Fort Worth: History

"Cowtown" Served As Trading Center

Fort Worth's wild and wooly past began in 1849 when Major Ripley Arnold led a small detachment of U.S. Dragoons to the banks of the Trinity River and established an outpost to protect early settlers from Native American attack. The garrison was named for General William Worth, a Mexican War hero. It was more of an encampment than a fort, but after several years the natives ceased their opposition to the settlement. When the soldiers left, the settlers stayed, and in 1860 Fort Worth was chosen to serve as Tarrant County seat.

Its location on the Old Chisholm Trail, the route along which ranchers drove their herds, helped establish Fort Worth as a trading and cattle center and earned it the nickname "Cowtown." Cowboys took full advantage of their last brush with civilization before the long drive north from Fort Worth. They stocked up on provisions from local merchants, visited the town's colorful saloons for a bit of gambling and carousing, then galloped northward with their cattle.

Problems Accompanied Prosperity

Post-Civil War reconstruction brought many disillusioned Confederates to Texas in search of jobs and new beginnings. Commerce grew along with the population. Yankees wanted meat, and Texas had a ready supply. During this time rumors grew of a panther that stalked and slept on the city streets at night. A Dallas newspaper ran a story claiming that Fort Worth was so drowsy, a panther was found sleeping on Main Street. Fort Worth citizens good-naturedly dubbed their hometown "Panther City," and many local merchants and sports teams adopted the animal in their logos.

The Texas & Pacific Railroad arrived in Fort Worth in 1876, causing a boom in the cattle industry and in wholesale trade. The city was the westernmost railhead and became a transit point for cattle shipment. With the boom times came some problems. Crime was rampant and certain sections of town, such as Hell's Half Acre, were off-limits for proper citizens. Cowboys were joined by a motley assortment of buffalo hunters, gunmen, adventurers, and crooks. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were said to roam the streets of Fort Worth between robberies.

Boom Town Is Tamed

During the 1880s and 1890s, an influx of home-seekers helped quiet the rowdy streets and create a more stable community. More railroads led to more industry. Meat packing companies, a brewing company, more newspapers, and a stronger banking system arrived. Community leaders modernized the fire department, started a municipal water system, built sanitary sewers, and paved streets. Free public schools were legalized in Texas and colleges were founded. By then most major religious denominations were represented with congregations in the city. Fort Worth women organized teas, dances, dinners, and cakewalks to raise funds for a public library. In 1907, the Texas Legislature helped tame the town by outlawing gambling.

During the early days of the twentieth century, Fort Worth became the meat packing center of the Southwest. Nearly all West Texas cattle stopped there for sale or reshipment. Merchants were delighted to discover that when ranchers brought their cattle to market, they also brought their wives to shop in Fort Worth's stores.

Oil/Aviation Spur Economy

In 1917, oil was discovered in West Texas on McCleskey Farm about 90 miles west of Fort Worth. The gusher meant another boom for the city and helped meet the fuel demand created by World War I. Five refineries were built by 1920 and the city became a center for oil operators. Oil-rich ranchers and farmers moved to Fort Worth and built luxurious homes and towering office buildings.

During World War I three flying fields were established near Fort Worth, all eventually taken over by the U.S. government. In 1927, an airport opened and the aviation industry began. During World War II, B-24 bombers were manufactured at the Convair Plant in Fort Worth, while bomber pilots trained at the nearby Tarrant Field (renamed Carswell Air Force Base in 1948). The opening of Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport in 1974 ushered in a new era of aviation history. At the time it was built, the airport was the largest in the world. The aviation/aerospace industry remains an important factor in Fort Worth's economy today.

Partners for Livable Communities voted Fort Worth as one of America's Most Livable Large Cities in 2004. With a vibrant cultural life, continuing development, and expanding economy in high tech industries, Fort Worth forecasts a vibrant future.

Historical Information: Fort Worth Public Library, Genealogy and Local History Department, 500 W. 3rd Street, Fort Worth, TX 76102; telephone (817)871-7740