By Samantha Harms
Fort Cavazos Public Affairs
KINGSVILLE, Texas — So often when traveling in Texas, you have to drive through the outskirts of a small town. In fact, Texas has more than 200 small towns.
I have always found that small towns are where someone can find the heart and soul of the country. It is where everyone knows everyone, gossip spreads faster than you think and yet, for the most part, everyone looks out for another. People there tend to be incredibly inviting and warm.
So, I jumped at the chance to visit Kingsville when I learned that this city is where Gen. Richard Cavazos, the namesake of this installation, was born and raised.
The city of Kingsville is 4.5 hours south from Fort Cavazos, just an hour or so from the Gulf of Mexico. It too is a city filled with kind people and small-town charm.
Kingsville was founded in 1904 and got its start due to Capt. Richard King, whom the city is named after.
King was born in 1824 in Orange County, New York. He was the son of Irish immigrants that were impoverished, and as such, at the age of nine, he became an apprentice to a jeweler in Manhattan. Not finding the apprenticeship or the jeweler to his liking, King stowed away on a ship that was headed to Mobile, Alabama. He was discovered when the ship was already out at out sea. The ship captain was impressed, and in turn made King his cabin boy. King took handsomely to the sea life, becoming a riverboat captain himself.
King, through war, his career, friendships and business partnerships, eventually made his way to Fort Brown, known today as Brownsville. As he was traveling from Fort Brown to Corpus Christi for the first Texas State Fair, King came across a plot of land and saw the vast potential that lay within the grassland and the creek. He purchased his piece of property in 1853 through a Mexican land grant, which consequently became King Ranch.
King Ranch today is 825,000 acres, across six counties and has four divisions. It is owned and operated by direct descendants of King himself; a fun fact is that the family already has eighth generation babies.
The ranch began as a cattle ranch. King himself purchased as much land as he could, and as much cattle as he could. He would travel all over simply to purchase cattle. On one such visit, in Cruillas, Tamaulipas, Mexico, King noticed that the town had recently been devastated by a drought. As he purchased their cattle, he realized that the people would have no livelihood, no way to continue living. And so, King asked the villagers to help him at his ranch; those who stayed became known as the Kineños, or “King’s men.” The Kineños have been working and living within the ranch ever since.
Because of the ties that the ranch has to the town of Kingsville, it only felt right to start my visit at the King Ranch Museum.
The museum is filled with photos and artifacts that depict where the ranch started and how it has grown throughout the years. Here visitors are able to see the very first King Ranch Ford truck (which does actually have 11,000 miles on it!), a General Motors vehicle that was outfitted to go hunting specifically for the ranch and dozens of brands that King used on his cattle.
Vital to the ranch was the creation of the Santa Gertudis bull; King was always trying to improve his stock, so he started crossbreeding. In the end, they were able to create their own unique and successful breed of bull. Visitors can see three of their heads up on the wall, along with their backstories and their importance to the ranch.
Amongst all the artifacts are photos of life at the ranch, including photos of Lauro Cavazos Sr., Richard’s father. Lauro was the division manager of the Santa Gertrudis Division at the ranch from 1926 to 1958, making him one of the many Kineños on the ranch. Among his many duties as division manager, he oversaw both cattle and horse breeding.
This is where Gen. Richard Cavazos enters the story, as he was born and raised on King Ranch. So it only seemed right to visit the place he called home. After visiting the museum, I made my way to the actual ranch.
King Ranch offers tours year round, including a general tour as well as special interest tours. Visitors can also book a hunting trip or nature trips throughout the year as well.
The daily tour features an auction arena, the horse cemetery (where some of their legendary horses are buried, including Assault, the Triple Crown winner in 1945) and the homes of the Kineños. You will pass historic buildings that include Henrietta’s, King’s wife, carriage house, the commissary with its lookout tower and the grand home built in 1912 by Henrietta.
The staff at King Ranch and King Ranch Museum are incredibly insightful and dedicated to their line of work. They were able to inform me that while Cavazos never worked on the ranch himself, he did explore the pastures and would even swim occasionally in the cattle troughs with his brother, Lauro Cavazos Jr.
Following my visit to the ranch, it only seemed right to spend some time in downtown Kingsville. There, visitors can shop amongst local boutiques or can enjoy a meal at Harrel Drug Co., a local pharmacy that has been open for more than 100 years.
I, however, opted to visit the 1904 Train Depot Museum. Here, I had the opportunity to learn about train travel and the impact that trains have had on the city. While the museum itself is rather small, it can offer a lot to someone who is interested in the economic impact a train can have.
From there, I ventured out to the Texas A&M-Kingsville campus to visit the John E. Conner Museum. Conner was a professor, and eventually the dean, at the college. And according to the staff, people continued to just bring Conner historical items. This eventually led to the opening of the museum.
The museum features quite a diverse and unique selection of the things, including a wall of trophies from hunting trips and an exhibit on the wildlife and habitat, found in South Texas. The draw for me though was a small exhibit on Gen. Richard Cavazos. The exhibit features his four-star dress uniform, a four-star helmet and a rifle that belonged to him.
Overall, my time spent in Kingsville was full of history lessons and quiet moments spent reflecting on the importance that a small town can have on the world.
While I know that Cavazos had a much different experience growing up here than I did simply visiting Kingsville, I can only hope that I walked away with similar feelings of comfort and joy that he shared for his hometown.
For information on King Ranch or the museum, visit their website https://king-ranch.com/. For information on the city of Kingsville, or the train depot, visit the city’s website https://www.cityofkingsville.com/.