T. Lindsay Baker is an author and professor of history at Tarlton State University. He joins us courtesy of the studios of KTRL – Tarleton Public Radio.
Today. you don’t associate Fort Worth with the buffalo – but just over a century ago the near extermination of the bison contributed substantially to the economic growth of Fort Worth, “the town where the West begins.”
Systematic destruction of the buffalo for their hides entered Texas from Dodge City, Kansas, where it had begun in 1872. Although the Texas slaughter took place a hundred or more miles to the west, Fort Worth with its railway connections was the place that most profited from the trade, which lasted through 1879.
Readers of the Fort Worth Daily Democrat learned on November 8, 1876, that “Freighters are wanted to transport buffalo hides to Fort Worth. The amount is the largest ever known…. 10,000 hides are now on the way to the railroad and thousands await transportation to Fort Worth.”
The city on the forks of the Trinity became the shipping point for tens of thousands of buffalo hides that were taken on the western Texas plains. There was only marginal opposition to the slaughter, and precious little of it appeared in Fort Worth.
”People may object to the wholesale destruction of these animals,” the Fort Worth editor wrote on August 18, 1876. He noted that after the removal of the bison, cattle “will be a source of greater wealth to the state than all the buffalo that ever trod the plains.” He added, “with the disappearance of the buffalo vanishes the independence of the Indians…. The buffalo hunters are doing more to a resolution of the Indian enigma than all the would-be wise legislation of Congress.”
The Daily Democrat happily reported on August 19, 1876, that “the buffalo hunters beyond Fort Griffin… have commenced their fall business of slaughtering the buffalo…. There will be one thousand hunters at work inside of four weeks, and… double the number of hides will be shipped this fall.”
The editor added significantly, “Fort Worth will receive all the hides, and the trade of the liberal hunters, who spend money recklessly, and buy what they want regardless of expense.”
Commerce in buffalo hides contributed heavily to the development of the city Texans today call their Cowtown-so much so, in fact, that in 1876 it might well have been known as Hidetown.