THE INSTITUTE OF TEXAN CULTURES
Oral Hi story Office
SUBJECT: W.T. Waggoner Ranch (Tape 1 of 1)
INTERVIEW WITH: Weldon Hawley
DATE: 18 February 2000
San Antonio, Texas (La Cantera)
TAPE 1, SIDE 1
M: Hello, it's February 18, it's Shirley Mock, I'm going
to play this back. It's February 18; this is Shirley Mock,
at La Cantera, in t he Dolph Briscoe Casita and, Sir, I'll
let you introduce y ourself.
H: Weldon Hawley , ranch manager for the W.T. Waggoner
M: Okay. I have a question fo r you. How did you come .. .
how did you b ecome the ranch manager? Did you come ... did
you start at s ome point? Did you work your way up? How did
you become the manager?"
H: Yes, ma'am. When I was born, my dad worked for
Waggoners, for about twenty- seven years, and I'd been on and
off the ranch. And I come back to the ranch in the '70s -
1970 - and literally worked from the ground up to this
M: How do you work your way up on a ranch?
H: Wel l , you start out usually in the bunkhouse is t h e way
I started . And you just start as a cowboy; you fen c e and
ride the horses - the open horses - and j ust kind of work
W.T. Waggoner Ranch
H: your way up. You work up to . .. [inaudible ] straw boss
and then wagon boss and then on up the line to the managing
M: What's a straw boss?
H: Straw boss is: you have wagon crews of approximat e l y
fourteen to fifteen people, and the straw boss is actually
the second in command on that. We have a wagon boss, and
the straw boss works for the wagon boss . He's in cont rol of
the cowboys that do t h e actual work of the cattle.
M: Uh- huh.
H: In the spring and fall.
M: Urn . I understood, from one of the people that I
interviewed, there's a ranch ... there' s like an etiquette
between the cowboys . Can you tell me something about that?
About t h e things you do, the things you don't do, in terms
of the cattle drive.
H: Sure . There's . .. they have an etiquette in the ranchi ng
industry, a n d a lot of t hat is through seniority; it's
brought up through seni ority . The older cowboys, they make
sure that that's carried out .
M: uh-huh .
H: There are some things you can do on the ranch and some
things you can't. There's correct ways o f doing it, and
generally the older hands take care of that .
M: Are you from ... where are you from originally?
H: Vernon, Texas.
W.T. Waggoner Ranch
M: Vernon, Texas.
H: There at the ranch . Yes, ma'am .
M: Oh, okay . All right. And Vernon is near to Fort
Worth, isn't it? Close to Fort Worth.
H: No, ma'am . It's about a hundred and sixty miles west .
M: A hundred and sixty miles, right. And so you were just
interested in it . Did you go to school and specialize in
ranching or ... ?
H: I went to a couple of junior colleges there, and
specialized in ranch management. But I didn't complete
that. I went back and got the majority of my education
there at the ranch.
M: Well, I understand that's the best way to do it. If
you had to pass something on to somebody taking your place,
eventually, what would you .. . how would you advise them, what
would you tell them?
H: I would tell them t here's something you cannot control.
Nature is one of the large parts of it and it's something
that we accept - droughts, markets . The markets are
controlled by people other than us, you know, the cattle
markets . The horse markets are the same way. And that's
what I would do. I would advise them not to manage too far
out in front and live with what you've got.
M: Uh- huh .
H: And that's something that I've l earned - probably the
tough way - on the drought s and stuff that's .. . I've gone
W. T . Waggoner Ranch 4
H: through since I've been t here .
M: Tell me about the droughts, because that must have been
a very bad time. And when were they and how did they affect
H: They were - the ones that I 've really had to face -
it's been awful dry here. It had started in, actually, in
'94, and '95 and then '98, last Year in '99. We depend on
run-off water , dirt tanks, man-made t anks f or cattle water;
and it's been so dry that we've had lots of tanks to dry up.
The grass has got awful short, and it affects, you know, i t
just affects everything. You can haul feed to the cows but
you sure can't haul water to that many of them. And it makes
it extremely tough ... it's one of the toughest things I've
ever run up against.
M: What are you options during a drought - in terms of the
cattle, in terms of the ranching? You've mentioned a
couple, what are some of the other options?
H: Well, the only .. . about the only thing you can do is you
go through cul ling strategies on your cows. Sell some of
your cattle . You market your calves at a younger age ,
lighter weights. But the major deal is to just go ahead and
do all the preparation you can for the next rains: build
more tanks for the water run-off, contain what you can
contain . And . . . but t he only thing that you can do is sell
your cows. And you do that with selling your older cows,
and hold your production down the best you can.
