Fort Worth Stockyards

For the drovers heading the cattle up the Chisholm trail to the railheads, Fort Worth was the last major stop for rest and supplies. Beyond Fort Worth they would have to deal with crossing the Red River into Indian Territory. Between 1866 and 1890 more than four million head of cattle were trailed through Fort Worth, which was soon known as “Cowtown.” Cowtown soon had its own disreputable entertainment district several blocks south of the Courthouse area known all over the West as “Hell’s Half Acre”.

When the railroad finally arrived in 1876, Fort Worth became a major shipping point for livestock. This prompted plans in 1887 for the construction of the Union Stockyards about two and one half miles north of the Tarrant County Courthouse. It went into full operation about 1889.

Because the Union Stockyards company lacked the funds to buy enough cattle to attract local ranchers, President Mike C. Hurley invited a wealthy Boston capitalist Greenleif Simpson to Fort Worth in hopes he would invest in the Union Stock Yards. When Simpson arrived on the heels of heavy rains and a railroad strike, more cattle than usual had accumulated in the pens. Seeing this, he decided that Fort Worth represented a good market and made plans to invest. Simpson invited other investors to join him, one of whom was a Boston neighbor, Louville V. Niles whose primary business was meatpacking. On April 27, 1893, Simpson bought the Union Stockyards for $133,333.33 and changed the name to the Fort Worth Stockyards Company.Fort Worth Stockyards Company

It soon became apparent that instead of shipping to other markets to process the cattle, it would be much more desirable to keep more of the business in Fort Worth by having local packing plants. A search began to lure major packers to the City. By about 1900, after much work by local businessmen, both Armour & Co. and Swift & Co. were persuaded to build plants adjacent to the Stockyards.

Construction began in 1902, but not until after the exact site of each plant was decided by a flip of the coin. Armour won the toss and selected the northern site and Swift began to build on the southern tract, which was the site of the original Livestock Exchange and Hotel. Swift & Co. received an unexpected financial bonus when a large gravel pit was found on the southern site that was ultimately used in the construction of both plants.

The new Livestock Exchange Building in its present location, as well as the pens and the barns, were also started in 1902. The new building was designed to house the many livestock commission companies, telegraph offices, railroad offices and other support businesses.

While construction was underway, the Fort Worth Stock Yards Company, which now included the two meat packers, incorporated much of the area north of the river adjacent to the Stockyards as North Fort Worth. In 1909 the City of Fort Worth annexed the new city with the exception of the Stockyards and the packing house property.

Business boomed with the opening of the packing houses. Armour and Swift bought 265,279 cattle, 128,934 hogs and 40,160 sheep, which brought over six million dollars into the local economy. A livestock market that drew local farmers and ranchers had finally arrived in Fort Worth.

The Livestock Exchange Building became known as
“The Wall Street of the West”.

Because of the success of the Stockyards, the necessity for an indoor show facility became obvious. In 1907 construction began on a grand Coliseum that was completed in just 88 working days, in time for the grand opening of the Feeders & Breeders Show. The Coliseum, which today is known as the Cowtown Coliseum, was the home of the first indoor rodeo. It was used for many cultural, social, agricultural and religious events as well.

The Stockyards continued to prosper in spite of droughts and floods. In 1911, after two disastrous fires that killed a large number of the penned livestock, the yards were rebuilt with an eye toward using as much noninflammable material as possible.

In 1911 a new town, Niles City, was chartered and grew up around the Stockyards and packinghouse properties. Niles City was known as “the richest little city in the world” with a property value of 30 million dollars. In 1923 Fort Worth annexed this area.

At the height of World War I in 1917, the Fort Worth Stockyards was the largest horse and mule market in the world. Military officers from Allied countries came to purchase the animals to support their war efforts. Total sales of all livestock continued to grow during the war years.

During World War II, the Fort Worth Stockyards processed 5,277,496 head of livestock making 1944 the peak year of the entire operation. In later years sales at the Stockyards began to decline and by 1969 had dwindled to a mere 1,045,158 head. By 1986, sales reached an all-time low of 57,181 animals.

