History of Hell’s Half Acre

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.

Fort Worth Five

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.

Fort Worth Democrat Newspaper of April 10, 1878:

The Cowboys’ Tear.
They Raise Merry Cain at the Waco Tap.
Thirty or Forty Shots Fired. and Nobody Hurt.

A dozen or more of the festive cowboys, imbued with the spirit of pure devilishment, mounted their horses, and as is their custom, visited the several dance houses, caroused and danced with  the “girls,” drank when they felt so disposed, and continued their career without much trouble until round about 1 o’clock, when they all congregated at the Red Light, and after mounting their horses, each drew his six-shooter, and blazing away in the air, fired twenty or thirty shots, at the same time putting spurs to their horses, they made tracks for the depot.

As the importance of Fort Worth as a crossroads and cowtown grew, so did Hell’s Half Acre.  The original area began to spread and covered over 2 1/2 acres. With many families were moving into the area in the early 1900’s, a campaign was born to clean up the city.  Word began to spread that Fort Worth’s image was changing pushing cowboys and gamblers out of town.