This is one of the oldest and largest working cattle ranches in America, and the birthplace of the American ranching industry. It is also home of the first American Registered Quarter Horse and founder of the Santa Gertrudis breed of cattle. I first heard of King Ranch when I was a kid and all of my heroes were cowboys. It was a thrill to see the place for myself after all these years.
King Ranch was founded in 1853, half a century before the town of Kingsville, by Captain Richard King, a steamboat operator on the Rio Grande. King became interested in the area while riding horseback from Brownsville to Corpus Christi. His original purchase was a total of 15,500 acres, which was the Rincon de Santa Gertrudis Land Grant. Today the ranch sprawls over several counties, 825,000 acres, and is larger than the entire state of Rhode Island. It is still family owned by more than 100 King heirs.
Tours of the King Ranch begin here, where there is a gift shop and a few displays and artifacts which tell the story of the ranch. Also we enjoyed viewing a 30 minute film about the history of the ranch.
The visitor center is open weekdays - 9 to 4, and Sundays - 12 to 5. Admission to the Visitor Center is free and cost of the 90 minute tour was $7.00. You will see the main buildings, learn a lot about the history, and perhaps see some wildlife as well as cattle and horses.
Each of the scores of cowboys who live and work on King Ranch is assigned a Quarter Horse or horses which are for his exclusive use. He has the full responsibility of that horse, including breaking and training it. The first Quarter Horse ever registered by the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA), in 1941, was "Wimpy" from King Ranch. Several King Ranch horses have been national champions.
Although they are tough and hardy, it is said that the Texas Longhorn cattle breed does not make the best beef. Once the primary breed, today less than 200 head of Longhorns are still kept on King Ranch for historical purposes.
The Santa Gertrudis were especially bred on the King Ranch for their tolerance of the hot south Texas sun and resistance to biting insects. These handsome and hardy red cattle were developed from 5/8 Shorthorn and 3/8 Brahman stock. At the time of its founding, the Santa Gertrudis was the first new breed of cattle to be officially recognized in more than 100 years. Today they are shipped from King Ranch as breeding stock to many parts of the world.
This exceptionally fine small museum is housed in a restored century-old Ice factory and power plant, built shortly after the founding of Kingsville.
Highlights of the exhibits include antique carriages, vintage custom-made cars, saddles from around the world, and guns. We also enjoyed viewing Tom Frisell's award-winning photographic essay of life on King Ranch in the early 1940s. A new exhibit for 2004 is "Wildlife on the King Ranch."
The museum is open 10-4 Mon-Sat, and 1-4 Sun. Admission is $4.00 for adults and $2.50 for children. Tickets are half price when purchased with a tour of the King Ranch.
This fire-proof building, designed by Jules Leffand, was constructed in 1909. It served as the stable and carriage house for the Main Residence of King Ranch. Many of the carriages and custom made automobiles that were once kept here can be seen at the King Ranch Museum (see our next tip) in downtown Kingsville.
This 30 bedroom mansion is the main residence for King Ranch and was built in 1915, by Henrietta King, Widow of the ranch's founder, Richard King. Today the home is used on a rotating basis by any of the 100+ heirs who own the ranch. President George W. Bush, country singer George Strait, and many other celebrities are often guests here. For that reason tour groups are not allowed to stop at the house. We drove by slowly and I snapped this photo from the van window. It is actually much more impressive than the picture shows.
We have excellent birding opportunities and even some guided tours. The King Ranch offers guided tours on their property, and you can contact the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute about birds. We also have the South Texas Wintering Birds website for you to upload your spottings!