South Texas forms a triangle, bounded on the south and west by the fertile Rio Grande valley, which has grown even more prosperous with the huge surge in foreign trade, and on the east by the Gulf of Mexico. Weesatch or huisache trees But the central part of South Texas, away from these borders, is another fascinating historical study. Much of this land was part of Mexico until 1849. Here Mexican ranchers raised cattle on huge tracts of land granted to their families by the King of Spain. In the mild climate, with adequate moisture from the Gulf, these ranches prospered, and the vaqueros were the first to develop cowboy skills and knowledge. Many of these cattlemen stayed on the land after it became part of the United States, and their descendants remain in the interior of South Texas to this day.
An hour west of Corpus Christi is the sleepy town of Kingsville, named after Richard King and his famous Saddles at a King Ranch building King Ranch. We reached the visitor center in time to watch the video which tells the history of the family and the ranch. King was an orphan from New York who ferried U.S. troops from Florida to Mexico, and then managed boats on the Rio Grande. With the money he made at sea, King bought up Spanish land grants in South Texas, and then borrowed and bought more, amassing over a million acres by the time of his death.
His widow Henrietta inherited the land and the debts, and hired Corpus Christi attorney Richard Kleberg to put the ranch on a sound financial basis. Kleberg married King's youngest daughter, Alice, who inherited the entire ranch on her mother's death. The present owners are the descendants of Richard and Alice Kleberg. It's one of the largest privately owned businesses in the U.S. Specially bred King Ranch cattle
The ranch tour, in a small bus with a friendly guide, took us on a 12 mile loop road past cattle (the Santa Gertrudis breed has been crossed to produce the Santa Cruz, a sturdy short-haired breed resistant to insects and other pests and producing good market beef rapidly) and horses (cutting horses and thoroughbreds, reflecting the interests of specific family members and including past champions in both classes) and deer (one of the big four profit categories, with a top-flight trophy buck costing $15,000 in addition to the costs for the hunt and the guide). We also spotted crested kingfishers, Couch's kingbird, and the black-backed whistling duck.
A cow with the King Ranch brand The King Ranch has diversified to cotton and milo in Texas (they gin their own cotton and combine the cottonseed oil with milo for cattle feed) and citrus farming in Florida. They also run a swank leather goods store in Kingsville as well as the local John Deere dealership. Although the ranch still offers housing and schooling to the descendants of the nineteenth-century ranch hands, called Kinenos, the ranch employment is slowly declining, and many of the children are called to the big cities for more excitement, college, and better employment. The beautiful old ranch house is used primarily as a private hotel for all the Kleberg descendants, who enjoy living for a few weeks with servants. Good Tex-Mex food is found here
After the tour, we moved on to Alice, Texas, named for a King daughter, where we enjoyed our best Tex-Mex lunch this trip, at the Chentes Restaurant.
Next day, remembering our bird-watching success on our 2000 visit, we found once again the Hans and Pat Suter Wildlife Refuge overlooking Oso Bay in Corpus Christi, where the boardwalk stretches out close to the bay, and the waters were again full of birds. We arrived right affter breakfast, on a cloudy morning, and immediately began to spot the large blue herons, coots, cormorants, then flocks of white pelicans and flamingos, while smaller, unidentified birds wheeled overhead. A Padre Island pelican
Walking back to the truck, we found a pair of Great Kiskadees, yellow and black with white trim. So we've made a few more checks in our well-thumbed copy of Sibley.
We finished our stay in Corpus Christi with a loop drive up the Gulf shore through Mustang Island to Port Aransas, past clumps of new condos, vacation houses, RV parks, campgrounds. We were happy to take the very short ferry ride back across the water to the outskirts of Corpus Christi which showed its best side as we crossed the bridge from the north.