Wednesday, April 25, 2012

La MaDama; A Queen Named King

     Henrietta King did not become the “Queen of King Ranch” simply by taking the name of it’s founder, Richard King. For 40 years Mrs. King was the sole owner of the largest ranch in North America, presiding with both moral authority and business intelligence.
Henrietta King, 53
     After her husband’s death Mrs. King, at the age of 53, took over the 614,000 acre ranch and its debt. She continued her work with the health care and education of the Mexican ranch hands and in the process adopted many of their folkways and language. True to her Presbyterian heritage, Mrs. King forbade drinking, swearing and card-playing among the ranch hands. With her son-in-law, previous family lawyer, Robert J. Kleberg, as her co-manager, she eliminated the $500,000 debt left her by her late husband and expanded the ranch’s holding to more than one million acres. Under her guidance, she not only doubled the ranch in size but also promoted the ranched engagement in experiments in cattle and horse breeding, in range grasses and in dry and irrigated farming. The ranch continued to grow reaching a size of 1,173,000 acres by 1925.
Original home built by Richard King for his bride. Burned in 1912
     In 1912, the main house built for her by her late husband in 1856, burned to the ground taking with it the family keepsakes. No one was reportedly harmed in the fire and while the cause is unconfirmed, it is said a disgruntled gardener started the catastrophe. Mrs. King requested a fireproof house that would be elegant, yet comfortable enough for a man in boots. The result was the 25-room “Big House” patterned after a Mexican hacienda. 

"Fire Proof" home built at the request of Mrs. King

     Mrs. King later constructed a mansion on the bluff in Corpus Christi so that her daughter Alice’s children could attend school. Mrs. King took interest in the growth of settlement in the region between Corpus Christi and Brownsville. Around 1903 she offered 75,000 acres at the right-of-way to Uriah Lott and Benjamin Franklin Yoakum, who planned to construct the St. Louis, Brownsville and Mexico Railway. In 1904 she furnished town sites for Kingsville and Raymondville. She founded the Kleberg Town and Improvement company and the Kingsville Lumbar Company to sell land and materials to new settlers. As the town grew she invested in the Kingsville Ice and Milling Company, Kingsville Publishing Company and Kingsville Power Company. Mrs. King also invested in the Gulf Coast Gin Company and the Kingsville Cotton Oil Mill Company. She constructed the First Presbyterian Church in the town and also donated land for Baptist, Methodist, Episcopal and Catholic churches. She promoted schooling by constructing a public high school for the town of Kingsville. Among her other charities were donations of land for the Texas-Mexican Industrial Institute and the Sophn Sanitarium. Later in life she provided land for the now Texas A&I University.
Henrietta King, 91
     Mrs. King passed away on March 31, 1925 at the age of 92. She died at the ranch where she had stayed for seven decades. Before her death 5,000 family, friends, and workers came to her bedside to pay their respects and say their goodbyes. Some of the ranch hands rode for two days straight to attend her funeral. At the lowering of her casket some 200 ranch hands rode quarter horses adorning the running “W” brand round her grave, hats held aloft, to pay their respects.
Henrietta had controlled the ranch 8 more years than her husband being the owner for 40 years compared to his 32.
     Since her death, Mrs. King has had several books written in her honor and become a well known face of Texas ranching. In 2002, Henrietta King, along with 158 other honorees was inducted into The National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame.

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