In many ways it still does. This year they commemorated the 50th anniversary of JFK’s death in Dallas, but in Fort Worth they had something deeper and more emotional, his last speech, his last movements as he left the hotel where he stayed the night before he died.
JFK spent his last night in room 820 in the Hilton Hotel in Fort Worth. Hotel manager Gary Griggs shows me the ballroom where he spoke.
There is a monument near the front entrance where he gave an impromptu speech outside what was then the Hotel Texas, his last. The rain paused for the president’s speech at 8.45am. kennedy was dead before 1pm.
“There are no faint hearts in Fort Worth. This has been a great western city, the defence of the west, cattle, oil and the rest.”
When the anniversary came round in November and they are brought back together many of those who heard those historic words.
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It was HOT when flight AA1762 from Portland to Dallas-Fort Worth lands at 8am. “Lower the window shades in an effort to keep the airplane as cool as possible for our next passengers”.
It is humid too but this is the most air conditioned pair of the cities in the world. Which is which?
Fort Worth was the poor relation twenty years ago when JR Ewing strode our cathode tubes. Now it is the heart of the action, big hat western culture, fine dining and superb museums all shimmering under the Texas sun.
They include the cowgirl museum in an attempt to balance out the picture with quotes such as that form Gerda hicks: “you don’t just take care of the cattle but you take care of the land and it will take care of the cattle.”
“Fort Worth is where the cowboys are,”| says McKenzie Siegel from the tourist board.
For the drovers heading the cattle up the Chisholm trail from Texas to Kansas, Fort Worth was the last major stop for rest and supplies before the railways. Cattle could fetch ten times the price in the east.
They hold cattle drives down the street by the historic stockyards, small children gaping at cowboys with handlebar moustaches.
Christopher Henson shows me around the Justin Boots authentic western bootstore. The sales racks include make cowboy boots from python, iguana, lizard, cayman, rattle snake and shark (“we used to have sting ray and sea turtle, if ran swam or flew it ended up in a boot”).
Leonard Firestone and Troy Robertson have a micro distilling operation to bring Texas whiskey to the market place.
“we have five distinctive features, water, soft red corn, the winter wheat, the indigenous yeast and the climate which affects the ageing, its flavour tuned by the dramatic temperature swings and sustained summer heat of the region.”
“We have to reinvent the category.”
* * * *
Fort Worth’s celebrity chef Tim Love served up rattlesnake. He was bitten by one once, “it was on the menu the next day.”
He also serves kangaroo. Kangaroo/ He says a lot of menu tells stories about where he has been in his life.
We spend the evening at the Fort Worth indoor rodeo, (“the oldest indoor rodeo in the world”) and the bucking bronco serves as climax of the show.
Over at Ellerbe in the Near Southside District Molly McCooke proudly serves up farm-to-table cuisine.
One of the cowboys was seated on the bronco three times before lifting out again and eventually pulling out. The night finishes listening to Cody Johnston from Huntsville in Billy Bob’s, a gargantuan and labyrinthine entertainment venue.
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Jason McAllister drove to Fort Worth to collect and bring me to The Wildcatter Ranch, and hour and a half up country.
Wildcatter? “It is an oil term,” says Jason. “for people who drill in places there is no known oil. Opening a tourist ranch in a place with no tourism is a bit like that.” Wildcatter offers trail rides and other activities into the arid Texas countryside, a chance to get up close and personal with a Texas longhorn, and other thrills like skeet shooting and archery. The cabins are splendid, each with a view that resembles the Savannah of parts of Africa. This is a dry county, but they can serve Rahr beer and the local Shiner as long as food is being served. We keep the kitchen open late.
The Encyclopaedia Britannica will tell you there are about 250 breeds of horses. There are two. There are horses that wobble you from side to side and there are horses that wobble you from back to front.
This is my second successive Sunday with a long horse ride in the intense heat and this time my horse wobbles me side to side, not forwards and back. Ted, half Belgian half quarter horse, has been around for 15 years and knows a rooky rider when he feels one.
“Whatever you do, do it confidently,” my guide Jay Brewer tells me, “or he’ll drag you through the mesquite trees.” Ted keeps the undergrowth well away and brings me through stunning terrain, a ridge over the lower Brazos river. “Keep an eye out of the horse crippler cactus,” says Jay, “and the rattle snakes. It has been a big season for snakes. Our staff killed three of them last week.”
The story that inspired the Sons of Katie Elder happened here, in the lands around Graham.
On this horse in the sunlight I feel eleven again.
I tell Jay I feel like I am in he middle of a black and white movie.
He replies: “I think it goes black and white just around the bend.”
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Eoghan Corry stayed in Fort Worth as a guest of Fort Worth CVB. He travelled to DFW with Aer Lingus and Jetblue through their shared terminal at New York JDFK, terminal 5. aerlingus.com
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