Depending on which time in history you are considering, the King Ranch with its 825,000 acres, has been the largest ranch in the US; it is bigger than the state of Rhode Island. In the 1830's orphan Richard King was apprenticed to a jeweler in New York City. He hated the work so much he stowed away on a ship at the ripe old age of 11 and sailed to the gulf coast. The captain of the ship recognized something in the boy and taught him seamanship. King founded a steam ship company on the lower Rio Grande and explored the area extensively. During the Civil War he made big bucks running the Confederate Blockade. When the Union troops objected, he retitled his ships as Mexican and kept making money.
He took these proceeds and starting buying land in southern Texas. He needed cattle to put on his ranch and went to Mexico to buy longhorns. He was such a charming man he brought 100 Mexicans and their families back to his ranch to help him with the cattle. Today the seventh generation of these Kineños are still working the ranch. King sent his cattle to market on the cattle drives made popular in so many Western movies and continued to rake in the big bucks and buy land. The long horn cattle do very well in the harsh Texas climate, but their meat is not all that tasty. King crossbred his steers with other varieties including Brahma bulls and came up with the St Gertrudis, now an officially recognized new breed that Americans love to eat.
Today the King Ranch is incorporated, but many descendants of Richard King are still involved in ranch operations. These days it is run by professionals and has diversified into many other money making ventures. The ranch grows cotton, pecans, vegetables, milo and sod. Natural gas is pumped and refined here and gas lines lace the ranch bringing gas from other locations in to be processed. Land has also been purchased in Florida and citrus is a major crop there. Sections of the ranch are leased to various organizations who use the land for hunting; deer are especially plentiful. And of course tourism is also a money maker. We did our part today.
In the morning we toured the main part of the ranch and saw the buildings. In the afternoon we took the eco drive and saw many animals that peacefully coexist with all this economic activity. The ranch is so huge that there appears to be room for one and all. The ranchers clear some of the land to encourage the growth of green stuff that the steers like to eat and leave brush for the wilder animals to hide in. This appears to be a great strategy. It seemed a little odd to see deer and javelina gathered around the hardware for the gas pumping operation, but it works. We spent the whole day on the ranch and hardly scratched the surface.