Wagstaff, Robert McAlpine (1892–1973)

By: Katharyn Duff

Type: Biography

Published: August 1, 1995

Robert M. Wagstaff, lawyer, legislator, and conservationist, was born in Abilene on September 2, 1892, the son of John Miles and Bessie (McAlpine) Wagstaff. His father, former president of Buffalo Gap Presbyterian College, started practicing law in Abilene in 1890 and was a member of the Texas House of Representatives from 1913 to 1916. Robert followed his father into law and government. He was educated in Abilene public schools and at the Simmons College Academy (now Hardin-Simmons University), where he earned his bachelor's degree in 1913 before going to the University of Texas law school. In Austin he joined the Texas Brigade, and in 1916, a month before he was to graduate from law school, he was called to active duty on the border during raids of Francisco (Pancho) Villa. Wagstaff received his law degree in absentia and was admitted to the bar in 1916. After the United States declared war on Germany, he was sent back to Abilene to organize Company I, Seventh Texas Infantry, the region's first National Guard unit. The company trained locally and at Camp Bowie in Fort Worth. With the merger of Texas and Oklahoma units, it became the headquarters company, 142d Infantry, Thirty-sixth Division (see THIRTY-SIXTH INFANTRY DIVISION). After service in Europe, Wagstaff retired as a major and returned to Abilene to join the Wagstaff law firm. He served in the legislature for two terms, 1931–35. During the East Texas oil boom he helped write conservation statutes that brought stability to the oil and gas industry. He wrote and sponsored with Senator Walter Woodward of Coleman the Wagstaff-Woodward water priority act, which is still in effect. He sponsored a bill setting aside Big Bend land for a state park, an action which made possible the present Big Bend National Park. He was a leader in water development projects for West Texas and was honored for his pioneering efforts to reclaim sandy "shinnery" wasteland by replacing the natural shin oak with grasses sown from airplanes. Wagstaff taught business administration at Hardin-Simmons University from 1947 to 1951. He made unsuccessful bids for Congress in 1944, 1946, and 1960. He was a delegate to the national Democratic convention in Chicago in 1952 and represented the Twenty-fourth Senatorial District on the state Democratic executive committee from 1954 to 1956. As a conservative, he joined Governor Allan Shivers in support of Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower. He was a member of many organizations: the Texas Civil Judicial Council (1953–59), the American Judicature Society, the state and national bar associations, the import policy committee of the Independent Petroleum Association of America (1954–57), the legal committee of the Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association (1955–58), the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, the Sheep and Goat Raisers Association, and the American Farm Bureau. He was a fellow in the American College of Probate Counsel, president of the Taylor County Bar Association, and director of the West Central Texas Oil and Gas Association. He was also a Presbyterian, a member of the Sons of the American Revolution, a Mason, a Knight Templar, and a Shriner. Wagstaff married Texas Orms on February 14, 1931, and the couple had two children. He died in Abilene on April 9, 1973.

Abilene Reporter-News November 7, 1965, April 9, 1973. Katharyn Duff and Betty Kay Seibt, Catclaw Country: An Informal History of Abilene in West Texas (Burnet, Texas: Eakin Press, 1980). Texas Legislature, House Journal, 42d sess. Who's Who in America, 1970–73.


  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Lawyers
  • General Law

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

Katharyn Duff, “Wagstaff, Robert McAlpine,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed January 17, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/wagstaff-robert-mcalpine.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

August 1, 1995