Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Founding of King Ranch

Richard King 
The story of the King Ranch began the year of 1852 in Kingsville, Texas. Although, the spread was not officially named the "King Ranch" until 1935. This would be one of the largest cattle ranches owned by a single individual in the world.
In 1852, the landscape of the future King Ranch consisted of flat, dry land stretching for miles to the horizon. This piece was often known as the Wild Horse Desert or Desierto del Muerto, meaning desert of the dead(Kernaghan). Richard King was going to defy these odds. He seen potential in this stretch of land and wanted to see it flourish.
Richard King was a son of Irish immigrants in New York, where he was orphaned and worked for a jeweler. After suffering from being enslaved he stowed away on a commercial boat heading south. While on the boat for several days he was soon discovered and had to work for his passage (Kernaghan). In doing so, this made King a man of the sea and he enjoyed the way of life. He soon became a captain of a steamboats on the Rio Grande.

While he was on a trip to Corpus Christi to the Lone Star State Fair he had not seen water for 124 miles until he came across the Santa Gertrudis Creek in south Texas.
He had seen a future in this land and wanted to make it his own. When he reached Corpus Christi, he partnered with famous Texas Ranger Gideon K. (Legs) Lewis and they bought and old Spanish land grant,Rincon de Santa Gertrudis, consisting of 15,500 acres (Kernaghan). King had to exchange his large vessel for this grant, but it did not stop here. A short time later they purchased the Garza Santa Gertrudis grant of 53,000 acres, and during the mid-1850s, as partners, King and Lewis aquired more landholdings around the area of the creek (Aston). They continued buying and expanding to its largest of 1.2 million acres in four huge sections surrounding the 800,000 acre ranch of King's friend Mifflin Kenedy, who was previously a partner with King during their earlier steamboat business. After Lewis died in April 1855, King managed to aquire Lewis's half interest in the Ricon grant at a public sale (Ashton).
While Richard King was an adventurer, there are records that show he was an astute businessman who realized early on that he had to invest in and support the infrastructure around his enterprises (Kernaghan).

Richard King's workers became known as kinenos, "Kings men."
He soon married Henrietta Chamberlain and they had a daughter, Alice King, and built a crude block house in the middle of the huge land grant. The small beginning of a life and family on the ranch proved to make Richard King a millionaire and the potential for his ranch to be one of the most famous in the world (Dawson). The land was blossoming and King soon accumulated a herd of cattle and found trusted employees to assist him. In 1854 he moved an entire drought stricken Mexican village to his ranch and employed them. His Irish luck seemed to be in his favor against the dangers of raids and hardships which the ranch had to face from time to time. However, it prospered and because of the trusted employees who drove cattle to markets for King and his wife it enlarged profits and improved the ranch.

R.J. Kleberg (The Indian Wars & Pioneers of Texas by John Henry Brown, 1890's)
Robert J. Kleberg 1803-1888
The ranch has gone through time with several different managers and owners. Upon Richard King's death on April 14, 1885, Mrs. King retained Kleberg as manager of the ranch (Ashton). Kleberg became associated with the King family in a lawsuit and was later hired as a legal adviser on the ranch. His greatest contribution to the ranch and the Texas cattle industry as a whole was the tick eradication (Ashton). Because of his fading health his son, Robert Justus Kleberg, Jr. became ranch manager in 1933. After the death of Mrs. King in 1935 the ranch came under the control of King Ranch Incorporated, with Robert Justus Kleberg Jr., as manager and the King-Kleberg descendants as stockholders.

Video containing the origin of the King Ranch:

1. Ashton, John and Sneed Edgar P., “KING RANCH,” Handbook of Texas Online (, accessed March 28, 2012.                            Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

2. Dawson, Joseph Martin. "The Cattle Range Goes Modern." Nation's Business. 19. no. 11 (1931): 82.
3. Kernaghan, John. "The King Ranch." ProQuest. XVI. no. 6 (2001):90. (accessed March 30, 2012).  

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