The Texas Coast and the King Ranch

Welcome back.  Over the past sixteen years you readers have followed me down the road to many of the great ranching empires in our country. Locally, the Drummond family name is well known by many of you and the Land Report ranks the family as one of the twelve largest landowners in the country. Another ranch I’ve written about is the Mullendore Cross Bell which back in the 1960s was said to have over 400,000 acres of owned and leased land. I’ve often traveled to present day land owner Bob Funk’s Express Ranches and he too ranks among the top fifty U.S. landowners in the Land Report. There are many more I’ve written of but there is one notable ranch I’ve never told you about and friends it’s the biggest of them all.

As you read this here I sit for the next few days and starting today I’m taking you on a drive south down Highway 75 for about six hours to Dallas, then south some more through San Antonio on 37 for about an hour and finally south again on 77, then you’re with me this week on the famous King Ranch.

The ranch encompasses several towns but the biggest is called what else but Kingsville. Incorporated in 1911, today Kingsville has a population of around 30,000 but it is not completely dedicated to ranching. Texas A&M has a big presence here and there’s a large U.S. Navy air station where they train Navy pilots. There’s a lot of history here of course but this week I’ll be staying with the story of this 825,000-acre ranch.

The ranch was founded in 1853 by Captain Richard King who was a river boat pilot. King’s first partner in the ranch was Gideon Lewis but steamboat captain Mifflin Kenedy, who had played a big role in the Mexican-American war, became a lifelong partner in the start of the ranch along with several others. By the 1870s King was sending thousands of cattle on 100 day cattle drives to the Kansas railheads where the cows were shipped out by rail to Chicago stockyards. I learned that King also started his own breed of cattle to handle the tough Texas heat. They were called Santa Gertrudis cattle and in today’s market these cows are in high demand.

In the 1870s King also brought to life an organization that still stands for justice and is known for capturing bad guys. By 1874 the Texas Rangers had stopped most of the cattle theft on his ranch and although the Black Friday Panic on September 19, 1973 had cost him, the ranch continued to expand. When King’s widow Henrietta King died in 1925 it was estimated that the ranch held 997,444 acres, not including several ranches that were owned independently by their son Bob Kleberg.

In 1933 Humble Oil and Refining, which is now known as Exxon, hit oil and gas on the mighty King Ranch and it was then that the town of Kingsville really took off. Nowadays the main businesses are agriculture, oil and gas, chemical refining, ranching and the military. There are also a bunch of uranium mines in the area which to date have produced 4.2 million pounds of uranium but the Navy base remains the largest employer.              

I’ll leave this week with the names of some famous people who at one time or another lived in Kingsville:

Jack Mildren, the All-American quarterback who at one time played for OU, is just one of a dozen professional football players from Kingsville.

Rock and roll legend Jim Morrison lived here as a child.

Richard Kleberg, a seven-term member of the U.S. House of Representatives and heir to the King Ranch has spent his life in Kingsville.

Next week it’s on to Padre Island and the Gulf of Mexico where I’ll be chasing a ghost.    Till then, I’ll see ya down the road….

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