Waggoner Ranch is a ranch in Texas that went up for sale in August 2014 for an amazing asking price of $725 million and sold for an undisclosed amount. It became the largest sale amount ever offered for an American ranch.
The ranch in North Texas, is the largest ranch in the United States enclosed by one fence. It covers almost 800 square miles of land across six counties and is 525,000 acres. The size of the ranch is larger than the cities of Los Angeles and New York combined and covers the portion of six Texas counties.
There are 10,000 cows and bulls on the land, 500 horses, and 25,000 acres of it are farmland. In addition, the ranch has 1,100 oil wells and a lake, Lake Kemp, that supplies water to the city of Wichita Falls, Texas, as well as the ranch. There is no groundwater on the ranch, only oil.
Waggoner Ranch is located 13 miles south of the small town of Vernon, Texas, in North Texas. The ranch was established in 1849 by Dan Waggoner. He died in 1903 and left the ranch to his son, W.T. Waggoner, who continued to expand the size of the ranch. In 1923, W.T. Waggoner formed the W.T. Waggoner estate. He divided the ranch into four tracts, one for himself and the others for his three children.
But this is where things got dicey in the history of the W.T Waggoner Ranch. According to Texas Monthly, though Waggoner hoped his children would take responsibility for the ranch, he got a completely different type of behavior. The children spent wildly on trips around the world, lavish parties, shopping sprees, and divorce settlements (his son Guy married eight times).
In an effort to control the future of the ranch, W.T. Waggoner took back all the land assets in 1923 and placed them in a Massachusetts trust, a legal arrangement that placed him as the “grantor” of the trust and gave him management authority to a trustee. The trust set out that each child owned one-third of the 100,000 shares in the estate. They would also elect the board of directors, serve on the board, and retain their homesteads. But the children had no management authority over the ranch except to elect those who be trustees in the future.
W.T. Waggoner died in 1934 at the age of 82, and his three children, Guy, E. Paul, and Electra Waggoner, inherited a different tract of the ranch. After Guy Waggoner died in 1950, his sons sold their stake to other members of the family, specifically Buster Wharton, Electra Waggoner’s son (she had died in 1925), and E. Paul Waggoner’s daughter, Electra Waggoner Biggs.
In 1991, Electra Waggoner Biggs sued to be able to sell the ranch. The son of Buster Wharton, Bucky Wharton, a second cousin of Electra Biggs, appealed to stop the sale. After Electra Biggs died, her share of the ranch went to her daughter, Helen Biggs, and her husband, Gene Willingham.
The trust was originally due to expire after twenty years but was extended in twenty-year increments starting in 1943 and set to expire again in 1983. It was then extended to March 31, 2003.
After one of the trustees resigned in the late eighties, the remaining stakeholders couldn’t decide on a replacement, and Bucky gave a notice of termination of the trust. He wanted to divide the land. Biggs then filed suit in 1991, asking for liquidation of the estate by the court. The case then went through the 46th District Court for over twelve years.
The trust expired on March 31, 2003, and the judge presiding over the case ordered that the ranch should be liquidated. After more legal back and forth, the ranch was listed on the real estate market in 2014.
Six buyers put up cashier’s checks in the amount of $15 million each to even bid on the property, and four finalists were selected to go on. In February 2016, the ranch was sold to Stan Kroenke, a billionaire who owns the NFL Los Angeles Rams, the NHL Colorado Avalanche, and the NBA Denver Nuggets. He’s also the husband of Walmart heiress Ann Walton Kroenke. The terms and final amount of the sale were undisclosed.
But the controversy didn’t stop there with the Waggoner Ranch. Soon after Kroenke bought the ranch in 2016, residents who lived on another lake on the ranch called Lake Diversion were given notices that the lease on the land underneath the homes they owned would not be renewed. According to the Wichita Falls Times-Record, the eviction letter stated that the land around Lake Diversion would be returned “to its natural, uninhabited landscape to support and improve the microecosystem.”
Even with its immense size, the Waggoner Ranch is still not the biggest ranch in Texas. That title goes to the famed King Ranch in South Texas at 825,000 acres, and it’s larger than the state of Rhode Island.
Sources: Waggoner Ranch, Texas Monthly, Dallas Business Journal, Times Record News, Houston Chronicle, Cornell Law School