Richard King: Cattleman and Pioneer
When people think of Texas, one of the first images that come to mind are cattle and the cowboys that work them. Some of those cowboys amassed fortunes and assets that helped to write their names into the annals of history, but one of the great cattle barons achieved a status that is somewhat legendary. Richard King. Capt. King, as he was known during his steamboat days, soared from an indentured jewelry apprentice to the king of an empire. Forever immortalized through the town and ranch that bear his namesake, King lived up to his last name while establishing the King Ranch and, after his death, the town of Kingsville. The task of finding a Texan who hasn’t heard of the King Ranch or Kingsville would be difficult, but finding individuals who know the history of the man presents a far greater task.
Richard King was a naturalized Texan, born in the state of New York in 1824 (Cheeseman). He was not born into a wealthy family. His parents were poor Irish folk, doing their best to survive. For this reason, King’s parents contracted him to work for a jeweler in New York City. The jeweler abused King to the point where King slipped onto a ship heading south to escape a life of servitude to the abusive jeweler (KING RANCH). Heading south on the steamer, King could hardly fathom the decision he made as an 11 year old boy would alter his life forever.
King’s stowaway status soon came to an end, and he was employed as a crewmember on steamboats. Captains taught him to navigate the boats on rivers in Florida and Alabama, and his acute sense of learning gave way to him becoming a captain (KING RANCH). Capt. King plied the waters of Alabama until 1842. In that year he served aboard boats supplying the Seminole War taking place in Florida. King met another steamboat captain by the name of Mifflin Kenedy. A friendship and partnership forged between the two captains would prove to be lasting and beneficial to both men, for Kenedy beckoned King to the Rio Grande during the Mexican War (Cheeseman). Neither man could have fathomed the wealth and opportunity the Rio Grande would afford. The decision to come to Texas would lead to abundant opportunities for King in the early days of Texas statehood.
King and Kennedy, along with Brownsville businessman and founder Charles Stillman, and local businessman James O’Donnell, recognized the prospect a steamboat business on the Rio Grande offered. Together, the men started M. Kenedy and Company in 1850 (Ashton). With practically no competition, the men soon owned a monopoly on the Rio Grande shipping industry (Cheeseman). King profited immensely from the company, and started looking for other assets in which to invest his new found wealth. The choice for King was easy. Undeveloped land was widely available in south Texas at that time, and King saw a way to invest his money that was much more stable than business dealings....