FORT WORTH (CBS11) – The Cowtown culture that defines Fort Worth today dates back 150 years — to a time before the Stockyards developed. The Chisholm Trail put Fort Worth on the map.
Glancing around the thriving Fort Worth Stockyards, Steve Myers talks about the changes.
“This wasn’t here. It was all bare land,” says Myers, the Chairman of the Tarrant County Historical Commission.
The cowboy and cattle history of Fort Worth dates back to 1867, with the opening of the Chisholm Trail.
“It’s very important to Fort Worth to have this identity where the west begins,” says Doug Harmon, former Executive Director of the Fort Worth Convention & Visitors Bureau, and former City Manager. Harmon is also involved in the historical commission; he and Steve Myers helped mark the 150th anniversary of the Chisholm Trail in 2017.
“The trail was named after Jesse Chisholm, who was an interpreter here in Texas for Sam Houston,” Harmon explains.
When the Civil War ended, livestock was in high demand in the north. Cowboys took on a tough job—driving herds of longhorn from San Antonio to the railroad station in Abilene, Kansas. That was as far west as the railroad went at the time.
The shortest route became known as the Chisholm Trail.
“It was a rough life. The cowboys had to sleep on the ground. When they first started out, they had to carry their own food,” Myers explains.
Fort Worth was the last stop for rest and supplies, before heading into Native American territory.
Hat stores and boot companies sprang up along the way.
“There were 10 million longhorns that went up the trial during that time period. There were 25,000 cowboys that went up the trail during that time period,” Myers says.
The cattle drives generated 24 million dollars for the Texas economy, and made cattle barons out of ranchers.
Harmon’s personal collection of antiques is on display at the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame at the Fort Worth Stockyards.
“If it hadn’t been for the livestock industry, Fort Worth may not have become a major city,” says Harmon.
With development, came progress. 1885 brought the railroad’s arrival to Fort Worth, and cattle started shipping out on trains. Soon after, the Fort Worth Stockyards developed.
With time, the Chisholm Trail, died out, but the heritage endures.
“The impact is of the trail is, we wouldn’t be celebrating the American cowboy like we are today. We would not be dressing up like cowboys as we are today,” says Myers, of the trail’s significance.
“Thus, you have the cowboy and the longhorn as the great enduring symbols of Texas,” says Harmon.