Portrait of Robert Justus Kleberg II, n.d.

Portrait of Robert Justus Kleberg II, n.d.

Robert Justus Kleberg II


An icon of American frontier life, King Ranch harkens back to a mythical age when the Wild West was tamed and settled. Its success is a testimony to the hard work and vision of second-generation German immigrant Robert Kleberg II. During his long tenure as ranch manager, Kleberg made key improvements in the areas of livestock and health, pasture management, and ranching facilities. His story, though, would be incomplete if one failed to mention the significant contributions he made to the urban and economic development of South Texas as a whole.


Robert Justus Kleberg II (born December 5, 1853 in DeWitt County, TX; died October 10, 1932 in King Ranch, Kleberg County, TX) the son of German immigrants Robert Justus Kleberg and Rosalie (Philippine Sophie Caroline Luise) von Roeder, was born in DeWitt County, Texas, on December 5, 1853. At age thirty-two, he left a promising career in law, and, having no experience in the cattle ranching industry, became the sole manager of the historic King Ranch.[1] Kleberg led the King Ranch from 1885 until his death in 1932. During that time, it became not only the largest cattle ranch in the United States but also one of the most prosperous. Today, the ranch remains an iconic feature of American frontier life, harkening back to a mythical age when the Wild West was tamed and settled.

Robert Justus Kleberg II was born into a distinguished German-American family. In the early nineteenth century, the Kleberg and Roeder families were among the first German immigrants to settle in Texas, where they founded the town of Cat Spring.[2] Life on the frontier was difficult, but first-generation immigrant Robert Justus Kleberg I made a name for himself in the community and played a key role in the political and social life of Texas throughout much of the nineteenth century. His son Robert II was born into privilege and certainly benefited from the opportunities afforded by the family’s position. Like his father, he received a university education and worked, at least for a time, as a lawyer. In 1885, while serving as opposing counsel in a court case in Corpus Christi, Robert Kleberg II first encountered legendary cattle king Richard King. That meeting, and his eventual win against King, marked a definite turning point in the life and career of this young second-generation German-American.

The great success of the King Ranch started with the vision of Robert II and his commitment and devotion to the land and the people who worked it. Over the years, he made key improvements to King Ranch in the areas of livestock and health, pasture management, and ranching facilities. His story, though, would be incomplete if one failed to mention the significant contributions he made to the urban and economic development of South Texas: for finding artesian water that allowed for the introduction of farming and ranching in the area, for his role in the development of a railroad line from Corpus Christi to Brownsville, and for his efforts to build up towns and create community life.

Family and Ethnic Background

Robert Justus Kleberg I was born on September 10, 1803, in the village of Herstelle, then part of the prince-bishopric of Paderborn (now part of modern Westphalia), to merchant Lucas Kleberg and his wife Veronica Meier.[3] He studied law at the University of Göttingen and earned a doctor juris degree. After finishing his studies, Kleberg became Oberlandesgerichtsreferendar (junior barrister at the high court) in Paderborn.[4] While living in Paderborn, Kleberg became acquainted with Rosalie von Roeder, the sister of one of his former university classmates. Rosalie was born in 1813 in Vörden, Westphalia, one of eleven children, to former Lieutenant Ludwig Sigismund Anton von Roeder (1775-1847) and Caroline Louise Sack (1782-1865), of the Prussian minor nobility.

Robert proposed marriage to Rosalie, and, according to family accounts, she accepted on one condition: that they spend their honeymoon in Texas. By then, several members of her immediate family had already decided to immigrate to Texas, and she did not wish to be separated from them. The Roeder family’s decision to emigrate was motivated by macroeconomic factors beyond their control. A decline in grain prices had led to a decline in land value, and the Roeders could no longer cover all of the taxes and other financial burdens on their land. As a result, they were slipping into poverty. Rosalie’s siblings Ludwig, Albrecht, Joachim, and Valeska were the first to sail to Texas, departing in March 1834.

