1999 - Charles Goodnight Award
- Photos and articles courtesy of Star-Telegram
- Accepting the Charles Goodnight Award
on behalf of the W. T. Waggoner Estate of Vernon
last night are W. T. Waggoner's decendants Buck
Wharton, Electra Winston, center, and Helen
Willingham. The annual Goodnight Award
recognizes an individual or business for sharing
the legendary cattleman's love of the land and
for protecting the state's Western heritage.
December 5, 1999
Article in the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram written by Art
THE 1999 CHARLES GOODNIGHT AWARD
SALUTING A TEXAS LEGACY
By Art Chapman Star-Telegram
VERNON -- In the mid-1860s, on the perilous Texas
plains, 14-year-old W.T. "Tom" Waggoner
proclaimed his ambition: "to run the best cattle
outfit, own the best horses, and do the most work of any
man in the country."
The energetic young cowboy had to
overcome Indian wars, treacherous weather, uncertain
markets and a crippling depression, but he endured.
Today, his descendants continue to run the W.T. Waggoner
Estate, the largest single ranch within one fence in the
With headquarters in North Texas, the estate manages more
than 520,000 acres of ranch, farm and oil properties. It
employs 140 people, ranging from accountants to cowboys,
purchasing agents to camp cooks.
The W.T. Waggoner Estate will be honored Tuesday as the
1999 recipient of the Charles Goodnight Award, named for
the legendary cattleman. The award is given each year
during the National Cutting Horse Association World
Championship Futurity. It goes to a person or
organization sharing Goodnight's love of the land and
livestock and whose work protects the state's Western
"The Waggoner Estate Ranch is one of the greatest
ranches in Texas, with a long history of cattle and
quarter horses and land management," said Kit
Moncrief, a member of the Goodnight Scholarship
Committee, which made the selection. "They continued
the spirit of the great ranching families."
The Goodnight Award has always been given to an
individual. But this year was a departure because
"there are so many family members, you couldn't just
pick out one," Moncrief said. "They have all
added to the greatness of the ranch. They have all been
The award will be presented in the Grand Ballroom of the
Renaissance Worthington Hotel. Proceeds from the event go
to the Texas Christian University Ranch Management
Steve Munday, executive vice president of the Texas and
Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, said: "The
Waggoner Estate, the biggest ranch in Texas under one
fence, goes back to the pre-Civil War days with Dan
Waggoner. It remains a Texas legend that rightly can
claim a huge chunk of Texas history, especially in
ranching and in oil. The Waggoner families and their
employees richly deserve the recognition given by the
Charles Goodnight Award."
The Waggoner saga began in North Texas in the 1850s, when
Dan Waggoner gathered his six horses and 242 head of
longhorn cattle and moved from Hopkins County to an area
near Decatur in Wise County. He brought with him his
mother, brothers, sisters, and son, William Thomas. His
wife had died a year earlier.
Dan Waggoner remarried, and he and his son began
acquiring land. By 1870, the two were partners working as
D. Waggoner and Son. Their triple reversed D brand spread
throughout North Texas into Wise, Wilbarger, Foard,
Wichita, Baylor, Archer and Knox counties. By 1873 they
trailed a herd to Kansas that netted them an unimaginable
$55,000. It became seed money for an enormous empire.
Ten years later, Dan Waggoner built El Castile, a
Victorian mansion in Decatur. His investments included
not only land and cattle, but also five banks, three
cottonseed oil mills and a coal company.
He died in 1902.
A year later, oil was discovered on the ranch.
At 17, Tom had already assumed control of the ranch. He
fulfilled his quest to become one of the hardest working
men in the country. His father once remarked: "Tom
has over 50 mules at work on one farm, and he knows each
one by name, knows if they are hitched up wrong, and even
knows if one has on the wrong collar."
Tom Waggoner was tireless, but deeply frustrated by the
drought at the turn of the century. He tried to drill a
water well near what is now Electra, but at 147 feet the
well spewed oil.
He ordered a deeper well, this time 2,000 feet, but again
he hit oil.
