For over 140 years, Fort Worth, Texas has fully earned its nickname, “Cowtown.” So, if you’ve come to Texas for a taste of the Old West, this is the place.
From the late 1870s until the mid 1980s, the Fort Worth Stockyards (817/625-9715) was a major business, drawing cattle from all over the state.
Originally it was a provisioning stop for the trail drives going north to the railheads in Kansas. In 1876, when the railroad came to town, cattle were brought for sale and slaughter at the meat packing houses which grew up nearby.
Depending on the wind, there was a distinctive odor to downtown Fort Worth, 3 miles south, which led its Dallas neighbors to hold and look down their noses at their neighbor to the west. While the odor is long gone, the stockyards, now mainly inactive, remain, and the legacy of the West lives on proudly in Fort Worth and makes it a fun place to visit.
Exploring the History of Fort Worth’s Cattle Industry
You can start at Stockyards Station (817/625-9715) with the walking tour of the Stockyard Historic District on the way to the world’s only twice-daily cattle drive, where the resident longhorns of the Fort Worth Herd are driven by cowboys/cowgirls down Exchange Avenue through the stockyards. On Friday and Saturday afternoons, volunteer cowboys/cowgirls hold a Cow Camp, where they demonstrate the tools and techniques to work cattle in the 1800s.
Families will enjoy the Cowtown Cattlepen Maze (817/624-6666), where kids race to navigate the routes through the labyrinth of pens while parents watch and photograph from an elevated viewing platform.
At the Stockyards Museum (817/625-5087), photos and artifacts trace the history of the stockyards from the trails drives of the 1870s to the peak years of the forties and through the declining years of the 1980s.
Real Texan Cowboy Attractions in Ft. Worth
Housed in the old horse and mule building, the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame (817/626-7131) pays tribute to over 70 outstanding cowboys and cowgirls with individual booths devoted to each (George Strait and Willie Nelson are included). There’s also a major collection of period wagons and an exhibit devoted to the history of the local Justin boots company. There is also a children’s interactive Exploratorium.
Don’t leave the building without a stop at the Jersey Lilly Old Time Photo Parlor (817/626-7131), where you can dress in period western costumes for a classic family photo.
Every Friday and Saturday night, you will definitely want to see the Stockyards Championship Rodeo (888/COWTOWN (296-8696) in the Cowtown Coliseum. It’s the real deal, with bull riding, roping, barrel racing, rodeo clowns, and more.
If you’re visiting in the summer or on many major holiday weekends, Pawnee Bill’s Wild West Show plays on Friday and Saturday afternoons. It’s a re-enactment of the original show of that name which played the Coliseum in 1909, still offering trick roping, trick shooting, trick riding, cowboy songs and an entertaining look at history.
Before or after the rodeo, head over to nearby Billy Bob’s Texas (817/624-7117), now in its 25th year as the self-proclaimed world’s largest (and a PG version) honky-tonk. Welcoming of families, it’s a three-acre extravaganza, famous for its legendary bar-BQ and its own indoor rodeo arena with professional bull-riding every night. There’s a Texas-scale dance floor for those Texas two-steppers, a game arcade, bar stations, regular concerts and more. This is one honky-tonk not to be missed. Lunch is also served, but the festive level is greatly subdued and the bulls are resting for the evening.
Fort Worth Fun-for-Kids Cultural Highlights
In the same historical vein as the Stockyards, the Log Cabin Village (817/392-5881) is a living history museum in a park setting presenting rural Texas life in the mid- to late-1800s.
You won’t see heritage animals or cows, but one of the Dallas-Fort Worth area’s top attractions is the Fort Worth Zoo. Kids and the young at heart will love the layout, because in addition to the natural habitats that most of the varied creatures live in, there are learning stations, a rock-climbing tower, a pretty carousel and a miniature train. Allow time to check out the new Museum of Living Art, with frogs, lizards and other crawly things almost too colorful to be real.
For those wanting to broaden their cultural palette, the nearby Fort Worth Cultural District encompasses six museums. The Amon Carter Museum has one of the most comprehensive collections of works by noted Western artists Frederic Remington and Charles M. Russell, but in recent years has built a world-class collection covering early 19th century through the 20th century. The highly regarded collection of the Kimbell Art Museum ranges further across the centuries and globe.
And if you’re still hungry for things western, visit the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame (817/336-4475), “honoring women of the American West who have displayed extraordinary courage and pioneer spirit in their trail blazing efforts”.
If the kids are restless by now and need a theme park fix, take a break from the west and head east 20 minutes to the twin treats of Six Flags Over Texas and Six Flags Hurricane Island, both located in nearby Arlington and open spring, summer and early fall.
Rodeo of Champions in Mesquite
If you want to add another course to your Western immersion program, you can drive to and through Dallas 12 miles east for an evening at the Mesquite Championship Rodeo (972/285-8777).
There are certainly many rodeos performed every summer weekend all over the country, but there is just one Mesquite Championship Rodeo. Founded in 1958, this half-centenarian is by now an authentic Texas institution. It’s recently undergone a change in ownership, leading to a resultant refreshing of the rodeo format, electronics, and excitement level.
Fans come from far and wide to watch the high-level practice of the rodeo arts. Football style video coverage includes instant replays of the action, interviews with the cowboys, and a lively scoreboard show. You’ll experience exciting bull-riding, saddle bronc riding, tie-down roping, barrel racing and more, in a comfortable, air-conditioned arena. Sonny Bryan’s Barbeque Pavillion serves up mouth-watering BBQ to round out the evening. The rodeo runs through summer months, as well as two days each at Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Trip Planning Details for Fort Worth Texas
While you’re in the Dallas side of the area, take the family to explore the Children’s Museum at the Museum of Nature & Science in the historic Texas State Fair Grounds. Adults and kids can also enjoy the Nasher Sculpture Museum and Dallas Museum of Art, both found downtown, not far from the Sixth Floor Museum, a private museum devoted to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. This fascinating small museum is housed in the Texas Book Depository Building, from whose window Lee Harvey Oswald is alleged to have shot President Kennedy in 1963. For a different behind-the-scenes look, grab the family and head over to Cowboys Stadium, home of the legendary Dallas Cowboys.
If you want to sleep western, then stay in the Stockyards Hotel (800/423-8471; ), located right in the Stockyard complex. As you might expect, the theme is western.
We understand that most families will rent a car to sightsee in the enormous Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. But in the last few years, the public Fort Worth Bike Sharing set up a fleet of 300 bikes to use for local transport, so definitely give them a try when you’re downtown. For more information on the Dallas – Forth Worth area, visit the site of the The Fort Worth Convention & Visitors Bureau.
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