An experience of culture and history in (freezing??) Texas
By Stephanie DiCarlo
When I landed in Fort Worth, Texas after a long flight from up in Boston, my immediate impression was, “this place is cold.”
Now, I’d never been to Texas before, but I knew a thing or two about its weather. When I lived in England, my former flat mate, a Texas native, couldn’t stand the frigid climate of Britain. She told me stories of living in the Texas heat that made me sweat to think about, and the jacket she wore in England — a simple pea coat — was the thickest coat she’d ever had to buy.
So when I stepped out into the chilly Texan air and shivered in my heavy sweater, right away my first expectation was squashed. I wasn’t expecting the unspeakable heat I’d heard about, it was November after all, but thirty seven degrees wasn’t something I had believed when I’d looked up the forecast before I hopped on my flight.
It was funny how Fort Worth defied certain expectations I’d brought with me, and other parts of the city were as Texan as I could have imagined. I went in a saloon, attended a rodeo, visited a saddle shop, line danced, ate barbeque, saw a cattle drive, and learned a thing or two about cowgirls in the National Cowgirl Museum. On the other hand, I also saw Michelangelo’s first known painting, experienced modern art of course, shivered until my teeth chattered.
Fort Worth showed me a fantastic time.
I’ve been to the south, the midwest, the west coast, and am a native of the northeast, so it was only inevitable that I hit Texas eventually, and when I got that chance I was intrigued to see another culture within the United States. My time for Texas had finally come, and off to Fort Worth I went.
Before going to Fort Worth, if someone had asked me if I was interested in attending a rodeo, or doing some line dancing, or visiting a saloon, my response would probably have been something along the lines of a shrug and, “….no thanks.”
Forth Worth, however, inspires an entirely different kind of mindset, especially for someone like me, who had never experienced a western city.
On my first night in Fort Worth, we visited the Stockyards, the historic district of Fort Worth. The Stockyards were the center of the livestock market in the late 1800s, and it definitely felt like stepping into a blend of the present and the past.As someone who tends to travel for history, the Stockyards easily piqued my interest with its rustic, old fashioned outward appearance and western atmosphere.
Line dancers dancing beneath a disco saddle. Stephanie DiCarlo photos.
During my visit to the Stockyards that first night, I experienced my first ever lesson in line dancing at Billy Bob’s Texas, the world’s largest honky tonk. True to its name, it was enormous. It has an indoor square footage of 100,000 ft, and it houses concerts, rodeos, bull riding, over thirty bars and a “Texas sized dance floor.”
Normally I’m not much of an organized dancer, but when I walked into Billy Bob’s and saw the lines of people on the dance floor, from the young to the elderly, line dancing for the pure joy of it to country music and modern hip hop (line dancing can be done to literally any kind of music, I realized), something in me felt the need to try it.
So when the instructor, an old man in cowboy hat, stepped up to give us a lesson, I joined my companions on the dance floor. I did as well as anyone as uncoordinated as me could have done, but had a blast doing it, and among me were faces of people from all over the globe–England, China, Poland, and New Zealand, just to name a few – all come to Billy Bob’s to get some proper Texan dance lessons.
After Billy Bob’s we headed over to the White Elephant Saloon, a notorious saloon known for its wild past of duels and shootouts. Back in its day, a saloon was generally regarded as a male-only establishment in which lots of gambling and drinking took place. According to the “Wild West lore,” the White Elephant Saloon was home to Fort Worth’s last gunfight between the sheriff and the owner of the saloon itself.
The White Elephant Saloon I visited was not the location of the original saloon, first located in a building outside the Stockyards, but it was a saloon I felt still had the romance of its reputation.
Dimly lit, numerous cowboy hats and elephant figurines propped on the walls, a bit dingy with live music every night, I certainly felt its charm, imagining how a place like that may have been different about a hundred years before.
In daylight, the Stockyards is no less appealing. The next day, we got to see a bit more history and real livestock heard down the street in a cattle drive. These cattle drives are done every single day, the world’s only twice-daily cattle drive. We also stopped by M.L. Leddy’s Handmade Boots and Saddles and got an exclusive tour of the attic where saddles are handmade.
