Fort Worth Stockyards

By: J'Nell L. Pate

Type: General Entry

Published: October 1, 1995

Updated: June 3, 2016

The Fort Worth Stock Yards were officially incorporated on March 23, 1893, and the corporation was dissolved on May 31, 1944, but those who purchased it at the later date continued operations under the same name until November 1, 1981, when they leased the facilities to a company that continued using the same name. The Fort Worth livestock market became the largest in Texas and the Southwest, the biggest market south of Kansas City, and ranked between third and fourth consistently among the nation's large terminal livestock markets for five decades, from about 1905 to the mid-1950s. Texans started calling Fort Worth "Cowtown" soon after the Civil War, when drovers began herding cattle from South Texas northward to connect with the Chisholm Trail in Indian Territory and stopping in Fort Worth for supplies. Not until the Texas and Pacific Railway arrived on July 19, 1876, did promoters build pens to hold cattle, but business leaders of Fort Worth already dreamed of packing plants and stockyards to make their community a permanent focus of the cattle industry. By 1886 four stockyards had been built near the railroads. Businessmen chartered the Union Stock Yards on July 26, 1887, and opened their 258-acre facility north of the Trinity River in midsummer 1889. They also chartered a packing company. Local interests invited Boston capitalist Greenleif W. Simpson to visit, with the hope that he would invest. Simpson, with a half dozen Boston and Chicago associates, incorporated the Fort Worth Stock Yards Company in West Virginia because of more favorable tax laws there, and purchased the Union Stock Yards and the Fort Worth Packing Company in April 1893. A neighbor of Simpson in Boston, Louville V. Nile, bought half the shares. The investors struggled because of the financial panic of 1893 and other problems, but in 1896 the company began a fat-stock show that has survived to the present as one of the largest livestock shows in the nation, the Southwestern Exposition and Livestock Show. In 1896 stockyard owners also began a market newspaper that still exists today under independent ownership as the Weekly Livestock Reporter, the largest livestock newspaper in the Southwest. In 1897–98 the company, in connection with the Bureau of Animal Industry, gained nationwide attention by experimenting with cattle dipping to kill ticks (see TEXAS FEVER).

An agreement Simpson and Niles made in 1902 with Armour and Swift brought in two of the nation's largest meatpackers, which constructed modern plants adjacent to the stockyards. In a stock reorganization, each packer received a third interest in the stockyards company, and Simpson, Niles, and smaller investors retained a third. In exchange for stock and land on which to build their plants, the packers agreed that each animal they slaughtered would pass through the stockyards at a standard fee. Boom years followed for the Fort Worth Stock Yards Company after the arrival of Armour and Swift. Immigrants came from Central Europe to work in the plants and settled in a community that stockyard officials incorporated in 1902 under the name North Fort Worth.

The first decade of the twentieth century saw great growth in livestock-related industries in Fort Worth-grain elevators, livestock-pharmaceutical companies, and other meatpackers. The Fort Worth Stock Yards Company constituted the hub around which everything else revolved. The reorganized company spent $125,000 for a two-story Spanish-style exchange building and constructed brick-floored pens with a capacity of 24,500 animals. By 1905 the Fort Worth market had grown to fifth in the nation. In 1906 the calf market at Fort Worth ranked second only to Chicago. Because of rapid growth, the yards kept expanding. In March 1908, when a new $175,000 coliseum for the fat-stock show opened, the company hosted the first cutting-horse contest ever held indoors under electric lights. Population in Fort Worth tripled during the first decade after Armour and Swift came. The larger city extended its city limits to include the smaller North Fort Worth in 1909 but left the actual stockyards and other factories outside as a tax-free industrial district. Two years later, when Fort Worth planned to annex the district, the stockyard interests incorporated another small community, Niles City, which lasted as a separate entity until 1922. During those years it called itself "the richest little city in the United States" because in its one-half square mile it comprised a $30 million stockyard and meatpacking industry.

To stimulate more hog receipts for its market the Fort Worth Stock Yards Company sent its public-relations agent, Charles C. French, to rural areas in Texas and the South from 1909 to 1914, to establish "pig clubs" among rural youth. His efforts preceded and assisted in the spread of Four-H clubs after the Smith-Lever Act established the United States Extension Service in 1914 (see TEXAS AGRICULTURAL EXTENSION SERVICE). New horse and mule barns, completed in March 1912 with a capacity of 5,000 animals, enabled Fort Worth to become the largest horse and mule market in the country during the early days of World War I, when agents of foreign governments purchased cavalry animals at the yards. The year 1917 set records that stood for nearly thirty years; more than a million cattle and a million hogs arrived, for a total of 3.5 million animals in all categories-cattle, calves, hogs, sheep, and horses and mules. In 1921 a Packers and Stockyards Act decreed that the nation's large meatpackers divest themselves of stockyards, so Armour and Swift had to begin the sale of Fort Worth Stock Yards Company stock. The Armour Company established General Stockyards to purchase the stock they owned in numerous stockyards, and Swift established United Stockyards. Eventually United Stockyards bought the Fort Worth Stock Yards Company stock belonging to General Stockyards and others. During the Great Depression, though receipts declined, the company paid consistent dividends. It provided round-the-clock service, retained nearly 200 employees, and had a capacity of 30,000 cattle, 18,000 sheep, 12,000 hogs, and 4,000 horses and mules on its 253-acre site. By 1936 Texas had become the largest-producing state for both cattle and sheep. In May 1937, for the first time in history, total receipts in Fort Worth topped the nation, exceeding even Chicago and Kansas City. The year 1937 proved to be the largest since 1917, with over three million animals received.

