Cattle drives and cowboy confrontations

How the Chisholm Trail and “Hell’s Half Acre” fed Fort Worth’s reputation in the Wild West


In the late 1800’s, land owners began crossing off routes with barbed wire, effectively closing the Chisholm Trail.

Photo courtesy of UTA Libraries

Table of Contents

Welcome back to our five-minute Fort Worth history series, where we talk about different eras in our city’s history for five minutes (clever name, we know).

Need to catch up? Read about the “Where the West Begins” with our breakdown of the city’s founding.

This month — in honor of the legendary Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo — we’re looking back at the longtime livestock legacy of Cowtown and how the trading brought in some less than savory behavior.

Hitch up for the Chisholm Trail 🐂

From 1867 to 1884, cowboys drove longhorn cattle up from the Rio Grande Valley through Fort Worth to Kansas on a route known as the Chisholm Trail. Although only used for a short time, over five million cattle and one million mustangs were driven over the Chisholm Trail in the “greatest migration of livestock in world history.”

Map of The Acre.

Hell’s Half Acre was almost 2.5 acres in its heyday in the late 1880s.

Map courtesy of TSHA

“A rough town” 🗺️

The cattle drive — and the arrival of the Texas and Pacific Railway in 1876 — brought all kinds of folk to town, who stirred up a fair bit of trouble.

Fulfilling the town’s Wild West status, several blocks in downtown picked up the nickname “Hell’s Half Acre” for their particularly rambunctious nature. The red-light district bustled with saloons, brothels, and gambling dens, frequented by cowboys, ruffians, and outlaws.

The area — also known as the “Bloody Third Ward” — saw the likes of Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid, Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp, and many others just itchin’ for a fight. The Acre’s notoriety dwindled around the state’s first prohibition campaign in 1889.

The spirit of the Chisholm Trail and Hell’s Half Acre can still be seen in Fort Worth today, but with a little less risk. Next time you’re commuting on the Chisholm Trail Parkway, imagine all the cars are cattle, and if someone insinuates that Dallas is better than Fort Worth, rein in your inner outlaw and shrug it off. They’re just jealous.

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