A Good Day at the Fort Worth Stock Yards: History, Texas Lore, and Livestock Lessons

Several years ago, I read Seth Stevenson’s Grounded: A Down to Earth Journey Around the World, which details the author’s trip around the globe sans airplanes. While the book doesn’t stand out in my memory as anything extraordinary, I do remember thinking there was merit to the author’s point about airplanes meaning we miss something when we travel, that staying “grounded” could enhance the journey.

With all of this summer’s roadtripping, I feel far more connected to these old-west stories and historical bits I’ve gathered up over the last several months—because I’ve gotten to roll along the same paths and pass through the same spaces experienced by the historical figures I’ve read about. And today pulled even more of the threads together.

We spent the day in the historic Fort Worth Stock Yards, visiting the Stock Yards museum and taking a historical walking tour. We saw the popular cattle drive, and I considered my trip north in July to Dodge City, Kansas. It felt cool to think I’d followed the path of the old drovers. Knowing I had driven the “trail” from Texas to Kansas made the adventures of the drovers on the Chisholm Trail just a little more real.

The local museum presented the same outlaws I’ve now seen multiple times across the West this summer. (It also introduced me to Bobo, the Bull. A guy named Jerry Cotten rode Bobo from Fort Worth all the way to the New York World’s Fair in 1964. Also, the museum exhibited the second-longest-burning lightbulb in the world—112 years aglow.)

On the historical tour, we wound through the preserved stock-yard structures, learning (among other things) about Judas goats: these goats would lead herds of sheep to slaughter, the sheep docilely following their peer. We also heard about the meat industry of the late 1800s and early 1900s. (I was reminded of the Chicago meat-fortune families who built cottages on Mackinac Island, whose carriages I saw at the carriage museum on the island. Apparently, it was Chicago meat-industry investment that made the Ft. Worth Stock Yards.)

At the Cowtown Coliseum, we caught a few minutes of a horse auction, with a beautiful animal literally sitting down, having it’s tack removed, and standing back up to carry a rider through a series of intricate maneuvers with no tack on—no bridle! When we left, the bidding was over $50,000!

Now we sit back aboard Traveler, the sun setting in fine style over the lake. It was a good day, one that reminded me how interwoven the strands of America’s short history are ... and how being on the road makes this history especially vivid.

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