William McDole (W. M. D.) Lee, noted frontier trader, rancher, deep-harbor contractor, and oilman, was born on August 25, 1841, at Eaton, Pennsylvania, to Perry and Esther Lee. The family moved to Portage, Wisconsin, during the mid-1840s. Lee was an early driver for the Kansas branch of the Wells Fargo company. He subsequently joined the Union Army during the Civil War. In 1869 he established a partnership with Albert E. Reynolds to serve both the military at Camp Supply, Indian Territory, and the tribes of the Cheyenne and Arapaho reservation. The accumulation of buffalo robes and hides was a primary interest. Other hunters' services were organized both in Dodge City (1872–81) and at Reynolds (Rath) City (1876–78). During the "Texas Buffalo Kill" of the middle to late 1870s, Lee expanded his business to include hide outlets in New York City and Chicago. He is reputed to have encouraged an Indian attack on the hunters' camp at Adobe Walls in 1874 as an effort to eliminate competition. When the army's new post, Fort Elliott, was established in 1875, Lee was appointed the government trader. By 1878 the firm of Lee and Reynolds was considered the largest merchandiser of the southern plains. (see BUFFALO HUNTING.)
Lee's first cattle interest, the LR Ranch, was established near Camp Supply in Indian Territory in 1876. Another organization, the LE Ranch, bought lands in Oldham and Hartley counties of the Texas Panhandle in 1879. Both operations were conducted in partnership with Reynolds, an association that lasted until 1881, when Lee disassociated himself from Reynolds and became the partner of Lucien Scott, a banker from Leavenworth, Kansas. The year before, Scott had established the LS Ranch in Oldham and Hartley counties with a brand that became one of the most famous of its era. During these years Lee helped to charter the American Angus Association and is credited with moving the first herd of Aberdeen Angus cattle west of the Mississippi River.
In 1888 Lee associated himself with the Capitol Syndicate (XIT Ranch) to organize the Brazos River Channel and Dock Company for the purpose of opening a navigable channel at the mouth of the Brazos River. This channel, the first deepwater port on the Texas coast, was successfully completed at Velasco in December 1891. Lee next turned his attention to chartering tugs and barges (the Gulf Towing Company) for lumber interests operating out of Beaumont, Orange, and Lake Charles. He also contributed to the development of harbors at Calcasieu and Sabine passes. As an oilman he prospected from 1906 to 1925 with shallow tests at West Columbia and Spindletop, using the company names of West Columbia Oil, Ab-Moor Oil, and Nineteen Oil.
Lee married Orlina Whitney of Columbus, Wisconsin, on September 25, 1876. They had one son and an adopted daughter. Mrs. Lee died in 1900, and Lee married Leila Schumacher of Fayetteville, Arkansas, on November 8, 1923. He died in Houston on January 6, 1925.