The Year Was 1877: Be It Ordained

Articles from the Daily Fort Worth Standard of 1877 show what life was like in Cowtown 136 years ago.

In 1877 Fort Worth had been incorporated only four years, and Mayor G. H. Day and the city council were passing ordinances to govern a town that still had one boot planted squarely in the western frontier. The cattle drives to northern markets brought a lot of cowboys through town. And Hell’s Half Acre was right there on the south end of town to say, “Howdy, y’all. Take off your inhibitions and stay a while.”

So, predictably, some of the first ordinances passed were intended to suppress vice, especially vice of a fleshly nature:

Ordinance 99 made it “unlawful for any male person to ride, or drive in any hack, buggy or other vehicle, or ride on horseback with any prostitute or woman of ill fame . . . in or upon any street, alley or other public grounds of this city, between the hours of 4 o’clock a.m. and 9 o’clock p.m.” Ordinance 99 amended Ordinance 92 by specifying the hours during which such carryin’ on was unlawful. Ordinance 93, which would not go into effect until 1878, defined “disorderly houses” (brothels) and provided fines for “any prostitute, courtesan or lewd woman who shall ply, or seek to ply, her avocation by word, sign or action, while upon the streets, alleys or public places of said city, or from the door or window of any house, or window of any room or house that may be seen from any street, alley or public place in said city, or from any private residence of said city.”

This ordinance covering variety shows prohibited residents from keeping “a house where loud, indecent or immodest theatrical representations or plays are exhibited, or theatrical representations or plays in which lewd women or prostitutes or women of ill fame or bad repute take part or aid, or where singing or dancing by such characters is therein permitted.”

This ordinance prohibiting dance houses defined such houses as houses “kept for lewd, loose or immodest women or women of ill fame or bad repute, to assemble and dance.”

(The next year Fort Worth would stop fining illegal dance houses and instead legalize them so that the city could license them: a $200 bond and a $100 fee per quarter.)

Note that the two ordinances that nominally addressed variety shows and dance houses actually were meant to suppress prostitution.


But now and then the city council addressed infractions of a nonlibidinous nature:

Like serving liquor in any kind of theater.

And letting your hogs, shoats, and pigs run loose.

And ringing the fire bell to give a false alarm.

And don’t even think about serving liquor to your shoats ’cause you know they’ll go ring that fire bell.

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