Celebrating 150 Years of the Chisholm Trail: ‘Hell’s Half Acre’ in Fort Worth

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Tony Maples Photography


A Texas State Historical Marker stands at the corner of 12th and Houston in Fort Worth, telling the story of a completely different side of this cultured and couth town. In celebration of the Chisholm Trail’s sesquicentennial, we would be remiss in not including some of the shadier sides of things, which may, in fact, have resulted in the development of a future Fort Worth economic base that hadn’t previously been there. Here, on this historical marker, you’ll find these words:

“A notorious red light district known as Hell’s Half Acre developed in this section of Fort Worth after the arrival of the Texas and Pacific Railway in 1876 launched a local economic boom. Fort Worth was soon the favorite destination for hundreds of cowboys, buffalo hunters, railroad workers, and freighters eager to wash off the trail dust and enjoy themselves. To meet the demand, a large number of saloons, dance halls, gambling houses, and bordellos opened between the Courthouse Square and the railroad depot. Illegal activities in Hell’s Half Acre were tolerated by city officials because of their importance to the town’s economy. The district prospered in the 1880s and added to Fort Worth’s growing reputation as a rowdy frontier town. Famous gamblers Luke Short, Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp and outlaws Sam Bass, Eugene Bunch, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid are known to have spent time in Hell’s Half Acre. A 1906 newspaper headline calling the district Fort Worth’s den of sin and refuge of criminals was representative of periodic efforts to clean up the district. These efforts proved unsuccessful until Army officials at Camp Bowie, established here during World War I, helped local officials shut the district down. (1993)”

Celebrating 150 Years of the Chisholm Trail: ‘Hell’s Half Acre’, Fort Worth

Photo: Facebook/Lauren Europe

A rowdy and rough area of Fort Worth, its “Hell’s Half Acre” originated in the early-to-mid-1870s when parts of Texas were still considered the “wild west.” The half-acre block it was centered around consisted of 10th Street to 15th Street, intersecting with Houston, Main, and Rusk Streets, having Throckmorton and Calhoun Streets as boundaries. Branded as the driving forces leading to this notorious economic boom and progressive development, the Chisholm Trail and the Texas and Pacific Railways were thought to have been the bases for this rambunctious red-light district.

Celebrating 150 Years of the Chisholm Trail: ‘Hell’s Half Acre’, Fort Worth

Photo: Facebook/Gaylynn Johnson

Consisting of brothels, boarding houses, saloons, gambling parlors, and a very few mercantile businesses, “Hell’s Half Acre” was a 22,000 square foot ward which saw the presence of such personalities as Etta Place, Bat Masterson, Doc Holliday, Butch Cassidy, Sundance Kid, Luke Short, Sam Bass, and Wyatt Earp. A true, yet sometimes painful recollection of the American West, by 1919, the “Third Ward” of Fort Worth was disavowed as a den of iniquity resulting from the Protestant lectures of J. Franklyn Norris and the law enforcement efforts of Timothy Isaiah (Longhair Jim) Courtright.



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