Today the King Ranch comprises 825,000 acres in 4 sections. I had a hard time visualizing this, so learning on the tour that it’s larger than Rhode Island and the size of 625,000 football fields helped. Ruth & I saw it last Sunday on a bus holding 25. The 25 included a few other couples, but the rest of the people were Amish folk from Indiana. Quiet and observant, they kept to themselves, so I learned nothing about why they were interested in spending 1½ hours on a bus looking at a large chunk of not-scenically-beautiful Texas.
I have heard about the King Ranch ever since I started traveling, but I didn’t know until this trip that outsiders could tour it. Now I wonder why the 110 descendants of the man who founded it, Captain Richard King, allow anyone on their property. The rules for visitors are legion and strictly enforced. That’s why you won’t see a photo of the 1949 King Ranch Hunting Car with a mobile phone in its glove box above. That’s the snake-like family brand below.
Ruth, figuring that late winter was an off-season time to visit, called the ranch the day before we traveled there. Ruth was told only to arrive early. The few tours being given that Sunday in what turned out to be the ranch’s busiest tourist month, February, were expected to be overbooked. We were the first in line at 11:30 am with all the Amish, and we left about 12:45 for the tour. There would only be 2 others like ours that day.
Our tour guide was a proud and genuine Kineños. This is the term invented to describe the loyal, long-term cowboys and service workers who keep the King Ranch running. She told us that her grandchildren represented the 5th generation of her family to work the ranch and repeatedly mentioned that her son was the head-butler in the main house, which we would drive by but not enter.
When young, Captain King was a cabin boy on a steamboat. He started his own steamboat company in Brownsville, fell in love with the land to the north stretching to the Gulf of Mexico, and started a ranch. He sometimes paid only 2 cents an acre for what is now called the “birthplace of American Ranching”. He died of stomach cancer at the age of 60. Henrietta, his savvy wife, turned the running of the ranch over to her son-in-law, Robert Kleberg, and it continued to thrive. Alice, Texas, was named for Henrietta’s daughter, Robert’s wife.
The family’s vast holdings today include a feed lot on the ranch that can accommodate 15,000 cattle, 60,000 acres of farmland growing mostly cotton and milo, a gigantic turf grass producing company, etc. The family history includes 1 triple crown winner (Assault, 1946), a special edition King Ranch Ford F150, a still active publishing company, etc. There were 390 oil wells on the ranch in 1947. Like any other massive corporation, its holdings are fluid. The intro film, for example, mentions Young Pecan, a company that the family recently sold.
Am I glad I toured the King Ranch and visited the museum in Kingsville devoted to the family? Yes. Did the Indiana Amish enjoy their experience? I have no clue.