The subject turned to the story of the famous 1887 gunfight between Jim Courtright and Luke Short near the White Elephant Saloon a few blocks north of Fort Worth's notorious Hell's Half Acre. As I sat there, I realized that most of these guys believed that all this took place down in the Stockyards District and that the White Elephant was in the Acre.
They weren't alone in their misunderstanding. Over the years of listening to visitors at the Stockyards Museum and sitting in conversations with other Fort Worth residents I have found that while almost everyone has heard of Hell's Half Acre, for a number of reasons, the true location has drifted from the historical memory of many.
|1886 Birds-eye Map of Fort Worth ~ Click to zoom|
|Rand, McNally Fort Worth Map ~ Click to zoom|
The "White Elephant Saloon" was not in the Acre. Instead it was at 3rd & main in the "uptown" district which in many ways was as rough n' tough as the area to the south. The Short/Courtright fight was just a few feet away from the Saloon on 3rd street. One of the reasons that many think that the Acre was in the Stockyards, is that the much later White Elephant Saloon there promotes a re-creation of the fight every year in February on Exchange Avenue.
The Texas cattle trail through Fort Worth is also shown based on the markers placed during the Fort Worth Golden Jubilee in 1927. Obviously, this route was only used until the railroads began coming in 1876.
|1885 Hell's Half Acre Detail Map ~ Click to zoom|
The map shows that it was a diverse community where all races lived more or less side by side. It had grocery, jewelry, tack, and candy stores. There were several churches as well as Chinese laundries. And the Acre was filled with commercial business of all kinds from an illuminating gas generation plant to cotton & lumber yards.
There was probably little danger in the Acre during daylight hours and probably for the average person, not much more danger in the evening than the Sundance Square area in the 1970's before its development.
I you want the whole story , I highly recommend Rick Selcer's 1991 book "Hell's Half Acre". It's still in print and available at the Stockyards Museum Store in the Livestock Exchange Building, as well as a number of other local book stores. It's a great read.