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Since the development of the West was forged by the ranching industry, the American cowboy has been immortalized around the world in print, in movies, and on television. Some media even portrayed the intricate skill, expertise, and hard, endless work of the Mexican vaqueros, the "real cowboys" on whom the myth was based.
Although the vaqueros are rightly celebrated for the success of King Ranch, arguably the most famous ranch in the world, there is another story. While thousands of vaqueros working cattle from horseback did create the astounding success story that is King Ranch, thousands more worked on the ground in strategic support of the entire operation. A Hollywood axiom is that there would be no stars without supporting actors. Likewise, the success of the Ranch has depended on the men working to clear brush, build and mend fences, tend windmills, make and repair equipment, keep meticulous records for the up breeding programs, cook for the corrida from chuck wagons, and perform countless other tasks necessary for the Ranch's smooth operation. They worked with the same pride, loyalty, and dedication as the vaqueros. Hollywood missed them, and their stories are mostly untold. This book is about one of these families, the Maldonados. It is a story about the family as they grew up on the Ranch and about their everyday life with its challenges, tragedies, and joys. Their story is a rare opportunity to experience a moment in time, gone forever.
Librado and Alberto "Beto" Maldonado, a father-son team, tamed the two-thousand-pound Santa Gertrudis bulls and showed them to the world. Sometimes they wore tuxedos as they paraded "their" sleek, beautifully behaved animals in prestigious hotel ballrooms in Texas, and sometimes they wore khakis while showing the prized animals on the African continent. They have shown the bulls in TV studios high above street level in Chicago and in livestock shows across the nation. At least one of them led the bulls into the ring of every King Ranch auction sale from 1950 to 1986, where famous and near-famous buyers and guests gathered from around the world to purchase King Ranch animals. The Maldonados traveled with the animals by horse-drawn wagons, boxcars, express trains, trucks, and airplanes. Respected by cattlemen throughout the world, they were the chosen representatives wherever King Ranch showed cattle. This is their remarkable story.
Located in South Texas in the Wild Horse Desert and stretching from the Nueces River to the Rio Grande, King Ranch is considered by many to be the birthplace of the American cattle industry. Its headquarters is just west of Kingsville, in a land full of mesquite, cactus, rattlesnakes, and blistering heat. It was here that Captain Richard King established his cow camp in 1853 on the banks of the Santa Gertrudis Creek. King was a steamboat captain who knew virtually nothing about ranching when he began his new venture. He did know that his lucrative steamboating business on the Rio Grande would dwindle with the end of the Mexican-American War (1846-1848), and he was looking for his next venture.
Captain King was aware of the history of this strip from conversations while doing business along the border. The land lying to the north was dismissed as miles and miles of wasteland populated by wild mustangs, bony cattle, and fierce Karankawa Indians, with a sprinkling of Texas outlaws and Mexicans tenaciously holding on to their ranchos. From the descriptions he heard, King no doubt wondered why anyone would want this desolate territory, much less be willing to fight for it, as the Mexicans and Texans had done ever since Santa Anna lost the Battle of San Jacinto in 1836 and the new Republic of Texas declared the Rio Grande its southern border. Still, tales of this wide expanse interested him. Though he had never seen this land, King must have pondered whether a ranching business akin to the latifundos, immense Mexican haciendas in northern Mexico, was possible.
In 1852, Captain King had cause to travel north from his home in Brownsville, Texas, on a business trip to Corpus Christi. It was his first time to cross the Wild Horse Desert, and he finally saw the storied territory for himself. He went in April, perhaps the ideal time for making the four- or five-day trip. The sweet smell of yellow huisache blooms punctuates the air this time of year. Wildflowers like coreopsis, fire wheels (also known as Indian blankets), phlox, lantana, and lazy daisies reach as far as the eye can see. Texas prickly pear bloom profusely in yellows and shades of orange and red before critters like the Texas tortoise and birds such as green jays and long-billed thrashers, devour them. Early morning cool and moderate midday temperatures mask the searing dry, sometimes humid heat of the long summer soon to come, sometimes lasting until late October.
Even so, the relentless April sun can be blindingly bright, almost hot. Riding through rising dust in stirrup-high grass, King came upon the Santa Gertrudis Creek, and he must have been impressed with its cool, sparkling water and nearby oak shade, for on this day his life took a starkly different direction. His dream of a thriving ranching business was born on this spot, which remained dear to his heart for the rest of his life. The following year he purchased land for his rancho, which would ultimately encompass more than one million acres, 825,000 of which remain today.
The U.S. Civil War (1861-1865) afforded a brisk business of transporting cotton from the Southern states to foreign ships in the Gulf of Mexico and moving supplies for Confederate troops, enabling King to finance his dream. He was successful beyond his most ambitious expectations.
King Ranch developed the Santa Gertrudis breed of cattle, the first American breed and the first anywhere in the world in more than a century. The new breed was soon spread across King Ranch holdings on four continents. The Ranch also developed the King Ranch Santa Cruz composite breed and bred its own Quarter Horses, recognized as some of the best in the world. Its Thoroughbred program produced the only Texas-bred Triple Crown winner and one of only eleven in history when Assault won the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and the Belmont Stakes in 1946. Numerous ranching innovations—such as the invention of the root plow and dipping vats, which resulted in the eradication of Texas tick fever—were on the cutting edge of the industry.
