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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Texas Giant: Richard King of The King Ranch

Hello, Caroline Clemmons here filling in for Jeanmarie Hamilton, who has a home repair emergency today.

Because Jeanmarie and I each write Texas settings for our historical romances, I thught I'd include a post on Texas history. No groaning, please! I promise this will NOT be a pedantic treatise. Grades will not be taken nor test given. Probably. Okay, no tests. Let me tell you about Richard King, nicknamed The King of Texas.

In 1852, Steamboat captain Richard King embarked on one of the most profitable undertainkings of his life. He was a 27-year-old New Yorker riding the Texas prairie. He had fallen in love with the 17-year-old daughter of a Presbyterian minister and had begun contemplating other business ventures that might support a wife and family.  When King and a few companions reached Santa Gertrudis Creek about 45 miles southwest of Corpus Christi, King was impressed with what he saw.

He told his partner in the steamboat business that land and livestock had a way of increasing in value. Cattle, horses, sheep, and goats would reproduce themselves into value. Boats had a way of wrecking, decaying, falling apart, and decreasing in value and increasing in the cost of operation.

King met with his friend, Texas Ranger Gideon Lewis, and the two men hammered out a partnership to establish a small ranch on the banks of a creek in South Texas. King was to provide the capital while Lewis and his Ranger patrol would provide protection from rustlers and Indians. As his cattle operation grew, King located the Mexican owners of the original Spanish land grant to which he had staked his claim and purchased 15,500 acres from them for $300. Shortly afterwards he added 53,000 acres for which he paid $1,800. King was something of a visionary and dammed a small stream on the property. When drought hit the area--as it always does in any part of Texas--he was the only ranch with a good supply of water.

Over the next few years, the Santa Gertrudis ranch continued to grow, although King retained his share in the steamboat business.

 King and his foreman traveled across the Rio Grande to Mexico and bought cattle at low prices. On one occasion, after buying all the livestock in a particularly poor village, he offered to take the town's entire population back to the ranch and put them to work. This was the beginning of Los Kineros, the King People, progenitors of generations of intensely loyal Mexican tenant families who worked the King Ranch.

By the time the Civil War broke out, King was one of the largest landowners in Texas, if not the largest. With a wife and three children to care for, he had increased his holdings to support twenty thousand head of cattle and three thousand horses. He initiated a series of livestock breeding experiments that he hoped would result in better, more durable strains of horses and cattle.

After King's death in 1885, his son-in-law Robert Kleberg took over the operations of the ranch. Following in his mentor's steps, Kleberg and those family members who succeeded him turned the King Ranch into the world's largest livestock operation with branches in Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Cuba, Brazil, and Australia. King's initial efforts lived up to his name, The King Of Texas.

Reference, IT HAPPENED IN TEXAS, by James A Crutchfield, Falcon Press, Helena, Montana, 1996.



Jeanmarie Hamilton said...

Thanks for rescuing me today! The story about the King Ranch and the man who started it was fascinating. I had no idea the ranch was that extensive. I also didn't know about the rescue of the poor village people. Thanks again!


Anna Kathryn Lanier said...

Hi, Caroline, first, it was great to see you at Nationals! Second, wonderful post. I know of the King Ranch (what Texas doesn't?) And their King Ranch Chicken recipe is great....at least I assume it's their recipe and not an urban legend.

Donna Goode said...

Thank you for an interesting read, Caroline. I grew up in that part of the country and, over the years, met more than one fellow who worked on the ranch. Everyone who did so was very proud of what they did. It's hard to imagine how vast the ranch's holdings are. There are countries in Europe that aren't that large! I enjoyed your post. Thanks again!

Caroline Clemmons said...

I suspect the King ranch is larger than a couple of states. Thanks for your comments.

Helen Hardt said...

Very interesting post -- thank you for sharing!

Anonymous said...

Carolyn I am from Kingsville and I'm so interested in the King Kleberg history.They had five children but all I read about is just two what happened to the others?E-mail me if you have an answer.keller.janet14@yahoo.com.Thank You

Anonymous said...

Fascinating Yes ,but the real truth is that it only worked because of Los Kineros. Where is there story. Did King really buy the land. Do you not want to read about the the so called Ranger that acted like the KKK and made people sell or give up there land to the white settlers. My ancestors own land in the area. They had to leave because of the ranger and other.

Anonymous said...

Carolyn or readers,

Can you tell me more about where Richard King was from originally? I am very interested in this King family and it's history. Would love to swap information with anyone elde studyng the King family.


Anonymous said...

Don't want to talk about it.

JMorales said...

Recently read Kings of Texas (The 150 Year Saga of an American Ranching Empire), enjoyed reading about the good and the bad. I realize it was a very difficulty period after the Mexican War. There were good people and bad people on both sides, Mexicans and Americans. King won in many instances because of the people he hired and the money he paid. The rest is history. Lands today are still being contested.


Richard king was adopted into a new york jewish family where he was not treated well so he then ran away from home and took a job as a hand on a steamboat ,his smarts and quick learning skills got him a job as a captain .He married his first wife and they had a daughter Lilian (lily) King . His first wife got ill and died so Richard left his baby girl with maternal relatives to raise her and in the beginning visited and left money but those visits came fewer and by this time he had invested in the steamboat but was talking about texas oil . He was leaving soon going down the mississippi in his boat and he didnt know if or when he would ever come back.Lilian never saw him again . She got one more letter before they stopped, he had wished her well and said he was buying some land in texas for cattle .the promise of coming for her never came because his new wife did not want her .(Lily was getting older, 14) They went on to have thier own children ,two boys i believe . Lilian made one more attempt by sending a letter to Captain Richard King asking if he would attend her wedding to James Wells. no reply and she never heard from him again. Lily did get word later that he had started buying up land and formed a ranch with thier namesake. Lillian King Wells gave birth to a little girl named Zoe wells. OUR FAMILY HAS KNOWN ALL THESE YEARS EXACTLY WHAT THE W IS FOR! It was his way of paying tribute to his little girl whom henrietta wanted nothing to do with ! and maybe contest a will when she was left nothing upon richard kings death . MY great grandmother zoe wells ,lilys daughter,hired an attorney in the late 1940s and gave him all the records and proof as well as the letters from lillians dad which lily cherished .He was also given 5000 dollars . The attorney was never seen again and his office was just the way he left it seen thru the windows with months of mail staked in the doorway.