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The King Ranch in Texas History

The first time Captain Richard and Miss. Henrietta met was at a boat dock. He was coming back from piloting his commercial steamboat, the Colonel Cross, only to find that another boat was in his regular docking spot. Infuriated that anyone would take advantage of him, he began to argue his case to the lady captain of the offending boat. His demeanor was harsh and his vocabulary salty as he put her in her place. Surprisingly, she did not back down, but scolded him for his foul language, mean-spirited arrogance, and filthy clothes! Richard had to find another place to dock his boat. You would not have guessed that these two would soon marry, and create a marvelous family on a ranch bigger than the State of Rhode Island.

Richard King was born in 1824 in New York City. Through financial reversals in his family, Richard became an indentured servant to a cruel jeweler as a young boy. At age 11, he ran away to sea as a stowaway on a ship where he learned the trade and achieved a pilot’s rating. He eventually moved to the Rio Grande area of South Texas and became successful in shipping. In 1852, Richard first saw the land that would later become the King Ranch. He and his business partner, Gideon Lewis, bought some of the land together. Later, King acquired more land and then secured Lewis’ portion after Gideon’s death. Because King knew nothing about ranching, he hired the best cowboys in the area.

It is said that the main motivation of Captain King to buy land and settle down was Henrietta Maria Chamberlain. She was a beautiful, but strong Christian woman with amazing business skills, and a deep missionary spirit to win the lost to Christ and to care for human needs. Henrietta was born in 1832 at Boonville, Missouri, and was the only surviving child of a Presbyterian minister. After the death of her mother Maria, Henrietta and her father Hiram, moved to Brownsville to start a church and to serve as missionaries. Hiram preached the hardline Gospel message and was strictly conservative. Because her father was so consumed in his ministry, Henrietta had a lonely childhood and became strongly self-reliant. These attributes would serve her well in dealing with Captain King.

Henrietta became a teacher at the Rio Grande Female Institute and was in that occupation when she met the rude Captain King. For all of his bluster, Henrietta was the perfect match. She was calm, firm, and totally competent as a business administrator. Eventually, the King Ranch stretched to over 1 million acres that are located in six Texas counties. In 1859, the first brand was HK (Henrietta King). In 1869, the now famous brand Running W was registered and is still used today.

Richard King died in 1885, and the operations of the King Ranch moved into the capable hands of Henrietta. At that point, the ranch was in heavy debt and facing a crisis. But God gave Henrietta the wisdom to manage the ranch, get out of debt, develop the breeding of the cattle, and supervise the housing and education of the families of the many ranch hands. In 1919 Humble Oil struck oil on the ranch, and that revenue continues to strengthen the base operations today. The ranch is now a national treasure that is family-owned but professionally managed.

Henrietta loved to minister to the lonely, sick, poor and especially needy children. She donated land for a major hospital, as well as land to build the cities of Kingsville and Raymondville. Due to her deep devotion to Christ, Henrietta donated land and building materials for many churches including Presbyterian, Baptist, Episcopal, and Catholic. When Henrietta died in 1925, 200 Vaqueros flanked her hearse, and each rider cantered once around her open grave. The tombstone of Henrietta King reads: “Safe in the Arms of Jesus, Safe on His gentle breast; There by His love o’re shaded, Sweetly her soul shall rest.”

Let it be remembered that knowing Christ is good. Christians have been known to help so many distraught and marginalized people because of their love and concern. Henrietta reminds us that even though you may have all that you need, there are others that we can help. Hebrews 13:15 ESV - Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

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