The King of Texas


When researching locations for my second novel, Touched by Love, I visited the famed King Ranch in south Texas, between Corpus Christi and Brownsville–and fell in love with the rugged terrain and equally hardy people.

“The story starts in the mid-1830s with an eleven-year-old boy indentured by his destitute family to a jeweler in New York City.”

Sounds like one of our novels, doesn’t it? But it’s the start of the amazing story of Richard King, the King of Texas. After stowing away on a ship bound of the south of the United States, he worked his way to captain and finally steam boat owner, moving goods and passengers along the lower Rio Grande River.

Sometime in the middle of the 1800s, Captain King crossed a region of Texas known as the Wild Horse Desert. When he came upon thebkgd_ranching sweet water of the Santa Gertrudis Creek, he’d found home. King and his business partner purchased 15, 500 acres of Mexican land, a land grant known as Rincon de Santa Gertrudis. This acreage was the start of what is now the legendary King Ranch.

Based on a melding of the Southern Plantation and Mexican Hacienda styles of management, King built a dynasty near what is now Kingsville, Texas. When a terrible drought struck South Texas and Northern Mexico, King bought all the cattle from the townspeople of Cruillas, Mexico. Realizing he’d also taken their livelihood, King offered to hire all those who would move to his ranch. These expert stockmen and horsemen became known as Los Kineños–King’s people. Descendants of Los Kineños still live and work on the ranch today.

By the end of the Civil War, King’s ranch had grown to more than 146,000 acres, supporting thousands of head of his domesticated longhorn cattle. When he ran into a problem, such as the lack of quality saddles and tack for his vaqueros, he simply hired the finest craftsmen and moved them onto the ranch. [The Saddle Shop is still in operation:]

“Richard King’s sense of adventure was rivaled only by his vision and ability to seize on new business opportunities. In addition to tirelessly working to improve the ranThe Ranchch, he invested in building railroads, packinghouses, ice plants and harbor improvements for the port of Corpus Christi.”

“During this era, Robert J. Kleberg and King’s widow continued to improve and diversify the assets of King Ranch with agricultural development, land sales, and town building projects. In 1904, their efforts were instrumental in helping to build the St. Louis, Brownsville & Mexico Railway — as well as several towns along the newly laid track, including Kingsville. Before her death in 1925, Henrietta King had donated land and funds toward the construction of churches, libraries, and school projects (creating an oasis of community development) in this previously untamed land.”

The ranch’s innovations didn’t stop there. The number one registration in the American Quarter Horse Association Stud Book was from the King Ranch Quarter Horse program. They also produced the youhest horse ever to be inducted into the National Cutting Horse Association Hall of Fame, Mr. San Peppy. Assault, the 1946 winner of the Triple Crown, and Middleground, the santa_gertrudis1950 winner of the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes, both came from King stock.

Today, the King Ranch is a huge operation, with more than 825,000 acres in multiply states and countries, and Running W brand appears on tens of thousands of the King Ranch’s Santa Gertrudis cattle, recognizable by their distinctive black-cherry colored hide.

If you want to know more, visit Or better yet, plan a trip to the ranch. You’ll be very glad you did.

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23 thoughts on “The King of Texas”

  1. Fabulous post, Tracy. Loved the history. Hard to fathom an operation that size. I’m considering going to a writers retreat in Bandera, Texas on a real ranch end of April. I think this just might have convinced me I need to go!

    Thanks! oxoxoxoxox

  2. Tanya, definitely go. When we visited, we arranged for a personal tour of the ranch. When Bepo–who’d been born on the ranch–found out why I was interested, we went everywhere on the ranch. From salt flats near the Gulf of Mexico to the feed lots and the ranch house and… Fabulous tour.

  3. Tracy,

    Exciting post I will definitely check this out. I love to ranch. I hope to own a ranch one day

    Thanks for sharing for this is a good way of learning

    Walk in harmony,

  4. Hi Melinda!
    It’s worth a trip to South Texas to see this amazing place. And Corpus Cristi isn’t far away. Austin is only 3 hours or so to the west. You can make it into a nice mini vacation.

  5. Hi Tracy – I love a good rags to riches story and this is it. It’s the American Dream personified and an enduring presence today! I’m amazed that they have almost 1 million acres of land. Great blog!!

  6. Fun stuff. As a Texan-by-marriage, I’ve heard of the King Ranch, but didn’t know much of its actual history. Thanks for sharing.

    So did the famous Texas casserole “King Ranch Chicken” originate on the ranch, too? Or is it just a tribute to the hearty folks who worked there? LOL Casseroles don’t usually make the history books, but I had never heard of this dish until I came to Texas, so thought its history might tie in to the ranch.

  7. Tracy, the King Ranch is so huge. I’ve always been astounded how one man could acquire so much land. He’s quite a legend here in Texas. So much so that one of the major pickup lines (can’t remember if it’s Ford or Chevy) carries the King Ranch brand on the tailgate. I’ve never been down there to see it, but I can only imagine. Quite an interesting story. Glad you blogged about it.

  8. Hi Tracy!

    This is quite a post. I for one, had never heard of King ranch. I love the story and the adventure and how successful he was at getting things done.

    It sounds fascinating and at some time in my adventures, I’d love to visit this ranch, too.

  9. Ford, I believe, Linda. I didn’t know anything about the King Ranch until I started researching locales for my second book, Touched by Love. But King is definitely larger than life.

  10. Tracy,
    What an interesting post. The King ranch is almost a little country. We finally made it to Texas last fall, but barely scraped the surface of what was to see. The King Ranch will be at the top of our list next trip.

  11. I really enjoyed reading your take on Angelina Eberly. I just wanted to point out one mistake. Lamar and Houston were Presidents, not Goveroners. I’m sure you know we were The Republic then, not yet a state.
    Thanks for keeping up such a great Texas Lover’s site!

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