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Fort Worth (Tarrant County)

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The U.S. Army established Fort Worth in 1849 atop a seventy-foot bluff at the confluence of the West Fork and Clear Fork of the Trinity River where they form a single channel that flows east to Dallas and then southeast to the Gulf of Mexico. Because there was little threat from Indians in the immediate area, the U.S. Army decommissioned Fort Worth in 1853, and a new line of forts was built farther northwest (DD25). Town residents appropriated the fort’s structures for their own uses.

The topography of Fort Worth is gently rolling. The Cross Timbers, a dense line of oaks in sandy soils running south from Oklahoma, separates Fort Worth from Dallas, although much has been lost or removed with time and urbanization. To the west lie the treeless Rolling Plains and South Plains. The economy of Fort Worth and its hinterland have historically been based on cattle, cotton, grain milling, and oil. Additional industries, especially defense and aviation, brought economic stability to Fort Worth in the mid-twentieth century.

In 1860 the town won a heated contest with nearby Birdville to become the seat of Tarrant County, named for Brigadier General Edward H. Tarrant, prominent in the Republic of Texas’s campaign to remove the Indians and open the region to settlement. By 1860, the population of Tarrant County was just over 6,000 people, including approximately 850 enslaved people. Tarrant County voted for secession.

The price of beef in Chicago markets after the Civil War made it profitable to drive massive herds of cattle from South Texas to the railhead in Kansas along numerous trails through the pre–barbed wire landscape of Central Texas. One such trail was the Chisholm Trail. Fort Worth was one of the last stops along this path before it entered Indian Territory (future Oklahoma) on the way north to Abilene, Kansas. Between 1866 and 1873, the heyday of the trail, cowboys restocked and had a last fling before their journey. These activities became legendary in Fort Worth culture. The first stockyard area sat near the intersection of present I-35W and E. Lancaster Avenue, where a small pond provided water for the animals. Later a much larger stockyard (FW51) was created in Niles City, north of downtown, and it is one of the few surviving historic stockyards in the United States. Fort Worth calls itself “Cowtown” to this day.

The arrival of the Texas and Pacific Railway in 1876 from Marshall and Dallas and the city’s pursuit of several other lines were instrumental in establishing Fort Worth as a transportation hub tying Texas to Denver, St. Louis, and Chicago. With these lines in place, the efficient movement of cattle and the related meatpacking industries became central to Fort Worth’s growth. By 1901, both the Swift and Armour companies had established operations in the stockyards on opposite sides of the same street, and at one point Niles City claimed to have more millionaires per square mile than any other city in the nation. Related retail and entertainment activities permeated Fort Worth. The outlaws Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid frequented the area around 1900. The south end of downtown Fort Worth became known as “Hell’s Half Acre” and was a target of many delirious preachers.

Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base, initially named Tarrant Air Field, then Carswell Air Force Base, was established in 1942 on the west side of Fort Worth to provide wartime large bomber training. Consolidated Aircraft began work on the B-24D Liberator adjacent to the field in 1942, and a wartime housing complex of wood-frame apartments named Liberator Village was built nearby. Consolidated became Convair and later General Dynamics.

Enormous ranching endeavors such as the 6666 Ranch, created by Samuel Burk Burnett, and the Waggoner Ranch (see AQ30) remain in the region. Their legacy is an important aspect of life in the city. The expression “all hat and no cattle” is still used to denote a person with pretense and, on occasion, most of Dallas’s population. A serious rivalry, sometimes healthy and sometimes absurd, exists between the two cities, barely thirty miles apart but joined into a metropolis extending over four counties. Will Rogers quipped: “Fort Worth is where the West begins and Dallas is where the East peters out.”

Writing Credits

Gerald Moorhead et al.

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