W.T. Waggoner Ranch 5
M: The ranch itself is a large enterprise, what . .. do you
have foreign properties involved in the Waggoner ranching
H: No, ma'am. It' s .. . [inaudible) right there. We have an
oil production company there on t he ranch that we have, and
farming. We have about twenty- six thousand acres of
cultivated land. And then, of course, the cattle .
M: What are they cuI . .. what do you cul tivate?
H: We grow wheat and oats and raise our own Sudan hay . But
it's primarily self-contained and for that purpose. We
raise a lot of the grain that we sell - we graze that out
for grains for the yearlings t hrough the winter. And so
it's pretty much everything right there at home.
M: Now the Waggoner fami l y, are they invol ved in the
actual running of the ranch at all?
H: Yes, ma'am. The family itself is the board of
directors - the members of t he family on both sides. And
the co-directors - Mr. Wil lingham represents Miss Biggs'
side and the family trust and the A.B. Wharton Junior
represents the other side . And I work for them directly .
And they are co-directors, and they are active in what goes
on at the ranch .
M: Yes, and I had pulled something up in the book of .. . t he
Handbook of Texas. And I guess tha t ranches get to a
certain point where they are so diversified and you have
descendan ts that... Are the descendants interested in the
W.T. Waggoner Ranch 6
M: actual ranch or they have developed other interests and
no longer take a role in that?
H: You know, I think that the majority of them have
developed other i nterests. Some of that being ... some of
them in the Fort Worth area and stuff. And t hey go on ahead
and raise families and developing their lives in the
direction they intend to do, and then they're ... one or two
or so that 's showing some interest in the ranch. And,
hopefully, they wil l do that, you know. But i t ' s such a
tough go now.
M: That's what I understand .
H: In the ranching business.
M: What do you see as the future of ranching in Texas,
considering some of these pronounced changes occurring?
H: I think it's going to be very tough. We're l osing lots
of ranches to, for instance, hunting leases , ... [inaudible]
the agriculture, the grain markets have really been tough,
and the weather and it tak e s such a large area and the
capital to keep a ranch going i s enormous . When you get to
looking at moderni zati on - pick-ups and t rucks and
helicopters, everything you use - the expense has grown so
much on them, compared to the . .. relative to the, you know,
t he prices we get fo r our products, in other words. And so
much of it now is out of our control. You know, we raise
the cattle or the products and the grains and it's actually
in somebody else's control in the markets.
W.T. Waggoner Ranch 7
M: Do you miss, coming up as you did from the ground
roots, so to speak, do you think you'll miss that or do you
begin to miss that part of it - that dream you had of
ranching in the first place? Do you see it becoming a total
different ... like you have to be a businessman rather than to
actually think about the cattle and the land and that sort
H: Yes, ma'am. I'll miss it. Really bad . When you start
out as a young man, cowboying, you get up, you get on your
horses, you work the cattle and you go in that evening,
enjoy yourself. There's not, you know ... someone else is
going to worry about t he rest of it. And certain times of
the year you freeze to death, you ask yourself why you're
out there . Why am I putting myself through this? I n the
spring of the year when it's beautiful and you're doing,
you're branding, you're doing something you really enjoy,
well, there's not a better place in the world. And then in
the heat - July and August - you're building fences, which
is not fun at all. Well , you ask yourself again, why are
you there? But i t's di fferent. You know, there's
something, there's just not a lot of them out there anymore.
And then you go through this, and I see the changes that's
taken place in the last thirty years. And, of course, prior
to that, what my dad had ... had v isi ted wi th me and talked to
me about - and it's amazing how i t can change so f ast, even
~n a thirty-year period, '70s till now, that I can see. And
W.T . Waggoner Ranch 8
H: I mis s it really bad . And what I really dread the most
i s seeing the other ranches that's going out of business
selling out, splitting up - that hurts about as much as
M: So they're going out of bus i ness because of this
H: Yes, ma'am. It's just so tough. And some of them,
they can lease their lands for hunting - ranchers and stuff
- and make more money then they can, you know, by running
t he cattle.
M: Uh- huh .
H: And I really .. . I r eally hate to see that . I dread it,
and i t 's really hard now, especially keeping a ranch
together the size of ours.
M: That's very admirable to keep the properties together .
H: Yes, ma'am.
M: I would imagi ne that some of t h e ranches are divided in
terms of inheritance.
H: Right .
M: And t hings like t hat .
H: And we're extremely fortunate that our peopl e - the
owners of the ranch - have managed to do that and keep it
together for us. We have a hundred and forty fami lies t hat
depend on that, you know, so it's very important to us. But
t hat's one of the things that you look a t , i s dispersing t he
ranches and the stuff, and we see it, you know, t oo often.
