Philmont Millennium 1

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Copyright © 2001 - 2014 Chip S. Elliott & Mike McAdams

Last modified: 01/27/14

Waite Phillips is, without a doubt, the most important man to the history of Philmont Scout Ranch. It is because of his very generous gift that so many young men and women have been able to experience the wonder of Philmont’s High Adventure program and rugged country. A man with self-described “restless feet” and a consuming desire to see what was over the next rise, he gave many the opportunity to share in his spirit of adventure and exploration.

“On January 19, 1883, identical twin boys, named Wiate and Waite, were born on a 40-acre farm one mile west of Conway, Iowa. Mother attended by Dr. H.B. Liggett.”

~ Phillips Diary, 1883-1886

Their parents, Lucinda and Lewis Phillips named the first-born twin Wiate (pronounced Why-at), from the British “gwy” meaning water and the second-born Waite (pronounced Wait) from the Old English “waad”, meaning “a road.”  From these humble farm life beginnings they were destined to travel through their lives.

Endowed with an inherent love of nature, Waite’s boyhood interests lay in hunting and trapping small game animals along the creeks near his family’s farm.  At the age of 16, the two headed west to find the "shining mountains" they had read so much about in their youth.  After three glorious years of living life to the fullest, their adventures ended when Wiate died of appendicitis.

Waite returned to Iowa and worked as a grocery clerk and delivery boy for his brother-in-law’s store in Gravity, Iowa.  Thanks to the guidance and financial support of his older brothers, Frank and L.E., he later attend the Shenandoah Commercial Institute and School of Penmanship.

Upon graduating from this institution in August of 1903, he accepted a position as a bookkeeper at Hawkeye Coal Company in Knoxville, IA.  It was here that he met his future wife, Genevieve Elliott.  For the next five years Waite prospered in a number of jobs and furthered his own business education.  

While working in the grimy Oklahoma Phillips & Co. (owned by his older brothers Frank and L.E.) oilfields Waite made the most important negotiation of his life, asking for the hand of Genevieve.  They were married on March 30, 1909 and set up residence at 711 Cherokee Ave. Bartlesville, Oklahoma.   

In 1914 he sold his oil interests to these elder brothers and started out on his own as an individual oil producer, refiner, and marketer.  Waite left with a good knowledge of the business and began buying up his own oil leases.  Waite incorporated all of his many businesses in May of 1922 and The Waite Phillips Company was born.

A short three years after incorporation, he sold the company to a New York investment house for $25 million cash (July 25, 1925).  Adjusting for inflation, that would be about $330 million in 2013 dollars. Following the sale of his company, Waite’s life entered a period of stewardship of monumental tracts of land and the erection of stunning architecture.  Free to pursue other interests -- namely ranching, fishing, and hunting --Waite again looked West toward those shining mountains of his youth.

After buying and looking at land in Colorado and Utah he found what he was looking for in New Mexico. Word had spread that George H. Webster wanted to sell his Uracca Ranch near Cimarron New Mexico.  On April 25, 1922 Waite paid George $150,000 for the 42-thousand acre Ranch.  He named the ranch Hawkeye, in honor of his native state’s nickname and after the Coal Company there that had given him his start in business.

“Hayward was transferred from Highland Ranch to this new ranch property, near Cimarron, as manager.  Tried to get cattle brand of “W” but it was already taken in New Mexico so he took

“U U”—Unusually Useful—also “Double U” instead of “W”.”

~ Waite Phillips Diary, 1922

He enjoyed the area so much that he purchased an additional 30-thousand acre in 1925 (for $250,000). At this time he also renamed the ranch Philmont—derived from his surname and "Monte," the Spanish word for mountain.  Waite went about building one of the best cattle ranches in New Mexico. The Philmont Ranch became a showplace.  Immense herds of Hereford cows and Corriedale sheep grazed its pastures.  Those cattle, descendants of which is still a part of Philmont's herd, earned countless prizes throughout the West.  Phillips Philmont Ranch also boasted a herd of buffalo and even a camel at his ranch.

Waite was not only interested in ranching. He also had a passion for polo and built stables for his horses near Cimaroncito Creek.  His lodges at Fish Camp, Agua Fria Creek and the large Hunting Lodge near Cathedral Rock allowed him to explore the backcountry in style and comfort.  1927 saw the completion of three grand architectural structures built by Waite Phillips: the Philtower Office Building and Philbrook (his main residence) in Tulsa, Oklahoma; plus the Villa Philmonte on his Philmont Ranch.  All of these structures used his surname.  The Villa Philmonte is Spanish for "House of the Phillips in the mountains".  Today it is the home to the Philmont Training Center.

No expense was spared in building the Phillips' mountain home. Wooden floors, custom-painted tile, a swimming pool, and even a seven-head shower are among its comforts. The estate, both elegant and rustic, showed off Genevieve’s love of architecture and Waite’s love of the outdoors.  During the Phillips’ time there it hosted guests such as Will Rogers, Wiley Post, and U.S. Vice-President Charles Dawes.

Waite’s “restless feet” were at it again and shortly after building his magnificent structures he began thinking of where to go next.  As in his youth he looked West, this time to California. He would have to convince Genevieve to leave their homes though.  

As early as 1930 Waite had been corresponding with Walter Head, President of the Boy Scouts of America about doing something for the BSA in the Cimarron area.  He had even proposed re-building the old Maxwell house and naming it in honor of the Boy Scouts.  He firmly believed in putting his fortune to good use and had often wondered how he could share with others the peace, rugged beauty and inspiration of Philmont.

Waite had allowed Scouts to use his land since he purchased the first tract in 1922 and he had felt that they too would enjoy the land as much as he and his family enjoyed the area.  He realized that a mountain environment—an intimate contact with nature—develops self-reliance, physical stamina and good moral character. Also, being a firm believer in developing the youth of America, Waite decided the BSA was the best people to own this rugged and adventurous land.   

In 1938 Waite and Genevieve stunned the nation by donating Philbrook to the city of Tulsa. It was to be made into an art museum.  The same year Waite made the first donation of 35,857 acres to the Boy Scouts of America.  

On January 27, 1964 Waite Phillips “restless feet” came to a final rest as he passed away in his Las Angeles home.  His “favorite girl”, Genevieve, died on June 19, 1979.  Those who hike Philmont's majestic trails will forever be indebted to the Phillips’ generosity and foresight in donating the lands to the Boy Scouts of America.

Waite Phillips