The old Chisholm Trail went right by the town of Fort Worth, and this being the last town of any size before entering the Indian Territory, the drovers normally stopped here to stock up on supplies. The first stock pens built in Fort Worth were holding pens for cattle so the drovers could have a night free to spend in town at their favorite watering hole and purchase supplies the next day. By 1866 the town had earned its reputation as “cowtown.”

After the railroads came to town there was another method of shipping cattle to the East. The Texas and Pacific Railway arrived July 19, 1876, and promoters built pens to hold the cattle. By 1886 four stockyards had been built near the railroad. The businessmen of Fort Worth were already dreaming of packing plants and stockyards to take care of the many cattle coming into town. The Union Stock Yards opened in 1889 on a 258-acre site north of the Trinity River and at the same time chartered a packing company.

Greenleif Simpson of Boston, with the help of other Boston and Chicago associates, incorporated the Fort Worth Stockyards Company and purchased the Union Stockyards and the Fort Worth Packing Company in 1893. Because of the financial panic of 1893, the company had a rough go. In 1896, the company began a fat-stock show, which has survived to the present as one of the largest stock shows in the nation, the Southwestern Exposition and Livestock Show.

In 1902, an agreement was made with Armour and Swift, two of the natio’s largest meat packers, to build packing plants near the stockyards. It was agreed that each animal they slaughtered would pass through the stockyards at a standard fee. Business boomed and immigrants came from Europe to work here and settled in the new community incorporated in 1902 as North Fort Worth.

A new two-story Spanish-style exchange building was constructed in 1902 at a cost of $125,000 and new brick-floored pens were constructed with a

capacity of 24,500 animals. In 1908, a new $175,000 coliseum opened for the fat-stock show. The first cutting-horse contest held indoors under electric lights was held there.

In 1911, when Fort Worth planned to annex the area, another small community was incorporated, Niles City, which lasted until 1922. Niles City billed itself as “the richest little city in the United States” because within a one-half-mile area it contained a $30 million stockyard and meat-packing industry.

With new horse and mule barns built in 1912, Fort Worth became the largest horse and mule market in the country during World War I, when agents of foreign governments purchased cavalry animals at the yards.

Business continued to grow, and in 1944, total receipts in all categories surpassed 5.25 million animals, and 1944 retained the record for livestock sales at the Fort Worth Stockyards. Forty-eight commission companies had their offices at the stockyards. So much money was exchanging hands at the Stockyards Exchange that it became known as “the Wall Street of the West.”

There is a large mural depicting scenes from the stockyards in the visitors center at the musuem. The following statistics are given for livestock sales since 1896: more than 1.5 million horses and mules, more than 50 million cattle, more than 50 million sheep and more than 33 million hogs.

By the 1970s the receipts had dropped to just over 300,000 and in December 1992, the last auction was held and the grand old market shut down.

The North Fort Worth Historical Society, with offices and a museum in the Livestock Exchange building, promotes the stockyards area and preserves its heritage. The North Fort Worth Historical Society Museum opened in 1989. There are several historical markers in the area.

The museum has several photographs of the stockyards and other areas of Fort Worth in the early days. One such picture is of the Hobbs Trailer Co. employees taken with one of their trailers in 1938 near LeGrave Field.

Luke Short was a big-time gambler in the late 1800s who developed a habit of dressing to the nines, which gave him the reputation of being a dandy. One day he got into an argument with Jimmy Courtright at the White Elephant Saloon, which ended in a gunfight. Short fired first, some say because Courtright’s gun jammed. The bullet blew off Courtright’s right thumb, rendering him incapable of firing his single-action revolver. As he tried to switch the pistol to his left hand, Short fired several more times, killing him.

The suit and top hat worn by Short are in the NFWHS Museum. Every year on February 8 re-enactors dress in costumes and re-live the gunfight in front of the White Elephant Saloon on East Exchange Avenue in the Stockyards District of Fort Worth.

Another interesting article on display is the “Bad Luck Wedding Dress.” This dress has brought personal misery or disaster to everyone who has worn it or planned to wear it. The dress of ottoman silk and rare lace was designed and made for the wedding of Marie V.N. Green and David P. VanHorne, who were married in Bainbridge, N.Y., Jan. 14, 1886.

David left Marie in 1888 to seek gold in Oregon and they never reunited. The dress was passed on to their daughter, Evelyn Henrietta VanHorne, to wear for her wedding. Her fiancé, who was in France during World War I, was killed in a mine field just a few days before the wedding. The war was over and he was on his way home to her. She never married and died at the age of 79 an “old maid.”

David and Marie’s granddaughter, Alta Marguerite VanHorne, wore the dress for her wedding. Six months after the wedding her husband, Daniel Patrick, fell will with multiple sclerosis and died within the year.

The dress was put away and not worn for many years. In 1949, Alta VanHorne Patrick Buker wore the dress for a historical tour she was giving through her home. The next day she became ill and was bedridden for more than a month. She recovered, but her illness remained a mystery to the doctors. The dress has never been worn again.

The dress was the inspiration for a series of novels by Geralyn Dawson.

In the 1960s, Elston Brooks, a columnist for the Star-Telegram, wrote about the light bulb at the old Palace Theater. It seems the 40-watt bulb was first installed in 1908 above the backstage door of the Byers Opera House (which later became the Palace Theater) where performers entered the building. At the time the story was written, the bulb had been connected to its own generator and left burning all the time for fear that turning it on and off would burn out the filament. Years later, when the Convention Center was built, the old Palace Theater was torn down. One of the men connected with the theater took the bulb to his home in Arlington and kept it burning on its own generator. When the museum opened in the Livestock Exchange building he donated it to the museum. The bulb is still burning on its own generator. Aliene Pokluda, the museum curator, said that the bulb burns 24 hours a day and she reckoned that when it went out, they would have to close the museum.

Some of the other items of interest include a chair made of steer horns, an old oval tin bathtub with a towel draped over it that reads: “First Water 15¢, Used Water 5¢,” an original Hotpoint electric range and an Admiral console round-screen TV.

If your interest runs toward early 20th century history, this museum is a must to visit. There is no charge, but they do accept donations. The museum is open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Next week we visit other venues along Exchange Avenue.

John Watson is a Cleburne resident who may be reached at

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