By Gary Cutrer
Scotsman James Weddell homesteaded a ranch on the North Concho River in 1885. Today Weddell’s great grandson, Lee Weddell Puckitt, and family still ranch that same land near Water Valley, Texas, north of San Angelo. Lee is tall and lanky with a mild but determined manner, and could pass for a Scotsman but for his Texas-accented speech. He is the newly elected president of the Texas Sheep and Goat Raisers Association. Lee’s cell phone ringtone is a bleating sheep.
Lee and his wife, the former Sandy Pickens of Houston, raise sheep, goats and cattle and have raised two boys, now grown men. Their sons—Lane, 26, and Casey, 25—are both Texas Tech graduates like dad and mom. Lane works with Lee at the family ranch and at Lee’s ranch brokerage and appraisal business. When not doing this, he enjoys cooking great dinners with his girlfriend, Marcie Cummings of San Angelo. Casey is employed by Ackley Financial Group in Addison, Texas, as a personal finance representative. Casey is engaged and soon to be married to Berkeley Sides of Lubbock. “We’re excited,” Lee said about the upcoming September wedding.
Sandy and Lee met in 1977 while attending Texas Tech in Lubbock. Lee was the Masked Rider for the Texas Tech Red Raiders his senior year in 1978. What does it take to be picked to be the Masked Rider? Lee said it was merely a matter of being nominated and elected. Sandy said it took a certain amount of “B.S.” to get the post.
Tech’s Masked Rider mascot has led the football team onto the field at nearly every Red Raider game since the 1954 Gator Bowl. It was the nation’s first school mascot featuring a live horse. The Masked Rider wears black with a black mask, has a bright scarlet cape and always rides a black horse. Team colors are red and black.
At Tech, both Lee and Sandy majored in business, Lee with a minor in animal science.
Sandy grew up in Odessa and Houston. Her father was in the oil field supply industry and later in the investment brokerage business.
Lee said it’s important to be diversified—to have diversified income. In addition to his ranching operation and some commercial property that Sandy keeps tabs on, Lee is in partnership with Martin Lee and Tom Lee in a ranch appraisal and brokerage company in San Angelo—Lee, Lee and Puckitt. The company does ranch appraisals and can advise both buyers and sellers as to the fair market or potential value of a property. However, brokerage of large ranches in the western half of Texas is their specialty and primary focus.
Lee and Sandy love to travel and about 10 years ago decided to go to Scotland to see the home country of family patriarch James Weddell. They were pleased and surprised to find not only his hometown, near Edinburgh, but a family memorial in the village cemetery.
When he emigrated to the United States in 1884, James Weddell made his way to Texas and lived in a dugout shelter on the banks of Dry Creek near present day Water Valley, Lee said. He filed his homestead claim in 1885 and in the 1890s traveled to Christoval to purchase some ewes from sheepman Will Jones. Weddell ended up marrying Jones’ daughter, Sadie.
James and Sadie Weddell’s oldest son, George, Lee’s grandfather, was born in 1899. He grew up on the ranch and became a well known sheepman. George married Irene Baker. “My grandmother was a great cook and a real hard working lady,” Lee said.
George and Irene had two daughters, Lee’s mother, Sadie, and aunt, Alice. Both girls grew up living and working on the ranch. Sadie married L.W. Puckitt of Menard. Alice married George Sisco from Nacodoches. After serving in World War II, Lee’s father, L.W., opened Hicks and Puckitt Hardware store on Chadbourne Street in San Angelo about 1950. When the drouth wore on into the 1950s L.W. started Hicks and Puckitt Water Well Service and drilled wells “literally all over West Texas,” Lee said. Hicks and Puckitt Water Well Service drilled wells to provide water for construction of Interstate 10 as well as Amistad Dam near Del Rio.
Lee’s sister Sherry and brother-in-law Dan Cauthorn ranch south of Sonora, Texas. His sister Juanita is married to Steve Baker. They are primarily in the home building business in San Angelo.
Sadly, Lee’s mother and father recently passed away—his mother in 2007, and father in 2008.
Growing up, Lee enjoyed “the best of both worlds,” Sandy said. His parents lived in San Angelo, so they were the “town” family. He also spent a lot of time with his second, “ranch” family, Aunt Alice and Uncle George Sisco at the Water Valley ranch, where Lee and his family have ranch operations now.
Faith and family are important to Lee Puckitt. He is usually the person asked to give the opening prayer at TSGRA meetings. He said he figures it’s because he’s able to speak, or pray, in public without embarrassment. “I’m very comfortable in being in front of a crowd,” he said.
Lee is an accomplished singer and performs at his church, First Presbyterian Church in San Angelo, as part of the “praise team” – a singing group and band that leads the music in contemporary church services. He also is frequently asked to sing at weddings and funerals.
Lee said during his term as president of TSGRA he will continue efforts to secure funding for predator control, as that is a very pertinent issue to the survival of the sheep and goat ranchers. On his own flock of Rambouillets and Suffolk crosses, Lee lost 40 to 50 lambs this year due to predators.
“If we don’t have ranchers staying in business and have Wildlife Services helping to keep coyote numbers down, the next thing on coyote’s list is deer. I’ve seen that happen too many times farther west of here – when they don’t have sheep to kill they’re going to start killing deer.”
He said he was encouraged that the membership numbers of the TSGRA are on the upswing and would keep efforts to add new members going.
Other topics Lee said are important to TSGRA and ranching in general include the recent attempt by Congress to rewrite the Clean Water Act to give the Environmental Protection Agency jurisdiction over all bodies of water in the country, not just “navigable” rivers and streams, as is the current law’s language.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, recently visited San Angelo to hear concerns about this legislation. Farmers, ranchers, hunting and wildlife association representatives and landowners of all types came to meet with Cornyn. Their message for him to take back to Washington was unanimous—change the language in the bill so that private property rights are not further eroded.
In addition to his duties as a TSGRA officer, Lee currently is the board chairman of Fort Concho in San Angelo.
“Western heritage is very important to keep alive here in Texas,” he said. He also serves on the Board of Directors of Crockett National Bank of Ozona, San Angelo and Weatherford.