Apparently, Robert was more than willing to satisfy Rosalie’s condition, and he agreed to a “honeymoon” that was tantamount to a permanent move. As the story goes, “Robert replied that wherever Rosalie was, there would his home be.”[5] Robert’s devotion to Rosalie was most certainly a powerful motivating factor in his decision to emigrate, but it was not the only one, for, by then, he also had become “dissatisfied with the military and administrative despotism of Germany at that time.”[6] Whatever the case, on September 31, 1834, Rosalie von Roeder married Robert Justus Kleberg, and, on the same day, they set sail to Texas, together with her parents.[7]

The Kleberg-Roeder family's choice of Texas as a destination was largely influenced by the early German settler Johann Friedrich Ernst, whose glowing letters spoke of an irresistibly beautiful landscape and presented Texas as a land of opportunity, a kind of heaven on earth. In Reise nach Texas [Journey to Texas], Ernst offered up a romanticized vision of pioneer life that captivated his compatriots back home.[8] The Roeders had originally planned to immigrate to the northern portion of the United States, but after encountering Ernst, they decided to sail to Texas, a territory that had belonged to the First Federal Republic of Mexico since 1824. Later in life, Robert Kleberg acknowledged that Ernst's writings had played a strong role in his decision to immigrate to Texas. The letters, he recalled, were compelling because they described the “advantages offered to immigrants by the Mexican government.” Ultimately, as he explained, the letters “caused us to choose Texas for our future home.” Elaborating on the importance of Ernst’s writings, he remarked:

At the time we left, hardly anything was known of Texas, except that my ideas and those of my party were formed by the above mentioned letter, in which Texas was described as a beautiful county, with enchanting scenery and delightful climate, similar to that of Italy, with most fruitful soil and republican government, with unbounded personal and political liberty, free from so many disadvantages and evils of old countries. Prussia, our former home, smarted at the time we left under a military despotism. We were enthusiastic lovers of republican institutions, full of romantic notions, and believed to find in Texas, before all other countries, the blessed land of our hopes.”[9]

German settlers in Texas in the early nineteenth century suffered many of the hardships of pioneer life. To be sure, the circumstances encountered by these immigrants differed greatly from those described by Ernst.[10] On this point, Rosalie recounted, “my brothers had pictured pioneer life as one of hunting and fishing, of freedom from the restraints of Prussian society; and it was hard for them to settle down to the drudgery and toil of splitting rails and cultivating the field, work which was entirely new to them… We were all unused to that kind of work, but we felt that we must save our money; and, when required by necessity, one learns to do what one has never done before.”[11]

Approximately a year after Robert and Rosalie’s arrival, war broke out on October 2, 1835, between the Republic of Mexico and the Texas colonists. The colonists rebelled against Santa Anna's government because he abolished the democratic constitution of 1824 and ruled Mexico by dictatorship.[12] Robert Kleberg and the Roeder brothers joined the Texian army under General Sam Houston. The women and children were forced to flee the advancing Mexicans. At the Battle of San Jacinto on April 21, 1836, the Texian army defeated Santa Anna's army and the leader of the Mexicans was captured. As the story goes, “Robert Justus Kleberg was one of three appointed to stand guard over him.”[13] After the war, the Roeder and Kleberg families returned to their home in Harrisburg to find “everything burned or stolen by Santa Anna and his men.”[14]

In a later family history, Rudolph Kleberg Jr., grandson to Robert I and Rosalie (and nephew to Robert II) described his grandparents’ response to these setbacks as follows: “cultured, trained in the ancestral home of her father, this refined woman [Rosalie] had to begin anew with nothing. But she and her courageous husband [Robert Justus Kleberg] had the dauntless spirit of the pioneer. It required incessant striving and toil to make a living against almost overwhelming obstacles.”[15] For Robert, “it was the greatest satisfaction to him that he had given of himself to the young republic and had satisfied in winning freedom for his adopted fatherland.”[16] General Sam Houston soon recognized the patriotism and merit of Robert Justus Kleberg I. In 1837, Houston, who had since become President of the Republic of Texas, appointed Robert Kleberg the Associate Commissioner of the Board of Land Commissioners. This position was the first in a series of important public offices held by Kleberg over the course of the subsequent decades. In 1838, he was appointed President of the Land Commission by J.P. Borden, Commissioner of the General Land Office. In 1841, he was appointed as the Justice of the Peace by Mirabeau B. Lamar, then President of the Republic of Texas. In 1846, Robert was elected Chief Justice in Austin County and commissioned by Governor Sam Houston. In 1848, Robert was elected County Commissioner of DeWitt County and in 1853 and 1854 as Chief Justice of DeWitt County.”[17]

