King for a Day

Photograph by Kurt Markus

This month’s cover story is one for the history books—in two ways. First, because executive editor Sam Gwynne’s report on the myth, majesty, and future of the King Ranch (“ The Next Frontier,”) is as sweeping as the ranch itself, and second, because it’s a report from the inside. One does not cross the fence line of the most storied acreage in Texas without seeking the blessing of the powers that be, and that blessing has been bestowed rarely in the past 154 years. As Sam notes, few writers have been invited onto the land where Captain Richard King, “Mr. Bob” Kleberg, and countless heirs have trod. Rarer still have photographers been permitted to capture images of cowboys and cattle that are as iconic as any on film, yet on the cover is one of many shots taken for us this summer by the venerated Western photographer Kurt Markus.

So how did we do it? How did we get cooperation from the King Ranch’s press-averse CEO, Jack Hunt, and its board members, who are fiercely protective of the way the several-generation family saga is spun?

We asked.

Trust me: It’s not like we hadn’t asked before, and every time we’d been stiff-armed. Or, more accurately, every time we’d been told how unhappy King Ranch Inc. had been with the last story we’d done, so why do business with us again? In October 1980, we published a cover story—a 28,000-word opus—by our founding editor, Bill Broyles, on what he christened “the last empire.” Bill’s piece, I was told flatly, wasn’t well received. In September 1997, Anne Dingus, then one of our senior editors, wrote a short item on daguerreotypes believed to be of the King family. Annie’s piece wasn’t well received either. In November 1998, executive editor Skip Hollandsworth wrote a cover story about the resignation of Tio Kleberg, the great-great-grandson of Captain King, who had been responsible for the ranch’s day-to-day operations. Skip’s piece was definitely not well received. Nor was our last King Ranch cover, in December 2002: an excerpt of a book by one of our writers-at-large, Don Graham, about

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