OPINION COLUMNS

Enlow’s book details rise of Waggoner family

By Roy J. Eaton | Published Saturday, January 2, 2016
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My fascination with the Waggoner ranching empire was stirred again recently when I received a copy of Jeremy Enlow’s new book, “Cowboys of the Waggoner Ranch.” The book is filled with beautiful pictures of the ranch and the dedicated cowboys who work there.

Jeremy is a talented photographer who has done work for several magazines. His dad is my long-time friend Roger Enlow, editor of the Hood County News in Granbury.

Roy J. Eaton

Roy J. Eaton

Jeremy began his career while still in school, shooting pictures for his dad’s newspaper. He was 10 when his first picture was published.

The day after I received the book as a birthday present, I got a call from long-time Decatur resident Ezell Singleton, who has a treasure of local banking history that began in 1883 when Dan Waggoner was instrumental in founding the First National Bank of Decatur.

Singleton found the historic stock certificates years ago when he was hired to “clean out” the old First National building when the bank had been sold to the First State Bank of Denton and within months sold again to Wells Fargo.

Dan Waggoner had come to Wise County in 1854, when he claimed 160 acres under a federal land grant and along with another man drove more than 200 longhorns and six horses to Wise County and settled on land east of Decatur.

What I didn’t know until I read Enlow’s book is that two years later, Waggoner bought 320 acres west of Decatur. I had always thought the Waggoner’s Wise County ranches were east of the city. By 1860, Enlow quotes Wise County census records as showing Dan’s worth at $20,000, “much more than his neighbors.”

Enlow’s book tells how in 1868 Waggoner’s son W. T. (Tom), at 16, drove 5,000 longhorns to Kansas City with a team of cowboys, 56 horses and twelve dollars. “He returned with $55,000, which would be the seed money for the great ranching empire. Dan and Tom bought longhorns at $1 a head and purchased more land.”

By 1869, Dan made Tom a full partner. “The partnership spends the next three decades buying land in Wise, Wilbarger, Foard, Wichita, Baylor, Archer and Knox counties and building up the herd.”

Another historical note in Enlow’s book details how in 1877, Dan and Tom, along with Burk Burnett (6666 Ranch), Col. C. C. Slaughter (Slaughter Ranches) and Jim Loving (JA Ranch) formed what is now the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association.

By 1879, Tom Waggoner was in charge of the ranching empire, and in 1883 Dan built what is one of Decatur’s most beautiful structures, El Castile. The mansion, located at the end of Main Street, is closed to the public but remains a top tourist attraction. Interestingly, Dan Waggoner sold El Castile to merchant Sam Bellah a few years later, then bought it back.

Dan Waggoner founded the First National Bank on April 30, 1883. By 1885 he was named president of the bank, a position he would hold until his death. Tom Waggoner became president of the bank following his father’s death and served until 1934, when Guy Waggoner, Tom’s son, would become president for five years before the bank was sold.

As I sat in the Singleton’s living room reviewing the stock certificates, I was puzzled by a spurt of activity among three stockholders who sold their stock to Waggoner on a single day in 1913. Later, I learned after reading the late Catherine Gonzalez’s history of the bank, that the men sold their stock to Waggoner and then formed the First State Bank in Decatur. All three had been officers of the First National. That new bank lasted five years until Waggoner bought it and combined the two financial institutions. In the meantime, Waggoner was granted a charter in 1914 for a new bank in Rhome.

Tom Waggoner moved to Fort Worth in 1904 and became a director of the First National Bank of Fort Worth. Two years earlier, Tom was drilling for water on the ranch near Vernon when he kept getting oil instead.

In 1909, he leased 250,000 acres of the ranch near Electra to Texaco, and in 1910 the first Waggoner oil well began producing. Ranch oil production now is estimated by the Dallas Business Journal at 42,000 barrels per month.

Enlow’s book tells the story about a “run” on banks during the great depression. “Amon G. Carter Sr. recruits Tom to help stop a run on the First National Bank of Fort Worth. By three o’clock on February 18, depositors were clamoring to withdraw their funds when Tom, a director of the bank, told the crowd, ‘I hereby pledge to you every cent that I own or possess in this world that you shall not lose a single dollar in this bank. I will sell every cow and every oil well if necessary to pay for any money you lose here.'” The depositors were assured by Waggoner’s pledge and left the lobby with their money still in the bank.

The 510,000-acre Waggoner Ranch, headquartered in Vernon, is now for sale for $725 million. The ranch is spread over six West Texas counties and is home to more than 11,000 cattle, 1,100 producing oil wells, two large privately owned lakes and a large quarter-horse breeding operation.

Bids for the ranch have been received and are being analyzed by lawyers. The winning bidder could be announced early next year. With their fate uncertain, Enlow writes, “The cowboys continue working pretty much as Waggoner cowboys have for 160 years, and they will keep on doing so until the work is done.”

Roger Enlow’s book, introduced in October, is now in its second printing. It is available at www.waggonercowboys.com.

Roy Eaton is publisher of the Messenger.

One Response to “Enlow’s book details rise of Waggoner family”

  1. Wow, what a coincidence. Just yesterday, I was reading this article from 1975 about the search for the modern cowboy. The last little bit is all about the Waggoner family, notably John Waggoner, and is an interesting little read. Mr. Eaton is mentioned as tipping off John Waggoner about the Ford Tractor dealership that he would eventually purchase.

    http://www.texasmonthly.com/the-culture/in-search-of-the-modern-cowboy/

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