Properties Waggoner ranch Texas
Photograph by Chris Collis

America’s largest, most expensive ranch is about to be sold

Oct 29, 2015

Waggoner ranch gate Texas Chris Collis 

By the end of this year, a wealthy one percenter will likely be the new owner of the venerable Waggoner Ranch, an ample chunk of very Texan Texas, with its grand scale, its cattle and horses and oil rigs, and its associated lore and legend.

The ranch -- thought to be America's largest and most expensive -- was first put on the market for $725 million about a year ago. There had been years of family infighting over how to divide it up or liquidate it, when a judge finally ordered its sale. The deadline for bids was last Tuesday.

According to the broker, about 50 prospective buyers have toured the property, and about a dozen written offers have been submitted. The results will be announced when a deal is finalized, which is expected to be by the end of the year. It's likely to be the biggest sale in what Wall Street Journal called a "modern day stampede" -- a big-land grab of billionaires buying up ranches for their cattle, their hunting potential, and for entertaining clients and guests.

The ranch was established in 1849 by Dan Waggoner, father of W.T. Waggoner who created the W.T. Waggoner Estate, and it has remained in the family ever since. Now for one of those tales: Western Horseman magazine reported that W.T. Waggoner’s first reaction to striking oil on his property when drilling for water was disgust. He changed his tune by the 1920s after automobiles came into use. A favorite of President Theodore Roosevelt and former polo playground for Will Rogers, the Waggoner Estate hosted the elite, according to The Los Angeles Times. Electra Waggoner Biggs, W.T.'s daughter, was a prominent sculptor who created the busts of Dwight Eisenhower and Harry Truman, and she also was the "namesake" for General Motors' Buick Electra sedan.

Properties Waggoner ranch Texas

Chris Collis

Land and structures

The state's--and likely the country’s--largest ranch under one fence spans 510,527 contiguous acres over six counties near Vernon, Texas. Comprised of more than 100 properties, the ranch includes the Zacaweista Headquarters, where the main cattle shipping pens are located, and the Santa Rosa Headquarters. About 30,000 acres are presently being cultivated for wheat, oats, milo, and hay grazer, with potential for many thousands of acres more to be farmed. It requires a staff of 120 to work it all. It also has invasive mesquite brush and land that Mike Baskerville, the receiver of the managing the sale, describes as “wild, sort of original country.”

river Waggoner Ranch Texas

Chris Collis

Rivers and lakes

Several major creeks weave through the acreage, including over 30 miles of Beaver Creek which along with earthen ponds, supply water to the rest of the property. More than 40 miles of the North and South forks of the Wichita river wind through the land as well.

The land also boasts several huge lakes ranging from 1,000 surface acres to 16,000 surface acres: Lake Kemp, Lake Diversion, Santa Rosa Lake, and Lake Electra, which is named for W.T. Waggoner’s daughter Electra. Lake Kemp is accessible by the public for fishing and boating, surrounded by a recreational park, tracts of which are leased out annually. Lake Diversion is a much smaller reservoir and is also available for recreational use.


Cowboy prairie Waggoner Ranch Texas

Chris Collis

Horses and cattle

The sale includes the ranch’s stock of 500 American Quarter Horses, a breed known for excelling at sprinting, and their facilities, specifically the Whiteface Division with training and breeding facilities, stables and barns, and a covered arena. Many of the horses are descendants of the ranch’s champion Quarter Horse, Poco Bueno.

Also part of the deal: 7,500 head of cattle. Other fauna roaming about the territory, which has never been commercially hunted, include deer, turkey, quail, dove, waterfowl and feral hogs.

oil rig Waggoner Texas Chris Collis 

And let's not forget the oil

Black Gold. Texas Tea. Legend has it that when humorist Will Rogers visited the ranch in the 1930s for one of his friendly polo visits, he observed, “I see there’s an oil well for each cow.” Indeed, Waggoner Ranch has 1,200 producing oil wells pumping 675,000 barrels annually , and 41% of the mineral estate will convey with the property. Only about 10% of the land has been explored for oil, so it remains to be seen what developments the future holds for this cowboy country land.

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