Livestock Exchange Building.
A little piggy is commemorated in the tunnels of the Stockyards Station, where sheep and swine were funneled underground to the Armour and
Swift plants.
An old guard tower stands sentinel over the now-silent Swift Packing Plant.
Weigh station on the north side of the Stockyards. This structure may also go away if the developers receive permission to tear it down and
build hotels, apartments, and other things instead.
The Swift Plant's days are numbered, as a California corporation has bought rights to develop this property.
Beneath East Exchange Street is a river walk. Not everyone realizes this place is here; it's a great area to escape the tourist crowds.
Entrance to the sheep/pig "subway" on the southeast side of the Stockyards.
The best burgers at the Stockyards are inside Miss Molly's Bed and Breakfast - the Star Cafe - on West Exchange Avenue. It's also supposed
to be haunted, so there's a good chance you'll get a side order of screams.
Cattle used to bed down here as they were driven up the trail to Abilene, Kansas. Now, a trail system links downtown Fort Worth to the
Stockyards along the Trinity River.
Isn't the notorious "Hell's Half Acre" inside the Stockyards? No, it's not. Hell's Half Acre - Fort Worth's fabled
vice district - was situated in the southeastern portion of Fort Worth, between Lancaster Avenue and 8th Street,
where the Convention Center is now located. You can read more about
"naughty Tarrant County" if you're so
inclined, because the place where the West began sure has a fantastically devious past!
Update: The National Trust for Historic Preservation has listed the Fort Worth Stockyards as one of the 11
most-endangered historic sites in the U.S.
Questions or comments? E-mail me: robin@redriverhistorian.com
Aerial photo, mid-century, of the Fort Worth Stockyards, looking at the northeastern portion. The Livestock Exchange is in the middle,
surrounded by cattle and horse pens. The Armour plant and the trains make up the northern edge of the yards. The low buildings on the right
housed sheep and goats. (Cattle Raisers Museum)
The Swift Plant on the southeastern edge of the Fort Worth Stockyards was the site of a number of labor strikes. Its renovated administration
building still stands. (North Fort Worth Historical Society).