On Tuesday, March 28th, we left Tropical Trails and drove 122 miles to Kingsville, TX, where we spent two nights at Nature’s Own RV Park. Although the drive was fairly short, it was rather tiring. In addition to having not driven any distance in two months, we also had to contend with periods of heavy rain and high winds.
On Wednesday, we toured King Ranch. We had stayed in Kingsville twice before but those stays had not been on days when King Ranch tours had been offered. Although highway road construction made it difficult for the GPS to lead us to the ranch’s Visitor Center, we made it in time to watch most of the pre-tour video regarding the ranch. We then boarded a tour bus and our guide, Peggy, took us for a two-hour tour of the ranch. Peggy, now age 71, had worked on the ranch as a teenager, so she was able to provide a perspective of the ranch from both 50+ years ago and now.
King Ranch is the largest ranch in the United States. With 825,000 acres in South Texas, it is larger than the state of Rhode Island. The ranch consists of four large sections, called divisions, in portions of six counties. King Ranch also owns 90,000 acres in Florida that are used to raise oranges, sugar and sod. The company is privately owned, with family members controlling 51% of the shares.
Richard King was born in New York City in 1824 to Irish immigrants. He was indentured to a jeweler at age 10 but ran away after two years. He stowed away on a steamship and, upon discovery, became the captain’s cabin boy. Over the years, he was trained as a seaman and became a river pilot. In 1850, King and three partners formed a transport business, running steamers up the Rio Grande. Having been raised by sailors, King was a foul-mouthed, heavy-drinking, womanizer until 1850, when he fell for Henrietta, the 17-year-old daughter of a Presbyterian minister, and had to spend the next four years convincing her, and her father, that he had changed his ways. In 1852, King saw the land that would become the first part of King Ranch. He and a partner purchased 15,500 acres for $300 in a desolate area between Mexico and Texas. During the Civil War, Capt. King transported Confederate cotton to Mexico and was hunted by Union soldiers.
When Richard King died in 1885, Henrietta made Robert Kleberg, King’s legal advisor, full-time manager of the ranch. Kleberg married King’s only daughter, Alice, the following year. Henrietta’s death in 1925 brought about many complications, due to high estate taxes and the start of the Great Depression. Despite owning over 1 million acres of land, the ranch was left $3 million in debt. A long-term lease for oil and gas rights with Humble Oil (later Exxon) kept the ranch afloat.
The foundation stock of King Ranch was the longhorn. Even today, they have 400 head of purebred longhorn. In 1872, King bought several Brahman bulls, which were adapted to the South Texas climate, and these were crossbred with Shorthorns to produce the Santa Gertrudis cattle, the first American-produced beef breed recognized by the USDA. While continuing to develop its cattle operations, centered on the Santa Gertrudis breed, the Ranch began to both breed and race quarter horses and thoroughbreds. In 1946, a King Ranch horse, Assault, won the Triple Crown. King Ranch also entered the timber industry and real estate business in 1967. In 1999, the Ford Motor Company began using the King Ranch brand on its vehicles.
Throughout the tour, we were able to see lots of recently-born calves and foals. Although this part of South Texas averages only 20 inches of rain each year, it has been in a four-year drought. We learned from Peggy that wild turkey hens will refuse to mate during droughts. As a result, the wild turkey toms have become frustrated and are desperately strutting their stuff to try to attract a hen. The only time we left the tour bus was at the former weavers’ cottage, where they used to make woolen blankets. In the cottage, we learned about branding and the many brands that have been used at King Ranch.
On Thursday, we drove 235 miles to Kerrville, TX, where we will spend a month at Buckhorn Lake Resort. We visited Fredericksburg on Friday and restocked our supply of candied jalapeños and raspberry chipotle sauce.
One thought on “Back to Kerrville (March 28 – April 4, 2023)”
I sure did enjoy learning about the history of Richard King. What an interesting life!
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