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.
The jeweler was a difficult man and the boy, practically enslaved by him, was chafing under the man’s mistreatment. Nascent greatness would not be shackled or ever satisfied with such circumstances. At this tender age, the restless and adventuresome young Richard King made contacts on the Manhattan wharves and soon stowed away on a ship heading south – south toward his destiny.
Young Richard distinguished himself as a tireless worker and a fast learner with an ever-keen eye for opportunity. He rose quickly in the steam boating business on the Alabama and Florida rivers, becoming a captain. After moving to South Texas, he founded a steam boat line with his lifelong friend Mifflin Kenedy – setting up ports and moving goods and people along the lower Rio Grande River.
In the middle of the 19th century, Captain King traveled north from the Rio Grande to Corpus Christi. He traversed a region then known as the Wild Horse Desert and was captivated by it. His eye for an opportunity was at its sharpest when, after well over a hundred miles of riding over the wild lands, he and his party came to the cool, refreshing waters of Santa Gertrudis Creek. King saw that this place that nourished so much wildlife could also sustain domestic stock, and King’s vision for a great cattle ranch began to take shape.
He and business partner Gideon “Legs” Lewis purchased the 15,500-acre Mexican land grant then known as the Rincon de Santa Gertrudis – the first foothold of what would become the legendary King Ranch of Texas.
The 1860s were busy, challenging years for Richard King and his new bride Henrietta, the refined daughter of Presbyterian minister from back East. This refinement would become a hallmark of the remote ranch as weary wayfarers found, over the years, not only an impressive ranching operation, but an oasis of gentility and warm hospitality in the very midst of an otherwise wild and often hostile country.
The Civil War years found the resourceful Captain King thriving in his steamboat business by running the Union blockade, but his long-term vision was for the new ranch he was building. His bride Henrietta played an important role in guiding daily activities on the ranch when the Captain was away on business.
Captain King, ever the innovator, did a new thing on the land he was taming. He borrowed from two time-honored models – both the southern plantation and the Mexican hacienda systems to synthesize a hybrid approach to ranching on his burgeoning holdings.