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Monday, November 13, 2017

The King of Texas

When researching locations for my second novel, TEXAS ROSE, 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. From the salt flats beside the Gulf of Mexico deep into a waterless desert, it’s an amazing place, especially considering its beginnings.

 “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 the 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 ranch, he invested in building railroads, packinghouses, ice plants and harbor improvements for the port of Corpus Christi.”

And things didn’t stop after Captain King’s death in 1885. In 1899, King’s son-in-law, Robert J. Kleberg (he married King’s daughter, Alice) was drilling for water when he discovered a huge underground river, bringing an end to the decade long drought known as “the great die-up.”

“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 youngest 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 1950 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 multiple states and countries, and the 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.


Pick up TEXAS ROSE and my latest, WILD TEXAS HEARTS from Amazon. 


  1. I was privileged enough to drive by and through the ranch when about 13 when we visited family in Houston. I still remember the beautiful buckskin in one of the pastures.

    Thanks for the additional history. Loved it! Doris

    1. It's an amazing place. We took a private guided tour and I loved that the ranch went from salt marsh, to plains, to desert. We spent two hours in a vehicle and barely scratched the surface. Loved it!

  2. Whew! That is one huge ranch. Isn't it fun doing research for a book. Authors are probably trivia experts from researching so much.
    I think if I lived in South Texas I would want to own an ice plant. That was a good idea on King's part.
    I wish I had known about this ranch when I lived in Texas; I would have most certainly visited there.
    I want to wish you continued success with Texas Rose and Wild Texas Hearts, Tracy.

    1. Thank you, Sarah! And yes, either an ice plant or the windmill dealership. lol It's worth a trip to south Texas, believe me. You can hit Corpus Christi, San Antonio and be close to the ranch in either place.

  3. Great post. Great books, too. I really enjoyed reading them.

    1. Thank you, Zina! You made me smile.

  4. Interesting, Tracy! And you know how I love your stories. Your characters are always some of my very favorites.

    I've always been interested in the King ranch. What a huge, wonderful enterprise that had to have been back in the day, and even now, too. I would love to go see it.

    1. As I told Sarah, it's worth the trip. The ranch covers so much terrain. And the house... oh, the house was wonderful, and we only saw the outside, since the family is still living there. :) Our guide grew up on the ranch. I so enjoyed getting his insight into how an operation that large runs.

  5. Tracy, Was out of town and missed this yesterday but I so enjoyed reading this today. King and his wife were quite the people--so many benefitted from them and what an empire they built--for themselves and others. Amazing and beautiful people. I have WILD WEST TEXAS and will add TEXAS ROSE to my list. I look forward to both. Wishing you the best. I always gain so much knowledge from blogs like yours. Thank you. I love doing research for books and always get lost for way too long in reading on and on. LOL

  6. Tracy,

    Isn't it great when you can go 'on-site' to the places you're writing about? I've done that several times. It sure helps to get a feel for the time, place, and landscape for the authenticity needed for our stories. I'd love to visit the King Ranch... Bucket list item. lol