This success did not just happen. To conquer this desolate land, Captain King needed men who knew about ranching, so he turned to northern Mexico, where he persuaded about one hundred people to leave the area known as Cruillas and come north with him to help establish his rancho. King and his descendents formed a bond with these original worker families that laid the foundation for the Ranch's success for six generations. Together they built a legend noted for both the accomplishments of the Ranch and the remarkable culture they created as a ranching family.
Not all ranches are the same. King Ranch established a blending of Hispanic and Anglo heritages that forged a unique ranching culture. An extended family relationship developed between the owners and the workers, characterized by a bond of loyalty and of responsibility for each other. This relationship was built on pride in the work and on respect and admiration for each other.
The workers became known as Kineños but kept their own culture. Spanish became the language of the Ranch. The Kineños ate their own foods, such as tamales, enchiladas, buñelos, and tortillas, and their cuisine soon became regular Ranch fare. They continued to practice their Catholic religion. Their relationship with the Ranch was one that lasted from birth to death. Kineño families were provided free housing, free utilities, a monthly food ration, wages, medical care, and education for their children. Protected behind the gates of King Ranch, they did not have to worry about seasonal layoffs common on other ranches or about economic depressions or any of the outside forces that concerned other vaqueros and residents of the Wild Horse Desert and the West. In return, the Kineños worked long hours from dawn to dusk the entire year except for Christmas holidays. Their children grew up expecting to join the workforce as soon as they were able, following in their parents' footsteps. They provided the Ranch with a stable workforce. Many of these families intermarried, resulting in what was truly an extended family. They looked out after each other and the owners, and the owners looked out for them.
This was the culture of King Ranch until sweeping changes overcame it in the 1980s. No longer could the Ranch continue the birth-to-death relationship with its Kineño families. Many Kineños were offered early retirement as the workforce was greatly reduced. King Ranch is no longer the same; a page of history has turned.
We are fortunate to have had the opportunity to step behind the gates and hear the story of what life was like before the changes came to the Ranch. We gleaned our story from Beto Maldonado, a meticulous record keeper who, through his written notes and remarkable memory, told us about his seventy-eight years as a Kineño on King Ranch.
The story of dedicated vaqueros doing grueling work from horseback, rounding up and branding cattle during long days and weeks on the vast pastures of King Ranch, is already familiar. Now Beto tells another side of the story.
On a cool fall day in 2006 Beto Maldonado took the authors on a private tour of King Ranch. Thousands of visitors from across the United States and eighteen foreign countries have taken this tour from the Visitor Management Department with Beto as guide since he led the first one eighteen years ago, but for those who have not, we offer here the opportunity to share vicariously this unique experience, one of several tours offered through the Visitor Management Department of King Ranch.
We arrived early for the tour at the Visitor Center, near the entrance of the Santa Gertrudis Division, just west of Kingsville, Texas. There, on top of the hill where Captain King founded his ranch in 1853, we could see miles and miles of mesquite-dotted pastureland, with some of the finest cattle and horses in the world peacefully grazing. The tall stately Main House commanded the surroundings, overlooking vast lands spreading in every direction.
Beto took up his microphone and, with a sparkle in his eye, love in his voice, and memory for every detail, began his driving tour.
Welcome to King Ranch. My name is Beto. We'll be going on the Loop Road. Feel free to ask questions, and I'll do my best to answer them for you.
It's a beautiful day. We're located on the Santa Gertrudis Division, which encompasses more than 200,000 acres. It's one of four cattle divisions here in South Texas. The Santa Gertrudis and Laureles are located in the Kingsville area. Kingsville is sitting right in the heart of King Ranch. Mrs. King donated 853 acres of land to establish the city of Kingsville and nearly 42,000 acres around the Kingsville site, and nearly 35,000 acres around what is now Raymondville to bring in the railroad. So traveling from west to east, you drive through Kingsville five miles, then you go back to King Ranch all the way to Laguna Madre on the coast. The other two divisions are south of here, near the Rio Grande Valley. Together in the four divisions there are more than 825,000 acres of land, 32,000 head of cattle, 350 head of horses, 57,000 acres of farmland under cultivation in cotton and milo. Another 56,000 in Florida, with 36,000 in citrus. King Ranch is the largest citrus producer in the United States. Another 20,000 acres produce sugarcane, turfgrass, and sweet corn.
Captain Richard King founded King Ranch in 1853. Captain King was a steamboat pilot in the Mississippi-Florida area. He came to Texas in 1847. He and his partner, Mifflin Kenedy, founded a successful steamboat business in the Port of Brownsville, Texas, 120 miles south of here near the border. It was in 1853 when Captain King attended a Gulf Coast fair in Corpus Christi. To reach Corpus Christi, he had to cross what was called the Wild Horse Desert. He rode for more than 120 miles before he encountered any good water; it was right here at the Santa Gertrudis Creek that we are about to approach. They stopped here and rested, then continued on to Corpus. It was in Corpus where he and [Gideon K.] "Legs" Lewis got together and decided to start a cattle venture in this area. So this is the Santa Gertrudis Creek, where he stopped and rested on the way to Corpus Christi 150 years ago.
