Texas Originals

Henrietta Chamberlain King

July 21, 1832–March 31, 1925

Henrietta Chamberlain King helped build one of the nation’s largest ranches and established institutions now central to life in South Texas. Born in Missouri in 1832, King moved to Brownsville with her family as a young woman. There she met her future husband, Richard, an unschooled riverboat pilot with dreams of establishing a cattle ranch on the Santa Gertrudis Creek.

When the newlyweds settled on land southwest of Corpus Christi, King proved equal to the challenges of running a ranch. She took charge of the housing, health care, and education of the ranch hands and their families, all while raising her own five children.

Following her husband's death in 1885, Henrietta assumed ownership of the King Ranch, now a half-million-acre spread that was half a million dollars in debt. With her son-in-law Robert Kleberg, she steered the estate out of the red, expanded its holdings, and oversaw the development of pioneering techniques in cattle breeding, irrigation, and land management.

Over the next four decades, King donated land for the towns of Kingsville and Raymondville. She also gave property for what became Texas A&M University-Kingsville and the Spohn Hospital in Corpus Christi.

When King died in 1925, her ranch comprised more than a million acres. At her funeral, two hundred King Ranch vaqueros circled her grave on horseback, tipping their hats in a gesture of respect and farewell.

For More about Henrietta King

Henrietta Chamberlain King is honored with a star on the Texas Trail of Fame in the Fort Worth Stockyards.

Visitors to the King Ranch Museum in Kingsville, Texas, can learn more about the ranch’s history and legacy. Outside the museum stands a statue of Henrietta King and her son-in-law Robert J. Kleberg Sr. and a sculpture of the  first artesian well drilled on the ranch in the summer of 1899.  A timeline on the King Ranch website details important events in the life of the Kings and the development of their ranch.

The Texas Monthly website pulls together the feature articles the magazine has published examining the remarkable history and evolution of the King Ranch.

Selected Bibliography

Broyles, William. "The Last Empire." Texas Monthly, October 1980.

Crawford, Ann Fears and Crystal Sasse Ragsdale. Women in Texas: Their Lives, Their Experiences, Their Accomplishments. Burnet, TX: Eakin Press, 1982.

"A Family Affair." Texas Monthly, October 1980.

Givens, Murphy. "Henrietta Took Over King Ranch After Husband's Death." Corpus Christi Caller Times, June 19, 2018.

Gwynne, S. C. "The Last Frontier." Texas Monthly, August 2007.

Lea, Tom. The King Ranch. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1957.

Sneed, Edgar P. "King, Henrietta Chamberlain." Handbook of Texas Online. Accessed October 4, 2018. 

Strong, W. F. and Leah Scarpelli. "The Queen of King Ranch." Texas Standard, November 16, 2016.

Texas Mothers Committee. Worthy Mothers of Texas. Belton, TX: Stillhouse Hollow, 1976. 

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Spanish Translation

Download the Spanish translation of this Texas Originals script.

Portrait of Henrietta Chamberlain King. Courtesy of The University of Texas at San Antonio Libraries Special Collections Digital Collections.
Main building on the King Ranch, circa 1915.