Fort Worth and Dallas, two large cities in northern Texas, are so close that in combination with their respective suburbs, they form one great metropolitan area. But despite the physical proximity, the two cities are vastly different. While Dallas strives for an image of a fast-paced contemporary metropolis, Fort Worth keeps a more relaxed style and makes efforts to preserve its Old West heritage.
It is not yet noon on a sunny, late-spring morning in Fort Worth, but it is already hot on the brick-paved streets of the historic Stockyards district. About a dozen Texas longhorn steers, each weighing about a ton, with horn spans up to two meters, enter Exchange Avenue from cattle pens on the east end. Six cowboys, or rather "drovers" as they call them here, gently nudge and chide the cattle as they amble along the street lined by tourists.
"I've been with the city of Fort Worth for one year, but I've been a cowboy all my life. I worked in cattle ranches in my younger days for five years and I've been involved with the high-school rodeos for the past sixteen years," says one ride. "I was a horse shoer for 20 years and have been in the horse business all my life, and I was a professional horse shoer," says a second.
In less than five minutes, the cattle drive is over. Twice a day every day, at 11:30 in the morning and at 4:00 in the afternoon, these same cowboys and steers make the symbolic trip. But maintaining the Stockyards and the cattle is a full-time operation. Ronald Pitchford is the manager of the herd program. "Besides the daily cattle drive, we also do the daily educational programs for the area schools," he says. "So they get to see a little bit about the history of the cowboy and the longhorn as well as this is part of the package so they get the tour of the Stockyards: they get to see the new Wagon Museum and the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame and then there's the Cowtown Maze that they can go through just for the fun of it."
The Fort Worth Stockyards and the cattle drive symbolize the redevelopment of downtown Fort Worth, long considered a "poor cousin" to glitzy Dallas, about 50 kilometers east. Douglas Harman, president of the Fort Worth Convention and Visitors Bureau, says for many years, Dallas has been a mercantile city, turned towards the east, but Fort Worth has kept its cowtown roots. "We have some of the biggest ongoing rodeos and horse shows here just on a regular basis. So that's how some of the historical things that took place here, you know, still go on here as a regular part of our everyday life," he says.
Fort Worth's history began in 1849 when the U.S. army established a camp there on a bluff overlooking the Trinity River.
After the American Civil War in the 1860's, Texas ranchers and cowboys rounded up thousands of wild longhorn cattle and drove them to Kansas, where they were distributed to meat markets in the rest of the country. In the 1870's, railroads came to Fort Worth and the Stockyards were built, turning the city into one of the major stops on the cattle drive route known as the Chisholm Trail.
Harold Pitchford says the Stockyards organize many annual events to celebrate that era. Chisholm Trail Days take place in June. "There are street vendors and there's, of course, we still do the cattle drive, and there's a trail ride that comes into town and they've got parades and just a general get-together of cowboy types," he says.
The Stockyards were designated a national historic site in 1976. Throughout the 1980's, buildings with shops, restaurants and other venues were renovated in the Old-West style. The White Elephant Saloon is one of them.
"The original White Elephant Saloon was in a place downtown by the Convention Center called Hell's Half-Acre during the late 1800's. It was any kind of vice you wanted, 24-hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year," says Russell McVeyn, the manager of the White Elephant. He says gambling and wenching at the original saloon often led to shootouts. Today's more moderate bar holds mock shootouts every year in February.
The White Elephant is also famous for its large collection of white elephant figurines displayed in glass cabinets. Mr. McVeyn says the place is especially popular with international visitors, many of whom bring or send back a white elephant figurine from their country.
Fort Worth cultural amenities include a renowned opera company, a symphony orchestra and one of the finest museums in the southwest. But it is the historic cowtown, with its prop-your-feet-up-and-stay-awhile spirit that attracts most people. In case you plan to visit the old Fort Worth, here's the dress code: both men and women wear almost exclusively jeans, cowboy boots, western hats and big-buckled belts. And, the Texas two-step is the dance of choice in most bars and night clubs.