Fort Worth Cattle Drive

Americana, History, Odd Jobs, People, Traditions
on June 7, 2011
Marta W. Aldrich Kristin Jaworski is trail boss of the Fort Worth Herd in Fort Worth, Texas.

Twirling her right arm as if roping a steer, Kristin Jaworski sits high in the saddle and signals for her team of drovers to move a dozen longhorn cattle along Exchange Avenue in Fort Worth, Texas.

“Get ’em out!” shouts Jaworski, 34, prompting lead drover Jerry Eastman to walk his horse to the front of the herd and launch into a soothing cattle call.

“Come on, cattle,” he coaxes in a slow, singsong voice, moseying along the busy street lined with vehicles, storefronts and camera-wielding tourists.

The longhorns, weighing an average of 1,100 pounds and with horns that can span more than 7 feet, lumber behind, flanked and trailed by Jaworski and six cowboys wearing clothing styles of the 1880s, when cattle drives through Fort Worth were commonplace.

Watching the twice-daily cattle drive, bystanders quickly notice Jaworski and call out to the trail boss, who oversees the historical re-enactment and its accompanying livestock and hired hands. Together, they keep the cattle moving 362 days a year through the Stockyards National Historic District.

“I do the exact same thing today that trail bosses did in the 1880s,” Jaworski says, “except we do a lot of education programs and community relations, too.”

Established in 1999 by city and local business leaders, the Fort Worth Herd provides a historical interpretation of the cattle industry’s importance to the city, recalling the era when millions of Texas longhorns roamed the wild and were gathered into mile-long-wide herds for drives along the Chisholm Trail, including a major stop in Fort Worth. After reaching the rail yards in Kansas, the longhorns were sold for up to $40 a head, compared with $1 to $3 locally, before being transported west or northeast for their beef, horns, hooves, tallow and hides.

“The cattle drives were just as hard on the cattle as on the people,” Jaworski explains. “They created these trails and grazed the cattle as they went, making sure that water was available. It was a very slow journey—about 10 miles a day.”

The drives’ heyday was from the late 1880s to the late 1890s, when English breeds such as Herefords and Black Angus began to supplant longhorns as the beef of choice. Livestock diseases and the introduction of barbed wire that crisscrossed the plains also presented hurdles that drove longhorns to near extinction.

Today, longhorns are bred for show, hide, horn and specialty beef, and the Fort Worth Herd pays homage to the cattle and cowboys who were part of the historic drives.

“We are really ambassadors for the city of Fort Worth,” says Jaworski, who is employed by the Fort Worth Convention & Visitors Bureau. “We’re here to teach what the Western way of life was really like.”

As trail boss, Jaworski and her drovers move cattle safely through crowded streets despite an occasional emergency vehicle siren or loud music from an outdoor concert. Security officers stop vehicular traffic during the quarter-mile drive until the drovers guide the animals back to their pens.

“Even though cattle are creatures of habit, no two cattle drives are the same,” Jaworski says, noting that longhorns are docile but curious animals with a strong pecking order based on age, strength and demeanor. “It’s a fine art to drive longhorns down the center of a city street twice a day. Their horns are definitely an issue. You can’t crowd them like you can other cattle.”

Taking the trail boss job in 2002 at age 25, Jaworski is as comfortable with livestock as she is with business executives. She grew up around horses in Arizona and New Mexico, where she was involved in 4-H and Future Farmers of America programs, and graduated from Tarleton State University in Stephenville, Texas, with degrees in business and management. Soon after joining the Fort Worth Herd, she launched educational programs and a “cow camp” to teach children about Western life in the late 19th century.

Rocky Roney, 58, a cowhand from Odessa, Texas, says he was concerned about working for a “boss lady” when joining Jaworski’s team in 2004, but now he appreciates her can-do attitude—whether she is cleaning stalls, buying cattle, conducting television interviews or serving as president of the Fort Worth Stockyards Business Association.

“She can be tough with you, but she’s very calm and well educated,” Roney says. “And even though she’s younger than me, she’s kind of like my mother. We’re really like a big family.”