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MATTHEWS, WATKINS REYNOLDS [WATT]

Watt Matthews (1899–1997)
Rancher Watkins "Watt" Reynolds Matthews (1899–1997). Photograph by Laura Wilson. Copyright 1989 by The Texas State Historical Association, Austin, Texas.

MATTHEWS, WATKINS REYNOLDS [WATT] (1899–1997). Watkins “Watt” Reynolds Matthews, rancher, conservationist, and heritage preserver, the youngest child of John Alexander “Bud” Matthews and Sallie Ann (Reynolds) Matthews, was born on the family ranch near Albany, Texas, on February 1, 1899. Eight other children had previously been born to the union—two boys and six girls. His parents represented two prominent pioneer ranching families in the area along the Clear Fork of the Brazos River in northern Shackelford and southern Throckmorton counties. After a spasmodic early education in Albany, Austin (Whitis School, 1907), and Fort Worth, Matthews attended San Antonio Academy and graduated from there in 1917. At his mother’s encouraging, he enrolled in Princeton University and graduated in 1921 with a degree in economics and politics. Following graduation, he returned to the home ranch, known as Lambshead Ranch, and assumed the full-time management, along with his brother, Joe Beck Matthews, of the J. A. Matthews Cattle Company in 1941, when their father died. Their mother was well known for her recollections of life in the area during the pioneer settlement period through her book Interwoven: a Pioneer Chronicle (1936).

Matthews was widely recognized for his activities with the American Hereford Association, and he was a strong supporter of the Albany-based Fort Griffin Fandangle and served for many years as the president of the Fort Griffin Fandangle Association. He was also supportive of the historical preservation of sites and buildings, especially those on Lambshead Ranch, and he personally financed the restoration of historic sites on the property, including the Barber Watkins Reynolds House, the Nathan L. Bartholomew House, John House’s dugout, the first school built on the ranch, the Old Stone Ranch House, and the family cemetery. Matthews was heralded for his conservation efforts, including the reintroduction of native wildlife species on the ranch. He furthered the family cattle ranching legacy through selective breeding and range management. The rancher also brought back Longhorn cattle and buffalo to the property.

Watt Matthews of Lambshead Ranch
Photographer Laura Wilson chronicled the life and legacy of rancher Watt Matthews and the story of Lambshead Ranch in Watt Matthews of Lambshead. Copyright 1989 by The Texas State Historical Association, Austin, Texas.

Characterized as a “simple man,” Matthews was a dedicated leader of the Lambshead Ranch but lived in the ranch bunkhouse for most of his life. He never married. He was a longtime member and deacon of Matthews Memorial Presbyterian Church in Albany and served on the board of directors of the First National Bank in Albany. In 1989 photographer Laura Wilson profiled Matthews, who, at age ninety, was still in charge of the ranch and still riding horses, in Watt Matthews of Lambshead, a photographic essay of the “last of the great Texas cattlemen” and his “fabled ranch.” In 1997 editor Janet M. Neugebauer featured Matthews through his daily work logs in Lambshead Legacy: The Ranch Diary of Watt R. Matthews.

During his lifetime, Matthews received numerous honors. He was given a special merit award from the National Cowboy Hall of Fame and a Texas preservation award from Governor Preston Smith. Among his highest honors were the Golden Spur Award given by the National Ranching Heritage Center at Texas Tech University in 1981 and the Ruth Lester Lifetime Achievement Award, the state’s highest award in historical preservation, given to him on May 5, 1984, in Lubbock by the Texas Historical Commission. He was unable to receive the award in person because that same day he helped host a reception honoring the 100th anniversary of the Reynolds Cattle Company at the Stone Ranch near the Clear Fork and not far from the site of Camp Cooper. Also in 1984, he received the Josiah Wheat Award given by the Texas Historical Foundation for his efforts in historical preservation. Matthews held lifetime memberships in the American Hereford Association, Texas Hereford Association, and National Cattleman’s Association. In 1989 he received an honorary doctorate from Hardin-Simmons University. Other honors include induction into the Hall of Great Westerners of the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City (1990), the National Preservation Honor Award from the National Trust for Historic Preservation (1990), Man of the Year in Texas Agriculture by the Texas County Agricultural Agents Association (1992), and induction into the Charles Goodnight Hall of Fame by the National Cutting Horse Association (1995).

Watt Matthews (1899–1997) at the family cemetery.
Watt Matthews at the family cemetery at Lambshead Ranch. The man that Lady Bird Johnson described as "quintessential Texan" died at the ranch in 1997. Photograph by Laura Wilson. Copyright 1989 by The Texas State Historical Association, Austin, Texas.

Watt Matthews epitomized the frontier spirit represented by his family and Lambshead Ranch and was described by Lady Bird Johnson as “quintessential Texan” and a “thoroughly good human being.” She commented, “I have always felt that he could have leapt off the pages of a stirring western novel or a book of Texas history.” On March 20, 1997, Matthews was injured in a car accident on his ranch. While hospitalized, he was later diagnosed with pneumonia. He chose to live out his last hours at home and was moved back to Lambshead where he died on April 13, 1997. He was ninety-eight years old. Approximately 700 mourners attended his funeral in Albany, and he was buried in the family cemetery on Lambshead Ranch. He was survived by numerous nieces and nephews.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Albany News, May 10, 31, 1984; April 17, 1997. James Lenamon, “Watt Matthews and the Texas Tradition,” Persimmon Hill 4 (1974). Sallie Reynolds Matthews, Interwoven: A Pioneer Chronicle (Houston: Anson Jones, 1936; 4th ed., College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1982). Watt Matthews, Interview by Lawrence Clayton, August 1984. Janet M. Neugebauer, ed., Lambshead Legacy: The Ranch Diary of Watt R. Matthews (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1997). New York Times, April 21, 1997. Laura C. Wilson, Watt Matthews of Lambshead (Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1989).

Lawrence Clayton

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Handbook of Texas Online, Lawrence Clayton, "Matthews, Watkins Reynolds [Watt] ," accessed October 20, 2017, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fmaaf.

Uploaded on May 11, 2016. Modified on June 10, 2016. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.