The Old West is not just something that Hollywood created, it really existed. The cowboy lifestyle helps give Texas a bit of mystique and is a big part of the state’s culture. I recently visited the Fort Worth Stockyards with my mom so we could learn more about what that way of life was really like.
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Historical Tour of the Fort Worth Stockyards
To learn about the history of the area, you should take the 90 minute guided walking tour of the Stockyards. Tours leave from the Visitors Center at 130 East Exchange Avenue three times a day. Ticket prices are $7 for adults, $6 for seniors, and $5 for children. Before leaving on our tour, we watched the “Spirit of The West” video to get a little historical background.
At the end of the American Civil War, cattle were everywhere in Texas and no one had money to pay for them. People realized they could get a lot of money for the cattle if they could just get them up north. Moving cattle 800 miles was not easy then. The Fort Worth Stockyards developed as the place to rest before heading north.
Years later businessmen realized that it would be more efficient if the meat packing plants came to Fort Worth instead of transporting the cattle up North. So in 1903, two large meat processing plants, Swift and Armour opened. The Stockyards were thriving.
After World War II, the trucking industry developed. Transporting livestock by road quickly became more flexible and cost-efficient than the railroad. This meant the market favored the shipper, not the meat packer, and smaller operations were taking business away from central locations like the Stockyards.
Both Armour and Swift had huge plants that were outdated and expensive, making it impossible to compete. Armour closed their Fort Worth plant in 1962, and Swift survived until 1971. In 1976, the North Fort Worth Historical Society was founded to preserve Fort Worth’s livestock heritage. The area was important to the Texas Cattle Industry and, as I learned on our tour, a place that impacted society as we know it today.
Our Walking Tour of the Fort Worth Stockyards
After the short film, we met our tour guide, Ed Brown. Ed has lived his whole life in Fort Worth, and was born only a few miles away. He had a personality as big as the state of Texas and was a great storyteller. He told us stories about what the Stockyards were like when he was growing up and throughout its history. You could tell that is was important to him that the history of the Stockyards is preserved.
Ed took us to the Stockyards Station. This was where all the trains came in and millions of cattle, horses, sheep, and pigs passed through. Much of the building is still original and some of the feed bins are still in place. We saw the tunnels that would lead the pigs to the meat packing plants called “the pig subway”. Animals no longer transit through the pig subway and some of the building has been turned into cute shops and restaurants.
Livestock Exchange Building
The next stop on Ed’s tour was the “Wall Street of the West” also known as the Livestock Exchange Building. It was built in 1902 as an office for cattle traders. Superior Livestock Auctions, located on the ground floor, still conducts satellite auctions every Friday. Inside the building, you will also find the Stockyards Museum which is run by the North Fort Worth Historical Society. Since our tour guide, Ed, also volunteers at the museum he took us inside quickly to show us a light bulb. Not just any light bulb but the one that is set to break the Guinness World Record – it’s been burning since September 21, 1908. On September 21, 2017 it will break the world record! Admission to the museum is $2 and kids 12 and under are free.
We exited the Livestock Exchange Building through the back door which led to the area where the Longhorn cattle were kept. It was interesting to hear that these animals were once close to extinction, thank goodness that is no longer the case. I may be a little biased because I went to the University of Texas and our mascot was the Longhorn, but I enjoyed watching these impressive animals.
The last stop on our tour was the Cowtown Coliseum, which was the first indoor coliseum in the United States. The building was refurbished in 1986 so it now has air conditioning and heating.
In 1918, they hosted the world’s first indoor rodeo and they still have the Fort Worth Stockyards Rodeo every Friday and Saturday night. During the week, the building is used for all kinds of Fort Worth Stockyards events. When we were there, they were getting ready to host the circus.
Fort Worth Stockyards Cattle Drive
Twice a day, at 11:30 and 4 pm, there is a cattle drive through the stockyards that you can watch for free. A handful of cowboys lead a herd of Texas Longhorn cattle down East Exchange Avenue. Ed got everyone ready for the big event and warned us it was not going to be the running of the bulls but instead the walking of the Longhorns.
The staff asked everyone to stay on the sidewalk and told us that the Longhorns would be coming close enough. Of course, there were a couple crazy people that dashed across the road right before the cattle drive. The cattle drive only lasts a few minutes, not sure why they couldn’t just wait.
It was interesting seeing the animals so close without any restraints. They all walked very calmly down the street without any incident. It looked like a well-oiled machine. I’m sure cattle drives weren’t like that in the Old West! Cowboys had to work very hard to move the cattle so far. Check out the video we made during the cattle drive to get a better feel for what it was like.
Then it was time for lunch. As part of our tour, we learned that Riscky’s BBQ in Stockyards Station had been around over 75 years as part of our tour so it seemed like a good choice. We were there on a Wednesday so we both got the brisket platter which was on special. The brisket was good and their sauce had a nice kick to it. I am always happy when they have fried okra as a side!
Texas Cowboys Hall of Fame
After lunch, we decided to take in the Texas Cowboys Hall of Fame which is located just west of the Visitors Center. Yes, there is a Texas Cowboys Hall of Fame and they do induct new members each year. They choose “individuals who have shown excellence in competition, business and support of rodeo and the western lifestyle in Texas.”
