Isn't Fort Worth's notorious "Hell's Half Acre" inside the Stockyards? No, it's not.
Hell's Half Acre
, a generic name for many vice districts and a fabled one for Fort
Worth - was situated in the southeastern portion of
the city, 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!
 Taking Stock
Shawnee         Chisholm         Western   
Fort Worth Stockyards         Buy the Book
The cattle, horse,
and mule pens sit
behind the
Livestock Exchange
Building
at the Fort
Worth 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 rail heads 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 relegated to those who counted the number of
persons owned and the amount of acreage  they could cultivate or use for ranching,
anyone who knew how to swing a rope (and 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.

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,  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.

* 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 headquartered in Denison, Texas, home to the first
north-south railroad connection in Texas.
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.
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's
days are
numbered, as a
California
corporation has
bought rights to
develop this
property.
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).
Weigh station
on the north
side of the
Stockyards.
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.
Swift and
Company
employees,
1954 (North
Fort Worth
Historical
Society).
Entrance to the
sheep/pig
"subway" on
the southeast
side of the
Stockyards.
The Fort Worth
Stockyards are
connected via
an extensive
bike/walk trail
system to
downtown Fort
Worth and the
city's west end.