W.T . Waggoner Ranch
M: Uh- huh.
H: That's something that I do not look forward to.
M: Uh-huh . Well, do you think it will happen eventually?
What 's going to happen to our demand for beef, for example?
Are we going to g i ve up ... [inaudibl e]; what's, I mean, how
can you do that with the human element and the technological
element and . .. ?
H: Well , t hey're getting this beef deal with genetics that
we're using now - it going to take less area to produce more
product, you know, and with developments that they're going
through and taking place . Of course, we're pushing really
hard trying to sell more beef . It's taken a beating in t he
last few y ears . The cost of the fast food products - the
chicken or pork - can produce where the ladies can go in and
throw something i n the oven and can fix it in twenty or
thirty minutes. I t t akes awh ile to prepare steak or roast
or whatever . So that ... I feel like beef is something that
you can't beat it, you know, as far as flavor, and our
product... But it's something that we're going to work
real ly hard fo r , and i t's going to take land to produce
enough of that - to produce beef. But, you know
. .. [inaudible], and I think the people will determine that
for us , a l ong with if we can keep going and the ranches can
keep produci ng .
M: Uh- huh .
H: If we can promote the stuff and sell enough of it,
W.T. Waggoner Ranch 10
H: we're going to keep going. And when it gets to the
point where we can't, well, we'll have to do something else.
M: Uh- huh.
H: Because we're, you know , totally dependent on ag, ag
M: uh- huh .
H: And so I think that's going to determine our future.
M: What do you see about your future ro l e in conservation
and concerns for the environment?
H: Oh, it's already pretty tough. You know, we do the
very best we can, conservation-wise, and try to ... and still
try to produce the cattle that we can produce. It's getting
... whenever it gets to the point to where we have to fence
off streams or lakes or do some of that, it's going to be
really tough. Like I said, because we're dependent on that
for water and it's - that's a concern of ours too - it's a
large concern . It's not pollution- wise so much, you know,
but that's ... we l ook at the conservation-land owner rights
and water rights; it could be a major problem eventually for
H: We've got four lakes there we manage. And so, anyway,
it could be. It's something we're watching .. . we look, we
look for a lot.
M: Uh- huh. What about your f amily? Are they interested
in the ranching business?
W.T. Waggoner Ranch 11
H: Well, I've got ... my son is not - he's out on his own
now, working . He lives in Nevada. And my daughter
graduates out of high school this year and she's wanting to
study business; some sort of business degree. And so it
will be my wife, and I guess ... [inaudible] .
M: So your wife has been involved in this process too.
H: Well, she's gone through the same thing, yes, ma'am,
she's - we've been married almost thirty years and she's
absorbed about as much of this as I have ... [inaudible] You
know - the good times and the bad times too. And the
experiences you have - lots of good experiences - there's
lots of bad experiences.
M: What's the worst one you've ever had? The most
terrible time you've had that you recall on the ranch?
H: Oh, you know, as far as being terrible, I don't know i f
I coul d put which one t hat I could say wou l d be the wors t
experience. I think a lot of that would be decisions, you
know, make a bad management mistake . Something like that .
It wouldn't be ... it never has been to the point to where I'd
want to pull the trigger, you know. So, as far as putting
them i n a category, it'd be tough to do . This drought is
probably .. . throws more at you than anything - especially
with two of them, you know, within two years times. It's ...
we ' d kind of get a little rain and then the thing would get
... i t gets really tough again. So, and I can't imagine how
the people survived in the ' 50s where it was year after
W.T. Waggoner Ranch 12
year, you know - six, seven or eight years. But it's a time
where I need to be enlarging and expanding this cattle deal,
and I can't because of lack of moisture. And so, you know,
it's just like a fellow told me; he said, "Weldon, it's not
the first time that o l d ranch has been dry" . You know. But
it is an experience and it's getting ... it's approaching the
worst experience for me . So ...
M: Well , what do they say about t his drought? When will
it end? Are there forecasters out there?
H: No, ma'am. The long range doesn't look well at all, as
far as the moisture. So right now it's really ... we're not
really optimistic about the rainfall . Any amount of
rainfal l ... [inaudi ble] . And there's some towns that
neighbor us that's really in bad shape for water also. So
it's not only, you know, our end of it. It's the whole
area. So maybe it'll turn l oose one of these days.
M: Uh- huh. Well, Weldon, I thank you very much for
allowing me to interview you, and so I wish you
... [inaudible] .
END OF TAPE 1, SIDE 1.
SIDE 2 - BLANK.
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