We asked Fort Worth Stockyards Ambassador Joel Fuller to give us some of his favorite spots from his Wrangler or Cowboy tours. We thought it would be a great way to highlight what makes this historical Texas landmark a must-see for travelers.
Joel wasn’t exactly born and raised on the Stockyards, but he might as well have been. He lived minutes down the street from them his whole childhood. His Grandad worked at the Armour Packing Company for thirty years (1920s-1950s). His mom worked in the Livestock Exchange Building (during WWII) and his brothers worked the nightshift for the railroads (in the late sixties) to help pay for college. Fast forward to today, Joel has been a Stockyards tour guide for four years now after retiring from a 28-year-long teaching career.
It wasn’t easy to get this list of favorites from Joel who at first said he couldn’t possibly narrow it down. (To say he is an amazing history buff is putting it mildly.) So for the record, these are just some of his favs and they’re in no particular order.
Marine Creek (Behind Riscky’s Steakhouse)
Joel: Marine Creek was the birthplace of the Stockyards. As a spring-fed creek and a reliable source of water that feeds into the Trinity River, it was the ideal place for cattle drives and for the drovers to camp. Until the CowTown Coliseum was built in 1907, this is where the live stock exhibits were held.
Stockyards Stables (& Horseback Riding)
Joel: The horse and mule barns were built in 1911. That same year, Teddy Roosevelt came to the Stockyards and gave a speech inside the Coliseum, and that same day, the stables burned to the ground and over 1500 animals were lost and three people went missing. The barns were rebuilt in 1912 using brick. During World War I, the Stockyards barns sold over 200,000 horses and mules to the U.S. Army and allies in Europe – 20-30 percent of all the animals used in the European war effort came out of these barns. Today, visitors can go on beautiful horseback riding tours along the Chisholm Trail.
Joel: The Coliseum was built in 88 days in 1907 with 3,418 seats and back then it was considered massive, opulent and fancy. So many people have performed or come to the rodeo, including Enrico Caruso, Quanah Parker, Hank Williams, Doris Day and Bob Hope. My personal favorite is Elvis came to the Stockyards three times. He came as part of a rock and roll show in 1955 (twice). He wasn’t well known yet and performed, got paid and left. One year later, he came back and the Stockyards had to cram 7,000 people into the Coliseum to witness him perform!
Today, there are over 100 rodeos a year here and every Friday and Saturday night, people come from all over the world to see one. And, it’s a great rodeo.
The Cowtown Cattle-Pen Maze
Joel: The maze is 5,400 sq. ft. of wooden pathways and is similar to the old cattle pens. The goal is to get in and out of the maze as fast as you can. A previous owner of the maze told me that the fastest time through was four minutes without cheating and the longest time through was an hour and half. I don’t know if this record still holds true.
Billy Bob’s Texas
Joel: Billy Bob’s is an amazing place. It’s the biggest honky tonk country western bar in the world and can hold 6,000 people. It was built in the twenties to be an exhibit hall for the stock show. During World War II, Globe Aircraft Corporation took over the space to make warplanes and parts. Then it became Clark’s Department Store and I remember the stock boys went around on rollers skates. During the eighties, when mechanical bulls and the cowboy craze were big, Billy Bob Barnett decided to make it Billy Bob’s Texas and a place with live bull riding.
Every country icon has played here from Pat Green to Dolly Parton. (The dance floor has a spinning disco saddle that Dolly Parton gave to Billy Bob.) Willie Nelson has probably played there 50 times. There have been a lot of surprise acts too like Bob Dylan, BB King and Peter Frampton.
Joel: The old pens that kept the hogs and sheep were here. Armour & Company and Swift & Company came in 1902 and built plants and because they were afraid the hogs would get sunburned in the summer, they covered the building. The building has a cool old look and I think it looks like Fenway Park. Today, there are restaurants, stores and where every kind of beef jerky you can imagine is sold. The twice-daily cattle drive passes by here.
Pig and Sheep Subway
Joel: These were the underground tunnels that went underneath Exchange Street to herd the pig, sheep and cattle to the yards. The Stockyards are referred to as the ‘Wall Street of The West’ because billions of dollars have exchanged hands here.
Joel: This is where you see our unique history in Fort Worth and how the Railyard played a key part in our American saga. I go over the timeline from the Spanish explorers bringing cattle to 350 years later when the Fort Worth fort is built to the end of the Civil War when the cattle drives started to the railways gradually coming in and the end of cattle drives to Armour and Swift entering the picture to Eisenhower creating the interstate system with great highways to the development of the Stockyards and in 1976 it receiving the Stockyards National Historic District designation! (It was in 1893 when one of the new owners named it the Fort Worth Stockyards.) I have skipped a few details here of course.
Featured image courtesy of Lola Hardisty.