The name "Santa Gertrudis" came from a Spanish land grant, the name of the Headquarters, creek, and later, the breed of cattle. The Santa Gertrudis breed, the first American breed of cattle developed in the Americas, was done here. It is a cross between a Brahman and a Shorthorn—three-eighths Brahman and five-eighths Shorthorn. It was recognized as a true breed in 1940 by the U.S. Agriculture Department. My dad was the first man to show the breed to the public in 1928 in Houston, and I was the first to win a blue ribbon in 1940, when the breed was recognized as a true breed. And my brother Lee got second place.
My dad showed Jersey cattle at the International Livestock Exposition in Chicago for the first time in 1918; in 1954 he was showing the new breed, Santa Gertrudis. People wanted a Santa Gertrudis bull on TV, so he loaded this 2,000-pound bull—Buen Amigo—and took him to downtown Chicago, put him in the elevator up to the twenty-first floor to be on TV at six o'clock one morning. He was in trouble after that happened—a whole bunch of people came looking for him at the livestock show.
In 1985 a group of Santa Gertrudis breeders got together to make their first airborne cattle auction on the way to Hawaii. We had a bull that we named Macho. Macho was weighing 2,900 pounds at the time. Those people asked Mr. Tio Kleberg and Mr. R. P. Marshall the possibility of me taking Macho to the airport in Dallas. So they told me, "Beto, get Macho all shined up and take him to Dallas at a certain date." I had traveled with my dad throughout the country and foreign countries showing cattle for many years. I learned lots from my dad. I took Macho off grain three days before we left and off water twenty-four hours before I paraded him inside the airport. We got there the day before, we spent the night there, and next morning I got Macho all shined up, went to the second floor to the ticket counter. There were 251 people making the trip, plus all the other people that were there already. Got to the ticket counter and everybody wanted to have their picture taken with Macho. So poor Macho stood there for the longest time on one leg, then on the other. I had two men with me, Bobby Silva and Ruben Rodriguez. We were prepared; we had brooms and shovels, but Macho behaved like a gentleman. He was on TV nationwide and in newspapers throughout the country.
We'll be driving through some of the small breeding pastures of varying size from 400 to 1,000 acres. The biggest pasture on King Ranch is 32,000 acres. It's on the Norias Division. This is where we run some of the cattle and Quarter Horses. The net wire fence that you see is made for King Ranch specifications. There are more than 2,000 miles that surround the Ranch and divide it into pastures, long enough to stretch from here to Boston. The metal posts in between the cedars are put there in case of a fire. That post will hold the fence up until it can be repaired. You put up a fence like that, it will last you thirty or forty years.
Notice the squares on the net wire. Of course, that was the design, the idea of Mr. Bob Kleberg Jr. Mr. Bob would do everything in the world to keep his livestock from getting hurt. As you can see, the square is big enough for a horse to stick his leg in there and pull it out without any problem. It's small enough for a cow not to get the head in there. You will also notice that we use no staples. We actually drill a hole, and the slick wire is wrapped around the post and will stay there forever.
We recycle the old tractor tires, convert them into horse feeders. Best ones money can buy. A horse will find a way to get hurt—they can't do it with this rubber tire. We invented an apparatus that turns it inside out hydraulically. We put a bottom on the one we use for grain; the one we use for hay, we don't. They last forever.
We are getting to the Quarter mare barn. It's where we run some of the mares, fillies and colts. We normally run an older horse with a group of young ones as a guide—he knows where the goodies are, so he takes them around. Also manages to settle them down when they're running and acting up.
Ahead of us on your right you can see part of the main residence. General Robert E. Lee helped Captain King pick that site for his house—he was Colonel Lee at the time. It is the highest point on this division of the Ranch. We will drive in front of the house on the way back.
This country is so pretty and green. We've had an abundance of rain, and it really put us in excellent shape.
We lost a retired stallion, Peppy San Badger. He was thirty-one years old. His papa, Mr. San Peppy, was the first to win $100,000 in cutting. Peppy San Badger won even more. Now Peppy San Badger's offspring have earned more than $23 million.
Standing on your right, ahead of us, is Taquito Sugar, one of our younger studs. The one next to him is Ritas Sweet Badger.
King Ranch purchased a colt from George Clegg in Alice, Texas. The Kineños later named him Old Sorrel—he was the foundation sire of the King Ranch Quarter Horse family. In 1940 the American Quarter Horse Association decided to start registration. They decided that the No. 1 horse would be the Grand Champion stallion at the Fort Worth Stock Show in 1941. It was a King Ranch horse by the name of Wimpy. In 1984 they registered the two-millionth horse. It was a King Ranch filly, descendant of Wimpy and Old Sorrel.
The metal band on the fence is put there so the horses will be able to see the fence from a distance. A lot of times they go to running, run into the fence, and get injured. That was Mr. Bob's idea. Like I said, he would do everything in the world to keep his livestock from getting hurt.
King Ranch's brand is the Running W. Nobody really knows why Captain King picked the Running W for his brand; he acquired more than thirty-five different brands when he was buying land. There is a name on the list by the name of Mann; some think Mr. Mann might have used an M for his brand and Captain King used it upside down. Or they say that he might have seen a lot of snakes, but I think it's a very neat brand. The very first brand that he used was an R with an arrow and then later HK for "Henrietta King."
These are sites of the first feedlots on the place, on your left. There is nothing left there today, as you can see.
Ahead of us—some of the heavy equipment we used in the past to clear the brush with. The chains were used or pulled with our two D-8 Caterpillars to knock the brush down. They later invented the yellow apparatus to go in front of the D-8 that would do the same work. The very last piece, the blade, would go behind the D-8 and root them out. And next to the last is a rake. We very seldom do any raking; we let it rot to fertilize the land. The first apparatus and the blade have been enlarged almost twice as wide. Placed into a twin D-8 Caterpillar, two D-8s welded together—it's a fifty-two-ton piece of equipment that can clear up to four acres of land per hour. In the 1890s they hired some help to start clearing some of this land; one person could only clear less than an acre per week by hand; today one person can clear a lot of acres, maybe 200, per week with that machine. We have cleared as much big brush as we need to, about 600,000 acres after the Second World War. We have to stay on top of the newly cleared ones; otherwise in fifteen years' time we have nothing but brush back to the pasture. We try to keep 65 percent cleared and 35 percent with brush.
There're times that we see wild turkeys around this area. They come around, of course, to get their share of the feed. We have a lot of wild game on the place—a lot of turkey, javelina, quail, wild pig, dove, and deer. The main cause of death of deer was screwworm. After they got rid of the screwworm, the deer have really multiplied.
As you can see on your right, half of that pasture is already being cleared, the other one still has to be worked on. We now leave some of the mesquites for shade for cattle.
You're looking at mostly King Ranch bluestem, the most popular type of grass on the Ranch today. There are others, but anyway, the popular grass of the Ranch is King Ranch bluestem. It's a hearty grass that has just about pushed the other ones out.
On your left about a mile from here is a windmill. That windmill supplies the four corners with water. The submersible water well ahead of us supplies the other four. Some of the mares, Quarter mares, on your right.
The trees along the road are what we call salt cedar. They're also called Athel pine [tamarisk family], and they're from Australia. Make an awful good windbreak and shade. They stay green pretty much year-round.
That old silo has been standing there for the longest time—I'd say it's been sitting there for the last hundred years. They used to farm this area when they had that feedlot back at the Rancho Plomo.
Santa Gertrudis heifers on your left, the first American breed of cattle developed in the Americas. It was done on King Ranch. We breed heifers as yearlings. We like for them to weigh 750 pounds when we put a bull with them as yearlings. They are two years old when they drop the first calf. We have a spring and a fall breeding season.
This is where we normally run some of these Santa Gertrudis herds. We also run some of the Quarter mares, fillies, and colts—on your right. The number tag in the cows' ears has the same number that matches with their firebrand and their tattoo number. When you keep records of cattle—and some of the time the brand numbers have been covered one way or another, especially in winter, when they shed more hair—they are not that easy to read. The ear tag is a big help. Of course, it's something new. I worked with cattle before ear tags, and it was a problem reading those fire numbers. We would actually stamp the numbers on the horns to avoid branding the numbers on the hides of those animals. This was Mr. Bob's idea. Then later the ear tags were out, and they have done wonders for us. There is a number printed on them.
Every pasture has a name. When I was keeping records, every offspring from those pastures was identified with a butt letter brand showing the pasture that they came from, but that's no longer being done. That was one way to control inbreeding of cattle at the time. Santa Gertrudis single sire, or pedigreed cattle, were identified by sire and dam, so they took one [brand] on each side. The Santa Gertrudis cows take a Running W on the hip, number right below, and the year that they were dropped right below the number. On the Santa Cruz, the Ranch's composite breed, the year of birth is on top of the hip with the Running W beneath.
The average weight on those baby Santa Gertrudis calves is 79 pounds; weaning weight on the heifers is 525 pounds and 550 pounds on the bull calf.
A submersible pump ahead of us on your right supplies these four corners with water. There is some type of a water well in most four corners of pastures to supply the four corners. We also make ponds to hold rainwater. We like for wild game and cattle to have water as near as possible.
The windmill on your left about a mile from here supplies the other four corners. Water was one of the biggest problems back in the early days. They had all kinds of problems with bandits and Indians, but water was the main problem. In the 1890s these people were going through a drought—hundreds of cattle were dying. Mr. Kleberg was looking for all kinds of drilling equipment that he could find to find good water. It was not till 1899 that they discovered the first artesian water well. Today we have over 400 windmills of water throughout the Ranch. In 1980 we had a hurricane that destroyed most of the windmills. Left a lot of cattle without water. Since then, a lot of the windmills have been converted to submersible pumps. We have to drill 700 to 800 feet to find good water in this part of the Ranch.
These cows are kind of lonesome because their babies were pulled away from them not too long ago. Consider the condition they're in—carrying a calf for the last seven or nine months—because of all the green pastures. We normally supplement them when they are dropping calves, but that's the only time—but, of course, when we're undergoing a drought, we actually have to do it. But as you can see, it is as green as can be, but there's times that it's not that green but that dry grass will keep them alive. The maintenance department does the mowing, most of the road, around the main buildings, the main residence.