In 1847, the Kleberg and Roeder families moved to Cat Spring and later to Meyersville, in DeWitt County. It was there that Rosalie and Robert Kleberg established a permanent residence and raised their eight children: Clara (1835-), Johanna Caroline (1838-), Caroline Louise (1840-1913), Otto Joseph (1841-1880), Rudolph (1847-1924), Marcellus (1849-1913), Robert (1853-1932), and Louisa Rosalie (1855-1943).[18]

In the 1860s, the Klebergs’ two oldest sons, Rudolph and Otto, fought alongside their father, a strong believer in states' rights, in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. Rudolph went on to study law in San Antonio, was admitted to the bar and started a practice in Cuero. He also founded the first newspaper in DeWitt County, the Cuero Star, and served as its editor for the first four years. He then moved into politics, serving as a Democrat in the Texas Senate from 1883 to 1885. President Grover Cleveland appointed Rudolph as the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas from 1885-1889. He was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1896, a post he held until 1903.[19]

Marcellus Kleberg, the couple’s third son, attended Concrete College and received his law degree from Washington and Lee University in 1872. After passing the Texas bar exam, he started a law practice in DeWitt County. In 1875, he moved to Bellville to form a law partnership with B.T. Harris. Later that year, after marrying Emilie Miller of Austin, he moved his law practice to Galveston, where he became active in the municipal government. In Galveston, Marcellus was city attorney, city commissioner, and a trustee and president of the school board.[20] He was also elected to the Texas legislature in 1873.

Robert Kleberg II (or Robert Jr.), the Klebergs’ fourth and youngest son, studied law and earned a degree from the University of Virginia, thanks to financial support from the Sack family foundation. In 1880, he was admitted to the bar in Texas and began practicing law in Cuero. That same year, he moved to Corpus Christi and established a law partnership with the honorable Judge John W. Stayton, his son Robert Stayton, and Samuel Lackey.[21] Robert began his career as a lawyer in Corpus Christi with a “solid family reputation and relatives who were influential throughout the state.”[22]

Richard King and the Beginnings of King Ranch

Richard King (1824-1885), founder of the King Ranch, was the quintessential early entrepreneur of the Texas frontier.[23] King was born in New York City on July 10, 1824, into a poor Irish family. At the age of nine, he became an apprentice to a jeweler in Manhattan. At age eleven, King abandoned his apprenticeship, ran away from home, and stowed away on the Desdemona, a ship bound for Mobile, Alabama. Instead of scolding King, the ship’s captain, Joe Holland, taught him how to become a steamboat pilot. In 1846, after the outbreak of the United States-Mexican War, Captain Richard King, along with his good friend Mifflin Kenedy, managed steamboats that transported supplies to the United States army along the Gulf Coast and on the Rio Grande. After the war, King and Kenedy stayed in Texas and built up a monopoly on the steamboat business in the lower Rio Grande valley. Their company prospered, and King and Kenedy started investing their profits in land in South Texas, where they became involved in the cattle ranching industry.[24] In 1853, King purchased 15,500 acres of the Rincón de Santa Gertrudis grant from the heirs of Juan Mendiola. The land was in an area known as the Wild Horse Desert, near present-day Kingsville. A year later, in the same region of South Texas, he purchased the 53,000-acre Santa Gertrudis de la Garza grant from José Pérez Rey. Mendiola had received the grant in 1834 from the state of Tamaulipas, Mexico; Rey had received the grant in 1808 from the crown of Spain. These lands became the core territory of the King Ranch and the site of the main homestead.[25]

On December 10, 1854, Richard King married Henrietta M. Chamberlain, the daughter of Rev. Hiram Chamberlain, a pioneer clergyman who had organized the first Protestant Church on the Mexican border and who was the first English-speaking clergyman on the Texas frontier.[26] Henrietta and Richard King had five children: Henrietta Maria (1856-1917), Ella Morse (1858-1900), Richard Jr. (1860-1922), Alice Gertrudis (1862-1944), and Robert Lee (1864-1883). Over time, the children left the ranch, and only Alice remained to care for her father and mother.

