Wyatt Erp, Kit Carson, Calamity Jane, Bat Masterson, Jim Bowie.
Magical names from the past that evoke childhood memories of shoot ’em up movies about the Wild, Wild West and cowboys.
These were in fact real people who helped forge the real West where real cowboys rode and real cattle was herded.
They’re all long dead and gone, along with the thousands of other less notorious characters that opened up the western climes of the United States, but their memories live on in Hollywood offerings and on the streets of Forth Worth, Texas.
It’s here that we find the most comprehensive history of cowboys and how the west was won.
We began our trip with nostalgia at the Stockyards Hotel as we grabbed the brass handles on the double glass and oak doors.
Once in the hotel’s lobby, you are immediately transported to the days when lawman Wyatt Earp cleaned up Dodge City and later in Tombstone, Arizona, battled the Clanton Gang at what would become the most famous gunfight in the history of the West, The Gunfight at the OK Corral.
You become part of the world of Kit Carson, a buffalo hunter, trailblazer, rancher and military guide or of Calamity Jane, a hard drinking woman who wore men’s clothing, used their bawdy language, chewed tobacco and was handy with a gun. At her death, the citizens of Deadwood remembered the “White Devil of the Yellowstone” as a saint, where she helped nurse the sick during a smallpox plague. She is buried near her friend, Wild Bill Hickok at Deadwood, South Dakota.
Inside the lobby of the Stockyards Hotel you can feel the presence of the likes of Annie Oakley, who performed alongside Sitting Bull in Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show, and Judge Roy Bean, the frontier justice of the peace. Theirs and the spirits of other seem to fill the cavernous lobby of the Stockyards Hotel.
“Cowboys and cattle barons, kings and queens of country music, even an outlaw or two have found refuge and romance at the Stockyards Hotel,” states the hotel’s literature. “Patrons have journeyed from near and far by foot, horseback, stagecoach, motorcar and plane to enjoy the incomparable hospitality of this premier hotel.”
We had found the hostelry online with an Internet special price of $79 a night. Not wanting to use a credit card on the Internet, husband Glenn made the call to the Stockyards Hotel, explained to the woman who answered the phone our plans to visit and the Internet rate. She said we could have the room at that price and gave us a confirmation number, which was immediately tucked away safely with the passports.
The hotel, which sits in the heart of the National Historic Stockyards District, was built in 1907 and still offers the expansive staircase found in Wild West hotels of the 1800s. We chose the more modern method of transport to our third story room – an elevator tucked out of sight of the lobby.
We both were amazed when we turned the key and opened the door to our room. The Western décor was astounding, from the rough hewn furniture to the king size bed that sported a cattle skull complete with horns on the wall above. Even the toilets are from the turn of the 20th Century with wooden water boxes and pull handles.
There are four motifs to the standard rooms: Western, Native American, Mountain Man and Victorian. The average price is $189 per night. We stayed in an Outlaw room, which featured a king size bed, rough-hewn furniture and sturdy rocking chairs. Average price for Outlaw rooms is $199 per night (now you know why we squirreled away the confirmation number for the $79 offer). There are also suites on offer, for which you will have to check on prices.
Once we unpacked and familiarised ourselves with the room, we went back to the lobby and out the front doors to begin our real old West experience.
The first stop we made was at Billy Bob’s Bar. We had to, because of all the hype we’d heard about the place.
The building now known as Billy Bob’s Texas was built in 1910 and was once a large open-air barn for housing prize cattle during the Fort Worth Stock Show.
With 127,000 square feet of space, which is nearly three acres inside and 20 acres of parking, for entertainment and events, Billy Bob’s has 32 individual bar stations, country music’s biggest stars, Live Pro Bull Riding and a Texas size dance floor for everyone to enjoy.
The place is huge and cavernous and can hold up to 6,028 people legally.
We had a couple of beers and moved on.
If you go to Fort Worth be sure to visit Billy Bob’s so you can say you’ve been there, but do it first to get it out of the way. There’s a whole lot more to do and experience at the Stockyards.
This fun includes:
• The Fort Worth Herd is the world’s only twice daily cattle drive. Herd cowboys and cowgirls present a fun and educational demonstration about the tools, equipment and techniques used during the cattle drive era of the late 1800s. All material presents the historical impact the drovers, horses and cattle made in Texas — then and now. The drives are at 11.30am and 4pm and aren’t held on Easter Sunday, Thanksgiving Day or Christmas Day.
• The Cowtown Cattlepen Maze is a unique form of entertainment for the entire family. With over 5,400 square feet of frequently changed wooden pathways, resembling the cattlepens of the old west, the maze is always a challenge. Maze runners can compete against the clock and each other, attempting to locate check points throughout the maze in a given time, to qualify for Amaze’n Prizes.
