It’s only 10:30 a.m. and the thermometer reads 40 C. Standing in the shade of a tall tree provides minimal relief on this cloudless morning. Several large fans blessedly blow mist nearby, ever so slightly taking the edge off the heat.
While downing countless water bottles, my family and I stand alongside a cobblestone street in Fort Worth, Texas, as the crowd begins to build around us. Lined up along the sides of East Exchange Street, people of all ages and backgrounds come to the Fort Worth Stockyards to watch the Fort Worth cattle drive. This vestige of the Old West repeats itself twice daily, much as it has for over a century.
With cameras and phones at the ready, several hundred people have come to witness the spectacle, oblivious to the scorching heat. At promptly 11 a.m., we’re ushered onto the curb by Fort Worth police in 10-gallon cowboy hats, who warn us not to walk out in the street.
Within a few minutes, the crack of whips travelling faster than Mach One can be heard nearby. Ever so slowly, the herd is arriving.
Marching down the street, some 20 steer stay together. These half-ton Texas longhorns are an impressive sight, with sets of horns measuring nearly seven feet across. Responding to commands from cowboys and their whips, the herd passes by and is led back to the holding pen for their march later in the day.
This scene epitomizes Fort Worth. Very appropriately nicknamed Cowtown, the Old West depicted in movies and television shows of yesteryear lives on here. From the downtown mural depicting the legendary Chisholm Trail to circa 1908 Cowtown Coliseum, Fort Worth relishes its historic past.
When visiting Fort Worth, you might expect the city’s residents to ride horses and use spittoons. While Old West culture is cherished, the city has embraced modernity without losing its identity. Tree lined streets complement the modern downtown area with remarkable beauty. And while comparisons with nearby Dallas are inevitable, Fort Worth has a solid edge in history and overall appeal.
Endless western wear clothing stores line the streets, some with very high-end designer apparel. The ubiquitous souped up pickup trucks roar along Houston Street every night, oblivious to the racket that can be heard for blocks away. Residents just take it in stride. Chances are they have a loved one that drives a Ford F-150 or the coveted Dodge Ram Texas Edition.
Approaching someone on the street for directions, you’re likely to receive a suspicious glare followed by “Can I help you?” in a deep Texas drawl. In a place that flies its state flag from every possible corner, and school children recite the pledge of allegiance to the flag of Texas every morning, initial suspicion of outsiders is hardly surprising.
What we found, was, initial greetings aside, Texans quickly warm to visitors with genuine southern hospitality.
Our visit included a stay at the Hilton Fort Worth. Formerly known as the Hotel Fort Worth, it was here that former U.S. president John F. Kennedy spent his final night, prior to his assassination in nearby Dallas the following day. During a speech given in front of the hotel that rainy morning in November 1963, Kennedy remarked “There are no faint hearts in Fort Worth.” A statue of Kennedy and memorial to his legacy stand in the spot where he stood that morning.
Visiting Billy Bob’s Texas – the World’s Largest Honky Tonk is a surprising amount of fun. Occupying several buildings adjacent to the historic Stockyards, Billy Bob’s offers mechanical bull riding, endless pool tables, arcade games and is even a concert venue. Country music acts regard playing at Billy Bob’s as akin to playing the Grand Ole Opry. Dozens of country music stars have lent handprint moulds that grace the walls of the entrance area.
Of course, being the gateway to the Old West means that Fort Worth has a legendary rodeo. Every week, cowboys from all over North America descend on the Coliseum to compete in bull riding and steer roping competitions. The competitive nature of these events, along with cash prizes, entices participants to lay it all on the line while risking life and limb. These daredevils are often carried out with broken bones while seeking their eight seconds of fame.
Fans that appreciate a little less excitement will enjoy Pawnee Bill’s Wild West Show. With its roots in Wild Bill Hickok’s show of the same name that toured North America and Europe over a century ago, Pawnee Bill delights fans with shooting competitions, horseback riding and lassoing events.
With much to experience, Fort Worth offers a rare glimpse into a past that’s very much alive in the hearts of many Americans.
Michael Stavsky acknowledges the assistance of the Fort Worth Convention and Visitor’s Bureau in arranging his family’s trip to Fort Worth.