Many reasons for the decline of the Fort Worth Stockyards can be stated, but one of the largest factors was the rise of the trucking industry on the newly paved roads after World War II. Because of their lower operating costs and greater flexibility, much of the advantage that railroads had in bulk shipping was lost. The market moved to the shipper with the creation of local livestock auctions and feedlots. It was a completely new way of marketing livestock. Not only was Fort Worth affected, all the major packers in the United States struggled with this new way to market livestock.

Both Armour and Swift had huge outdated plants that were straddled with risings costs, wages and administrative expenses. Armour was the first to close their Fort Worth plant in 1962 with Swift hanging on until 1971. Partial demolition followed over the years after several fires.

The unique Armour office building was lost, but the classic Swift headquarters building was put to use as the home of a popular restaurant during the 1970s.

While local auctions continued to be held in the Stockyards, the volume diminished until it was unprofitable to continue. This vibrant part of Fort Worth history fell on hard times as the Stockyards area continued its decline.

In 1976, the North Fort Worth Historical Society, founded by Charlie and Sue McCafferty, was chartered to ensure Fort Worth's livestock heritage would continue and be preserved. Since then, the Society has worked to promote the history of one of the greatest livestock and meatpacking industries in the country.

The Fort Worth Stockyards National Historical District was also established in 1976 and many of the area’s landmarks have been restored including the Livestock Exchange Building and the Coliseum. Recently, the historic Swift & Co. headquarters building underwent an almost total restoration.

In 1989, the North Fort Worth Historical Society opened the Stockyards Museum in the historic Exchange Building. It now hosts thousands of visitors from all over the world each year. Its facilities and collection are expanding to handle the ever increasing number of visitors.

Weekly livestock auctions ceased many years ago, but the Stockyards continues to host special breed events and sales including Longhorn auctions. Many thousand of head of cattle are still sold in the Stockyards every week via video/satellite sales originating in the Exchange Building. The livestock legacy lives on.

Today the Fort Worth Stockyards Historic District is one of Texas’ most popular tourist destinations. Many events of all kinds are held every year, new businesses and lodgings have been established adding to the history and fun that is the Fort Worth Stockyards . . .

For the drovers heading longhorn cattle up the Chisholm Trail to the railheads, Fort Worth was the last major stop for rest and supplies. Beyond Fort Worth they would have to deal with crossing the Red River into Indian Territory. Between 1866 and 1890 more than four million head of cattle were trailed through Fort Worth which was soon known as “Cowtown” and had its own disreputable entertainment district several blocks south of the Courthouse area that was known all over the West as “Hell’s Half Acre”.

HELL'S HALF ACRE, FORT WORTH

HELL'S HALF ACRE, FORT WORTH. In the later decades of the nineteenth century, Hell's Half Acre became almost a generic name for the red-light district in many frontier towns, including San Antonio, Fort Worth, and Tascosa, Texas. The exact origins of the name are unclear, but in the days of the Republic of Texas it was applied to Webberville, near Austin, because of the community's lawless and immoral reputation. The name did not come into widespread usage, however, until after the Civil War. Returning soldiers may have brought the phrase back with them from such bloody battlefields as Stones River, where it had been applied with a different but equally vivid connotation. As a name for prostitution districts, it was usually shortened to "the Acre," but everyone knew what the abbreviation stood for.

Among the various Hell's Half Acres that dotted the frontier, none was more infamous or more rambunctious than Fort Worth's. The Fort Worth version started during the city's heyday as a drover's stop on the cattle trails to Kansas in the early 1870s. The name first appeared in the local newspaper in 1874, but by that time the district was already well established on the lower end of town, where it was the first thing the trail drivers saw as they approached the town from the south. Here there was an aggregation of one and two story saloons, dance halls, and bawdy houses, interspersed with empty lots and a sprinkling of legitimate businesses. Only those looking for trouble or excitement ventured into the Acre. As one headline put it in a description of a popular saloon there, "They Raise Merry Cain at the Waco Tap." Moreover, the usual activities of the Acre, which included brawling, gambling, cockfighting, and horse racing, were not confined to indoors but spilled out into the streets and back alleys.

