After the Civil War Texas, like all the Confederate states, was in a bad way economically. But eventually the Ft. Worth area found its way to profitability supplying the insatiable appetite that the damn Yankees had for beef. Although the longhorn cattle were not really indigenous to the area, those that had been brought here before the war were fruitful and multiplied without much attention from mankind. A steer that was worth $2 here, would be worth five times as much in the north. Many of the steers came from the arid lands west of here and a significant stream flowing through this area gave the cowboys a good spot to water their animals on the way north. At first the cattle drives were free wheeling and ad hoc, but after the introduction of barbed wire and the arrival of the railroad, Ft. Worth became the largest marketing center in the southwest. Armor and Swift set up huge meatpacking plants, reducing the need to send the cattle on the hoof. At its peak 10,000 head were moved through this area every day. Imagine the noise, dust and most of all the smell. During World War I this area was also a major supplier of mules and horses to the mounted troops fighting in Europe.
Time marches on and in many communities including our own, the stock yards were closed, fresh air returned, and the buildings and corrals associated with this business were destroyed and pretty much forgotten. Here some major fires destroyed a number of the buildings. But Ft. Worth has turned the stockyard area into a tourist attraction, rebuilding and remodeling many of the historic buildings for tourists to enjoy today. We rented a GPS at the visitor center that took us on a walking tour through the area. Every time we came to an important spot, the gizzmo came to life and played a video telling us more about what happened there. A great way to take a walking tour at our own pace.
The Cowboy Coliseum was the first indoor rodeo arena; Enrico Caruso sang here and Teddy Roosevelt gave speeches here as well. Today it is still a performance space. Most of the livestock exchange building has been turned into a collection of shops selling western memorabilia and souvenirs, but cattle is still being bought and sold here. But these days the buyers watch the cattle on TV and make their purchases online.
The building that impressed us the most was Billy Bob's honky tonk, a 3 acre enclosed entertainment mecca with 32 bars. It was built in 1910 and was once a large open-air barn housing prize cattle during the Fort Worth Stock Show. In 1936 the building was enclosed by the City of Fort Worth at a cost of $183,500 and the tower added. The "new" structure contained 1257 animal stalls, and a 1200 seat auction ring that is now Billy Bob's Bull Riding arena. The floor of Billy Bob's slopes from the entry toward the showroom stage, making an ideal elevation for concert seating. This slope was originally constructed to allow easy cleaning and runoff from the cattle pens. Livestock events were held here until the stock show moved to the Will Rogers Memorial Complex, in the present downtown area, around 1943. During World War II, the building was used as an airplane factory for the Globe Aircraft Corporation. In the 1950's the building became a department store so large that the stock boys wore roller skates to make their jobs quicker and easier.
Everything's bigger in Texas!