As someone unfamiliar with saddle artistry, it was amazing to see the intricate patterns carved into leather, and we were shown saddles at all different points of production, and even got to look on as a man sculpted patterns and designs into his saddle. The building itself had interesting history marked on its own walls, paintings left from when the shop was once a hotel or, as history tells it, a brothel. It was a fascinating place, and one of my favorites that we visited.
Another one of my favorite places I went in Fort Worth– the rodeo! To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much when I saw it on the itinerary, but soon realized that the reason for that was because I didn’t quite know what a rodeo even was.
It is, quite simply, men on horses showing their skills at rounding up cow and riding bulls.
While I’m sure there have been rodeos that have taken place up north, it seemed like such a foreign sport to me.
Once we got there and I was finally able to see my first rodeo, I found it wildly entertaining.
I don’t know what it is about watching a person hold on for dear life to the back of a bull for all of ten seconds, or someone lassoing a calf, but there’s something oddly satisfying and entertaining, and there’s always the question of who you’re rooting for– the person, or the animal?
The rodeo we attended was in the Cowtown Coliseum, the world’s first indoor rodeo built in 1908. The Stockyards Champion rodeo is held year-round, every Friday and Saturday night, and is definitely worth a visit if you’re there on a weekend.
So, obviously, the Stockyards were my favorite part of Fort Worth. It drew me in through its history and culture that I felt set it apart from the rest of Fort Worth, and while it’s largely a tourist town compared to what it used to be, I thought it carried a lot of unique Texan charm, and it’s a place I’d happily revisit.
The Cultural District
The Kimbell Art Museum. Stephanie DiCarlo photos.Since I loved the history of the Stockyards, it really comes as no surprise that my other favorite part of Forth Worth was the Cultural District. The cultural district is home to five “internationally recognized museums,” and as a museum lover and someone who has been from the Smithsonian to the Louvre to the British Museum in London, I can genuinely say that these were great museums.
Our first stop was the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame. As a person who knew little of cowgirl culture beyond what I’d seen on TV and movies, I found it fascinating to learn about the history of it and to see what kind of an impact women have had. The museum showcased key figures such as Annie Oakley, a woman who prized herself on traditional feminine qualities, yet had an eye for shooting sharper than anyone. This museum is definitely worth a visit if you’re interested in learning more about Texan culture and history.
Next, we got our eyes on some art at the Kimbell Art Museum. This museum was my personal favorite, housing art from ancient times to the 20th century. It’s known as “America’s best small museum,” but it houses huge names, such as Picasso, Rembrant, and is home to Michelangelo’s first known painting, as well as is art from ancient times and places like Medieval Asia. If you’re a history traveler like I am, or simply an art fan, this museum is a must-visit.
Lastly, we visited the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, which houses art by Andy Warhol, Frances Bacon, and one of my personal favorites, Cindy Sherman. The walls here are covered in photographs, abstract paintings and sculptures, and even electronic art. Again, if you’re an art fan, this museum is one you must visit.
What I found interesting about these two art museums was the transition I’d suddenly made from traditional Texan culture. One moment I was looking at a dress worn by Annie Oakley and catching up on cowgirl history, and the next I was looking at a sculpture from Medieval China.
I think visiting the cultural district in Fort Worth really showed me that experiencing culture means more than cattle drives and country music. As a tourist visiting Texas, I realized I had superficial notions about visiting Fort Worth, and that this diverse city truly had so much to offer.
Yet while I did enjoy seeing all the art, my favorite part of visiting Fort Worth was definitely the “Texan” aspects of it.
While Fort Worth is a well-known city, my impression of it is that it is relatively underrated, and undeservedly so.
Fort Worth was full of so much to do in terms of culture, history, and entertainment without being too overwhelming, and I met some of the friendliest people there.
While the temperature might have been bordering on freezing, the locals there were all inviting smiles and warmth, and always willing to share a story or a bit of history of the city.
The city itself was beautiful, especially at night when the streets were lit up with neon signs and trees decorated with string lights, country music always playing from….somewhere.
While Fort Worth may only be a tiny part of the enormous state that is Texas, it is proud to be a part of Texas, it loves its culture and wants to share it with everyone who visits. Fort Worth showed me a great time for my first visit to Texas, piqued my interest in things I never expected I’d find so entertaining, and gave me an amazing experience. I had a fantastic time at a place I can definitely see myself visiting again one day.
For more information visit Fort Worth’s offical website.