"Oil, oil, what do I want with damn oil? I'm looking
for water. That's what my cattle need," he
When humorist Will Rogers visited the ranch years later,
he remarked, "I see there's an oil well for each
Humorist Will Rogers,
right, visits with rancher W. T. "Tom" Waggoner
in the 1930s. Rogers said of Waggoner's North Texas
ranch, "I see there's an oil well for each
W.T. Waggoner went on to solidify the ranch's
fortunes, establishing lease agreements with Texaco. He
moved the ranch headquarters to Vernon, but remained a
fixture in both Decatur and Fort Worth.
He was known to be both a generous man and a frugal one.
One of his favorite stories was of the time he sat
whittling away at the Decatur train station with several
As a salesman stepped off a train, he announced he would
pay $1 to anyone who would carry his suitcase to the
local hotel. Waggoner slowly folded his pocket knife and
picked up the man's case. As they passed the mansion on
the hill, the salesman asked who lived there. "I
do," Waggoner informed him.
"How can you afford to live in a house like
that?" the salesman asked.
"I carry my own suitcases," Waggoner replied.
Waggoner could be lavish when the situation called for
it. In 1903, fearing that his daughter, Electra, might be
swayed to move to the East with her new husband, Waggoner
commissioned the Fort Worth architectural firm of
Sanguinet and Staats to design and build a 3-story
Georgian Revival home for the newlyweds. The home was
later named Thistle Hill.
To accommodate his love of horse racing, and to persuade
the state to allow pari-mutuel betting, he built
Arlington Downs Racetrack in Arlington. Wagering was
legalized soon after the $2 million track was completed.
He built a 20-story office building in downtown Fort
Worth and was a constant contributor to the city's civic
causes. Some say he was simply a soft touch for his close
friend Amon G. Carter Sr., publisher of the Fort Worth
Star-Telegram and one of the city's biggest boosters.
In 1934, when Waggoner was recognized as Fort Worth's
"Outstanding Citizen," Will Rogers sent him the
"Mr. Waggoner, don't take this dinner serious. It's
only the opening wedge of a gigantic touch. Amon wants
some money to take a band with him somewhere, or
something of that sort. Why don't you do this, Mr.
Waggoner, turn over what little of your fortune Fort
Worth and Amon have left you, and just let them have it,
and put you on an allowance?
"Then they wouldn't have to go through all this
Rogers signed it, "May you live until Fort Worth can
get along without you, and that means eternity. Will
Waggoner died a few months later.
He had already established the estate, serving as a
trustee. His escendants continue to operate the ranch
today. The W.T. Waggoner Estate is owned by A.B. Wharton
and Mrs. Electra Biggs & Family trusts. Co-directors
are A.B. Wharton and Gene Willingham.
"I think of the history of this ranch and I am
astounded that they were able to do what they did,"
Wharton said. "It is mind-boggling in a lot of
The estate office is in Vernon, the ranch headquarters 13
milessouth. The ranch's fence line cuts through the
southern half ofWilbarger County, the northern third of
Baylor County, and small portions of Wichita and Archer
counties to the east and Knox and Foard counties to the
"It's tough to run this ranch today, but it's
probably a lot easier than it was in the old days,"
Wharton said. "We actually have had multiple
generations who have given their lives to the ranch. We
still have today. I had the opportunity to know a lot of
people who were bigger than life."
Among the names are men such as Tony Hazlewood, who
worked at the ranch for 50 years. G.L. Proctor succeeded
him as ranch manager. Proctor began his career on the
ranch as a 13-year-old cowboy. Three O'Neil brothers
worked on the ranch together, and at one time there were
seven Daniels - four brothers and three of their sons.
Kenneth Handley and A.B. Wilkinson each put in 50 years
on the ranch. Paul Whitley logged 40, living alone in a
remote line camp that was centered on 35,000 acres.
Perhaps the most prominent name associated with the
Waggoner Ranch was not a person, but a horse, Poco Bueno.
The stallion was an uncontested champion. He was a
working horse, often taken from the pasture straight to a
show, then turned back into the pasture. He was the
first horse ever insured for $1 million, and he
brought the ranch profits far beyond that.
His name and that of the ranch became
synonymous. His grave site is near the ranch entrance.
"We've got 31 cowboys," said ranch manager
Weldon Hawley, who, like his father before him, has put
in more than 20 years on the ranch. "They ride, work
cattle, take care of the cattle, they do it all. We run
somewhere in the neighborhood of 12,000 to 13,000 head of
cattle, and there is a lot of pride involved.
