During the winter of 1896, two men, Charles MacFarland, Texas cattleman, and Charles C. French, public relations director for the Fort Worth Stock Yards Company, met on a sidewalk in North Fort Worth. In the course of their conversation they agreed that a stock show would do a great deal to stimulate the livestock industry and to draw attention to Fort Worth’s place in it.
On a crisp winter morning in 1993, two men met on a sidewalk in West Fort Worth. Both were professional stockmen. They spoke entirely different languages, one Portuguese, the other a highly inflected brand of English. One was a Brazilian rancher, the other was a station manager from Australia. Apart from their interest in cattle and their presence in Fort Worth, they had little in common. After comparing notes about hybrid bovines, they parted, the Brazilian agreeing to sell the Australian 3500 head of Brahman cross-heifers for a ranch Down Under. What brought them together was the Southwestern Exposition and Livestock Show, one of the nation’s most prestigious annual festivals devoted to livestock breeding and feeding.
What French and MacFarland started almost a century earlier had become a Lone Star State institution dedicated to the promotion of quality livestock and the education of stockmen. Actually it is more than that.
It is an event that attracts hundreds of thousands of curious visitors, young and old each year and thousands of exhibitors, both student 4-H members and veteran cowmen. They come for a look at the show’s grand entries and grand and junior champions, not to mention the rodeos (one of the premier events on the professional circuit), as well parades, midway rides, and music. And, of course, they come to gawk at or to buy livestock of every imaginable breed: bulls, cows, steers, goats, sheep, poultry, rabbits, even llamas.
Since 1896 the Fort Worth Stock Show has gone through many lean years, but it has grown and prospered in spite of the odds, thanks to the efforts of a handful of visionary and stubborn men. The list of the show’s officers boasts such names as S. Burk Burnett, Van Zandt Jarvis, Amon Carter, Billy Bob Watt and John Justin, among others.
A Hundred Years of Heroes is their story.
Clay Reynolds is a freelance writer and novelist who lives in McKinney, Texas.
Marie Schein teaches at Tarrant County Junior College.