Waggoner, William Thomas (1852–1934)

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: December 28, 2020

William Thomas Waggoner, rancher and oilman, was the son of Nancy (Moore) and Daniel Waggoner. He was born on the family stock farm in Hopkins County, Texas, on August 31, 1852. A year later his mother died, and his father, determined to pursue his dream of being a successful cattleman, left Tom in the care of his sister, Sarah Yarbrough. After Daniel married Scylly Ann Halsell in 1859 and established his Cactus Hill headquarters on the West Fork of the Trinity in Wise County, he sent for Tom, whom Scylly Ann adopted as her own. Tom later recalled one night while his father was away, when he and his stepmother hid out in the cornfield from Indians who were lurking about the ranch; the next morning the bodies of the family dog and a mare were found full of arrows. From an early age, Tom Waggoner determined to follow his father's footsteps and "run the best cow outfit" in the country. By 1869 he had become his father's partner in the cattle business. In 1870 the Waggoners drove a herd of cattle to market in Abilene, Kansas, and netted the profit that became the foundation of the Waggoner Ranch, operated by D. Waggoner and Son. Tom Waggoner married Ella Halsell, a younger sister of his stepmother, in 1877; they had two sons and a daughter.

By 1879 Waggoner was manager of the ranch's China Creek headquarters. Over the next two decades he gradually extended his holdings, and by 1900 he was able to give each of his children 90,000 acres of land and 10,000 head of cattle. Oil was discovered on his ranch in 1903, and development after 1911 resulted in the Waggoner Refinery and other oil interests, which increased his fortune to one of the largest in the Southwest. About 1904 Waggoner moved to Fort Worth, where he was a director of the First National Bank and the builder of two office buildings, but he continued to divide his time between his home at Decatur, the ranch in Wilbarger County, and Fort Worth. In April 1905 Waggoner was among the cattlemen who hosted President Theodore Roosevelt during his publicized wolf hunt on the "Big Pasture" in Oklahoma, just prior to its breakup. One of Waggoner's greatest loves was the breeding of fine horses, and during his later years he invested in a large ranch in New Mexico for that purpose. In 1931 he had the old home at Decatur restored. At about the same time, at his farm between Fort Worth and Dallas, he built Arlington Downs Racetrack. It was largely through his efforts and backing that the 1933 Texas parimutuel racing bill was passed and signed into law by Governor Miriam A. Ferguson. In addition, Waggoner and his wife were donors of three buildings on the campus of Texas Woman's College at Denton. In 1933 he was honored with recognition as the "first citizen of Fort Worth." Felled by a paralytic stroke in May of that year, Waggoner suffered from impaired vision and other health problems during his last year, but he continued attending horse races and other social functions. Survived by his wife and sons, he died in Fort Worth from a second stroke on December 11, 1934, and was buried there near the grave of his longtime friend and neighbor, Samuel Burk Burnett.

C. L. Douglas, Cattle Kings of Texas (Dallas: Baugh, 1939; rpt., Fort Worth: Branch-Smith, 1968). Fort Worth Star-Telegram, December 12, 1934. Harry H. Halsell, Cowboys and Cattleland (Nashville: Parthenon, 1937). Knox Kinard, A History of the Waggoner Ranch (M.A. thesis, University of Texas, 1941). Dorothy Abbott McCoy, Texas Ranchmen (Austin: Eakin Press, 1987). Charles P. Ross and T. L. Rouse, Official Early-Day History of Wilbarger County (Vernon, Texas: Vernon Daily Record, 1973). Jesse Wallace Williams, The Big Ranch Country (Wichita Falls: Terry, 1954; 2d ed., Wichita Falls: Nortex, 1971).

  • Oil and Gas Industry
  • Oil Entrepreneurs and Wildcatters
  • Ranching and Cowboys
  • Ranchers and Cattlemen
  • Sports and Recreation
  • Sports (Horse Racing and Polo)
  • North Texas
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Fort Worth

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Anonymous, “Waggoner, William Thomas,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 09, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/waggoner-william-thomas.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

December 28, 2020

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: