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Cattle King, Richard King: Real-Life John Wayne and Rhett Butler

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
March 16, 2023 3:01 am

Cattle King, Richard King: Real-Life John Wayne and Rhett Butler

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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March 16, 2023 3:01 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, the cattle kings of the Old West carved empires out of the wilderness. They were larger than life characters—bold, daring, intelligent, courageous, tough. They had great strength of character and iron wills. No cattle king exhibited these characteristics more than Richard King. Roger McGrath brings us the story along with William Yancey from Texas A&M University, Kingsville.

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The logo reads King Ranch. Here to tell the story of Richard King is Roger McGrath, author of Gunfighters, Highwaymen, and Vigilantes. A former US Marine and former history professor at UCLA, Dr. McGrath has appeared on numerous History Channel documentaries and is a regular contributor to Our American Stories.

Here's Roger McGrath. The cattle kings of the old west carved empires out of the wilderness. They were larger than life characters, bold, daring, intelligent, courageous, tough.

They had great strength of character in iron wills. No cattle king exhibited these characteristics more than Richard King. Born in New York City to Irish immigrant parents in 1824, Richard King is only three years old when his parents die and he is left in the care of an aunt. At nine years old, he is apprenticed to a jeweler.

The jeweler works him hard six days a week. On his day off, the young boy walks down to the docks of Manhattan and watches the ships come and go. He dreams of climbing aboard a ship and sailing off. At 12 years old, he does just that.

Here's William Yancy, historian at Texas A&M University, Kingsville. He ran away to the docks in New York City and he snuck on board an ocean-going ship called the Desdemona and he hid out in the hold of that ship for about two weeks, just scrounging whatever food he could get his hands on. After two weeks, some sailors found him in the hold of that ship and at this point, the ship was already well out to sea. So they grabbed him, brought him up to the captain. The captain asked him the question, what is your name, boy?

And he immediately answered, my name is Richard King and you can either throw me overboard or put me to work, but I'm not going back. The captain seemed to be impressed by this young man's attitude, so he put him to work. For the next several years, King works in a variety of capacities on several different ships. He demonstrates such intelligence, talent, and leadership that two different ship captains school him in navigation in command of a ship. By the time he is 16, he has a pilot's license and knows the Gulf Coast and the rivers of the cotton kingdom like the back of his hand. In 1842, King lists for service in the Seminole War in New York City. In the Seminole War in Florida, it is during his Seminole War service that he meets Mifflin Kennedy, another ship's officer. King and Kennedy will become lifelong friends. Kennedy had been born in Pennsylvania and like King, had first gone to sea as a cabin boy and worked his way up to become a ship's pilot. By 1843, Richard King has grown and matured.

The 19-year-old is square jawed, well-muscled, and tall for the times at 5 feet 11 inches. When provoked, he can turn the air purple with profanity. That makes his friendship with a soft-spoken Quaker, Mifflin Kennedy, something of a surprise. In 1847, Richard King enlists for a second war, taking command of the ship Colonel Cross and rises to rank a captain in the U.S. Navy during the Mexican War. King serves for the war's duration, transporting troops and supplies. He becomes intimately familiar with the Texas and Mexican coasts and with the Rio Grande River. It is during his service in the Mexican War that King recognizes steamship service would revolutionize the commerce of South Texas, especially the Rio Grande Valley. When the war ends, he buys the ship he commands as war surplus and is often steaming. King soon forms a partnership with his old friend, Mifflin Kennedy. By the mid-1850s, their company is operating more than two dozen ships and, thanks in part to their low rates, they are monopolizing shipping on the Rio Grande River.

They will continue in this preeminent position for more than two decades. Here again is William Yancey. In 1850, Captain King had been on a steamboat run to Rio Grande City and back. He had had a rough couple of days. He had had problems with his sailors. He had had problems with the engines on his steamboats.

The final straw was when he got back to Brownsville. He went to Moore's Steamboat in the slip where he normally kept it and somebody already had a boat there. Today, there was a steamboat in this slip.

Now, everybody in Brownsville knew not to park their steamboats there because that was Richard King's slip, but today there's a steamboat there. Well, this sent him over the edge. He starts cursing a blue streak, had to go down the river a little ways, found an empty slip to Moore's boat, and he starts walking back towards this houseboat. He's about to give the occupant of this houseboat a piece of his mind. Well, he never got a chance to do that. There was a young lady on the houseboat who had heard him, and she decided to confront him first.

The two walked towards each other, and this young lady says, essentially, who do you think you are using language like that? This is my father's houseboat. He has just as much right to be here as you do. Why don't you spend less time making a fool of yourself and more time washing your filthy boat? And at that, Richard King didn't really have a response. He's not someone who was left speechless very often, but this time he was left speechless. He turned around and he walked back to his boat, and then he and his sailor spent the rest of the afternoon washing that boat.

