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Monday, April 12, 2021

Longhorn legacy: Life on the trail with the Fort Worth Herd

Fort Worth Herd

For more information on the Herd or how to volunteer, donate or even adopt a steer:


Twice a day the Old West comes to life with heavy hoof-beats echoing down Exchange Avenue led by cowboys and cowgirls in the Stockyards National Historic District.

To honor the historical drovers of the Chisholm Trail who pushed longhorns up the trail after the Civil War, the Fort Worth Herd holds a twice-daily cattle drive through the Fort Worth Stockyards. Fort Worth earned is Cowtown nickname from its roots as a route – and eventually a destination – for cattle headed to market. Between 1866 and 1890, more than 4 million head of cattle came through Fort Worth. When the railroad arrived in 1876, the city became a major shipping point for livestock, many housed in what is now the Stockyards. Later, came the meatpacking plants.

“The Fort Worth Herd is American history, it’s the Texas longhorn American heritage. It really puts Fort Worth on the map as a tourist destination,” Herd Trail Boss Kristin Jaworski said. “We have something you’re not going to see anywhere else. It’s not a rodeo, it’s not a horse show, it’s not anything like that.”

The first modern cattle drive took place on the city’s 150th anniversary, June 12, 1999. It began as a seasonal operation and evolved into the twice-daily drive at 11:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. Now tourists and residents alike line the sidewalk to watch the small group of longhorns amble past along the old red brick streets.

“The [original] idea was maybe we’ll make it seasonal or maybe we’ll just have visitors come look at the longhorns,” Jaworski said. “But the biggest change is truly the attention that the Herd has received.”

The Herd is a nonprofit managed by the Fort Worth Convention & Visitors Bureau that cares for 21 donated longhorn steers, including 16 for the cattle drive and 5 show steers that can be found throughout the Stockyards or at various events. Each steer weighs up to 2,000 pounds and has over 92 inches of horn span from tip to tip. Along with the steers, facilities and feed are also donated.

The seven-days-a-week operation has 15 to 20 employees led by Jaworski. She has been with the Herd since 2009 and says she and her team are constantly learning and working to put on the best show possible for residents and tourists.

“[Being trail boss] is such a unique title, but it has a lot of excitement to it. Fort Worth is probably one of the only places where we have job descriptions of trail boss and drover and wrangler,” Jaworski said. “The biggest challenge is always going to be, every single day, safety is paramount. You can’t always predict everything. There’s just so much to learn, and behind the scenes it really takes a lot to make this program happen.”

While the drive has become a tourist staple, the concept has evolved into more than a showpiece with Four Hours of Fun, an educational experience in partnership with the Fort Worth Herd, The Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame and the Cowtown Cattlepen Maze. Children are able to experience the Stockyards and learn the history behind the Herd.

“Our main objective is education. We’re teaching [children] about life on the trail and what it was like and agriculture and where their heritage came from,” Jaworski said.

Though there are plenty of other attractions in the Stockyards, Jaworski is confident that the cattle drive will serve as an evergreen source of entertainment for years to come.

“[The Herd] has proven itself over the years to be one of the number one attractions that people do come to see. There’s not a charge to see the Herd and it’s a great opportunity to take pictures,” she said. “There’s more to the Stockyards than the Herd, but we hope that the cattle drive is really what they came here to see and so with that, I’m going to be optimistic about the growth of the Herd.”

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