In the 1800s, when America was a fledgling country, portions of Texas were known as the Wild West as lawlessness ran rampant and cowboys ruled the land.
The Wild West has often been mythologized in film and on television, and even today, tourists descend upon the Lone Star State to visit locales that harken them back to those bygone days.
Here are some Texas towns that still honor the state’s old western history.
The Enchanted Springs Ranch in Boerne, a small city 31 miles north of San Antonio, is an exact replica of an old western town. The ranch was originally part of the early settlement of Boerne, and buildings were later added to give it an old western feel. Visitors can saddle up their horse at a carriage house before heading over to a saloon to enjoy sarsaparillas or visiting the general store to purchase some essentials. The ranch offers multiple options for groups, including BBQ dinners.
In the Texas Hill Country, the small town of Bandera, 53 miles west of San Antonio, has been described as the “Cowboy Capital of the World.” That title originated when the town became a staging area for the last great cattle drives of the late 1800s. Guests can experience Bandera’s robust rodeo tradition by staying at one of its dude ranches, where horseback excursions and chuckwagon meals are still the norm.
El Paso, situated in the far western corner of Texas, was considered one of the most dangerous cities in the Old West thanks to its history of gunfights. Perhaps the most famous El Paso battle was the Four Dead in Five Seconds Gunfight, which occurred April 14, 1881, in which four men were killed in a gunfight that lasted less than five seconds. The El Paso gunfight tour enables patrons to learn about many of the city’s battles with a walking tour that re-enacts some of the deadliest gunfights in El Paso history.
The centerpiece of the Fort Davis National Historic Site, located in western Texas, is one of the best-preserved forts in the southwest. A key post in the defense system of western Texas from 1854 to 1891, Fort Davis was strategically located to protect emigrants, mail coaches and freight wagons on the Trans-Pecos portion of the San Antonio-El Paso Road and on the Chihuahua Trail. Today, Fort Davis is a vivid reminder of the significant role played by the military in the settlement and development of the western frontier.
Fort Worth features some of the country’s finest museums of the American Old West, including the Sid Richardson Museum (which contains permanent and special exhibitions of paintings by premier western artists), and the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame, which provides a historical perspective on the achievements of the most daring cowgirls in the nation. The museum has continuously grown since 1975 and now takes up an entire 33,000-square-foot building and is filled with more than 4,000 artifacts. The Old West also comes to life in the Stockyards National Historic District, which holds the world’s only twice-daily cattle drive and on weekends hosts the Stockyards Championship Rodeo.
Gonzales’ famous “Come and Take It” cannon is a Spanish-made, bronze artillery piece that resides in the Gonzales Memorial Museum. The gun was the object of contention in 1835 between a Mexican military detachment from Bexar and American colonists who settled in Texas. The disagreement produced the battle of Gonzales, considered the first battle of the Texas Revolution. The cannon’s colorful “Come and Take It” moniker refers to the motto adopted by the Texian rebels. A few days prior to the battle, two women from Gonzales, a city 135 miles west of Houston, hastily prepared a flag with an image of a cannon and the words “Come and Take It.”
Held each year in early September, the National Cowboy Symposium & Celebration in Lubbock celebrates the culture of the American cowboy. It includes entertainers, poetry, storytelling, interviews with authors of western books, film showings, a youth wild west day, horse-handling demonstrations, a parade, Native American activities, a chuck wagon cookoff and western artwork and merchandise vendors. The 30th annual event took place in 2018.
Pecos, on the western side of the state, embodies the spirit of west Texas like few other towns. It resides in the heart of the desert amid colossal mountains and is home to historic military forts and the world’s first rodeo, which took place in 1883. The rodeo still transpires today and has become one of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association’s top 40 prize-money rodeos. In 2015 and 2016, it was nominated by the association’s cardholders as one of the five best large outdoor rodeos in the country. Pecos is also home to the Texas Rodeo Hall of Fame, where the sport and its litany of competitors is celebrated.
The Alamo is perhaps the most famous building in Texas, thanks to the fabled Battle of the Alamo, which unfolded between February 23 and March 6, 1836. In that pivotal event in the Texas Revolution, Mexican troops launched an assault on the Alamo Mission, but Texans stood their ground for almost 13 days against a vastly superior force. The Alamo building has been restored to its former glory, providing patrons a glimpse into its past. The site also contains memorabilia from the battle and hosts educational events and group activities. The Buckhorn Saloon and Museum in downtown San Antonio is home to a large collection of the American wilderness. For more than 131 years, the saloon has been a gathering place for thirsty locals, and in addition to the saloon, the site hosts a museum, shooting gallery and a Texas Ranger gallery. Mission Concepcion, in the center of San Antonio, is the oldest unrestored stone church in the United States. Erected in 1755, the church appears much as it did two centuries ago and several original frescos are still visible in several of its rooms.