FOR ME, THE FORT WORTH Stock Show conjures up childhood memories of horses with beautifully braided manes and tails, bags of sour balls and red licorice whips, the rapid clucking of an auctioneer’s voice echoing in the hall, and hefty cows with curious names like Pixie or Fat Albert. And, of course, the smell—that unmistakable blend of manure, hay, animal feed, and leather, with just a hint of cotton candy.
But that’s just part of the story. For more than a century, the Stock Show—which runs this year from January 12 to February 3—has been a vital link to Fort Worth’s “Cowtown” heritage. The Stock Show, which originated in 1896 as a way to boost the city’s livestock industry, offers attractions for thousands of visitors, who range from ranchers shopping for cattle to out-of-towners looking for a taste of authentic Western culture. The Stock Show’s main draw is still its livestock, which, in addition to cattle and horses, includes rabbits, poultry, swine, and yes, pigeons and llamas. The indoor rodeo, first added in 1918, is another crowd-pleaser, with competitions in events like bull riding, cutting, steer wrestling, and calf roping. For the little ones, there’s a petting zoo, barn tours, and a midway.
While the Stock Show’s reputation as a major livestock event hasn’t changed in its 106 years, its name has undergone a number of alterations. In 1901 the show was christened the Texas Fat Stock Show. Seven years later the Stock Show opened in its new pavilion, the Northside Coliseum, with a new name, the National Feeders and Breeders Show. The name changed again in 1918 to the Southwestern Exposition and Fat Stock Show, a mouthful with a surprising staying power. That moniker survived almost fifty years—during which time the show moved to its current home, the Will Rogers Memorial Center—before being slightly modified in 1987 to its modern-day name, the Southwestern Exposition and Livestock Show. So why all the fuss? While the original name, Fat Stock Show, referred to the livestock, the word “fat” became increasingly negative and not health-conscious; hence, the name change. To most folks, though, it’s still the Fort Worth Stock Show.
The Stock Show has had some interesting moments in its 106 years. In 1911, for instance, former president Theodore Roosevelt was guest of honor. Two years later, the Stock Show enjoyed yet another presidential presence when then-president Woodrow Wilson kicked off the festivities by pushing a button in the White House that turned on the Northside Coliseum’s lights. And in 1943 the Stock Show was canceled for the first and only time because of World War II.
In today’s urban Texas, the Fort Worth Stock Show is a reminder of our state’s history and an indicator that ranching is still a viable and important industry. And, hey, how many people can say they’ve been to a llama auction?
The Southwestern Exposition and Livestock Show and Rodeo will run this year from January 12 to February 3 at the Will Rogers Memorial Center in Fort Worth. Open daily from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Admission is $7 for adults and $3 for children 6—16.