By 1944 United Stockyards had purchased all Fort Worth Stock Yards Company stock. United dissolved the corporation calling itself the Fort Worth Stock Yards, and the yards became a wholly owned subsidiary of United. Little changed, for as a division of United the company continued under the same leadership and name. Sometime in the 1940s the company began to write Stockyards as one word. The war decade shattered old records. Fort Worth had developed into the nation's largest sheep market, as two million sheep a year arrived. The total receipts in all categories in 1944 surpassed 5.25 million animals, and 1944 remained the largest year ever in the history of the market. Forty-eight commission companies operated on the yards during the peak years of the 1940s, along with numerous other speculators and traders. In that decade, however, aircraft manufacturing replaced livestock and meatpacking as the largest industry in Fort Worth (see AERONAUTICS AND AEROSPACE INDUSTRY).

During the 1950s receipts declined to two million animals a year because country auctions in small towns drew away trade. The shift from rail transportation to trucks, as well as the long distances from Texas ranches to Fort Worth, caused producers to sell closer to home. The Armour plant closed in 1962, and a more rapid decline in receipts came in the following years. A few small independent packers and Swift remained, but the latter closed in 1971. Commission companies dwindled to fewer than a dozen. Changes in ownership also took place. In 1959 Canal-Randolph, a large real estate-development corporation, gained control of United Stockyards. To make the yards more efficient, officials reduced pens from railroad size to truck size, laid off employees, and curtailed operations. Feedlots, particularly in the Panhandle, became the new phenomenon of the 1960s. Cattle feeding accelerated a decentralization process in livestock marketing that already had made great gains.

Receipts had dropped to a few more than 300,000 animals as the 1970s began. In 1972 the city of Fort Worth named a Stockyards Area Restoration Committee to supervise the private and public redevelopment of the area. By early 1978 some $4.4 million of public funds, mostly from the Economic Development Administration, had brought nearly $7 million in private investment. Canal-Randolph spent $500,000 to remodel pens, build new ones, and move the unloading dock. The company also spent $750,000 to renovate the Livestock Exchange Building to lease as office space. Stockyard personnel, members of the North Fort Worth Historical Society, and numerous other Fort Worth citizens celebrated at the yards on July 26, 1987, the centennial of the date that the Fort Worth Union Stock Yards was incorporated. The society, with offices and a museum in the Livestock Exchange Building, promotes the stockyards area and preserves its heritage. Several historical markers dot the area. The Chisholm Trail Days celebration in June and Pioneer Days in September testify to great interest in the area. Promoters of rodeos, restaurants, hotels, and nightclubs are capitalizing on the Western heritage that brings thousands of tourists to the Fort Worth Stockyards annually. Livestock receipts on the yards continued to dwindle. Consequently, the Fort Worth Stockyards held its last auction in December 1992, and the grand old market shut down. Tourists frequent the area for its restaurants, shops, and Western atmosphere. See also CATTLE TRAILING, HORSE AND MULE INDUSTRY, SHEEP RANCHING, SOUTHWESTERN EXPOSITION AND LIVESTOCK SHOW, SWIFT AND COMPANY, SWINE RAISING.

E. C. Barksdale, The Meat Packers Come to Texas (Austin: Bureau of Business Research, University of Texas, 1959). Fort Worth Stockyards Company Collection, University of North Texas Archives. Delia Ann Hendricks, The History of Cattle and Oil in Tarrant County (M.A. thesis, Texas Christian University, 1969). J'Nell Pate, Livestock Legacy: The Fort Worth Stockyards, 1887–1987 (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1988). Robert H. Talbert, Cowtown-Metropolis: Case Study of a City's Growth and Structure (Fort Worth: Texas Christian University, 1956). Clarence Arnold Thompson, Some Factors Contributing to the Growth of Fort Worth (M.A. thesis, University of Texas, 1933).

  • Ranching and Cowboys
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  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

J'Nell L. Pate, “Fort Worth Stockyards,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 02, 2022,

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October 1, 1995
June 3, 2016

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