The Secret History

Did Richard King, in collusion with Robert J. Kleberg, cheat his partner's heirs out of a piece of the King Ranch back in 1883? The Texas Supreme Court will soon decide whether this little-known but serious dispute can go to trial. Has the past come back to haunt the state's most storied spread?
Courtesy of Bettman

The Rincon de Santa Gertrudis, an old Spanish land grant, lies at the heart of the King Ranch, for it was there that, in 1853, Richard King first laid claim to a dream of ownership that would one day make his nascent rancho the envy of the world. The site, on the Santa Gertrudis Creek—which ran prettily in seasons of rain and dried to caked mud during the frequent droughts—was 125 miles north of Brownsville, on the Rio Grande, and 45 miles southwest of the little seaside town of Corpus Christi. What was true of an adjacent, larger tract that King would acquire the next year, the Santa Gertrudis de la Garza land grant, was true of all the land in this area: In the grandiloquent language of its Spanish deed, it was “unappropriated, waste and unpopulated.”

Originally the land had belonged to no one; a mere 65 million years ago it was the ocean floor. In the fullness of time the waters receded, leaving behind deposits of oil and salt domes and subhumid plains with varying soilsand grasses and plants and an ecology that would support human beings. Sometime after the coastline assumed its present contours, around three thousand years ago, small Indian groups, designated later by ethnologists as Coahuiltecans, hunted or gathered such food

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