When a day in the famed Texas frontier of cattle drives and vaqueros beckons, Kingsville is the place to go. Kingsville’s story is that of legends, of brave men and hard work.
Captain Richard King, a New York native, and his bride Henrietta Maria Morse Chamberlain of Missouri met on the banks of the Rio Grande in Brownsville in 1850. King, sailing on his steamer, noticed Chamberlain’s houseboat in what he considered his reserved loading dock. According to some stories, King cursed angrily only to be fearlessly reprimanded by a 17-year- old determined, beautiful woman. It was love at first sight. They were married in 1854 by Henrietta’s father, Presbyterian Reverend Hiram B. Chamberlain, and moved to a mud and stick jacal in the Wild Horse Desert. Their destiny was to build a 1,250,000-acre cattle, horse, and agricultural empire. The King Ranch was once known as the largest cattle ranch in the world! Today, at about 825,000 acres split into four neighboring tracts, it is the biggest ranch in Texas.
Daily ranch tours are available Tuesdays to Saturdays at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. The tours are one and a half hours long, and visitors can book them online at king-ranch.com. See the King Ranch bred quarter horses and Santa Gertrudis cattle, the historic carriage house, commissary, and the impressive mansion built in 1912. The King’s Palace, which is only seen from the outside, boasts Tiffany American Opalescent stained-glass windows. Folklore tells of a night after a long cattle drive and celebration, the Kineños rode back to the ranch and awoke the family by shooting holes in the windows. Kineños were expert stockmen and horsemen from northern Mexico who came to work for Captain King. Some of their descendants still work at the ranch today.
From October through April, join birdwatchers from all over the world to admire the natural beauty and abundance of bird species found at the ranch. There is a varied selection of birding and nature tours. Check before you go.
The King Ranch Museum is a must-visit, and the beautiful building is a cool respite from the warm weather. “From Old Sorrel to the Boon” is a permanent exhibition on the history of the ranch’s quarter horses and their vital role in the development of this ranching empire. For the young and young at heart, the antique carriages, vintage cars, and “El Kineño,” a custom-designed hunting car, will certainly trigger the imagination. This year, the museum dedicated a small space to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Assault’s Triple Crown win in 1946. Assault is the only Texas-bred American Thoroughbred to win this prestigious award.
A short distance away is the depot where iron horses dashed into Kingsville on July 4th, 1904. The St. Louis, Brownsville, Mexico railway continued to Harlingen and Brownsville. Kingsville’s 1904 Train Depot Museum was inaugurated 100 years later and continues to welcome visitors on weekdays from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. Admission is free, and the historical collection goes back to when Kingsville was the railway center of South Texas, spearheading the economic growth of the area. Henrietta King deeded land to construct the railway and establish the town of Kingsville three miles from her home by the Santa Gertrudis Creek.
In the heart of downtown and catty-corner from the train depot is the King Ranch Saddle Shop. Before the Civil War, Captain King demanded only the best saddles to work among the harsh conditions of the South Texas brush. He brought skilled craftsmen, and the shop’s reputation grew. By the end of the war, they were shipping saddles across Texas. The 1909 building is like icing to a cake, and inside, visitors shop for hats, boots, clothing, fine leather goods, home décor, and the fabled custom-made saddles.
Across the street on Kleberg Avenue is Harrel’s Pharmacy and Soda Fountain delivering prescription medication, plus a great selection of gifts, baby clothing, greeting cards, candles, and lots more. Dining at a soda fountain never gets old, and this one is particularly good.
If you are a bibliophile and into bookstores and coffee shops housed in charming buildings, you must stop by the Novel Blend Bookstore! Owners Jill and Tom DiFrancesca will help you find what you need. Relax in the cozy sitting areas, complete with a vintage console TV. There is a fantastic collection of Louis L’Amour leatherette books selling for $9 a piece. Novel Blend Bookstore is also the home of KCR online radio’s mini-studio and a variety of events. For more, visit kingsvillecommunityradio.com.
Are you traveling with kids with loads of energy? Stop by Dick Kleberg Park Lake on the way back to the Valley. The pier is a great place for a group photo or selfie. The playground and dog park are well maintained and spacious.
Now that everybody is ready for a sit-down meal, head towards the coast for a waterside dinner at the King’s Inn on Loyola Beach or the Baffin Bay Seafood Company on Baffin Bay. The fare, the ocean breeze, and lush surroundings will deliver a savory ending to a memorable trip.