There’s a large, second-story observation deck that provides the opportunity to preview the maze prior to entering and to watch as people negotiate their way through. The elevated deck also provides a choice vista of the entire Stockyards area, including the Tarantula Train, and is a “prime beef” location to view the daily Fort Worth Herd.
• The Cowtown Coliseum in the heart of the Fort Worth Stockyards has a rich history steeped in rodeo and the West. The Cowtown Coliseum offers all the modern amenities, yet retains the feel of an historic site. Spectators can sit in air conditioned comfort and view the best in rodeo and Western action.
• The Grapevine Vintage Railroad travels along the historic Cotton Belt Route between Grapevine and the Fort Worth Stockyards. The Railroad is serviced by two vintage locomotives, which include Puffy the 1896 Steam locomotive and oldest continuously operating steam engine in the South, and a 1953 GP-7 diesel locomotive.
• Stockyards Championship Rodeo every Friday night starting at 8 pm; bull riding, bareback riding, tie down roping, team roping, barrel racing and more. Call 817-625-1025.
• The Stockyards Museum is in the classic 1902 Livestock Exchange building in the heart of the Fort Worth Stockyards National Historic District. In 1989, the North Fort Worth Historical Society first opened the Stockyards Museum in a small space in the Livestock Exchange building to be able to share its historic archives with the public. From this modest beginning, the Stockyards Museum has now grown to host thousands of yearly visitors who come from all over the world. In addition, the Museum is a highly respected resource for writers, academics, historians, restoration specialists and genealogists in their research.
The Museum is open Monday through Saturday from 10am to 5pm. A donation of US$2 or more per adult is appreciated and helps cover operating expenses and the expansion of the Museum facilities. Call 817-625-5087
There’s no place in Texas like Fort Worth’s Stockyards Station!
• Stockyards Station exemplifies Texas by providing an exciting blend of old and new with historic walking tours that visit the Texas Trail of Fame, The Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame and more, over 25 unique shops including a winery, art gallery and restaurants that offer anything from ribs to enchiladas.
Stockyards Station is the location for many special events. Check out the event calendar at www.stockyardsstation.com to see what’s going on when you are there.
• The Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame pays tribute to over 70 cowboys and cowgirls. The museum is located in Barn A, in what was once the horse and mule barns in the Stockyards.
The Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame honours Texas men and women who have excelled in the sports of rodeo and cutting.
Also included in the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame are the Sterquell Wagon Collection and the John Justin Trail of Fame. The Sterquell is billed as “the world’s largest lifestyle wagon collection” and features more than 60 antique wagons, carriages and sleighs.
The John Justin Trail of Fame pays tribute to one of Fort Worth’s own, who spent a lifetime building the Justin Boot Company and became one of the city’s most prominent civic leaders. Included in the displays are a variety of boots, which were made for famous and not-so-famous customers, and photographs of Mr. Justin and the prominent people he knew as friends and through his business.
The Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame is open seven days a week. It also features a western gift shop and the Jersey Lilly Old Time Photo Parlor at 128 East Exchange Avenue.
One of the most pleasant surprises of our trip was a step into the White Elephant Saloon, which by the way, is right across the street from the Stockyards Hotel.
We were treated to a live country band that promised to play anything written before 1986. What an excellent crowd pleaser. the White Elephant Stage has played host to legends such as Leon Russell, Don Williams, Billy Joe Shaver, Roy Clark, Red Steagall & Charlie Daniels to a whole new generation of outlaw country music stars. It’s also the place that served as CD’s Bar and Grill during the television series Walker, Texas Ranger starring Chuck Norris who husband Glenn idolises.
You can also find live entertainment at Booger Red’s Saloon, Filthy McNasty’s Saloon, Pearl’s Dancehall and Saloon, River Ranch, Rodeo Exchange, Stockyards Saloon, the Bull Ring and the Cantina Cadillac.
Our trip was made complete when it became personal as we found the marker for the Chisholm Trail, which was used in the later 19th century to drive cattle overland from ranches in Texas to Kansas railheads. The trail stretched from South Texas across the Red River, and on to the railhead of the Kansas Pacific Railway in Abilene, Kansas, where the cattle would be sold and shipped eastward.
It takes more than a weekend to take in all that the Stockyards has to offer, but it’s a trip wealth worth the effort. If cowboys, country music, ropin’, ridin’ or Wild West nostalgia is right up your ally, then the Fort Worth Stockyards is where you need to go.
Look it up on www.fortworthstockyards.org
How to get there
Continental Airlines offers a direct flight from Grand Cayman to Houston International Sunday through Friday, getting you into Houston before 8pm. Contact www.continental.com for details. The flight is less than three hours. You can rent a car through the Continental website. The stockyards is a tad over four hours from the international airport in Houston. Get driving directions from www.mapquest.com
Wyatt Erp, Kit Carson, Calamity Jane, Bat Masterson, Jim Bowie.