A Texas-sized mystery: who will own the enormous $725m Waggoner ranch?

The 800-square-mile ranch founded in 1849 has been for sale for two years and bidding closed Tuesday – but the identity of the new owner remains a mystery

David Brocklehurst is an unusual kind of cowboy – but then he works on an extraordinary ranch. The 38-year-old is a full-time helicopter pilot at the Waggoner ranch, and each spring and fall he spends months as a sky cowboy, herding cattle from above with his Jet Ranger aircraft.

Like the rest of the 125 employees at the vast Texas property, Brocklehurst is waiting to find out the identity of his new boss. The ranch has been up for sale for 14 months and bidding closed on Tuesday.

A three-hour drive north-west of Dallas, the ranch spans about 800 square miles across six counties, making it far bigger than greater London and two-thirds the size of the smallest US state, Rhode Island – though it is dwarfed by Australia’s Anna Creek Station.

The sales brochure calls it “a giant piece of Texas history” – with a price tag to match. The Waggoner was listed at $725m. It is thought to be the country’s largest ranch behind one fence, as well as the most expensive ever to be placed on the market. It was founded in 1849 and has remained in the Waggoner family, but heirs spent decades quarreling over its future before a judge finally approved a plan to sell it.

“All the offers are in, we got a good response, we’re sorting through them,” said one of the brokers, Dallas-based Bernie Uechtritz. “Several offers are there that are well worthy of serious attention.”
He declined to go into detail but said that bids had come from both Americans and overseas buyers able to stump up the $15m earnest money deposit. From 700 initial inquiries, about 50 people toured the ranch and a dozen or so emerged as genuine contenders.

“There are several that I would categorise as entrepreneurial. I think it’s been a very robust response. Some people are more interested in the farming operation, some people are more interested in the cattle and horses, some are more interested in the oil, and green energy operations. We’ve really got a great cross-section of types of buyers,” Uechtritz said.
‘All the offers are in, we got a good response, we’re sorting through them,’ said one broker, who added several were worth of ‘serious attention’. Photograph: Courtesy Waggoner Estate
Waggoner offers animals, cultivated land, buildings, equipment, the possibility of setting up wind and solar farms, and the chance to increase the oil production that is already taking place there via more than 1,000 wells.

Uechtritz also believes a new owner could exploit the Waggoner reputation, similar to the famous and bigger King ranch, 500 miles south. “The King ranch has leveraged their name and their history off the backs of cattle and on to the side of Ford trucks,” he said.

The staff are anxiously waiting for news about the new owner’s intentions, fearing that the estate could be broken up and jobs lost. Uechtritz said that the contenders are “all good people who want to, as far as I understand it, protect and preserve the ranch and would like to own a significant piece of Texan and American history.

“Everybody involved would like it to stay in one piece and continue for another 150 years the way it has but in sort of a modern context under modern management, and I think that’s pretty likely to happen.”

Originally from Zimbabwe, Brocklehurst started working at the ranch in 2009 and said it took him two years to get familiar with the terrain. Now, though, he rarely needs help directing up to 14,000 cattle from cowboys of the conventional, horse-riding kind.

“It’s like a big community on its own. You’ve got tanker [drivers], welders, plumbers, all the way through to the farming section, the cowboy section, the oil section,” he said.

“Apparently we’ll know by Christmas who’s going to buy it and we just hope it’s someone who’ll keep the Waggoner way going … There’s a big sense of pride in the place, you just feel really protective of the place. I like being able to say that I’m the Waggoner pilot.”