King Ranch: Wikis


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King Ranch
U.S. National Register of Historic Places
U.S. National Historic Landmark District
King Ranch logo - the running W brand
Nearest city: Kingsville, Texas
Built/Founded: 1852
Governing body: Private
Added to NRHP: October 15, 1966[1]
Designated NHLD: November 5, 1961[2]
NRHP Reference#: 66000820

King Ranch, located in south Texas between Corpus Christi and Brownsville, is one of the world's largest ranches, but only 15% as large as Anna Creek station in South Australia). It is the largest ranch in the United States. The 825,000 acres (3,340 km2; 1,289 sq mi)[3] ranch, founded in 1853 by Captain Richard King and Gideon K. Lewis, includes portions of six Texas counties, including most of Kleberg County and much of Kenedy County, with portions extending into Brooks, Jim Wells, Nueces, and Willacy counties. The ranch does not consist of one single contiguous plot of land, but rather four large sections called divisions. Only two of the four divisions border each other, and that border is relatively short.[4] The ranch was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1961.[2][5]



Richard King (1824-1885) was a riverman, born in New York City to Irish immigrants. He was indentured to a jeweler at age eleven but later ran away to sea[1] eventually attaining a pilot's rating. In 1843 King first met his future business partner in the King Ranch, Mifflin Kenedy (1818-1895), captain of the steamboat Champion. After the Mexican War, King attempted to make a living hauling merchandise on the Rio Grande. In the meantime, Kenedy was able to make money by carrying goods overland into Mexico. By March 1, 1850, King, Kenedy, Charles Stillman and James O'Donnell entered into a business partnership (M. Kenedy & Co.) to transport Stillman's goods from the Gulf of Mexico and up the Rio Grande. The enterprise required two types of steamers — the Grampus and Comanche. Stillman sold his share of the enterprise after the American Civil War; the new firm operated as King, Kenedy & Co. until 1874.

King first saw the land that would become part of the enormous King Ranch in April 1852 as he traveled north from Brownsville to attend the Lone Star Fair in Corpus Christi, a four day trip by horseback. After a grueling ride, King caught sight of the Santa Gertrudis Creek, 124 miles (200 km) from the Rio Grande. It was the first stream he had seen on the Wild Horse Desert. The land, which was shaded by large mesquite trees, so impressed him that when he arrived at the fair, he and a friend, Texas Ranger Captain Gideon K. "Legs" Lewis, agreed then and there to make it into a ranch.

The King Ranch LK brand, still in use today, stands for partners Lewis and King.

King and Lewis established a cow camp on Santa Gertrudis Creek. During this time, Richard King purchased the Rincón de Santa Gertrudis grant, a 15,500 acres (63 km2) holding that encompassed present-day Kingsville, Texas. It was purchased from the heirs of Juan Mendiola of Camargo on July 25, 1853, for $300. King sold Lewis an undivided half-interest in the land for $2,000. At the same time, Lewis sold King undivided half interest in the ranchos of Manuel Barrera and of Juan Villareal for the same sum, on November 14, 1853. In 1854, King and Lewis purchased the de la Garza Santa Gertrudis grant from Praxides Uribe of Matamoros for $1,800, on the condition of a perfected title (complete documentation of the land grant) on May 20, 1854 to 53,000 acres (210 km2). As the years passed, more land was added, growing to 1.2 million acres (4900 km²) at its largest extent, until reaching its current total.

In 1855 Lewis was killed by the husband of a woman with whom he had been having an affair.[2] On July 1, 1856, a court sale of Lewis' property (including the undivided half-interest in the land of the Ranch) was held. King had arranged for MAJ W.W. Chapman (died 1859) to bid on the Rincón property, which Chapman acquired for $1,575.

King interested Captain James Walworth in acquiring the entire de la Garza grant, which Walworth completed on December 26, 1856, for $5000 paid to Praxides Uribe. King thus retained operational control of the Ranch, with Walworth as a silent partner who held title to the land, and who paid taxes on it.[3]

King and Walworth's brand was registered June 27, 1859 along with his earlier brands (see below).

