Thursday, November 1, 2018

The King of Texas

When researching locations for my second novel, Touched by Love, I visited the famed King Ranch in south Texas, between Corpus Christi and Brownsville--and fell in love with the rugged terrain and equally hardy people.

 “The story starts in the mid-1830s with an eleven-year-old boy indentured by his destitute family to a jeweler in New York City.”

Sounds like one of our novels, doesn’t it? But it’s the start of the amazing story of Richard King, the King of Texas. After stowing away on a ship bound of the south of the United States, he worked his way to captain and finally steam boat owner, moving goods and passengers along the lower Rio Grande River.

Sometime in the middle of the 1800s, Captain King crossed a region of Texas known as the Wild Horse Desert. When he came upon the sweet water of the Santa Gertrudis Creek, he’d found home. King and his business partner purchased 15, 500 acres of Mexican land, a land grant known as Rincon de Santa Gertrudis. This acreage was the start of what is now the legendary King Ranch.

Based on a melding of the Southern Plantation and Mexican Hacienda styles of management, King built a dynasty near what is now Kingsville, Texas. When a terrible drought struck South Texas and Northern Mexico, King bought all the cattle from the townspeople of Cruillas, Mexico. Realizing he’d also taken their livelihood, King offered to hire all those who would move to his ranch. These expert stockmen and horsemen became known as Los Kineños--King’s people. Descendants of Los Kineños still live and work on the ranch today.

By the end of the Civil War, King’s ranch had grown to more than 146,000 acres, supporting thousands of head of his domesticated longhorn cattle. When he ran into a problem, such as the lack of quality saddles and tack for his vaqueros, he simply hired the finest craftsmen and moved them onto the ranch. [The Saddle Shop is still in operation:]

“Richard King's sense of adventure was rivaled only by his vision and ability to seize on new business opportunities. In addition to tirelessly working to improve the ranch, he invested in building railroads, packinghouses, ice plants and harbor improvements for the port of Corpus Christi.”

And things didn’t stop after Captain King’s death in 1885. In 1899, King’s son-in-law, Robert J. Kleberg (he married King’s daughter, Alice) was drilling for water when he discovered a huge underground river, bringing an end to the decade long drought known as “the great die-up.”

“During this era, Robert J. Kleberg and King’s widow continued to improve and diversify the assets of King Ranch with agricultural development, land sales, and town building projects. In 1904, their efforts were instrumental in helping to build the St. Louis, Brownsville & Mexico Railway -- as well as several towns along the newly laid track, including Kingsville. Before her death in 1925, Henrietta King had donated land and funds toward the construction of churches, libraries, and school projects (creating an oasis of community development) in this previously untamed land.”

The ranch’s innovations didn’t stop there. The number one registration in the American Quarter Horse Association Stud Book was from the King Ranch Quarter Horse program. They also produced the youngest horse ever to be inducted into the National Cutting Horse Association Hall of Fame, Mr. San Peppy. Assault, the 1946 winner of the Triple Crown, and Middleground, the 1950 winner of the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes, both came from King stock.

Today, the King Ranch is a huge operation, with more than 825,000 acres in multiply states and countries, and Running W brand appears on tens of thousands of the King Ranch’s Santa Gertrudis cattle, recognizable by their distinctive black-cherry colored hide.

If you want to know more, visit Or better yet, plan a trip to the ranch. You’ll be very glad you did.

1 comment:

  1. I've only seen a part of the ranch and was blown away. Thanks for adding to my knowledge. Doris