August 8, 2014

Storied Waggoner Ranch is for sale for $725 million

Heirs of cattle baron W.T. Waggoner have been fighting over their inheritance for years.

One of the largest ranches in the United States and an icon of the Texas horse and cattle culture has been listed for sale for $725 million, marking the end of a decades-long courtroom dispute among the heirs of cattle baron W.T. Waggoner.

The estate includes a 510,000-acre ranch spread over six North Texas counties, with two main compounds, hundreds of homes, about 20 cowboy camps, hundreds of quarter-horses, thousands of heads of cattle, 1,200 oil wells and 30,000 acres of cultivated land, according to Dallas-based broker Bernie Uechtritz, who is handling the sale along with broker Sam Middleton of Lubbock.

Heirs and stakeholders occupy two of the three principal houses and much of the estate has not yet been explored for oil and other mineral reserves.

Uechtritz says the estate falls within a “super asset class,” akin to selling the “Statue of Liberty” of cowboy culture.

The Waggoner ranch is the largest contiguous ranch in the United States. It covers the southern half of Wilbarger County, the northern third of Baylor County and portions of Wichita, Archer, Knox and Foard counties just before the Panhandle juts north from the Red River.

W.T. Waggoner’s father, Dan Waggoner, started ranching in 1849, and the Waggoner name was prominent in the development of Hereford cattle and pedigreed American quarter horses.

After his father died, W.T. “Tom” Waggoner assumed control of the ranch and established lease agreements with Texaco. He moved the ranch headquarters to Vernon but remained a fixture in Decatur and Fort Worth.

In 1903, fearing that his daughter, Electra, might move east with her new husband, Waggoner commissioned a three-story Georgian revival home for the newlyweds. The home was later named Thistle Hill and still stands on Fort Worth’s Pennsylvania Avenue.

Waggoner built Arlington Downs Racetrack in Arlington and a 20-story office building that still stands in downtown Fort Worth. He died in 1934.

The family mausoleum is in Fort Worth’s Oakwood Cemetery.

“What really sets [the ranch offering] apart is that all this land has been kept together under one fence by one family for nearly 100 years, and its history in the settling of the West,” said court-appointed receiver Mike Baskerville.

W.T. Waggoner’s granddaughter Electra Waggoner Biggs was a noted sculptor after whom Buick named a luxury car and Lockheed a plane.

In 1991, she filed a lawsuit seeking the liquidation of the family estate, spurring a long family feud. Biggs died in 2001. When a district judge ruled in favor of liquidation in 2003, one of the estate’s primary stakeholders, A.B. “Bucky” Wharton III, appealed.

The family agreed to list the estate for sale after the court said it was considering ordering an auction of the assets, Baskerville said. The listing has already attracted attention from interested buyers, he said.

Area residents have been worried that oil wildcatters or foreign investors will divide up the land and fire ranch employees, more motivated by making a profit than preserving history.

This includes material from Star-Telegram archives.

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