Hollywood has shaped our ideas of the Wild West but the stories of Texas cowboys and American Indians come to life in Technicolor at Wildcatter Ranch.
Just 90 minutes from Fort Worth you can play John Wayne and get a lesson in how the West was won at this historic working longhorn cattle ranch in the heart of North Texas Hill Country.
Wildcatter sits on 600ha of hilly, rocky countryside full of natural beauty and colourful history, offering outdoor activities guided by local cowboys and upscale western-style accommodation and hospitality.
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Ride horseback on dusty trails blazed by pioneers across old Comanche land, learn how to throw a lasso and tomahawk, fire pump-action shotguns, and hand-feed a herd of Texas longhorns. It's all in a day's work at Wildcatter.
After sundown, you chow down on hand-cut mesquite-grilled steaks, sit around a fire under the stars and listen to the coyotes howl before retiring to one of the guest homes, cabin suites or charming western-style hotel rooms.
The region is steeped in western lore that has been the fodder for many books and films. Wildcatter is just 20 minutes from the start of the famous Goodnight-Loving Trail, a route used in the 1860s to drive cattle west into New Mexico. The story of the men who forged that path, Charles Goodnight, a former Texas Ranger, and Oliver Loving, legendary rancher and cattle driver, was told in the 1989 TV miniseries Lonesome Dove.
One of the largest and deadliest Indian raids in the history of Texas occurred within 16 kilometres of the ranch back in 1836; 9-year-old Cynthia Ann Parker was abducted from her prairie home by a group of Comanche, a slice of history that provided the basis for John Wayne's problematic 1956 classic The Searchers.
It's that sort of history you can literally find in the dirt at Wildcatter; our cowboy guide Mike showed off a flintstone arrowhead that he'd discovered glistening on the ranch trails. Also in the soil are juniper and birch trees the American Indians used to make bows and arrows.
An hour-long horse trek through the foothills and along the banks of the Brazos River gives you a true sense of place and history as well as breathtaking scenery.
It'd almost be considered rude to leave a Texas ranch without firing a gun, and Wildcatter offers shooting enthusiasts, or just the plain curious, the chance to "bang a few skeets out of the sky" with .22 pump-action shotguns. Safety is paramount of course and we were in great hands with Walt, a retired sniper and former SWAT team leader overseeing things.
You don't have to be an "outdoor person" to enjoy the activities at Wildcatter though. If relaxing is more your idea of fun then you can unwind at the infinity-edged pool and hot tub or book a therapeutic massage.
After a day out under the Texas sun, you'll be ready to take on the Wildcatter Steakhouse where you'll find mouth-watering local cuisine including chicken fried steak, pork ribs, bacon-wrapped cream cheese jalapenos, as well as your standard bacon, eggs and hash browns.
Before departing Wildcatter the next morning we paid a visit to the ranch's herd of longhorns. With their extended horns – more than 2.5m from tip to tip – they remain an iconic symbol of the Old West. The huge animals look fearsome and while you must keep your wits about you while feeding them through a classic but rickety-looking wooden ranch fence, we were assured they are relatively sedate.
After your stay at Wildcatter, you can further your cowboy education in Fort Worth at the historic Stockyards district, a thriving entertainment, shopping and cultural hub.
If you are short on time take a guided VIP walking tour with Mr Stockyards (aka Nathan Krieger), who will explain the local history and point out the most popular attractions, restaurants, bars and saloons.
The two-and-a-half-hour tour includes a behind-the-scenes visit to the Cowtown Coliseum and a shopping stop at M.L. Leddy's Boots & Saddlery for all your custom-made western gear, before catching the twice-daily longhorn drives that commemorate the work of cattlemen of the late 19th century.
The Stockyards' nightlife includes the legendary Billy Bob's Texas and its plucky competitor The Basement Bar ("The World's Smallest Honky-Tonk"), and saloons embedded in Wild West legend.
The White Elephant, which played host to Fort Worth's infamous final shootout in 1887, when a gunfight broke out between the bar's owner and a local detective, and Niles City Hall, a historic gambling parlour offering pre-prohibition era craft cocktails, are both well-deserving of a visit.
Between the rural experience offered at Wildcatter and the history preserved in the urban setting of Fort Worth, you are guaranteed to get a taste of what life was like on the American frontier.
Qantas flies from Auckland to Dallas Fort Worth via Sydney, with return Economy Class fares from $1199. hot.co.nz/USA