Experience the American Frontier in These Old West Towns in Texas

Texas played a pivotal role in the American frontier. During the early 19th century, much of the west, including Texas and California, belonged to Mexico. The Mexican government invited pioneers in search of land to settle in their territory, but after a series of wars, Texas gained independence from Mexico then joined the United States. 

In the late 1800s, outlaws took advantage of the uninhabited wilderness and robbed stagecoaches and wagons venturing west. This period became known as the “Wild West.” During this time, cattle was king, and Texas became a hotspot for cowboys, cattle drivers, ranchers, and outlaws passing through.

Today, remnants of Texas’ old west history can be found throughout the state. From sites of notorious gunfights to modern rodeos and museums, here are a few places where the Wild West lives on in Texas. 

Round Rock

Round Rock City Sign And Water Tower
Round Rock, Texas / Photo by ShengYing Lin / Shutterstock.com

Round Rock is a popular Austin suburb and was one of WalletHub’s 2019 fastest growing cities in America—with a low unemployment rate and high median income, it’s easy to see why residents are flocking there. Pair that with an abundance of natural greenspace, highly rated schools, multiple sports complexes, and a rich history and you have a near idyllic suburb to settle down or start a family.

History

Cattle driver Jesse Chisholm transported cattle from Texas to Kansas via what is now known as the Chisholm Trail. Along the way, he had to ford Brushy Creek. Fortunately, there was a shallow spot to cross marked by an unmissable round rock that guided Chisholm, other frontiersman, settlers, and Native Americans. When people moved into the area, they named their community Round Rock after the natural landmark which still stands today. 

Notorious train robber and outlaw Sam Bass met his end in Round Rock when he was recognized by a local deputy sheriff. The sheriff attempted to arrest Bass and his men but was shot and killed in the confrontation. A shootout ensued between Bass’ gang and Texas Rangers. Bass was hit in the gunfight and died the next day. He is buried in Round Rock Cemetery. 

Places of Interest

  • Old Settlers Park - The 645-acre greenspace is where the Sam Bass shootout is reenacted as part of the annual Frontier Days Celebration.
  • The Williamson Museum - Located on the Chisholm Trail, this museum showcases interactive exhibits and historic artifacts.
  • Historic Downtown - This cluster of 25 buildings along East Main Street dates back to the 1870s and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Fort Worth

Fort Worth Stock Yards
Fort Worth, Texas / Photo by Mark Fisher / CC BY-SA

Fort Worth, known as “Cowtown,” embodies cowboy culture like no other. The city is dedicated to preserving its western heritage with museums, a bustling historic district with daily cattle drives, and rodeos like the year-round Stockyards Championship Rodeo and the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo, an annual 23-day event featuring livestock shows, a carnival, and live music. 

Fort Worth is also home to modern amenities including the Texas Motor Speedway, architectural wonder Fort Worth Water Gardens, and the Botanical Research Institute of Texas

History

Fort Worth boasts the moniker “where the west begins” due to its prominence during westward expansion. Located along the Chisholm Trail, the city was frequented by cattle drivers, serving as a cowboy trading post, and became the center of a booming ranching industry.

Also frequented by those traveling the cattle trails was Hell’s Half Acre, a lawless part of town in the late 1800s where illegal business boomed. This red light district lined with saloons, brothels, and gambling parlors was a rest stop for cowboys and a playground for infamous outlaws Doc Holliday, Butch Cassidy, Sam Bass, and Wyatt Earp.

Places of Interest

  • National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame - The museum honors the oft-forgotten women of the American West including pioneers, ranchers, and cowgirls like Annie Oakley and Sacagawea.
  • White Elephant Saloon - Once part of Hell’s Half Acre, this Wild West watering hole hosted a gunfight between the bar’s owner and a local sheriff, whose ghost is said to still roam the saloon.
  • Log Cabin Village - The living history museum featuring six restored log cabins and artifacts from the 1800s allows visitors to immerse themselves in Texas frontier life.

San Antonio

San Antonio River Walk
San Antonio, Texas / Photo by f11photo / Shutterstock.com

San Antonio, now the second most populous city in Texas, has humble beginnings as a Spanish mission. Throughout history, the city was at the center of many disputes: the Texas Revolution, the Mexican-American War, and the Civil War—all of which decimated the population.

Today, San Antonio has a thriving economy and is home to Lackland Air Force Base, multiple Fortune 500 companies, and the River Walk, a popular pedestrian path along the San Antonio River connecting the city’s five colonial missions, including the Alamo.

History

Perhaps the most memorable battle of the Texas Revolution, the Battle of the Alamo was a devastating defeat for the Texian Army carried out by Mexican General Santa Anna. During a 13-day siege, Texian troops fought to maintain control of the fort, but the Mexican Army reclaimed the Alamo. Frontiersmen James Bowie and Davy Crockett died in the battle.

Fannie Porter was another big part of San Antonio history. After emigrating from England, Porter spent her teen years in Texas as a prostitute before starting her own brothel at 20.

In the late 1800s when San Antonio, as the first stop on the Chisholm Trail, was frequented by cattle drivers and outlaws, Porter’s brothel blossomed, becoming one of the most prominent stops in the Old West. She was said to be fiercely protective of her girls, some of whom went on to join Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch.

Places of Interest            

  • Buckhorn Saloon and Museum - The 138 year-old saloon frequented by Teddy Roosevelt now serves as a wildlife taxidermy museum.
  • The Alamo - Originally a Spanish mission built in the 1700s, the Alamo is now a preservation site, memorial, and one of the most popular tourist attractions in the U.S.
  • Enchanted Spring Ranch - Originally a movie set, Enchanted Springs Ranch, located in the Boerne suburb, is now a real-life “Westworld” (without the sentient robots).
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