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Home arrow Law arrow Prisons and Punishment in Texas: Culture, History and Museological Representation

Fort Worth

A city located in North Central Texas, Fort Worth is packed full of things to see and do. The focus of the downtown area is Sundance Square. At night—between the restaurants and bars that spill onto the sidewalks— outdoor musicians perform and entertain for the appreciative crowds. On warm summer nights visitors can watch a movie on the outdoor big screen which is erected for the Stars under the Stars free movie series. Or, if you arrive later in the year the square becomes home to the massive

50-foot Fort Worth Christmas Tree, decorated with lights from top to bottom.

Research Diary: Fort Worth is so entirely different from Dallas. In Dallas I stayed on the 129 th floor of a skyscraper; in Fort Worth the receptionist bakes fresh cookies every morning. In Dallas, upon leaving the hotel a group of at least 5 cab drivers would heckle for my business; in Fort Worth the shuttle bus driver Steve will happily leave his cup of coffee to take you wherever you need to go. Of course one was a hotel and the other a motel, but I have stayed in motels in Dallas and they were the polar opposite, devoid of the warmth and friendliness of my motel in Fort Worth. While staying at a Dallas motel I heard gunshots in the car park followed by sirens; in Fort Worth two rocking chairs adorn the porch where visitors sit and chat till the early hours.

After spending some time in the Cultural District and Sundance Square, I headed for one of the most visited historical sites in Texas: the Fort Worth Stockyards. The Stockyards is a collection of different experiences which spread over fifteen square blocks. Patrons can enjoy a drink in the White Elephant Saloon, where the walls are decorated with antlers of longhorn cattle and countless Stetsons autographed by country music legends. Foot-tapping country music fills the air and carries outside into the afternoon sun of the Rodeo Plaza, a shopping precinct which sells many souvenirs and larger items made by local artisans. Also in the Plaza is Billy Bob’s Texas, a performance venue with a seating capacity of 6,000 which is equipped for traditional bull riding and rodeos.

Opposite the White Elephant is the Stockyards Hotel, with a lobby decor described in one guide book as cattle baron baroque (Dar and Fox 2009). Filled with deer antlers, worn armchairs and artwork depicting the stockyards in their glory days, the Stockyards Hotel is a tribute to the all things Western. Walking along East Exchange Street visitors will find the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame and the Livestock Exchange Building. Surrounded by extensive gardens, the Exchange Building has a cream- coloured facade with eleven archways framing the entrance. A single longhorn, high above the central archway, watches over. In the lobby of the building there is a chuck wagon which—draped in an American flag—acts as a photographic backdrop for visitors. The Stockyards Museum can also be found here, open every day except Sundays. The museum displays an eclectic mix of objects and you can feel that it is much loved. It reminded me of my grandma’s house, cluttered but cosy.

Tourist Information, the departure point for walking tours of the site, is situated opposite the Livestock Exchange Building. Well worth the $6 price, the tour begins with a twelve-minute video called The Spirit of the West that recounts the history of the stockyards. A Wrangler Tour Guide then walks you through the area sharing their historical stories. Continuing along East Exchange Street, visitors will find Riskys BBQ, Trailboss Burgers and Habanero’s Grill & Cantina. All located within the old Stockyards Station, the restaurants’ decor is in keeping with the rustic Old West environment—red-and-white checked tablecloths, old neon signs and inviting menus that promise to satisfy the biggest of appetites.

Research Diary: While interviewing Claire, the Stockyards Museum Director, over lunch in Riskys BBQ she told me about the cowgirl poetry she writes in her spare time, a hobby which has earned her the title of ‘Cowgirl Poet of the Year’. She recited a poem from her new CD ‘The Cowgirl Way’ and it was lovely to hear the passion in her voice. Claire lives on a ranch with her husband Rob in Parker County and is a regular at her local Cowboy Church. She also travels far and wide to attend and compete in Chuck Wagon Cook-offs with her own restored chuck wagon. For Claire, wearing a Stetson is not just a performance for the tourist gaze, in her own words: ‘I’ve always known I was born in the wrong era. The Old West is a part of me. No that’s wrong it’s all of me—that simple.’

Twice daily, visitors to the Stockyards begin to line either side of East Exchange Street. Cameras at the ready, they await the Fort Worth herd of longhorn cattle. Between eight and ten cattle drovers in traditional garb herd the sixteen longhorns from their pens within the maze, down East Exchange Street, around the Rodeo Plaza and then back to their pens (Fig. 3.2). The cattle drive only takes around 15-20 minutes but the tourists seem to enjoy every second of it. Visually the longhorns are quite a sight, but added to this are the sounds of the whistling horseback cowboys and cowgirls, and the heavy, slow rhythm

Longhorn Stockyards

Fig. 3.2 Longhorn Stockyards

of obedient cattle hooves. The tourist leaflets suggest the cattle drive is an unforgettable performance of the Old West memory, and I would have to agree.

Research Diary: The thing that sticks with me from visiting the Stockyards is how much everyone I came into contact with seems to love their job. From the walking-tour guides who are incredibly enthusiastic about Fort Worth history, to the security guard who joked with patrons about public intoxication, to the servers at the White Elephant Saloon that sing along at the top of their voices to the country music playing. The numerous people dressed in traditional cowboy attire, presumably on a break from the Jersey Lilly Photo Parlour, sit outside smoking a cigarette and laughing with customers, and the Stetson-wearing security guard told me at length about two stray kittens which he found in the Stockyards and has since adopted. As a tourist destination it is easy to see why the Stockyards are so popular.

I was sad to say goodbye to the friends I had made in Fort Worth and I wish I could have stayed longer. Claire had invited me to one of the cookoffs she was competing in during the following month, but I needed to get back to Dallas ready for an onward journey. I boarded the Trinity Rail Express, sat back on the comfortable seats, rucksack beside me, and reviewed my onward journey details. My next stop was the Dallas Greyhound Station.

I had been to the Dallas Greyhound Station a couple of times before on pilot trips and I was not looking forward to returning. The building itself is actually quite nice, clean and new with a small cafe in one corner, but as a lone female traveller it can be a little intimidating. As I sat and waited for my bus to be called a man approached me and asked ‘Where you headed? Can I come too?’ I thanked the gentleman but politely declined his offer of a chaperone. Upon hearing my English accent he smiled and sat down; apparently he liked English girls. I moved to another part of the station but found myself spending the next ten minutes attempting to avoid the amorous advances of a very excited, very intoxicated, very large Texan man. Luckily my bus was soon announced and I made my way to queue number six, ready to board for a journey to Huntsville; a place Massingill and Sohn (2007) refer to as ‘Prison City’.

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