Business Development and Immigrant Entrepreneurship: Robert Kleberg II takes over King Ranch

Richard King entered the ranching business at an auspicious moment. By the 1850s and 1860s, the demand for beef had risen significantly (before then, beef was not a popular food, and the Longhorn cattle that were first brought to America by early European settlers were mostly killed for their skins and tallow.) King and the other cattle kings, as they came to be called, realized, however, that the market for beef was primarily in the North, since the South was still sparsely populated. They understood that raising the cattle down south, where land was plentiful and costs were low, and transporting it north to market would yield significant profits. With their long legs and hard hoofs and their ability to maintain their weight on long journeys, Longhorn cattle were ideally suited for the long trail. It is estimated that, in the years from 1865-1885, five to ten million cattle were driven out of Texas to market.

Richard King was first introduced to Robert Kleberg II in the summer of 1881, when Kleberg, representing the opposing counsel, won a petty legal case against him. King was so impressed with Kleberg’s legal skills that he immediately invited him out to King Ranch, in the hopes of hiring him.[27] Robert described his visit in a letter to his parents on July 24, 1881:

Captain King had written to come out to see him and to name the day and he would meet me at the road as he lives about eighteen miles from the railroad so I went on the railroad and found him waiting for me at the depot with his carriage. … We had a delightful trip out to his ranch – he drove a pair of fine fast horses and in two hours we were at his ranch. … At the ranch a table was loaded with good things to eat and drink; he lives like a prince and has a regular French cook. He treats his friends to the best he has. …. We rode all day and he showed me his land. He has 1,000,000 acres of land. … He wants us to attend his business for him and I hope we are to find it remunerative.”[28]

King’s efforts to woo the young lawyer apparently paid off: Robert Kleberg II became the principle counsel for King Ranch in 1881.

Alice King, the family’s youngest daughter, met Robert II on his first visit to King Ranch. She would later tell her children that it was “love at first sight.” Tom Lea described the relationship between Robert II and the “cattleman's winsome youngest daughter” as a “most exceedingly proper, unhurried and fond Victorian courtship.”[29] In Letters to Alice, an annotated collection of letters between Alice and Robert II, editors Jane Clements Monday and Frances Brannen Vick concluded that the Kleberg-King union “must have been a marriage of great love, for this cache of Victorian love letters reveals a man at times seemingly besotted with ardor.”[30]

As the courtship between Alice and Robert progressed, Richard King’s health declined. On February 25, 1885, Alice and Henrietta travelled with an ailing King to San Antonio. In early April, Robert II came to San Antonio to be by Alice's side. On April 14, 1885, Richard King died of stomach cancer at the Menger Hotel.[31] King's ranch, comprising roughly 600,000 acres at the time of his death, passed to his widow, Henrietta Chamberlain King. Robert Kleberg II was asked to take over its management. King's estate included $564,784 ($13.6 million in 2011) worth of real estate and $496,700 ($12 million in 2011) worth of livestock and other property, totaling $1,061,484 ($25.6 million in 2011).[32] The estate also had $500,000 ($12.1 million in 2011) in debts, which Henrietta assumed. Robert’s first self-appointed task was to pay off all this debt; his second was to expand the land holdings of the estate.[33] He accomplished both within a decade. By 1896, the debts were paid; Mrs. King owned 650,000 acres and 34,000 calves were branded annually.

As a manager, Robert maintained a close relationship with his widowed mother-in-law until her death in 1925. Henrietta retained the final say on all decisions concerning the livelihood of the King Ranch, but she had full trust in Robert’s leadership and always felt that he acted in her and the ranch’s best interests.[34] The Brownsville Daily Herald reported on August 28, 1901, that “Mrs. King takes no active part in the management of her vast estate, and it has been brought to its present state by the wonderful executive ability and sound judgment of Robert J. Kleberg, who has had complete charge of every detail for the past twelve or fourteen years.”[35] In a first-hand account of the history of the King Ranch, Frank Goodwyn remarked that once Mrs. King put the estate under Robert Kleberg's management, “he proved to be as enterprising and energetic as his predecessor, Richard King. To the older man's enterprise and energy he added a better education and a keen business sense.”[36]