According to oral tradition, when King and his partners began hiring people to staff the ranch, they hired a number of Mexican hands, including an entire Mexican village that had been decimated by drought in 1854. Lea records that King led the entrada of villagers from Cruillas, Tamaulipas, Mexico in the early months of 1854. As the ranch grew, its hands came to be called "kineños," or "King's men." Over time, some original grantees returned to their land. King once said he "could not have kept on and held on if Andrés Canales had not been adjoining."[4]

Records show that a Mexican range cow cost $6 in 1854; a mustang cost $6; a stud horse cost $200–300.[5] In sum, in 1854 King paid $12,275.79. Lea estimates that 1855 expenses were smaller. The first brand was the Ere Flecha (an R with arrow through it).[6]

In 1859, the ranch recorded its first official brands (HK and LK). In 1869 the ranch registered its "Running W" brand, which remains the King Ranch's official mark today. At the time, the ranch grazed cattle, horses, sheep and goats. However, by the mid-1870s the ranch's hallmark stock had become the hardy Texas Longhorn. The ranch also boasted several Brahman bulls, as well as Beef Shorthorns and Herefords.

The Brahmans — which were bred specially to thrive in South Texas' hot climate — were crossed with the ranch's Beef Shorthorns to produce the ranch's own trademark stock — the Santa Gertrudis breed, which were recognized as a breed in 1940. The Santa Gertrudis was the first American breed of beef cattle.

Lea portrays King's purchase of the Ranch as motivated by his wooing of Henrietta Maria Morse Chamberlain (1832-1925), whom he married in the First Presbyterian Church, Brownsville, Sunday December 10, 1854. The King Ranch HK brand stands for Henrietta King.

In the Civil War, initially, the disruption of the flow of cattle to market caused a drop in beef prices. In 1861, the price of cattle dropped to $2 a head, rising to $11 per head by August 1862.

The 1863-1864 winter pushed uncounted cattle south toward the Nueces and Rio Grande. By the end of the Civil War, the Texas Rangers were disbanded by the Reconstruction. It became too tempting to simply herd cattle across the Nueces or Rio Grande.

Even in this time of loss, by 1869 Richard King was able to round up 48 664 cattle out of an estimated 84 000 head. Allowing for 10 000 remaining, Richard King claimed a loss of 33 827 head from 1869 to 1872.

To handle depredations, the ranchers formed the Stock Raisers Association of Western Texas in 1870; Mifflin Kenedy led the first meeting.

By 1874, the Texas Rangers were re-established, and were a factor in controlling the depredations.

By 1870, 300,000 head of cattle made their way from the West to the railroads of Kansas, and thence to the stockyards of Chicago. In a Texas ranch, a steer worth $11 would bring $20 from a buyer in Abilene. The buyer in turn could ask $31.50 at the Union Stock Yards. Richard King could drive his cattle for a hundred days to the railheads of Kansas.

But by 1871 700,000 head of cattle caused a market glut, which King avoided by personal negotiation in Abilene.

King managed to avoid the September 19, 1873 Black Friday panic by selling early. During the lean year that followed, King continued to fence his land, and husband his cattle, horses and sheep.

One technique that King used to manage costs was to make his trail bosses the owners of the herd. The bosses would sign a note for the cattle, which they would begin to drive to market in February of each year, for the 100-day drive. The bosses were also the employers of the outfit. Upon the sale of the herd to the northern buyers, the trail bosses could relieve their indebtedness, and earn a profit greater than their ordinary wages.

At the death of Henrietta King, the appraiser's Statement of Gross Estate, Mrs. H.M. King listed a net total of 5.4 million dollars, as the owner of 997444.56 acres (4,036.5 km2), which did not include the Santa Gertrudis headquarters, nor did it include the Kleberg's Stillman and Lasater tracts, which were not of the estate. Her son-in-law Bob Kleberg, Sr. said "A valuation of four to five dollars an acre ($1236/km²) on a million acres (4000 km²) of raw ranchland was about right, but it took a long time for the Government to admit it."[7] By 1929 the taxes ($859 000) had been paid up, in installments, but the trustees had to borrow money, so that by the market crash of 1929, Henrietta King's estate was in debt $3 000 000.

But in 1933, Bob Kleberg, Jr., the son of Bob Kleberg, Sr. and Alice Gertrudis King leased the exploration and drilling rights on 971,000 acres (3,930 km2) to Humble Oil, Houston, Texas, for 13 cents an acre ($32/km²), in exchange for the usual royalty of 1/8th of every barrel (20 L) of oil pumped from the property. [8] Humble Oil loaned enough money to pay the debts of the H.M. King estate, secured by a first mortgage on the land. Humble struck oil and gas by 1939. During all of this, the Ranch was a going concern, with a net profit of $227 382, as early as 1926.[9]

Lauro Cavazos, who served as the first Hispanic United States Cabinet officer, was born on the King Ranch during his father's service as a ranch foreman in January, 1927.


