Monday, November 18, 2019
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Winter Texans planning to visit the King Ranch Hand Breakfast on Nov. 21 may also want to visit the downtown area where the King Ranch Saddle Shop and historic downtown area are located. There will be a special festival going on in the downtown area that day. Not far down the street the King Ranch Museum, located at 405 6th Street tells the story of the fabled King Ranch.

King Ranch was founded in 1853 when Captain Richard King came to the South Texas to start a steamboat line on the Rio Grande. On an overland trip he discovered Santa Gertrudis Creek and the tall grasslands surrounding it and began dreaming of a great ranch. He was able to purchase the first portion of the large ranch in 1853 with the purchase of a 15,500-acre Spanish land grant known as “Rincon de Santa Gertrudis.” The ranch was referred to as “Rancho de Santa Gertrudis.” It did not start going by the name, “King Ranch,” until after Captain King’s death in 1885.”

According to Director of Visitor Program Services Toni Nagel Mason and Casey Rauth, King Ranch Museum Assistant Director, in all there were three homes on the ranch. The first was a jacal made of wood and chinked together with mud where Captain King lived in the early days. When he married he built a larger wooden frame home that was later expanded to two stories. This was the home that was invaded by the Union Army during the Civil War. That house burned down in 1912.

It took three years to complete the Spanish Mission style home that exists on the ranch today, built at the cost of $375,000 in 1915. It is built of hollow cement bricks covered with stucco so the exterior was fire proof. One of the requirements Mrs. King had was that it was to be a house anyone could walk in in boots! While anyone could walk in boots in it, the ranch still had elegance such Tiffany stained glass windows. Today King Ranch is a Registered National Historic Landmark.

Because this year is the 100th anniversary of the King Ranch Main House, there is a photographic exhibit in the video-viewing room that shows what the Main House looked like when it was first built and what it looks like now. The King Ranch Family have tried to keep the main house true to its original design but small changes have been made. The Main House itself is not open for tours because it is still a Family residence and is used for King Ranch Corporate business. The King Ranch Family now extends to the seventh generation.

To get a greater appreciation for the ranch watch the 25-minute history of the ranch before looking at any of the other exhibits. The video tells the story of Los Kineños (King’s People), who came from the village to work the cattle on the ranch for King. It talks about how the ranch ran thousands of Quarter Horses and Thoroughbreds. It is the only Texas ranch to win the Triple Crown. That occurred in 1946 with a Thoroughbred known as Assault.

It talks about the development of Santa Gertrudis cattle, designed to withstand the terrible heat of a South Texas summer. A cross of Brahman cattle, which are heat tolerant, and European based Shorthorn cattle, Santa Gertrudis has now spread to hot and arid climates around the world.

The video looks at the expansion into other states where there is citrus and pecan processing as well as cattle. The effect of the oil industry on the ranch where Humble (now Exxon/Mobile) drilled the first wells in 1939 is examined. The expansion into other areas of the world is also mentioned.

Mason pointed out a rug hanging in the entrance hall, which was made for corporate headquarters in the heyday of the ranch in the 1970’s when there were holdings all over the world. In Australia alone, there were over 10 million acres. There were also holdings in Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, Morocco, Spain and Venezuela. The carpet had the flags of each country. A ribbon-like banner along the sides gave the names of the ranches while the continent where they were located along with the four divisions of the original South Texas ranch were marked with green dots.

Today King Ranch has cut it international holdings and only has property in the United States. But at 825,000 acres it is still larger than the state of Rhode Island!

The walls of the great room of the exhibit hall are covered with black and white photographs taken by Toni Frissell, a photographer who was a visitor at the ranch in the 1930’s and 1940’s. Frissell climbed water tanks and took some pictures of what she referred to as a working cattle ranch. There are pictures of the many horses raised on the ranch, the cattle in the pastures, branding, tan other work done by the Kineños on the ranch.

On the floor of the first level are a variety of vehicles used by the ranch from “the original meal on wheels,” chuck wagon used to feed the Kineños working too far away from headquarters to come back for meals and several different buggies and wagons used on the ranch. The most popular vehicle is the 1949 Buick hunting car that was open with places above the front wheel to hold the long hunting rifles and an area for refreshments in the back seat. The most modern vehicle is a King Ranch Lariat F150 truck designed by Ford to fit the needs of the ranch. All King Ranch cowboys drive a truck that supplements the 200 horses still used on the ranch.

A winding staircase leads to an upstairs area where there is a saddle collection including saddles collected all over the world where the ranch had land holdings at one time. There is a recreation of Tiffany glass windows found in the main house, in an area resembling a sitting room where a crazy quilt, made by Henrietta King is on display along with her wicker furniture and a birdcage. Mrs. King was a lover of the many birds that inhabit the ranch (at least 363 species).

On one wall are the heads of important bulls including that of Monkey, the bull that is considered the foundation of the Santa Gertrudis breed. The breed will celebrate its 100th birthday in 2020.

The museum is a fascinating look at a South Texas treasure.

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