After the obligatory year of mourning following King’s death, Alice Gertrudis King and Robert Justus Kleberg II married on June 17, 1886, in the parlor of the Santa Gertrudis ranch. Outside of the immediate family, Captain Mifflin Kenedy and Mr. Uriah Lott attended the marriage ceremony.[37] Robert and Alice went on to have five children: Richard Mifflin (1887-), Henrietta Rosa (1889-), Alice Gertrudis (1893-), Robert J. Jr. (1896-), and Sarah Spohn (1898-). Richard Mifflin and Robert J. Jr. would be actively involved in ranch affairs both before and after their father's death in 1932.

Within weeks of Richard King’s death, catastrophe befell the cattle industry and South Texas as a whole. The great cattle boom of the early 1880s collapsed, which meant that land and livestock prices fell drastically. The Big Die-Up of 1886-87, as the collapse is known, was associated with a number of changes, the most important of which was the end of open-range cattle ranching.[38] The collapse was attributable to various factors, including overcrowding by profit-seeking ranchers, the impoverishment of the grasses, and the proliferation of barbed wire fencing to keep cattle from wandering.[39] In addition to the collapse and a depressed market, Robert had to cope with extensive droughts that afflicted the Santa Gertrudis ranch from 1886 until 1893. Although Kleberg faced enormous challenges and had no ranching expertise, he managed to keep the ranch operational and even successful. Tom Lea attributes Kleberg's entrepreneurial successes to his “unrelenting attention to every detail of a stockman’s work.” Moreover, as Lea explained, Kleberg “set himself to learn what he did not know about practical ranching in South Texas, determined not merely to maintain the Santa Gertrudis as a great livestock operation but to extend and develop it further.”[40]

According to Lea, Richard King “had been the pioneer,” but Kleberg was “the developer, the builder, the experimenter, the expander.”[41] The passages that follow will offer a brief description of the ways in which Robert Kleberg II experimented with cattle breeding and agriculture, and developed and expanded the operations of the King Ranch. In all of this, Kleberg sought to increase the profitability and profile of the King Ranch. At the same time, however, he also aimed at a larger goal – to make South Texas a sustainable and profitable location for those who wanted to thrive in the ranching and agricultural industries.

As manager of the King Ranch, Robert took great strides to enhance the quality of the cattle raised there.[42] In the mid- to late-nineteenth century, Longhorn cattle had been the primary breed of choice for Texas cattle ranchers. In the early frontier days, before the introduction of the railway, the Longhorn breed was considered superior because the stock could sustain the long drive to market in the North while feeding on grass, without losing weight (i.e. product value).[43] The introduction of the railroad in South Texas, specifically the building of a line from Corpus Christi to Brownsville at the turn of the twentieth century, meant there was no longer a need to drive cattle north to market. With the building of that railroad line (which was largely attributable to Kleberg’s efforts), Longhorns lost their advantage over other types of cattle. This meant that Kleberg could start raising a new breed that would be more profitable for the ranch.

Although Kleberg was interested in experimenting with other breeds, he also remained committed to improving the health of his existing Longhorn stock. In the late nineteenth century, large numbers of Texas Longhorns started dying of an illness named Texas Fever. While other ranchers were at a loss to explain this widespread disease, Kleberg observed that his bulls only became ill after being bitten by a particular tick. Sometime between 1889 and 1891, he shared his observations with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Jeremiah Rusk, who decided to conduct an official study at the King Ranch. The study proved that Kleberg was indeed correct, and a means of prevention by inoculation was eventually developed. This, in turn, led to a mandatory statewide cattle vaccination program to eradicate Texas Fever. In addition to this, the King Ranch developed a plan to dip their cattle in a solution that would kill the ticks but leave the cattle unharmed.

