Welcome to the Wild West. The city of Fort Worth, Texas, is home not only to a famous marathon, but also to another sight you don’t see every day: Wearing authentic Western gear, cowboys drive longhorn cattle along the main avenue of its historic district.
Howdy, pardner! Are you are drawn by the lure of the Old West? If you come to Fort Worth in late February, you can explore this chapter of the region’s history – and take part in one of North America’s most famous marathons. For decades now, this city in the U.S. state of Texas, fifty kilometers west of Dallas, has played host to the traditional Cowtown Marathon. Why “Cowtown”? Fort Worth’s nickname recalls its many years at the center of the cattle trade. And in another unique spectacle harkening back to this history, cowboys drive majestic Texas Longhorns through the city’s historic district, letting the street ring with the traditional “Yee-haw!” of the cowpunchers.
Both events are rooted in a long tradition. The marathon was first held in 1977, and today is one of the most popular events in the state of Texas. Each year some 30,000 people participate in one of six races of varying lengths. There is not only the classic marathon, but also a half-marathon, a 5K and a 10K race, and a 50-kilometer ultramarathon. And young cowpokes can run in a five-kilometer race just for kids. The city is full to the brim of its ten-gallon hat with runners, not to mention fans and family members cheering for their friends and relatives. Runners with a fast-enough time can use the Cowtown Marathon to qualify for the legendary Boston Marathon, one of the oldest and largest events on the global calendar.
But the rich history of Fort Worth is also interwoven with that of cowboys, Texas Longhorns, and the cattle industry. Travelling back in time to Texas in 1865, we find peace slowly returning to the nation after the upheaval of the American Civil War. The rich grasslands of the south are populated by wild herds of cattle. Left behind by the soldiers, the herds wander the plains freely and grow large – extremely large. Large enough, in fact, to meet the growing demand for meat in the northern states. And while the surplus of cattle means a price of only four dollars per head in the south, the livestock brings ten times that amount in the north – 40 dollars per head. The idea of taking the cattle north is clearly a lucrative one, but brings its own set of challenges. Who is going to herd the longhorns together and drive them on the long northern trek? Who is going to keep the troublesome critters under control? Cowhands on horseback are the answer – and the cowboy is born.
Fort Worth was one of the hubs of the cattle trade, meaning it was also the home of these early cowboys. When the railroad came to Fort Worth in 1876, the cows could be transported in cattle cars and the importance of the cowboy began to decline. But the city and its stockyards and livestock exchange boomed. And the legendary appeal of the cowboy lives on to this day. In 1999, Fort Worth celebrated its 150th anniversary. And what could be a better way to celebrate than a journey back in time? The city assembled a herd of fifteen Texas Longhorns (one cow for each decade) and a team of professional cowpunchers clad in authentic period costumes. When the cattle were driven through Fort Worth’s historic district, cheered by 15,000 spectators, a new tradition was born – the Fort Worth Herd . Today the longhorn cattle are driven along the street to the historic stockyard twice a day, much to the delight of locals and tourists alike. There is hardly a better place in the United States see the Wild West come to life – recalling the days when Texas Longhorns, with a horn spread of up to two meters, were herded across the prairie.
This impressive sight can also be experienced on the marathon weekend in late February or early March (the next Cowtown Marathon is scheduled for February 28 - March 1, 2020). Horses whinny, bulls snort, and cowboys twirl their lassos. Snatches of country music float through the doors of the saloons between the cheers of the crowd. And rising above other sounds, the loud cries of “Yee-haw!”