As the importance of Fort Worth as a crossroads and cowtown grew, so did Hell's Half Acre. It was originally limited to the lower end of Rusk Street (renamed Commerce Street in 1917) but spread out in all directions until by 1881 the Fort Worth Democrat was complaining that it covered 2½ acres. The Acre grew until it sprawled across four of the city's main north-south thoroughfares: Main, Rusk, Calhoun, and Jones. From north to south, it covered that area from Seventh Street down to Fifteenth (or Front) Street. The lower boundary was marked by the Union Station train depot and the northern edge by a vacant lot at the intersection of Main and Seventh. These boundaries, which were never formally recognized, represented the maximum area covered by the Acre, around 1900. Occasionally, the Acre was also referred to as "the bloody Third Ward" after it was designated one of the city's three political wards in 1876.

Long before the Acre reached its maximum boundaries, local citizens had become alarmed at the level of crime and violence in their city. In 1876 Timothy Isaiah (Longhair Jim) Courtrightqv was elected city marshal with a mandate to tame the Acre's wilder activities. Courtright cracked down on violence and general rowdiness-by sometimes putting as many as thirty people in jail on a Saturday night-but allowed the gamblers to operate unmolested. After receiving information that train and stagecoach robbers, such as the Sam Bass gang, were using the Acre as a hideout, local authorities intensified law-enforcement efforts. Yet certain businessmen placed a newspaper advertisement arguing that such legal restrictions in Hell's Half Acre would curtail the legitimate business activities there. Despite this tolerance from business, however, the cowboys began to stay away, and the businesses began to suffer. City officials muted their stand against vice. Courtright lost support of the Fort Worth Democrat and consequently lost when he ran for reelection in 1879. Throughout the 1880s and 1890s the Acre continued to attract gunmen, highway robbers, card sharks, con men, and shady ladies, who preyed on out-of-town and local sportsmen.

At one time or another reform-minded mayors like H. S. Broiles and crusading newspaper editors like B. B. Paddock declared war on the district but with no long-term results. The Acre meant income for the city-all of it illegal-and excitement for visitors. Possibly for this reason, the reputation of the Acre was sometimes exaggerated by raconteurs; some longtime Fort Worth residents claimed the place was never as wild as its reputation. Suicide was responsible for more deaths than murder, and the chief victims were prostitutes, not gunmen. However much its reputation was exaggerated, the real Acre was bad enough. The newspaper claimed "it was a slow night which did not pan out a cutting or shooting scrape among its male denizens or a morphine experiment by some of its frisky females." The loudest outcries during the periodic clean-up campaigns were against the dance halls, where men and women met, as opposed to the saloons or the gambling parlors, which were virtually all male.

A major reform campaign in the late 1880s was brought on by Mayor Boiles and County Attorney R. L. Carlock after two events. In the first of these, on February 8, 1887, Luke Short and Jim Courtright had a shootout on Main Street that left Courtright dead and Short the "King of Fort Worth Gamblers." Although the fight did not occur in the Acre, it focused public attention on the city's underworld. A few weeks later a poor prostitute known only by the name of Sally was found murdered and nailed to an outhouse door in the Acre. These two events, combined with the first prohibition campaign in Texas, helped to shut down the Acre's worst excesses in 1889.

More than any other factor, urban growth began to improve the image of the Acre, as new businesses and homes moved into the south end of town. Another change was the influx of black residents. Excluded from the business end of town and the nicer residential areas, Fort Worth's black citizens, who numbered some 7,000 out of a total population of 50,000 around 1900, settled into the south end of town. Though some joined in the profitable vice trade (to run, for instance, the Black Elephant Saloon), many others found legitimate work and bought homes.

A third change was in the popularity and profitability of the Acre, which was no longer attracting cowboys and out-of-town visitors. Its visible population was more likely to be derelicts, hoboes, and bums. By 1900 most of the dance halls and gamblers were gone. Cheap variety shows and prostitution became the chief forms of entertainment. The Progressive era was similarly making its reformist mark felt in districts like the Acre all over the country.

