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Richard King (July 10, 1824 New York Citymarker ‚Äď April 14, 1885, San Antoniomarker, Texasmarker) was a riverboat captain, entrepreneur, and most notably, the founder of the King Ranch in South Texas, which at the time of his death in 1885 encompassed over 600,000 acres (2,400 km¬≤).

Early years

Born in New York Citymarker into a poor Irish family, King was indentured as an apprentice to a jeweler in Manhattanmarker at the age of nine. In 1835, he ran away from his indenture, stowing away on ship bound for Mobile, Alabamamarker. Upon discovery, he was adopted into the crew and trained in navigation, becoming a steamboat pilot by the age of sixteen. While serving in the end of the Second Seminole Warmarker in 1842, he met Mifflin Kenedy, who would later become his partner. From 1842 to 1847, King would operate steamboats on the Apalachicolamarker and Chattahoochee rivers, in Floridamarker and Georgiamarker.


During the Mexican-American War, King's friend Kenedy enlisted as ship master, running men and supplies to the United States Army along the Rio Grande Rivermarker, and in 1847, Kenedy convinced King to join the war effort on the Rio Grande, where King worked on the transport Colonel Cross, ferrying army supplies between Reynosamarker, Camargo, and Matamoros. In 1850, following the war, King, Kenedy and two other partners formed the M. Kenedy and Company steamboat firm, renamed in 1866 to King, Kenedy and Company when the two other partners where bought out. This firm achieved "nearly monopolistic" control on the Rio Grande for most of the years between 1850 and 1874, when the partnership was dissolved.

Founding the King Ranch

As soon as King had arrived in Texas, he began speculating in land, beginning with lots in Brownsville, Texasmarker and Cameron County, Texasmarker, and continued investing the large profits from the riverboat firm. In 1852, King purchased a false title to the southern half of Padre Islandmarker. That same year, he traveled overland from Brownsville to Corpus Christimarker, and became fascinated with the grasslands along Santa Gertrudis Creek in the "Nueces Strip" (the land between the Nueces Rivermarker and the Rio Grande). In 1853 and 1854 King began land acquisitions in the region of the creek, purchasing valid titles to two ranches of a combined , forming the nucleus of the King Ranch. He continued acquiring land until his death in 1885, when the ranch had .

Civil War years

In 1860, King and Kenedy jointly purchased a large ranch, Santa Gertrudis, jointly managing livestock, as R. King and Company.As the American Civil War progressed, King and Kenedy shipped to and from the Confederate States of America, registering their fleet of 26 boats under Mexican flag at Matamoros to avoid the Union blockade. They shipped food from their ranch, and munitions, medicine, and cotton to or from Europe. In 1863, the Union General Nathaniel Prentice Banks attempted to interrupt this trade with his forces capturing Brownsville, Texasmarker and raiding and destroying the King Ranch, but King avoided the raid and resumed business in 1864, earning a considerable fortune over the course of the war. Following the war, King removed to Matamoros, until he was pardoned by President Andrew Johnson. As part of his application for pardon, he declared that his taxable property was worth $300,000 at the time.

Later years

In 1868, King and Kenedy dissolved their ranching partnership, taking 13 months to round up and divide the livestock. King retained the Santa Gertrudis ranch as part of his expanding King ranch while Kenedy purchased the Laureles Ranch, near Corpus Christimarker. King continued expanding his business operations, investing in the Corpus Christi, San Diego and Rio Grande Narrow Gauge Railroad Company, packing plants, ice houses, and harbor improvements at Corpus Christi. He is also linked to several filibustering exhibitions in northern Mexico, attempts to seize Mexican territory by force. King also privately funded operations of the Texas rangers, particularly the "Special Force" under Leander H. McNelly, and donated $4,000 for a monument to McNelly upon McNelly's death.

Personal life

King married Henrietta M. Chamberlain on December 10, 1854 in Brownsville, Texasmarker. They had 5 children, Nettie, Ella, Richard, Alice Gertrude, and Robert E. Lee, the latter named for the King family friend, Robert E. Lee. Lee is said to have chosen the location for the King's home on the King ranch, as a location easy to defend. Following Robert Kings's early death at age 19, King is said to have taken to drink; however, other sources suggest that this was self-medication for a recurring stomach pain. He died of stomach cancer at the Menger Hotelmarker in San Antoniomarker on April 14, 1885, at age 60. He was buried in San Antonio; upon his wife's death in 1925, he was re-interred with her on the King Ranch, at Kingsville. King's ghost is said to haunt the Menger Hotel, particularly the suite named for him.


The King Ranch continues to be a dominant economic force in the region. The town of Kingsville, Texasmarker is named for King. Corpus Christi has a high school named for King.


  • Captain King of Texas: The man who made the King Ranch, Tom Lea, 1957, Atlantic Monthly Press.
  • Richard King: Texas Cattle Rancher, William R. Sanford, Carl R. Green, 1997, Enslow Publishers. ISBN 0894906739


  1. "N.Y. runaway becomes world's greatest rancher", Murphy Givens, August 12, 1998
  2. "Boatman on Horseback" (review of The King Ranch by Tom Lea), Time Magazine, 23 September, 1957
  3. The Memoirs of William Callicott, Texas Ranger: Edited and annotated by Chuck Parsons, Part 2, Texas ranger Dispatch Magazine
  4. "In a barren place, a legend grows", David Uhler, 19 October, 2003, San Antonio Express-News
  5. "Unbreakable", Wes Ishmael, Beef Magazine, December 1, 2002
  6. "King's fortune was made during the Civil War", Murphy Givens, Corpus Christi Caller Times, August 19, 1998
  7. Ghost Sightings,

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