"We've got several fellas who've been here for lots
of years, and a lot of pride is developed from that. Most
of us were kind of raised up here."
There is a special bond among the Waggoner crew, he said.
"There has to be. There is a lot of hard work in
cold weather, and a lot of work in hot weather. Pride has
got to play a large part in it," he said.
That devotion to the ranch has been the biggest reason
for its continued prosperity, said Helen Willingham, one
of the ranch owners. That kind of allegiance has forged a
"I think about it all the time," she said of
the ranch's past. "I think about it every time I
look at that picture of W.T. Waggoner in the office
boardroom. And I wonder what he would think if he could
be here today and watch and see how things are run.
"This generation today, we need to remember how it
started. I am, and I hope my children are aware of that.
We just happen to be fortunate enough to be offsprings of
the ones who built it."
Historical sources: The Handbook of Texas; Thistle Hill:
The Cattle Baron's Legacy, by Roze McCoy Porter; The Red
River Valley Museum, Vernon, Texas; Amon: The Texan Who
Played Cowboy For America, by Jerry Flemmons; Cattle
Kings of Texas, by C.L. Douglas; The W.T. Waggoner
Article in the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram written by
All's well that ends with oil wells
- Cutters in town for the National Cutting
Horse Association World Championship Futurity and
honchos with the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall
of Fame attended on Saturday night what was
surely one of the most spectacular parties of the
season. Better yet, they gave all that Cowgirl
stuff a boot up at the same time. Western
heritage enthusiasts Stacie and David McDavid
filled their Westover Hills home with thousands
of red roses and set up a gift boutique in the
elegant pool "pavilion," where
purchases benefited the Cowgirl Museum and Hall
of Fame. Cutters snapped up "stress
balls" made and sold by Sterling McDavid,
Trust me. Parties like this don't just happen.
Organizers fretted over every detail, from the
8-foot-tall snowmen that greeted guests, to
signing Nashville-based singer/songwriter Karen
Staley for entertainment. The invitation, a
creative "scrapbook" of Annie Oakley
paper dolls with cut-out clothes, took six months
The custom-made tent took five days to install,
but it was worth the fuss. Cutting champ brothers
Bill and Terry Riddle of Oklahoma and Texas
cutting star Bill Freeman could stroll out of the
house, across the bridge that spans the pool and
into the pavilion without ever going
No wonder McDavid friend and Hollywood director
Michael McClary flew in for the fun. Other
notables spotted in the crowd were actress Janine
Turner; western artists Jim Reno and Kelly
Graham; and a host of Cowgirl Museum patrons.
Hats off: Cutters jammed the Renaissance
Worthington's ballroom on Tuesday night for the
ninth annual Charles Goodnight Gala. Country
music headliner Trisha Yearwood provided
after-dinner entertainment, and Fort Worth's
favorite son, Red Steagall, delivered the dancing
music when she was finished -- but all of that
was just gravy on the biscuit.
This western-style soiree draws a mostly
out-of-town crowd that comes to applaud the
winner of the Charles Goodnight Award `and' a
long list of the National Cutting Horse
Association Hall of Fame inductees.
The prestigious Goodnight Award is presented to
those who champion western heritage and the
ranching way of life in Fort Worth and Texas.
Past winners have all been individuals.
This time the fabled Waggoner Ranch of Vernon
took the prize. Every Texas rancher knows the
famous triple-reverse-D brand -- and that the
Waggoner land held not just fine horses and
cattle, but oil as well.
Searching for water, W.T. "Tom"
Waggoner struck oil, it is said. He punched
another hole in the ground and was aggravated
when the drillers hit oil again. "Water is
what my cattle need," he is supposed to have
It's no wonder that gala chairman Kit Moncrief
installed several "working" oil wells
along the walls of the room with pump jacks that
jerked up and down.
Philanthropy is also part of the family legacy.
Waggoner descendants Bucky Wharton, Electra
Winston and Helen Willingham accepted the award,
but Bucky got the laughs. "I feel like Liz
Taylor's husband when he said, `I know why I'm
here, but I don't know if I can make it
Mary Rogers' column appears Mondays, Wednesdays