It’s not surprising that Dallas and Fort Worth offer diametrically opposed versions of the 1861 York-Fowler double killing, as one family’s roots were in Fort Worth and the other’s in Dallas. The towns have a long history of fussing and feuding, dating from at least 1854, when the Terry family stopped in Dallas and inquired about pushing on to Fort Worth (30 miles farther west, across the Trinity). Dallasites warned the Terrys that bloodthirsty savages lurked near Fort Worth and advised them to instead settle in Dallas. Mrs. Terry, however, wasn’t fooled, sniffing, “If wild Indians were only 30 miles away, you wouldn’t be here.” The family pushed on to Fort Worth and never regretted it. In the following decades, the communities eyed each other sullenly across the Trinity and fought over everything from cultural amenities to railroads to the title, “Gateway City to West Texas.”
In 1875, when Fort Worth was in danger of drying up and blowing away after the Texas & Pacific Railway halted construction just west of Dallas, a Fort Worth lawyer who had relocated to Dallas told his new neighbors that things were so dead in Fort Worth, “a panther wandered at will through the streets.” Dallas got a good laugh, but Fort Worth (see 1876 bird’s-eye view, above) turned the joke into a nickname, “Pantherville” or “Panther City,” adopted by several businesses, a high school mascot, the minor league baseball team and the 36th Infantry Division, which trained at nearby Camp Bowie in World War I.
And on it went, each city alternately boasting of its own superiority and bad-mouthing its rival. In 1877 The Fort Worth Democrat chortled that Dallas was in need of a new jail: “They will certainly need one if the police succeed in capturing one-half of the thieves and robbers that now infest that burg.”
Newspaper editors and publishers on either side of the river kept the pot stirred. Fort Worth’s B.B. Paddock and, later, Amon G. Carter practically dedicated their lives to slamming Dallas at every opportunity. Carter liked to say Fort Worth was “where the West begins” (it was the masthead on his newspaper) and Dallas is “where the East peters out.” Eventually, the cities buried the hatchet and joined forces to build Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, though Fort Worthers still complain because Dallas got top billing. Since the 1970s, the proud Texas cities feud just for show, while on practical matters they present one face to the larger world as “the Metroplex.”
Originally published in the June 2010 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here.