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Making Texas history: Legendary Waggoner Ranch sells to Rams owner

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Cowboys of the Waggoner Ranch

Many of the photos in this story and on the cover come from Jeremy Enlow’s book, Cowboys of the Waggoner Ranch. Fort Worth-based Enlow was given exclusive access to the Cow Camp operation behind the reversed triple D brand of the Waggoner Ranch.

“Most everyone I know with a ‘real’ job couldn’t last five minutes cowboying on the Waggoner,” said Enlow. “They physically abuse their bodies with a finesse that’s mastered with years of experience. There is no break until the job is done. Whether it rains, sleets or snows, the cowboys are always working.”

Enlow self-published the hardcover 140 page book. It retails for $58 with a portion of the proceeds going to The Waggoner Ranch Cowboys Fund.

waggonercowboys.com

jeremyenlow.com

Even in the larger-than-life world of the Waggoner family, it was a big deal.

When word was passed down that the long-legal ordeal to sell the 520,000-acre legendary Waggoner Ranch was over, it almost seemed too good to be true.

The buyer is Missouri businessman Stan Kroenke, the billionaire owner of the National Football League’s Rams and an investor in other sports franchises such as the NBA’s Denver Nuggets, the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche and the English Premier League’s Arsenal F.C. in London. Kroenke recently decided to move the Rams from St. Louis to a privately financed $1.8 billion stadium in Inglewood, California.

Waggoner Ranch includes thousands of cattle, hundreds of horses and oil wells, and 30,000 acres of farmland. The ranch’s operations will be combined with Kroenke’s U.S. division of Denver-based Kroenke Ranches.

Kroenke was selected from a short list of six buyers from around the globe. They all put up a required $15 million refundable deposit to make a bid. No purchase price was released, but the ranch had been listed with an asking price of $725 million when it hit the market in August 2014. 

The acquisition will vault Kroenke from the country’s ninth-largest private landowner to the fifth largest in the nation with total ownership of more than 2,000 square miles (1.38 million acres).

“This is an incredible opportunity and an even greater responsibility,” Kroenke said in a press release. “We are honored to assume ownership of the Waggoner — a true Texas and American landmark — and are deeply committed to continuing the proud legacy of W.T. “Tom” Waggoner, his family, and his descendants. Our gratitude to them and to the many parties involved in this process is immense. We will continue to preserve and protect this uniquely American treasure.”

The brokers on the sale were Bernard Uechtritz of Briggs Freeman Sotheby’s International Realty of Dallas, and Sam Middleton, of Chas. S. Middleton & Son of Lubbock, Texas. Joel Leadbetter of Hall & Hall in Bozeman and Sam Connolly, general manager of Kroenke Ranches, represented Stan Kroenke.

“The selection of Mr. Kroenke and potential sale bring to a close an unprecedented global marketing effort,” said Uechtritz. “The sale of the Waggoner was an extraordinarily complex and multi-faceted process, and its successful culmination is a tribute to the many people, teams and layers of teams representing all sides behind the process.”

Located about 175 miles northwest of Dallas, the Waggoner Ranch sprawls over six counties and is bigger than Los Angeles and New York City combined. The asking price was more than four times the biggest publicly known sum fetched by a U.S. ranch – $175 million for a Colorado spread in 2007. With 6,800 head of cattle, the Waggoner is also one of the 20 largest cattle ranches in the United States and is known worldwide for its quarter horses, which number 500. The ranch also has 1,000 oil wells, 30,000 acres of cropland, and an abundance of deer, quail, feral hogs, water fowl and other wildlife.

Waggoner granddaughter Electra Waggoner Biggs filed a lawsuit in 1991 to liquidate the estate, setting off what turned into a decades-long courtroom battle among the heirs.

Briggs Freeman CEO Robbie Briggs said the deal worked out better than anyone expected, as many thought the ranch would have to be split up.

“The sellers are pleased as can be that they are passing on the tradition of this great ranch to someone who has a real passion for ranching,” he said.

It was a complicated deal, he noted.

“This was not just a ranch deal,” he said. “This was an oil deal, a water rights deal, a cattle deal, a lake property deal, a horse deal. There were title issues, there was dealing with the courts and the families.

“To have an end result like this is pretty remarkable.”

Briggs also said the deal was another indication that his strategic alliance with Sotheby’s was paying dividends, particularly in marketing a unique property to the right set of potential buyers.

“For a property like this we needed to reach globally to find the right buyer, and even though we ended up with a U.S.-based buyer we had interest from all over the world,” he said.

District Judge Dan Mike Bird in Vernon, Texas, allowed the family owners of the Waggoner Ranch to proceed in a private transaction with Kroenke, one of the wealthiest owners in professional sports and the owner of ranches in Montana, Wyoming, Arizona, and British Columbia. The Waggoner went up for sale in 2014 after Judge Bird ordered a sale to end more than 20 years of litigation between opposing branches of the Waggoner family who couldn’t agree on what to do with the property.

The Waggoner is the largest U.S. ranch within one fence, measuring 520,527 acres (207,000 hectares) or 800 square miles (2,072 square kilometers). The King Ranch, based in south Texas, has more acreage spread over several parcels.

The Waggoner has been owned by the same family almost as long as Texas been a state. The ranch was developed by a cattle and horse man named W.T. Waggoner, son of Dan Waggoner, who started buying Texas acreage around 1850. By the 20th century, oil had been discovered on the ranch and the Waggoner reverse-triple-D brand was a Texas icon. Trainloads of spectators came to watch President Teddy Roosevelt hunt wolves on the property. Will Rogers, the famous American humorist of the 1920s and early 1930s, visited frequently, sometimes playing polo. – Bloomberg and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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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