Located in northern Texas just south of the town of Vernon, lies the sprawling Waggoner Ranch, the nation’s largest acreage under a single fence. Totaling roughly 525,000 acres and featuring oil wells, cattle ranching, and approximately 26,000 acres of crop cultivation, the historic Waggoner Ranch is completely unique in its massive size, history, and production.
History of the Waggoner Ranch
The Waggoner Ranch was founded by a man named Dan Waggoner around 1854 when he and his son relocated to a 160-acre farm in Wise County, TX, after the untimely passing of Dan’s wife Nancy in 1853. An additional 320 acres were then purchased in 1856 near the small town of Decatur, marking the first major expansion of Waggoner’s estate.
Waggoner’s landholdings would remain largely the same until a highly successful cattle drive to Kansas in 1870 netted Dan and his son and now business partner, William Thomas (W.T.) roughly $55,000, which is nearly $1.2 million adjusted for inflation. The newly formed “D. Waggoner and Son” ranching enterprise was prospering, and the money from this cattle drive would become the foundation for the empire that Dan and W.T. would build over the next 30 years.
Dan Waggoner passed away in 1902, leaving the entirety of the Waggoner estate to his son William Thomas. W.T. would go on to rebrand the organization as the “W.T. Waggoner Ranch, Inc.,” as well as significantly expand the size and function of the ranch.
Under W.T.’s leadership, the Waggoner Ranch would expand to the size we see today, encompassing 26,000 acres of cropland and approximately 13 different camps for cattle ranching of around 20,000-30,000 acres apiece, all totaling around 525,000 acres of land. W.T. would also expand the ranch’s enterprises beyond simply farming and cattle production, as he began to explore avenues in horse breeding and oil drilling as well.
The 2016 Sale
The Waggoner Ranch would remain in the hands of the Waggoner family until 2016 when the Waggoner family decided to sell. This decision was the result of one of the most taxing court cases in Texas history. In 1991 Electra Biggs, granddaughter of W.T., moved to sell the ranch and distribute the earnings among the ranch’s investors and shareholders. This action was met with contention by Bucky, another grandchild of W.T. and the other inheritor of the ranch, leading the two to eventually take their case to the Supreme Court of Texas. After years of grueling court proceedings, the court sided with Electra, ultimately ruling that the ranch was to be sold.
At the time of the proposed sale, there were significant concerns that the Waggoner Ranch changing hands would devastate the surrounding communities seeing as how they rely heavily on the ranch for work. Many people from nearby communities work as cowboys, ranch hands, or oil workers on the ranch, and some towns, such as the Wichita Falls, receive their water supplies from reservoirs on the ranch. The Waggoner family’s decision to sell the ranch could have the potential to negatively impact hundreds of lives on and around the ranch, meaning that selling was an action not to be taken lightly.
In 2016, the Waggoner Ranch was sold to real estate tycoon Stan Kroenke and Kroenke-Ranches of Bozeman Montanna for a final sum of $725 million. This purchase would make Stan Kroenke the 5th largest landowner in the United States, a respectable jump from his prior standing as number 9.
Despite reservations from the communities regarding the ranch’s new owner, there has been little change in the day-to-day lives of those who depend on the ranch for their livelihoods. Kroenke-Ranches seems dedicated to preserving the Ranch and its operations for the future and has so far abstained from making any significant changes to the ranch, its operations, or its staff.
The Waggoner Ranch’s Current and Future Uses
Not much has changed for the Waggoner Ranch in terms of production over the years, as their highest produced commodities remain oil and cattle, which fuel a majority of the ranch’s income. Oil was discovered on the Waggoner Ranch in 1903, and in less than 10 years W.T. constructed the Waggoner Refinery to bolster oil production. Today the Waggoner Ranch has roughly 1,200 oil-producing wells on the property which yield an average of 41,000 barrels of oil per month.
When it comes to cattle production, it should go without saying that the largest acreage under a single fence is still one of the highest-producing cattle ranches in the United States. The ranch typically supports around 10,000 mother cows at a time with the help of nearly 100 cowboys and farmhands stationed at 13 different camps around the ranch.
The ranch’s cattle operation is relatively self-sufficient as well, given their dedication to grazing and feed production. Approximately 26,000 acres of the ranch are devoted to growing feed and grazing plots for the cattle. In this way, the ranch produces most if not all of the necessary feed requirements for its massive herd.
Water is also supplied by the thousands of small ponds scattered about the property that provide the cattle with plenty of available water sources no matter where they are on the property. In addition to these small ponds are much larger bodies of water such as the 16,000 acre Lake Kemp which is accessible to the public for boating, fishing, and all manner of aquatic activities.
In the wake of the sale to Kroenke-Ranches, the future is looking brighter than ever for the Waggoner Ranch. New ownership remains committed to upholding traditions and preserving this historic ranch, echoing a statement made by Stan Kroenke in a press release announcing the purchase.
Fortunately, the family is pleased with the results of the sale as well, confident that Kroenke-Ranches are the right people to take up the massive mantel of maintaining the ranch. This sentiment was expressed by Electra Biggs in the same 2016 press release, wherein she stated, “I am so pleased that the legacy of the estate is passing to the right man, who has shown a commitment to conservation and the Waggoner way of life.”