The King family and the ranch are part of the myth and mystique of Texas, and they have been featured in numerous stories and novelizations. For example, the Kings of Texas traces the history of the ranch through "decades of conflict arising from the Mexican-American War, the Civil War, and countless skirmishes between Texas Rangers and border bandits".

Edna Ferber's novel Giant of the ranches of Texas was turned into a film: Giant. The theme song of the film is a staple for high school bands in Texas. Many of the events of the King Ranch, such as the discovery of oil on the property, are also in the film. It should be noted that working-class millionaires can still be found in the oil towns of Texas as well; Richard King is not a unique example.

In the James Michener novel Centennial, the Venneford Ranch was said to be patterned after King Ranch.

Present day

The last member of the King family to have control of the ranch and its operations was Stephen "Tio" Kleberg, great-great grandson of the founder, who was CEO from 1977 until he was dismissed in April, 1997, by Jack Hunt, the Houston-based president of King Ranch Inc.[6] Some kineño families feel that their traditional relationship to the ranch's management is no longer what it was in the days when the family was in charge.[7]

In addition to cattle, King Ranch raises quarter horses, cutting horses and thoroughbreds and produced the 1946 U.S. Triple Crown winner Assault and 1950 Kentucky Derby winner, Middleground. They also owned a share of La Troienne, the greatest broodmare of the twentieth century. The King Ranch had the honor of raising the first quarter horse registered with the American Quarter Horse Association. The stallion's name was Wimpy P-1 and he was given registration number one. In addition, the King Ranch company operates a local museum, maintains other property concerns and works with Texas A&M University to perform agricultural research and development.

The corporation has extensive holdings in other states (Florida, California) and countries (for example, Brazil) with agricultural interests including truck farming and citrus. In 1958 King Ranch paid more than $1m for Brunette Downs in the Northern Territory. They also owned Risdon near Warwick, Queensland and several other Queensland properties.[8]

In 1997, Ford Motor Company added a King Ranch edition to their F-series Super Duty truck line (and for a while to their now-discontinued Excursion mega-SUV), complete with the King Ranch cattle brand logo. Eventually, Ford added King Ranch packages to its F-150 Lineup, as well as the Expedition Full Size SUV.

An unusual animal seen in the King Ranch is the Nilgai, which were imported from India. As they usually are born in twins, eventually the nilgai started competing with the ranch's cows, and the ranch allowed hunters to come in and harvest the animals. They would gather several (somewhere around 30) each night. This no longer occurs, but the rapidity of this process caused the Texas nilgai to become extremely wary of humans, and they bolt at the sight of vehicles, running nearly as fast as horses.

To see a map of King Ranch click the link:


  • ^ Lea,p. 2: For King's biographical details, Lea cites Richard King's sworn deposition before F.J. Parker, US Commissioner, Eastern District of Texas, April 11, 1870, filed with the US and Mexican Claims Commission, Washington, D.C., August 30, 1870.—Records of Boundary and Claims Commission and Arbitrations, Claims vs. Mexico - 1868, Claim No. 579, RG 76 GSA, National Archives and Records Services, Washington, D.C. [10]
  • ^ Lea, pp128–9. Notes from the King Ranch vault in Henrietta King's handwriting.
  • ^ ,^ : Reminiscences by Henrietta King to members of her family.


  1. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2007-01-23.  
  2. ^ a b "King Ranch". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. Retrieved 2008-08-26.  
  3. ^
  4. ^ Map of King Ranch. Last accessed October 11, 2006.
  5. ^ Note: A National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination document should be available upon request from the National Park Service for this site, but it appears not to be available on-line from the NPS Focus search site.
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ Austin, Nigel, Kings of the Cattle Country, Bay Books, Sydney & London, 1986
  • Tom Lea (1957), The King Ranch. Two volumes. 838 pages. Index. Maps and drawings by the author. Boston: Little, Brown. Library of Congress catalog card:57-7839

Further reading

  • Don Graham, The Kings of Texas : The 150-Year Saga of an American Ranching Empire, ISBN 0-471-39451-3
  • John Cypher, Bob Kleberg and the King Ranch: A Worldwide Sea of Grass, ISBN 978-0-292-71187-7

External links



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