Another submersible water well on your right supplies these four corners. There's a pond I was talking about that we dig to hold that rainwater when it rains. This land is very well fertilized—the only thing lacking is phosphorus. So one of the easiest and cheapest ways of doing it is to put it on a feeder. Rainfall is twenty-five to twenty-seven inches per year. When we get enough rain, this country is in good shape; some of the mature mama cows will be weighing over 1,500 pounds. The most popular type of grass on the place today is King Ranch bluestem.
Cattle on your left are the Santa Cruz, the new composite breed. We started the crossbreeding about fifteen years ago. They're half Santa Gertrudis, a quarter Gelbvieh, and a quarter Red Angus. The breed is popular; there is a demand for it.
Fence on your left that you can see—that fence has been there for forty years. See how the posts are wearing out? So is the wire. The fence crews are working on it now. As you can see, not any more trees on your left; they've been cleared. I remember the time when there were three crews of people building fences. They would be living under a tent—of course, that was back in the '30s and '40s. And now it's very modern. It will be cedar posts and steel.
There's a water pond I've been talking about.
This bunch of cows—their babies were weaned just recently. I think there are maybe two- and three-year-old cows in that bunch.
When we did single sire, there was no more than forty cows to one bull. Multiple sire is no more than thirty cows to one bull, a lot of cattle in one huge pasture.
Here are a bunch of Santa Gertrudis heifers.
There go the cowboys. Ahead of us is a cowboy camp house. You find a lot of these houses throughout the Ranch; at one time the cowboys would come work cattle and be away from their families for three or four weeks. They now come and go the same day. Ahead is a set of working pens; you also find a lot of these pens throughout the Ranch so cowboys won't have to drive cattle far to get them worked.
A popular gate on the place is—we call them bump gates. You stop right against that gate and push it open with your vehicle. It will swing back to the same position. We have over 600 miles of paved roads throughout the Ranch, and a lot of these gates. Makes it very easy and convenient to get from one spot to another. Mr. Bob revised the design to make it better. The very first ones were made out of lumber, a lot lighter, and they're now made of pipe and last a long time. They are made here on the Ranch. Our welding people do this kind of work. Rain or shine, day or night, you don't have to get out to open a gate.
There's an old dipping vat. I worked here—a lot of cattle. This is the loading chute. You back up with your trailer and get 'em loaded. You have a gooseneck, you load 'em on this side. There're times that I have dreams of working cattle in this set of pens—the Calera Pens.
The dipping vats killed fever ticks. Mr. Bob's father actually invented the dipping vat in the late 1800s or early 1900s, or something like that. But it was a problem that they would have to dip every so often. They started at one point and made a circle and went through the Ranch and by the time they finished with the last pasture, the first was due to be dipped again. So it was almost an endless job, but they managed to control the fever tick. They have been out of use for a long time. Now they inject the cattle with—I don't know what they use today—but they used to use Ivomec, an injection that keeps the flies off and worms 'em, and the whole shebang at the same time.
Everything is worked with a hydraulic chute, as you can see. You can do miracles with those hydraulic chutes. That's to brand cattle, tip horns. You push the cow in there—you can use the two gates at the front that will catch the head and you can do any kind of work with that animal's head, and then you can vaccinate any part of the body, or brand on the side or butt or whatever; you can go around the back and brand them on their butt. Called a squeeze chute. It is used now, but not the dipping vat. This chute is almost like the one you saw back there, the yellow one. You can open the top and bottom, and you can run any size animal through there. It's manufactured, built.
These calves are bellowing for their mamas. They bellow for about three days. Their mamas also look for them.
Submersible water well on your right supplies all of this area. It runs by electricity. It replaces the windmill. In case of a hurricane, it doesn't blow it away as easy as it would a windmill. [That's] some of the weaned bull calves ahead of us.
Dog kennels. At one time the cowboy wouldn't leave without his cow dogs, mainly Australian Blue Heelers. When there was a lot of brush, there were places that the cowboys couldn't go in there with a horse, and the dog would push 'em out for them.
Sometimes I stayed a week at a camp house on the Laureles and Norias Divisions when I was spraying cattle. A camp house accommodated about twenty or twenty-five people to sleep. They would normally have two cooks to do the cooking. The cooks would get up early—everybody would get up early in the morning—and the cooks would start preparing breakfast. The cowboys would go saddle up, then have breakfast, take off, and go gather cattle. They could be working maybe a mile away from the camp house. The cooks would prepare the chuck wagon and go serve lunch where they were working. Then they would head back to the camp house and prepare dinner at the end of the day. But they would always have two cooks to do the cooking for them. Mainly beef, along with beans and rice and camp bread. The rabbit syrup, Brer Rabbit, was very popular for dessert with the camp bread and coffee.
These are all Santa Cruz bull calves. See, they're lighter in color compared to the Santa Gertrudis. They are maybe nine or ten months old.
Now, this is one of the many dams that you find on the place today. Some crude ones were built in Captain King's time to hold some of that precious water, but most of them were built in the early twentieth century. You can already see that it's full from that rain a day or two ago. We had twenty-five inches of rain two months ago.
This is the arena where they work, exercise, and train their Quarter Horses. It's a full-size arena. King Ranch cowboys and employees and members of the family will all get together once a year and put on a rodeo, along with a barbecue. We have all kinds of events; everybody participates. This is also where we have the Ranch Hand Breakfast every year, where more than 5,000 people come through the line for breakfast. Biscuits, scrambled eggs, sausage, coffee. And they have a roping demonstration in the arena, and other people do cooking—pan de campo, camp bread—and music that is good. You get to visit with friends and make new friends.