Over the next several days, he couldn't get this young lady out of his mind. So, he's going to go to his best friend and business partner, Mifflin Kennedy. So, he goes to Kennedy and asks him, who's the young lady whose father's houseboat is parked in my slip? And Kennedy says, well, that's Miss Henrietta Chamberlain. Her father's the new Presbyterian minister in town. Kennedy said, there's only one way you're going to get to meet her, and that's if you start going to church with her. Well, over the next several weeks and months, he becomes a very faithful Presbyterian.

He is there every time the doors of the church are open. And to make a long story short, he'll begin a four-year courtship of Miss Henrietta, but eventually the two of them will be married in 1854 there in Brownsville. Her father performed the ceremony.

The ceremony was at their church. King takes risks when those with fainter hearts shy away. He steams sections of the Rio Grande where others think it impossible to go.

He designed ships specifically for the fast currents and narrow bends of the river, enabling him to reach destinations previously considered impossibly remote. While dominating trade on the Rio Grande, King recognizes that much of the land of Southwestern Texas would not support farming, but would be good for cattle. As a result, he begins to buy property, including the 53,000-acre Santa Gertrudis Grant.

He pays $1,800 for the grant, fought by many to be near worthless because recurrent droughts leave much of the area a wasteland. In 1854, Captain Richard King is going to find some help for his cattle operation from an unlikely source. During the 1850s, he made several trips to Mexico to buy cattle to stock his ranch with.

Now, one particular occasion, he went to a village called Cruias, which was in the state of Tamaulipas, maybe 100 miles southwest of Matamoros. This village at the time was well known for its cattle herds and for its vaqueros or cowboys, but they were in the middle of a three-year drought. All the grass was dead. There wasn't any agriculture.

There wasn't any water. The cattle were dying. So Richard King goes there, and he makes a pitch to the villagers because they own the herd in common. And he basically said to them, why don't you sell me your entire herd? And the villagers said, here's what we're willing to do. We're willing to sell you the entire herd if you'll take as many of us as want to go back to your ranch, and we'll work that herd for you. Well, that's a no-brainer, isn't it?

He needs help. They need cattle to work. So about 100 villagers are going to come back to the ranch in Texas with Captain King at that point. They become the first vaqueros or cowboys on the ranch. And over time, they take a lot of pride in working for Captain King. They start to call themselves kinenos, which roughly translated means king's men or king's people. Whenever he can, King buys more land.

His philosophy is simple, buy land and never sell. And when we come back, we continue the story of Richard King here on Our American Stories. Another week, another free pass to entertainment. Check out all the shows and movies you can watch with Xfinity Flex, no strings attached. Face the darkness in the season two premiere of Yellow Jackets from Showtime. Crack open the history vault and dig into shows like America, The Story of Us. Then watch free picks from networks like Disney Story Central and more with the kids.

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All that available at MeaningfulBeauty.com. And we return to our American stories and the remarkable story of Cattle King Richard King. Let's continue where we last left off. During the Civil War, Texas, seized from the Union, joins the Confederacy. Within months, the US Navy effectively blockades the Gulf Coast, cutting off the South's greatest source of income, cotton exports. In these dire circumstances, King becomes one of the Confederacy's heroes, a blockade runner. He is so successful that he becomes a legend.

It doesn't hurt that he is handsome and well-built. He becomes a real-life Rhett Butler. Union forces raid the King Ranch late in 1863 and loot and burn everything they can. However, their principal target, Richard King, escapes. And when the Confederates retake South Texas in 1864, King is back in business. With the Confederates' surrender in April 1865, though, King slips into Mexico.

King's story might have ended right there, but late in 1865, he secures a pardon from President Andrew Johnson and resumes all of his former activities. Here again is William Yancy, historian at Texas E&M University, Kingsville. Now, it's not until 1867 before he really starts to re-establish his full-time cattle operation, and that just goes to show what good sense of timing the man had. Because around 1867, they're starting to develop a huge market for beef in the Northeast. As the Northeast becomes more industrialized, people are moving into cities, so they're not raising and growing their own food.

You also have a large influx of immigrants from Europe. There is a need for beef, and Richard King becomes one of the first South Texas ranchers to realize that you can make quite a bit of money supplying that need. Now, at the time, there aren't very many railroads in Texas. So, in order to get the beef to where it is needed, you have to walk them to where the railroads were, and that meant cattle drives. Richard King would become one of the first South Texas ranchers to drive cattle, specifically the Texas Longhorn, from his ranch in South Texas to railheads, first in Missouri and then later in Kansas. At the time, you could purchase Longhorns for between $2 to $4 a head in South Texas, sell them for around $20 a head in Fort Worth, maybe even as high as $40 by the time you got to Kansas.

