No longer just a cow town –
Fort Worth has several destination districts: Cultural, Southside, Sundance, and Zoo. I’m most intrigued by the perceived grittier Stockyard district.
The Stockyards National Historic District features Fort Worth’s western heritage, including daily cattle drives, museums, shops, year-round rodeo, and Billy Bobs Texas – the world’s largest honky-tonk.
Fort Worth became the westernmost railhead and a transit point for cattle shipments. It was home to the biggest meatpacking firms at the time, Armour and Swift.With the boom times came a variety of entertainments and related problems. Fort Worth had a knack for separating cattlemen from their money. Cowboys took full advantage of their last brush with civilization before the long drive on the Chisholm Trail from Fort Worth up north to Kansas. They stocked up on provisions from local merchants, visited saloons for a bit of gambling and carousing, then galloped northward with their cattle only to whoop it up again on their way back. The town soon became home to “Hell’s Half-Acre“, the biggest collection of saloons, dance halls, and brothels south of Dodge City.
A light bulb moment
While waiting for the daily cattle drive, I venture through the myriad of shops and attractions. My favorite shop is the beef jerky shop. While chewing on a piece of the newly acquired black peppered prime rib jerky, I watch some participants trying to negotiate a corral maze. The spectators’ platform gives a birdseye view of the “gerbils” below. I see a longhorn steer on the sidewalk down the way that couldn’t escape my attention. His cowboy attendant was happy to let visitors saddle up while he took the pictures. A $5 bargain in my book.
Looking for more details on the district, I check out the visitors center. Overhearing the attendant point other visitors to the Stockyard Museum. Static displays don’t normally excite me but when she says they have the 2nd oldest burning light bulb in the world, I had to go check it out.
The Yodeling Cowgirl
The Museum is a small venue and at only $2 admission I don’t hesitate, for some reason, a light bulb burning for 109 years piques my interest. I notice a scavenger hunt advertised for the children who visit the
museum. With the offer of a free prize for answering all 12 questions, I am on board. Finding the answers to most questions easily, but I was struggling to find out the needed info on Tad Lucas. I inquire for a hint on learning of Tad’s claim to fame.
One of the museum attendants escorts me to the display with the info I seek. She then offers, “I wrote a song about Tad Lucas”. “Oh, that’s cool”, I half-heartedly reply as I write down that Tad was a famous female rodeo trick rider. “Would you like to hear it?” she presses. Now, I have just finished my scavenger hunt and am ready to claim my prize, but don’t know how to eloquently exit the situation. “Sure”, I utter. She disappears into a back room later returning with a borrowed a guitar. I am blown away by her musical biography of Tad’s life. Her voice fills the small museum, and her personality could fill the county.
It’s not until after this rendition that the curator of the museum mentions that the singer is Devon Dawson; the Grammy Award-winning, Opry house singing, Jessie the Yodeling Cowgirl from the Toy Story 2 CD distributed by Disney. After being treated to “You have A friend in Me”, I get the finale with Jessie the Yodeling Cowgirl.https://youtu.be/gyxRwA0Q1hw
I gather my scavenger hunt completion prize, a refrigerator magnet featuring the aforementioned light bulb. I’m doubtful that anything the stockyards may have in store after this could begin to compare the personal impromptu concert I just had the pleasure of attending. I am often amazed at the little jewels of interesting people and things that our country has to offer. It’s moments like this that I have in mind to find when embarking upon fulltime travel.
Get along little doggie
After exiting the museum, crowds are forming along the sides of the now closed Exhibition Street. I hear a clamor down the block as the calls and hoof clomps begin nearing. A herd of about a dozen longhorn cattle makes their way past the shops, cafes, and museum for the couple of blocks to their holding pens. The whole cattle drive is over quickly but the bovines are magnificent. Displaying their patches of browns, reds, and whites with their impossible to miss horns extending 6 feet from tip-to-tip.
I complete my visit to the Stockyards with an indoor rodeo, featured every Friday and Saturday night. The two-hour show features bull riding, tie-down roping, team roping, barrel racing, bronc riding and breakaway roping. Plus, a calf and mutton scramble for the kids! Though billed as a competition the event is more of a show. The announcer is humorous and I get close-up views of real, and seemingly angry, bulls tossing 180-pound men around like rag dolls. I admire the guys that strap themselves onto the thing; though only one lasted the full 8 seconds.
The streets bustle with activity in The Stockyards at night, an amusement park is nearby, lines form for the restaurants, stages of musicians perform, and carriage rides are offered. Far from its tawdry cowtown days, The Stockyards are a great historic and entertainment destination.