Monday, August 18, 2008

FORT WORTH, Texas | Twice a day, just a few miles from downtown, Texas longhorn cattle - icons of the Old West - mosey down a street, hooves clicking on the brick pavement and heads bobbing under the weight of intimidating horns that stretch nearly 7 feet from tip to tip.

Tourists visiting the nation’s 17th-largest city line the sidewalks and gleefully snap pictures as a few cowboys on horses herd about 15 of the animals down the block, onto a side street and back into their large pen.

This is the Fort Worth cattle drive, starting its 10th year this summer in the city’s historic Stockyards. With 284,000 visitors so far this year, the event is already on par to break the attendance record of 366,000 set in 2007, officials said.

“We get to talk to people from all over the world. … They actually go crazy when they see us,” said Frank Molano, one of several Stockyards drovers - the 19th-century term for cowboys who guided livestock on cross-country cattle drives. “They can’t believe this is happening in America - that in a big city like Fort Worth, there’s a cowboy walking down the street [or] on the back of a horse.”

The re-enactment was first done in 1999 for the city’s 150th anniversary, showing how Fort Worth was the last major stop for cattlemen on the Chisholm Trail in the mid-1800s as they took their herds to Kansas and Missouri.

That year’s mini cattle drive was so popular that city officials kept it going, now holding it twice a day year-round except Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas.

The cattle in the small herd are donated to the city. If they don’t adapt well to the streets and crowds or if they get too old, they are given to ranchers who must promise never to slaughter them “because the longhorns are ambassadors of the city,” said herd spokeswoman Emily Martin.

Walter, a white animal with a tan head, is the heaviest at 1,800 pounds.

Diablo, light brown with a white Texas-shaped marking on his forehead, is the oldest at 14, and he and a few others have horns that curl.

Because they all have different personalities, they have to show that they can get along with each other before going on the cattle drives, officials said.

If the animals seem calm and obedient meandering down the street, that’s their herd mentality - not sedatives or other medications, said top drover Jim Miller.

“They have to stick together - that’s the main thing with the cattle drives,” Mr. Miller said. “If we was trying to take two head down the street, they would probably run off on us … but if we take them all, or eight to 10 at least, they’ll all stick together.”

Most of the longhorns naturally steer away from people, he added. Although more than a million people have seen the cattle drives the past nine years, the only mishaps have been a few horses slipping on the brick streets or curbs, Mr. Miller said.

The drovers also play a big role. And their outfits are replicas of what cowboys wore in the 1800s - from their spurs and suspenders to the creases in their cowboy hats.

“Where else can you go to sit on a horse and look cool all day?” said Brenda Taylor, who has been a drover nearly eight years. “You get to meet and greet all kinds of people from all over the world. You definitely don’t have a boring day here.”

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