In 1911 Rev. J. Frank Norris launched an offensive against racetrack gambling in the Baptist Standard and used the pulpit of the First Baptist Church to attack vice and prostitution. Norris used the Acre both to scourge the leadership of Fort Worth and to advance his own personal career. When he began to link certain Fort Worth businessmen with property in the Acre and announce their names from his pulpit, the battle heated up. On February 4, 1912, Norris's church was burned to the ground; that evening his enemies tossed a bundle of burning oiled rags onto his porch, but the fire was extinguished and caused minimal damage. A month later the arsonists succeeded in burning down the parsonage. In a sensational trial lasting a month, Norris was charged with perjury and arson in connection with the two fires. He was acquitted, but his continued attacks on the Acre accomplished little until 1917. A new city administration and the federal government, which was eyeing Fort Worth as a potential site for a major military training camp, joined forces with the Baptist preacher to bring down the curtain on the Acre finally. The police department compiled statistics showing that 50 percent of the violent crime in Fort Worth occurred in the Acre, a shocking confirmation of long-held suspicions. After Camp Bowieqv was located on the outskirts of Fort Worth in the summer of 1917, martial law was brought to bear against prostitutes and barkeepers of the Acre. Fines and stiff jail sentences curtailed their activities. By the time Norris held a mock funeral parade to "bury John Barleycorn" in 1919, the Acre had become a part of Fort Worth history. The name, nevertheless, continued to be used for three decades thereafter to refer to the depressed lower end of Fort Worth.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Fort Worth Daily Democrat, April 10, 1878, April 18, 1879, July 18, 1881. Oliver Knight, Fort Worth, Outpost on the Trinity (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1953). Leonard Sanders, How Fort Worth Became the Texasmost City (Fort Worth: Amon Carter Museum, 1973). Richard F. Selcer, Hell's Half Acre: The Life and Legend of a Red Light District (Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 1991). F. Stanley [Stanley F. L. Crocchiola], Jim Courtright (Denver: World, 1957).

When the railroad finally arrived in 1876, Fort Worth became a major shipping point for livestock. This prompted plans in 1887 for the construction of the Union Stockyards about two and one half miles north of the Tarrant County Courthouse. It went into full operation about 1889.

Because the Union Stockyards Company lacked the funds to buy enough cattle to attract local ranchers, President Mike C. Hurley invited a wealthy Boston capitalist Greenleif Simpson to Fort Worth in hopes that he would invest in the Union Stock Yards. When Simpson arrived on the heels of heavy rains and a railroad strike, more cattle than usual had accumulated in the pens. Seeing this, he decided that Fort Worth represented a good market and made plans to invest. Simpson invited other investors to join him, one of whom was a Boston neighbor, Louville V. Niles whose primary business was meatpacking. On April 27, 1893, Simpson bought the Union Stockyards for $133,333.33 and changed the name to the Fort Worth Stockyards Company.

It soon became apparent that instead of shipping to other markets to process the cattle, it would be much more desirable to keep more of the business in Fort Worth by aving local packing plants. A search began to lure major packers to the City. By about 1900, after much work by local businessmen, both Armour & Co. and Swift & Co. were persuaded to build plants adjacent to the Stockyards.

Construction began in 1902, but not until after the exact site of each plant was decided by a flip of the coin. Armour won the toss and selected the northern site and Swift began to build on the southern tract which was the site of the original Livestock Exchange and Hotel. Swift & Co. received an unexpected financial bonus when a large gravel pit was found on the southern site which was ultimately used in the construction of both plants. 


The new Livestock Exchange Building in its present location, as well as the pens and the barns, were also started in 1902. The new building was designed to house the many livestock commission companies, telegraph offices, railroad offices and other support businesses.

While construction was underway, the Fort Worth Stock Yards Company, which now included the two meat packers, incorporated much of the area north of the river adjacent to the Stockyards as North Fort Worth. In 1909 the City of Fort Worth annexed the new city with the exception of the Stockyards and the packing house property.

Business boomed with the opening of the packing houses. Armour and Swift bought 265,279 cattle, 128,934 hogs and 40,160 sheep, which brought over six million dollars into the local economy. A livestock market that drew local farmers and ranchers had finally arrived in Fort Worth.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zjcYCrw5big 
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