This part of the Ranch was dairy cattle country and racehorses. All the facilities except the arena—the arena wasn't there at that time—were used to train the Thoroughbreds for racing. They would train them here and then send them to New York and California. When Mr. Bob Kleberg passed away in '74, all racing stock was moved to their facility in Kentucky.
All the buildings that you see have been converted into a Quarter Horse/cattle operation. That used to be the jockey room and next door was the feed room, and the big Running W there was the blacksmith shop—that's where they would trim their hooves and put shoes on 'em and what have you. This building was the kitchen, with a dining room, and they would serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the racehorse people that would come to work. [That's] the veterinary department right next to those buildings, and the trainer's room and the guest rooms. And then behind was the training stable and the racetrack; on your left was a mile-long racetrack where they would train them, with the grandstands that still stand there today. But the racing stables have been out of use for the last thirty years. Everything was neatly painted with the brown and white—those were the racing colors.
But Mr. Bob had a very sharp eye for livestock. He was a genius. His chauffeur told me one day that he told him that he would like to see the day come when he can go see his horses run in New York and come home for dinner the same day. So the very first jet that was available to him, he got him a jet, and he would have breakfast here at the Ranch, go see his horses run in New York, and come home for dinner. He had a lot of big dreams, and the good Lord helped him to get 'em done.
On the left a couple of blocks, that's where I was born seventy-eight years ago. There were fifteen wood-frame homes for people that worked at the dairy and Quarter Horse barn. On the left is the kids' project barn—it's for youngsters to prepare their livestock for shows. Mesquite trees on your left, and some more of the stables that we used for the racehorses.
I live on the other side of this set of pens. When they replaced a lot of the wood-frame buildings, they built what we call the Colony. Then Mr. Bob told my dad he was going to build him a house near work, near the dairy and the Quarter Horse operation. So when I got married in '49, they built me a house right next to my dad, so we were neighbors for the longest time. That old mesquite tree is over a hundred years old. I used to climb it when I was a kid.
The dairy barn. We used to have some of the finest Jerseys in the country. We would show them throughout the nation, milk them, and supply the employees with milk. We would milk ninety-six head twice a day, run milk through a cooler, bottle it, and deliver it to the employees' doorsteps early in the morning and late in the evening. We shut it down in the '50s.
This is where some of the famous horses are buried. Their stones are sitting there: [Thoroughbreds] Assault, Middle Ground, and [Quarter Horses] Old Sorrel, Mr. San Peppy, Hired Hand, Anita Chica, Peppy San Badger—there's a stone for every horse.
They would keep some of the mares here and some in Kentucky. And they would bring all the offspring at a certain age and train them and would take them from here by express car to racetracks in New York and California.
This is the tack room, where the cowboys saddled up in the mornings—you can see the trailer there. They'd load 'em up in the trailers and take off. This was neatly painted brown and white at one time. Everything was painted brown and white—tubs, buckets, tack boxes—and everything was neatly kept. Floors were rubber from one end to the other, and there was a drainage in every stall.
Straight from here—that's where I was born seventy-seven years ago. There were like twelve or fifteen houses for employees that worked with the dairy cattle and Quarter Horses.
There is one of those tires [used as horse feeders] that I was talking about. Some of the cow ponies on your left.
That's where a cowboy lives. Houses on the right are what we call the Colony. There are over a hundred homes where some of the help that work on this division live.
We also have a school and a chapel, but it is no longer used as a chapel. Other groups use it for meetings and what have you. They go from pre-K to eighth grade here, and then we bus them into town, where we have our own high school at the university [Texas A&M], or to King High School in Riviera.
There is a Colony in every division of the Ranch.
Should be some Longhorn steers ahead of us on our right. Some of these steers played a big part in working cattle in the open at one time. They would halter-break them, teach them to lead. They would normally have ten or twelve of these steers beside a working herd when they were working cattle out in the open. When they would go to weaning those calves, after they were branded and vaccinated, they would put them with the steers along with the cows they no longer wanted to keep—barren cows and what have you. At the end of the day, whenever they finished working the herd of cattle, they would turn all the keeper cows back in the pasture. The steers would lead calves to the pen, and they wouldn't have any problem getting calves away from them. There were times that they would brand as many as 800 calves in a day's work.
Captain King's men drove over 100,000 Longhorn steers and cows up the country up north to railheads such as Abilene, Kansas. in his time. What Captain King would do, he would send the men with the Longhorns up the trail, then meet them at the point of contact with the northern buyers.
Some of the Longhorns on your right in the middle of the pasture. We keep them for historical reasons. We only have maybe 50 head, but you'd be surprised how many people visit the Ranch and ask for Longhorns. Today on King Ranch we have 1,000 head of Santa Gertrudis, 23,000 Santa Cruz, 360 horses, and 60 Quarter brood mares.
Ahead of us on the right is the baseball park named after Assault. That's where the youngsters and oldies play baseball. At one time we had a popular team of players. I have a list of those; they were in the paper and the whole shebang, with Tio [Stephen J. Kleberg] with them, and I have a list of all the players that played there at one time, the ones that are still alive and the ones that are deceased.
