The History of River Ranch Stockyards
The history of River Ranch Stockyards is intertwined with that of the legendary Fort Worth Stockyards National Historic District. As land once a part of the Swift Packing Plant that operated in the Stockyards for over 60 years, it has been transformed into a one-of-a-kind Ranch venue for stylish western events and livestock activities.
River Ranch Stockyards was established in 1991 by Fort Worth natives Philip & Steve Murrin. Multiple generations of their family have called the Stockyards home.
Steve was born in Fort Worth in 1938. His grandfather was from Donegal, Ireland and settled in Fort Worth in 1885. Steve’s father worked in the Fort Worth Stockyards from 1913 until he went to WWI in 1918. He returned to Fort Worth after the war to start his own business. Steve’s mother’s family moved from Chihuahua, Mexico to Fort Worth in 1913. Her father, a pharmacist, opened a drugstore on North Main Street. Steve’s mother was president of the honor society at Northside High School – here in the Stockyards – graduating in 1922 at the age of 16.
Steve’s family bought a ranch west of Fort Worth in 1934. Steve was raised there, graduating from Arlington Heights High School in 1956. He attended Holy Cross College in Worcester, Massachusetts, TCU, and graduated from the University of Texas in 1960. Steve still lives at West Fork Ranch, which is still a working ranch.
After serving in the Air Force, Steve entered into local real estate, as a broker, and later an investor/developer. He is a former Fort Worth City Councilman, recognizably known as the “Mayor of the Stockyards.” A fitting designation as he became involved with saving the Stockyards in the early 1970’s. By partnering and purchasing several of the older buildings on Exchange Avenue, Steve led the fight to revive the area. “It was always a difficult, and frequently a lonely, struggle.
Though significant touchstones to our history and Western heritage, the Stockyards were in a state of extreme disrepair. Many would stand in the middle of Exchange Avenue, see only despair or decay, and say just bulldoze it.” But Steve plowed on. He had a vision, a dream of a thriving monument not only to livestock history but to commerce and entertainment as well. So Steve invested his money, sweat and vision. Anyone within earshot of Steve the last 40 years quickly learned the Stockyards story and why it was important to Fort Worth.
The restoration of the historic Cowtown Coliseum is one example of his leadership and hard work. The historic 1907 Coliseum had fallen on hard times since the Southwestern Exposition and Fat Stock Show moved to Will Rogers Coliseum in 1936. In 1976, Steve was able to reverse a city council action that would have prevented the coliseum from hosting a rodeo for 30 years, until 2006. Then along with three partners, Steve brought rodeo and wild west shows back to the Coliseum. Today, this is the world’s only year-round weekly rodeo and one of the leading attractions in the Stockyards and in the state of Texas. Steve is still a partner in the production of the Stockyards Championship Rodeo as well as Billy Bob’s Texas.
Steve’s philosophy is to keep the Stockyards authentic. “Guests want to see and feel like they have stepped back to a time where there were
cattle drives and cowboys on every corner.”
River Ranch Stockyards aims to give folks a taste of that same spirit and continue to help the Fort Worth Stockyards National Historic District
“keep it REAL” by tackling preservation.
River Ranch Stockyards offers the one-and-only ranch setting in the heart of Fort Worth, where friends can gather for events ranging from a 20-person business meeting to the quintessential black tie dinner. Regardless of how casual or elegant, large or small, every gathering at the Ranch is steeped in the history and legends of Cowtown!
City of Cowboys and Culture
The identity of this fast-growing, bustling, destination has long been associated with its history as an important livestock center – first as the last civilized stop before drovers, heading their cattle up the Chisholm Trail toward the railheads had to cross the Red River into Indian Territory and later, with the arrival of the railroad in 1876, as a major shipping point for cattle.
More than four million head of cattle were driven through Fort Worth between 1866 and 1890, and by 1889 the Union Stockyards was in full operation. But it took an infusion of capital from the Northeast to really make the enterprise a success. In April 1893, wealthy Boston investor, Greenleif Simpson, purchased the Union Stockyards for $133,333.33 and changed the name to the Fort Worth Stockyards Company.
By the early 1900s, major meat packers, Armour and Swift & Co. had
been lured to the area, and business boomed for many years. At the height of World War I in 1917, the Fort Worth Stockyards was the largest horse and mule market in the world, and during World War II more than five million head of livestock were processed there.
By the 1950s, however, activity began to decline and, by the 1970s, this part of Fort Worth history had fallen on hard times. That’s when the North Fort Worth Historical Society was chartered and the Fort Worth Stockyards National Historical District was established, preserving the city’s livestock heritage and beginning the restoration of many of the area’s important landmarks. Today, the Fort Worth Stockyards is a vibrant visitor destination that attracts well over 3 million visitors annually.
For more of the colorful history of Cowtown and its livestock industry, we invite you to visit www.fortworthstockyards.org.