The Sleeping Panther of Fort Worth
The Legend of the Sleeping Panther
Fort Worth almost didn't make it into the twentieth century. Shortly after the Civil War, Railroad over-expansion and loan defaults triggered a nationwide depression, which lasted more than five years. Wall street trading stopped completely for ten days. Banks, railroads and other companies went bankrupt. The Texas and Pacific Railroad, which was promised land grants from the State of Texas if the railroad reached Fort Worth by January 1, 1874, simply stopped laying tracks a few miles east of Fort Worth. The population dwindled as people went looking for work. Fort Worth suspended city government as much as possible. The city teetered on the brink, a near ghost town.
Enter Robert E. Cowart, who had lived in Fort Worth briefly before moving to Dallas to practice law. Cowart wrote the editor of the Dallas Herald that he had been to a meeting in Fort Worth the other day and things were so quiet, he
had seen a panther asleep on Main Street, undisturbed by the rush of men or the hum of trade. This was based on an actual event, though the facts are unclear.
Motivated by this gibe the remaining citizens of Fort Worth took up the abandoned tools and materials of the railroadmen and, with herculean effort, completed the tracks themselves, just before the deadline. Then they threw a huge party, and that day went down in history as 'Railroad Days', and is still celebrated to this day.
The city's future was secure, and the nickname 'Panther City' stuck. Amused rather than offended by the new moniker, Fort Worth fondly embraced the panther as a mascot, which it remains to this day. Displayed proudly on newspaper banners, Police badges, public buildings, high schools, and baseball teams, it has become an enduring if somewhat overlooked icon. That same spirit of our pioneering forbears lives on in the people of Fort Worth today. Compare our thriving downtown with the deserted cityscapes across the country.
And today the Sleeping Panther of Fort Worth has returned, and rests again on Main Street, in sculptural bronze.