William Leslie (Colonel) Black, soldier, cattleman, author, businessman, adventurer, and promoter of Angora goats, the son of Charles and Agnes (Sewell) Black, was born in New Orleans in 1843. His father was a cotton broker of Scottish and English ancestry. Black left school at an early age to work for his father, joined the Confederate Army, and was wounded at Shiloh. After his recovery he served in the Confederate Navy, in which he ran cotton through the Union blockade to England. He was also part of an expedition against the Union Navy on the Pacific coast, was captured and imprisoned at Fort Alcatraz, and was sentenced to be hanged as a pirate but was pardoned.
After the Civil War he lived in the Bahamas and New York, grew wealthy, helped to found the New York Cotton Exchange, traveled extensively, married Camilla Bogert in 1869, began raising his family of ten children, and in 1875 moved to St. Louis. The next year he purchased a ranch near Fort McKavett on the San Saba River in Texas. He remained in St. Louis for several years, however, as an absentee landlord while others worked the ranch, on which he grazed cattle and sheep. Annually he made a trip to West Texas to inspect his property. When he learned that his herders preferred goat meat to mutton, he purchased a small flock of goats to supply his men. By 1884, when with his family he moved permanently to the ranch, he had discovered the value of Angoras, a better breed that brought more money than his common species. Knowing that he could upgrade his stock by introducing full-blooded Angora sires, he bought eight males and four females. After a few years of breeding, Black had increased his flock enough to justify shearing the animals to sell the mohair as he sold wool.
In the mid-1890s, goat and mohair growers widely recognized Black as the nation's leading authority on Angoras. Two developments were largely responsible. First, in 1893 he realized that his herd of 8,000 browsing animals had to be reduced or it would overrun his ranch. Accordingly, he contacted an acquaintance with Armour and Company in Chicago, offering to sell 1,000 fat wethers at the company's price. Declining for the company, the friend informed Black that goat meat was not popular among its customers and did not sell. His friend advised slaughtering the goats for their hides and tallow and packing the meat in cans. Thus was born on Black's ranch the Range Canning Company, one of the first meat-packing operations, rendering plants, and tanneries of goat hides in West Texas. The second development was Black's promotion of the Angora goat industry. He studied the goat and its habits and forage, making careful notes about its routines. He read all he could about the animal. He wrote a booklet about Angoras in the 1890s, in which he called upon Texas farmers and ranchers to take advantage of the commercial opportunities offered by goat raising, "this new, and valuable, industry." In response he received scores of inquiries asking all manner of questions. Such spirited response encouraged Black to write more. The result was publication in 1900 of a book on the Angora goat and mohair industry, A New Industry–or Raising the Angora Goat, which proved to be a favorite manual and textbook for more than forty years. Black's contributions to the industry helped to make the Edwards Plateau an economically productive region.
In addition to this more important work, Black invented a cotton picker, patented a "special guide" for windmills, invented his Little Wonder Nut Sheller for use especially on his home-grown pecans, secured with others a futures market for wool trading, and continued his writing. He died four weeks after a paralytic stroke, on May 11, 1931. See also WOOL AND MOHAIR INDUSTRY.