And Captain King was able to make a considerable amount of money doing this. Eventually, Longhorns, however, are going to fall out of favor in northeastern markets. The problem with Longhorns is their beef is very tough and stringy, and eventually, as railroads start to penetrate more of the country, it's easier for ranchers in other areas to raise better tasting breeds of beef, load them onto railroad cars, and ship them to slaughterhouses in Chicago from movement on to the east. In 1869, he leads his first herd north on the long drive. For King, coming from his ranch in the extreme southwestern region of Texas, the drive to the Kansas railheads is more than 1200 miles. Despite the length of the drive and losses to stampede, swollen streams, and Indians, King makes enormous profits. From 1869 through 1884, King sends well more than 100,000 head of cattle to the railheads in Kansas or to ranges of the Northern High Plains. He continues to plow his profit back into cattle and land until he has hundreds of thousands of acres and tens of thousands of cattle.

If Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind is a Richard King-like character during the Civil War, then Tom Dunson is a Richard King-like character in Red River. King's great cattle operation is not without problems, which include regular cross-border raids by Mexican bandidos such as Juan Cortina and Juan Flores. In three years, King loses 33,000 head of cattle.

He asks the state for help, but the governor refuses. In 1867, King begins to fence his huge ranch. At first, his crews put up wooden fences. After Bob Wire appears in 1874, the work goes faster.

In 1883 alone, the ranch uses 190,000 pounds of Bob Wire. During the mid-1870s, King wages a personal war with florists in his bandidos. Entirely at his own expense, King supplies Captain Lee McNelly and his company of Texas Rangers with horses, food, and the latest Winchester rifles for pursuit of the bandidos.

McNelly is spectacularly successful, but not without controversy. He not only pursues the Mexican bandits through Texas, but right into Mexico. In Mexico, he destroys several bandido sanctuaries and defeats a Mexican army. While the U.S. government is apoplectic over McNelly's border crossing, Richard King couldn't be happier. By the time of his death in 1885, King has increased the size of his ranch to 614,000 acres, and those are acres he actually owns rather than leases from the government. Following his instructions to buy land and never sell, his son-in-law, Robert Clayburg, adds more acreage to the ranch, until by the 1890s, the King Ranch is larger than the state of Rhode Island. Like the eastern industrial barons, King tries to control all businesses related to his ranching operation. He invests in railroads, feedlots, packing houses, ice plants, harbors, and ships.

King, in many ways, is a king. To improve his longhorns, King brings in Durham bulls from Kentucky. His goal is to produce a steer with a longhorn's toughness and a Durham's bulk.

Here again is Professor Yancy. In 1940, the U.S. Department of Agriculture would recognize the Santa Gertrudis breed as the first breed of beef cattle produced in the western hemisphere, and really the first anywhere in the world in over 100 years. In pursuing his dream, Richard King invents modern ranching. Farmers before him tended to raise cattle as a sideline. In the cities, fresh meat was a luxury few could afford. The King Ranch turns ranching into a big business.

It also helps turn Americans into a nation of beef eaters. Richard King is a colorful character whose violent temper and wild, rough-hewn nature never diminish with age. King gets in several fights in his lifetime and seems to enjoy them. On one occasion, a big angry cowboy exclaims to King that if he were not Captain King, the great cattle baron, he would not be able to get away with the profane remarks that he just made. King is no longer a young man, but the old cattleman explodes.

Damn you. Forget the riches and the captain title and let's fight. And fight they do. It is one of the best fights anybody can recall. The cowboy and the captain pummel each other with vicious blows for half an hour.

Then, bloody and arm-weary, they shake hands. Thereafter, the cowboy says he will stand back-to-back with King anywhere and anytime. We tend to think of Hollywood's portrayals of the cattle kings of the Old West as exaggerated. Actually, a close look at Richard King demonstrates that such a classic question as Red River and John Wayne's character of Tom Dunson told a tale no taller than the fact that than the facts of the real life of Richard King. And great job to Greg Hengler and special thanks as always to Roger McGrath, author of Gunfighters, Highwaymen and Vigilantes, and also a special shout out to William Yancey, historian at Texas A&M University, Kingsville. Richard King's story here on Our American Stories.

Our American Stories. That's R-O-D-O. Ready, set, roto. Most TVs are smart nowadays, but with busy home screens and remotes with too many or too few buttons, smart shouldn't mean complicated. That's why Roku TV is the smart TV made easy. The customizable home screen puts your inputs, streaming favorites like iHeart and free live TV all in one place.

From simple settings anyone can understand, automatic updates with the latest features and much more. Roku TV is more than a smart TV, it's a better TV. Learn more today at roku.com. Happy streaming. Another week, another free pass to entertainment. Check out all the shows and movies you can watch with Xfinity Flex, no strings attached.

Face the darkness in the season two premiere of Yellow Jackets from Showtime. Crack open the history vault and dig into shows like America, The Story of Us. Then watch free picks from networks like Disney Stories Central and more with the kids. Give your ears some love with Hit Nation Junior on iHeart Radio. Easily discover new free content each week across the best streaming apps. Say free this week into your Xfinity voice remote.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-03-16 04:14:36 / 2023-03-16 04:23:39 / 9

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