Who Put the Panther in Panther City?
Throughout the years, Fort Worth has acquired several different quirky, clever, and colorful nicknames. From “Funky Town” to “Cow Town,” none have as fascinating a history as the city’s official nickname, “Panther City.”
Symbols of the panther are everywhere around here. Businesses like Panther City BBQ, Panther Island Brewing, and Panther City Tattoos have adopted the moniker, as has the outdoor venue Panther Island Pavilion. A quick stroll downtown will bring sights of panther statues throughout the city.
But where did we get this ubiquitous nickname?
The name’s origins goe back to the 1870s and the expansion of the railroad. The railroad was the economic powerhouse of the Old West bringing goods, money, and people to every city that it reached. Plans for a railroad stop here in Fort Worth were drawn up, and city officials had every intention of bringing the train to town until the stock market crashed, touching off the panic of 1873. Railroad companies ran out of money and were unable to complete the planned tracks from Dallas to Fort Worth. This put Fort Worth at a disadvantage to its nearby competitor, Dallas, which already had rail service.
Robert E. Cowert, a former Fort Worth lawyer who had relocated to Dallas, made light of the situation in an article for the Dallas Herald, in which he claimed that Fort Worth was so deserted that he had spotted a live panther taking a nap in the middle of Main Street. His outlandish insult got the citizens of this wonderful city so riled up that they actually finished the track on their own with the help of Fort Worth’s most powerful businessman, K.M. Van Zandt.
Just three short years after the panic of 1873, the first train rolled into Fort Worth. While the nickname “Panther City” was originally meant to insult our city, Fort Worthians are a resilient bunch and turned the panther into a source of motivation. So, the next time you drink a tasty brew at Panther Island Brewing or chow down on some killer brisket at Panther City BBQ, give a big ol’ thanks to Dallas for accidentally lighting a fire under us to make Fort Worth Texas’s best and brightest city!
Written by Annie, a local expert guide for Fort Worth Crawling. After living in NYC for three years, this Fort Worth native is excited to return to her roots in Panther City. She enjoys traveling and the great outdoors and is passionate about the arts, community, tacos, and (of course) Texas beer. Join Annie for history and beer on Fort Worth Crawling’s Cowboy Pub Crawl!