While the majority of Hall of Fame members are rodeo cowboys, there were also players from the Dallas Cowboys football team, musicians, a doctor, and a rodeo clown. Each member of the Texas Cowboys Hall of Fame gets a booth to display their personal memorabilia. There was quite the collection! Some of my favorite members were Jay Novacek (Dallas Cowboys), Willie Nelson (musician), Pat Green (musician), Nolan Ryan (baseball player) and Lane Frost (bull rider). You may remember the movie “8 Seconds” where Luke Perry played Lane Frost? I should also note that they did not leave cowgirls out of the Hall of Fame, there were several barrel racers that got inducted. Barrel racing is a rodeo event where the horse and rider attempt to complete a cloverleaf pattern around preset barrels in the fastest time.
Other Attractions at the Texas Cowboys Hall of Fame
The Sterquell Wagon Collection is huge – you can’t miss it! It includes more than 60 wagons, buggies and sleighs. The collection is very diverse and includes a doctor’s buggy, milk delivery wagons, a photographer’s wagon with a dark room, and of course an “Amish Wagon” to name a few. In the back corner of the museum, there is a chuck wagon setup like it would be for a trail drive with cowboys (mannequins) sitting around a campfire.
Next to the trail ride display, you will find the Applewhite-Clark exhibit, which features artifacts from such legendary figures as Santa Anna, Comanche chief Quanah Parker and Texas Rangers John Coffee Hays and Samuel Walker. I wasn’t quite sure how General Santa Anna de Lopez really fit into the Texas Cowboys Hall of Fame since he led the Mexican forces against the Texas Army! Still it was pretty neat to see one of his military uniforms and his wooden leg.
Admission to the Texas Cowboys Hall of Fame is $6 for Adults, $5 for seniors or those with a Student ID and $3 for children ages 5 – 12.
The Stockyards Today
The Stockyards have become a very popular tourist attraction. In addition to being such an important historical area, there are plenty of fun things to do for all ages. You will find lots of cute tourist shops too. They also have some nice event space inside of the Stockyards Station and it has become a popular wedding venue.
Fort Worth Stockyards Restaurants
As well as Riscky’s BBQ, you can also find nice steakhouses, good burgers, Mexican food and more along Exchange Avenue. Don’t worry, you will not go hungry, there is a Stockyards restaurant for every taste!
Fort Worth Stockyards Bars
The Stockyards is a great area for nightlife, especially if you are looking for a country bar. The most famous of the Stockyards bars is Billy Bob’s, the “World’s Largest Honky Tonk”. This bar has live bull riding every Friday and Saturday night and lots of big name concerts. Although it is a traditional western activity, I recognize that not everyone will approve of bull riding. If you would prefer to give this a miss, Billy Bob’s is large enough to avoid the arena. Alternatively, there are several other country bars on Exchange Ave including the Rodeo Exchange, White Elephant Saloon, and Lil’ Red’s Longhorn Saloon that also have live country music.
Other Stockyard Attractions
Cowtown Cattle Pen Maze: You can compete against your friends and family, the clock, or just have fun trying to locate multiple checkpoints and finish the maze. The maze covers over 5,400 square feet and they are always changing up the wooden pathways (cattle pens of the old west) so it is always a challenge. Adults tickets are $6 and children are $5.
Grapevine Vintage Railroad: During most weekends, you can take a beautifully restored 1920’s Victorian coach from Grapevine, a suburb, to the Fort Worth Stockyards. Alternatively, you can take the hour-long Stockyards Trinity River Ride which begins and ends at Stockyards Station. Check their schedule for more details and be sure to check out the many themed weekends they have throughout the year.
Fort Worth Stockyards Logistics
Directions to Fort Worth Stockyards: The Stockyards are located just a few miles north of downtown Fort Worth. For driving directions, I would recommend inputting the address of the Visitors Center, 130 E. Exchange Avenue. Fort Worth Stockyards parking is available across the street from the Visitors Center for $7 a day. Street parking, if you can find it, is free.
To get to the Stockyards using public transportation, take the Trinity Railway Express (TRE) and get off at Fort Worth Intermodal Transportation Center (ITC) Station, then take the 12, 14 or 15 bus and get off at Main and Exchange.
Hotels Near Stockyards: You can stay at the legendary Fort Worth Stockyards Hotel on Exchange Avenue which has been welcoming guests for over 100 years. We peeked inside the lobby and it is beautifully decorated in elegant western style. (Click here to check current rates and availability.)
You can also stay at the Hyatt Place Fort Worth Stockyards, located right behind the Visitors Center. (Click here to check current rates and availability.)
Stockyards Hours: The hours depend based on the individual attraction, restaurant, store, or bar. In general, Stockyards Station stores are open 10 am to 7 pm, restaurants are open 11 am to 10 pm, and bars are open until 2 a.m. on the weekend. The Texas Cowboys Hall of Fame is open from 9 am to 5 pm.
My Day at the Stockyards
I enjoyed my day at the Fort Worth Stockyards and it was interesting to learn more about the historical significance of the area. Hopefully, I can go back and check out more of the restaurants and bars, maybe even go to the Fort Worth Texas Rodeo one night. I would also love to ride the historic train. I can see why the Stockyards are such a popular tourist attraction. Have you been to the Stockyards? Did you know about all the history?
Expert Tips for Visiting the Fort Worth Stockyards:
- With all there is to see in the Stockyards, I would recommend spending a whole day.
- Don’t miss watching the Cattle Drive which happens at 11:30 pm and 4 pm each day.
- Learning the history of the area will definitely help you appreciate it more!
Disclosure: No financial compensation was received. I received two complimentary walking tours and admissions to the Texas Cowboys Hall of Fame, so that we could share our experience with our readers. As always, opinions expressed here are my own.
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