In Market: The Waggoner family and Fort Worth

🕐 3 min read

The sale of the W.T. Waggoner Ranch, located about 75 miles north of Fort Worth, should remind us of the many ties this city has to the legendary ranching and oil family.

That past is all around us. Sit back for a little history lesson.

The Waggoner family’s fortune took off when W.T. “Tom” Waggoner was drilling for water on his ranch near Electra in 1903. Instead of water, he struck Texas black gold. “Damn the oil, I want water!” he reportedly said, though it didn’t stop him from building a family fortune and a Texas dynasty.

Waggoner amassed more than a million acres on both sides of the Red River, doing deals with other legends like Comanche Chief Quanah Parker.

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When President Theodore Roosevelt visited Fort Worth in 1905, he was on his way to the Waggoner Ranch to take part in a wolf and coyote hunt on the ranch. Roosevelt was the first president to visit Fort Worth and was only here for 75 minutes. True to his legend, in those 75 minutes he rode in a parade through downtown, planted a tree at the library, delivered a fiery speech outside the train station and another from his train before heading north to the ranch.

Waggoner also helped build Arlington Downs before pari-mutuel betting was outlawed in Texas and attracted both local swells and the Hollywood elite as well as a few less savory types.

Architecturally, there’s still plenty of evidence of the Waggoner influence around the city. There’s the three-story, 18-room Thistle Hill, designed by Sanguinet and Staats for Albert Buckman Wharton and his wife, the former Electra Waggoner, daughter of Tom Waggoner. The Wartons knew how to party, according to the book Fort Worth’s Quality Hill, by Brenda S. McClurkin. In the book, there’s a photo of Electra Wharton dressed in Grecian costume, atop a leopard-skin throw. How’s your Super Bowl wings and chips party look now?

Downtown, there’s the W.T. Waggoner Building at 810 Houston St., built for $1.5 million in 1920 and also designed by Sanguinet and Staats. When it was built, it had then-rare Otis Elevators and an artesian well for drinking water. From 1920 to 1957, it was the home of Continental National Bank. It is one of the buildings acquired by Bob Simpson when he was at XTO Energy and was extensively refurbished. It is still owned and used by XTO Energy.

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W.T. Waggoner’s granddaughter, Electra Waggoner Biggs, also left a mark in Fort Worth. She was a sculptor and she created the ‘Riding into the Sunset’ bronze sculpture that depicts Will Rogers on his horse, Soapsuds, that stands in front of the Will Rogers Coliseum. The work was commissioned in 1937 by Amon G. Carter, who was a friend of the folksy humorist, following Rogers death in 1935. Copies of the work reside on the Texas Tech campus and at the Will Rogers Memorial in Claremore, Okla.

She also left her mark on many others. She was married twice, the second time in 1943 to John Biggs. Biggs’ brother-in-law worked for General Motors and he was so enamored of Electra’s beauty that he christened Buick’s luxury model the Electra in her honor. As if cars weren’t enough, she also had a plane named after her, the Lockheed Electra. Thank goodness that trend died, otherwise we’d all be riding around in Toyota Kardashians.

Robert is a Fort Worth native and longtime editor of the Fort Worth Business Press. He is a former president of the local Society of Professional Journalists and was a freelancer for a variety of newspapers, weeklies and magazines, including American Way, BrandWeek and InformatonWeek. A graduate of TCU, Robert has held a variety of writing and editing positions at publications such as the Grand Prairie Daily News and InfoWorld. He is also a musician and playwright.

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