EMILY SCHMALL, Associated Press
FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — One of the largest ranches in the U.S. and an icon for Texas horse and cattlemen has been listed for $725 million, marking the end of a decades-long courtroom battle among the heirs of cattle baron W.T. Waggoner, who established the estate in 1923.
The estate includes the 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 currently occupy two of the three principle 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. W.T. Waggoner’s father, Dan Waggoner, started ranching in 1849, and the Waggoner name was prominent in the development of Hereford cattle and pedigree American quarter horses.
“What really sets it 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.
Thistle Hill, a three-story Georgian Revival house in Fort Worth, was built in 1903 for Electra Waggoner, the daughter of cattleman W.T. Waggoner, and her bridegroom, A. B. Wharton, Jr., of Philadelphia. The house, located at 1509 Pennsylvania Ave., was designed by one of Fort Worth’s best-known architectural firms at the time, Sanguinet and Staats. It is considered one of the finest examples of the Cattle Barron houses that remains in Texas.
W. T. Waggoner also benefited from the first Texas oil boom and he placed some of those earnings in another Fort Worth building, the W.T. Waggoner building at 810 Houston St. Originally 16 stories, then increased to 20 stories, and 210 feet high, it was the tallest building in the Southwest at the time it was finished in 1920. It also was built by Sanguinet & Staats, reportedly for $1.5 million. The building is currently owned by Exxon subsidiary XTO Energy.
W.T. Waggoner also built the Arlington Downs racetrack that operated in Arlington during the 1930s. His granddaughter Electra Waggoner Biggs was a noted sculptress after whom Buick named a luxury car and Lockheed named a plane.Biggs designed and cast the sculpture, Riding into the Sunset, depicting Will Rogers on his horse, Soapsuds. It was commissioned by Rogers’ friend, Amon G. Carter and resides in front of the Will Rogers Memorial Center in Fort Worth.
In 1991, she filed a lawsuit seeking the liquidation of the family estate, spurring a 12-year 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 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.
Local 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. – Robert Francis of the Fort Worth Business Press contributed to this report.