Here's where we had a garden at school on your right—part of the Santa Gertrudis school buildings. This was the home economics department, and we would also have seventh- and eighth-grade classes there. When I was in that grade, there weren't many girls, so I actually participated in home economics—did some cooking and sewing. I had an apron that I made—don't remember where it ended up.
These buildings on your right are the maintenance department, the welding shop over there. I said something about some of these barns—every barn had a name. They were built to store hay in; there were times that we would harvest the hay and bale it and stack it in those barns. Part of these barns had places, stalls where you could stall horses and what have you, and part of the buildings had little floors so you could also store grain or whatever. That's where I kept my Shetland pony when I would ride horseback to school and back.
Right here on the right was a carpenter shop. Juan Zapata was the carpenter, and they would build those little phosphorus houses that they put phosphorus in for the cattle, brand-new.
There's where we would come and eat our taquitos. My mama would prepare us a taquito for lunch of potato and eggs and what have you. And when she didn't have time to prepare a taquito, my mom would give us a dime each. The commissary was right across the street from the schoolhouse, and we would buy a can of potted meat for three cents and a box of saltine crackers for a nickel and have two pennies left over.
Mrs. King's carriage house is ahead of us. This was built in 1909. She would keep her carriages on the north side and her horses on the south side for the breeze. It is not in use; it's been out of use for a long time. It's supposed to be a fireproof stable. It was painted white at one time and they decided to sandblast it down to the original bricks, and I think it's one of the prettiest buildings.
The building on the right—hay barn. A picture of the front of that barn is seen in Ford commercials. There were five or six hay barns. This is the only one that remains today.
The white building is the commissary. It is one of the oldest buildings on the Ranch. That is where we used to buy some of the groceries. It was built back in 1856 to 1858; second floor was guest rooms and a kitchen at one time. Part of this building was used as an office. I don't know if they still have that little window with the round figure on the top—that's where they would pay the people. They shut it down a good ten or twelve years ago and converted it into offices.
Behind the commissary is the main residence. The original house burned down in 1912; this one was finished in 1915. Mrs. King got to live here for ten years. Nobody lives here today. Members of the family stay here when they come to the Ranch. They use it for special guests, parties, and weddings. They keep a staff of about nineteen people to run the house. After the original house burned down, Mrs. King wanted a house built almost fireproof. She also wanted floors built so people wearing boots would feel comfortable walking into her house. So you will find brick, tile, New York blue slate, and wood floors throughout the building. There are seventeen bedrooms, and there's a bathroom for every bedroom, twenty-six fireplaces, and it also has central air and heat.
We are coming to the feed yards. Some of the steers end up at the feed yards, and heifers that did not make it for breeding purposes will wind up at the feed yard to slaughter and end up on somebody's table. They take them to Sam Kane Beef Processors near Corpus Christi to slaughter. They are fattened here, then sold. They want them weighing 1,150 pounds. How long they stay here depends on how much they weigh when they get here. What we like to see happen is put out ten pounds of feed per head two times daily, hoping to get from two and a half to three pounds' gain a day. And then when they reach 1,150 pounds, they take a ride to the slaughterhouse.
This is part of the Santa Gertrudis Creek.
People that buy cattle from the feed yards send their own trucks or hire trucks to take them away. The feed yard got started in the mid-'70s.
This is the pasture where you run thousands of cows with hundreds of bulls. Ratio of one bull to thirty cows. Called multiple sire.
These are some of the commercial cattle. A unit manager is in charge of the feedlot, and he has some people under him. The feedlot has a capacity of 16,000 head—700 or more are sent to slaughter every week weighing 1,150 pounds. We buy as many as 15,000 crossbred feeder calves every year.
We clean pens quite often, as you can see, and we fertilize these pastures in the area. Those cables, as you can see, are adjustable to the size of the animal so they won't get out. Feed is put out twice a day, and then before the day is over, they make sure that there is feed in the troughs. Everything is identified because they weigh them from time to time. Most are not Santa Gertrudis or Santa Cruz. Only in dry years do we use those. Most of the time we buy heifers and steers. When they bring them in, the younger ones are put in the paddocks that are in the feed yards. They put them on grass and on self-feeders and then they bring them into the pen.
We have our own dryers, and if the price is right, we sell and buy cheaper at a later time. But a lot of the milo—the grain that we grow—we use here at the feed yards. We also buy corn. We use corn that we have to buy because we don't get enough rain in this part of the country for corn. There's times that we can buy corn, and there's times that we can't. We feed them milo. The mill processes a ton of feed per minute and a quarter of a million pounds a day. Also processes that grain sorghum to an oven that actually pops it so the cattle can digest it better. It's just like popcorn.
It's pretty full today—maybe 15,000 or 16,000 head of cattle. Most of the pens are full. Just those two that are cleaned are vacant.
Here's a set of loading chutes that I want you to see. You can load any size trailer, double-deckers, regular cattle trailers, or goosenecks or whatever. Cattle trailers are loaded a certain way. They have six sections, three on top and three on the bottom. They're called front, middle, and back. They load the top front, then bottom front; top middle, then bottom middle; top back, then bottom back. Those rails are where those men are working with those gates to get 'em loaded.
