Renegades and Philistines: The First Thirty-Five
Years of Fort Worth's Theatrical History
IN THE THIRTY-FIVE YEAR PERIOD BETWEEN 1876 AND 1911, FORT
Worth's theatrical history occasionally reads like a blood and thunder
episode from one of the sensationalistic melodramas so popular with
theatergoers of the late nineteenth century. The tale's villains, propri-
etors of Hell's Half Acre's disorderly houses and variety theaters, and
the gang of ne'er-do-wells that frequented their places of business,
nightly harangue the God-fearing townspeople with the cacophony of
their midnight carousing. Law enforcement and city officials cower.
Finally, the rogues are driven from the territory, defeated by the capital-
istic, if somewhat philistine, heroes of the tale, who brave forces of
nature and the whims of eccentric theatrical stars to transform the city
to a southwestern oasis of culture and good taste.
Beginning in the fall of 1876, Fort Worth had been engulfed by hun-
dreds of new settlers and the unique civic turmoil that accompanied rail-
road expansion. With the arrival of the trains, several variety theaters
rapidly sprouted south of the courthouse along Main and Houston
Streets. Formerly uncommon distractions-pistol play and bouts of
fisticuffs between drunken rowdies-became nightly occurrences in the
town's expanding "entertainment" district. Fort Worth's Daily Standard,
tracking the theaters' complicity in the new social disorder, reported,
"Among the audiences [are] many rustics who are seemingly carried
away by the performance. We saw one man carried away-not so much
by the performance as by a policeman."'
Longtime residents, at first, seemed philosophical about the nightly
disturbances. Trail herds and the accompanying "dress and delight"
* Jan L. Jones taught high school theater and English in Fort Worth area schools for more
than thirty years. She holds a B.S. m drama from Abilene Christian University (1970) and a M.S.
m drama from the University of North Texas (1981). She is the author of one book, Bally Rose
Presents Casa Maiana (TCU Press, 1999). A second volume, covering 125 years of Fort Worth's
theatrical past, is scheduled for publication by TCU Press in fall 2005.
1 Fort Worth Daily Standard, Nov. 9, 1876, p. 4.
VOL. CVII, No. 3 SOUTHWESTERN HISTORICAL QUARTERLY JANUARY, 2004
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 107, July 2003 - April, 2004. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101224/. Accessed July 7, 2015.