William Allen Poage, cattleman and rancher, the son of George and Julia (Simms) Poage, was born in 1855 at Merrifield, the Poage homestead in Virginia, established by his Scotch-Irish ancestors in the 1700s. A governess taught him to read and write, and he had a few months of formal schooling after his parents moved to Texas about 1866. They settled on the South Bosque River in the cedar brakes west of Waco, where his father raised cattle and tended a farm. In 1872 Poage left home to join a cattle drive to Wichita, Kansas, the first of several drives he worked as either pointer (lead driver) or trail boss. He became well known for his punching and roping abilities as a cowboy on the Chisholm Trail. He documented his experiences as a trail driver in a rare written account, composed around 1890 and published in the Dallas Morning News on July 20, 1941, twenty-one years after his death. In 1874 Poage began buying cattle and driving them to Colorado, Wyoming, and New Mexico. He made his final trip over the trail to Fort Sumner, New Mexico, in 1885, as ranchers began fencing land and the railroads replaced trail drives for moving cattle to market. Poage moved back to the family farm near Waco after spending the winter running a livery stable in Kansas.
In 1886 he and a partner, Brit Edens, started a stockyard and slaughterhouse in downtown Waco. They soon controlled a large portion of the cattle sales in Waco, then the seventh largest city in Texas, and became well-known cattlemen. During this time Poage served two terms as an alderman in Waco, the second time receiving every vote cast. He also served on the finance, street, and fire committees for the city and as mayor pro tem. He was a delegate to the first cattlemen's convention in Texas in 1882, and he originated and conducted Cowboy Day at the Texas Cotton Palace in Waco in 1894.
Poage formed a partnership with R. H. Brown of Fort Worth to lease and then purchase lands in Throckmorton and Shackelford counties, where he began ranching near the Clear Fork of the Brazos River. At the turn of the century he established the Lazy 'Leven Ranch, which he operated until 1912, when he sold his quarter interest and purchased 960 acres in the area from R. D. Daws. This land was still owned and operated by his grandchildren in 1987. Poage was elected to the state legislature in 1916 and served for two terms and a special session in 1919, despite becoming ill with cancer in 1917. In 1898 Poage married Helen Wheeler Conger, the daughter of a wealthy sheep and cattle rancher. They had three sons, two of whom remained in the cattle and ranching business, and the third of whom, William R. Poage, was an author and member of the United States House of Representatives. In 1913 the family moved back to Waco, but Poage continued to manage the ranch. He died of cancer in 1920.