The building on the right is the office. The building ahead is where they do the processing when calves get here—the vaccinating and ear tagging and what have you.
Those cowboys on horseback work cattle, and they check pens every morning—every pen is checked every morning to make sure that everything is okay.
Cattle are brought in by truck. Everything is hauled by truck. They did away with the rail a long time ago. Of course, at one time they would haul everything by rail. The largest livestock loading point in the nation was on King Ranch.
This is the truck that puts out the feed. Every pen has a number, and they push a button and unload that many pounds in every pen. It's a small feedlot compared to other parts of the nation, but of course it's owned by one family. They're pretty expert at putting out the feed—everything is put right on the trough. They go back and forth and put out whatever amount is required for every pen.
I get thank-you notes or Christmas cards from people that I take on a tour of the Ranch, and they give me a call. And I have people that have told me that their friends have been here on a tour, and they want to know how to go about doing a tour and ask for me to do it for them. I had a couple the other day from the [Rio Grande] Valley who had purchased a King Ranch Ford pickup, and people would see them in that vehicle and would ask questions and they couldn't answer the questions—had never been here. So he and his wife or girlfriend or whatever made a point of taking a half-day tour with me to learn about the Ranch so they would be able to answer some of the questions.
Hunting season is beginning. Hunters are already excited. Lots of deer out there—good and fat too. They should be carrying an inch thick of fat on their loins.
We're headed for Laureles. This is supposed to be part of I-69 that is going to go all the way from Canada to Mexico—it will come right through here.
We're now on King Ranch all the way to the coast. Those are cotton module builders. We have some more over there. They put those module builders along the road to put that cotton in. The picking machines drop the cotton in those module builders and press it down, and each one can hold as many as fifteen to eighteen bales. A bale weighs about 500 pounds. A good harvest of cotton, you have a line of modules several miles long, you see lines of modules right along the road. And when there's a super crop, you see them all over the fields. They have to be hauled into the gin to have the cotton processed. This is primarily cotton and milo country.
This is the farm office and storage building there, the maintenance over here. Cotton pickers on your right. Forty of these cotton pickers can harvest your cotton, 30,000 acres, in three or four weeks. All the milo is done by contract labor that comes from Nebraska. Some of the farmland is used by tenant farmers, and they also help out. The Ranch does have some of the pickers, and they might hire some others to pick all the cotton. We have our own dryers and cotton gin; we can process forty bales per hour. A good harvest of cotton would be like 60,000 to 65,000 bales.
This is where they haul those modules. They back up and roll 'em into the truck and haul to the gin. There are 60,000 acres here under cultivation at Laureles. The rest is used as cattle country. These are some of the tractors, John Deere tractors. King Ranch owns the local dealership. Laureles is a quarter of a million acres. This is good farming blackland here on both sides for fifteen miles. Some of the rows north to south are a mile or more long. There's one crop a year.
You can see for miles. You can see some of the electrical lines way over there. Used to be a set of working pens ahead of us—there's an earth water tank and a water trough. There were once working pens here called palo marcado. There's a dipping vat over there. They burn what cotton is left along the road, but the rest is left and they do some disking. Headquarters to Laureles is about twenty miles.
There's a truck with fuel on this paved road, and there's another paved road over there. Those tractors run out of fuel, that truck goes there and fills them up and keeps them going.
This area of Laureles is called the South Texas Farm. When they had cattle here, they had names for those pastures. They were smaller pastures, but every pasture had a name, and they still have that name today. Every camp house, every windmill. When they were gathering cattle on horseback, they would enter a pasture and the man ahead of the group would assign you, you, and you to the left, you, you, and you to the right, you and you to the rear, and when they would wind up where they were taking that herd of cattle, and if they knew a cowboy was missing, they knew where to look for him. They could be having problems with a group of cows or one got injured or got bucked up or whatever; they would just know where to go look for 'em. Today if we were to have a problem, we would pick up the phone or radio and call in that we're at a certain pasture.
On the right is the Celanese Chemical Plant, north of Kingsville. Many people from Kingsville, Bishop, and Driscoll work there, and of course people go from Kingsville to Corpus to work at the naval base or with helicopters.
We're on our way back to the Visitor Center now. Thank you for stopping by for a visit. I wish you good luck on your way back home. You're invited to come back again, anytime.
It's the summer of 2008, and today I, Beto Maldonado, will once again pick up my hand mike and speak to the five gentlemen with me today on my private tour. They join more than 35,000 visitors who have come here already this year. These men happen to be from Mexico, veterinary students interested to see firsthand one of the most famous ranches in the world, my home for all of my life.
They will ask a lot of questions about how the Ranch handles its cattle and horses, about the grasses and why there is no barbed wire on King Ranch. I will do my best to give them answers. They will not know about my great-grandfather raising my father, Librado, to cowboy at Lasater Ranch or of my father dedicating his life to "his individuals," and they may not understand about the pride of the Maldonado family for working with King Ranch for most of a century.
But maybe they will leave here knowing that King Ranch has played an important role in feeding the nation for more than 150 years. And I hope that they will get an idea of the contributions that Los Kineños have made to its success, whether working cattle from the saddle of one of the famous King Ranch Quarter Horses or performing on foot those jobs necessary every day to make the Ranch work.