Kleberg’s innovations proved profoundly beneficial to the cattle ranching industry in Texas. Before the introduction of the vaccination program, Texas Fever was being carried by ticks on South Texas cattle driven to the northern market. The cattle would become infected, and, in most cases die. As a result, a quarantine line was drawn, and for some time, Texas ranchers below the line were prohibited from sending their cattle north to market, except for a short period each year. Of course, this caused the price of Texas cattle to drop significantly. After the discovery of the cause of Texas Fever and the introduction of the vaccination program, the cattle industry in Texas experienced an upswing.[44]

After helping to ensure the basic viability of the Longhorn breed, Kleberg, along with other ranchers, began to introduce other breeds of cattle to Texas, and he experimented with ways to improve his livestock to yield more quality beef.[45] The King Ranch, under his leadership, looked for a cattle breed capable of enduring the hot, harsh South Texas climate.[46] To that end, Robert introduced “fresh blood from British breeds,” the Hereford, and began to systematically increase the number of Shorthorn Durham bulls on the ranch. By 1920, the vast majority of beef cattle on the King Ranch were full-blooded Herefords or Shorthorns.[47] The Hereford and Shorthorn breeds were fenced-off from one another and Robert never intended to crossbreed them.

The Brahman breed, a breed that developed as the result of crossing various cattle of Indian origin, had been introduced on the King Ranch in 1910 for crossbreeding experimentation.[48] That year, Tom O'Connor gave Henrietta King and Kleberg “a hyper-healthy black half-bred Brahman-Shorthorn bull whose offspring produced a King Ranch cow. When that cow was mated with a Brahman bull in 1920, the result was Monkey, the famous deep-red bull calf that became the foundation for the Santa Gertrudis breed.”[49] The 3/8 Brahman bull and 5/8 British Shorthorn crossbreed produced the Santa Gertrudis, which became a recognized American breed of beef cattle. The King Ranch was not the first, nor the only, ranch in Texas to introduce the British breeds of Hereford and Shorthorn cattle; nor was it the first to crossbreed the Shorthorn with the Brahman bull. What sets the King Ranch apart from less successful Texas ranches of the time was its persistent efforts to experiment and arrive at the perfect mix of Shorthorn and Brahman cattle. These efforts eventually paid off: the Running-W breed of the King Ranch began to be regarded as a symbol of good beef.[50]

In 1911, the Washington Times published a brief synopsis of a Munsey magazine article (November 1911) on Robert Kleberg II and Texas cattle history. Quoting article author Forrest Crissey, the Times declared that Robert J. Kleberg was “largely responsible for the international reputation of Texas as a great cattle State.”[51] Summarizing Crissey’s assessment for its own readership, the Times commented:

Kleberg looked upon the droves of old-type Texas Longhorn cattle that grazed on the great ranch, and asked: 'Why not raise butchers' meat instead of horns?' …. 'You can't,' cried his abutting ranchers. 'The Longhorn is the only kind that can stand Texas. Bring in blooded stock, and the fever will get 'em and get you, too, if you go into the importing game deep enough!' …. Kleberg brought in some thoroughbred 'white-faces' and Durhams, and began his experiment. They died-but in the course of time the Texas fever tick was tracked to its lair by the persistent watchfulness of this man of modern ideas; and being tracked, a speedy and effective means of its destruction was devised. When Robert Kleberg demonstrated that the tick, and not the climate of Texas, was what killed all the blooded cattle of the modern beef type that had been brought into the State, he established Texas cattle-ranching on a scientific basis, and added many millions of dollars to the wealth of the State.”[52]

From this, it becomesclear that Kleberg was recognized as a man of strong enterprise and good business sense both within Texas and across the United States.

After scientific upbreeding programs were introduced at the King Ranch, significant improvements needed to be implemented in order to execute livestock operations in a more streamlined and methodical manner. As part of this effort, Kleberg did away with one particular breeding pasture where, for years, a great herd of cattle had been allowed to breed unmolested, largely unworked and unbranded. He also rid the ranch of the wild mustangs that roamed free in the pastures.[53] He then divided the ranch’s acreage into managed pastures, separated by barbed wire cross fencing. The Brownsville Daily Herald commented on these changes:

Santa Gertrudis, the home ranch of Mrs. H.M. King, as is well known, is one of the model ranches of Texas. It is conducted under the management of Mr. Robert H. Kleberg who has made a study in detail of every thing that tends to develop and enhance the value of the stock. The fences are kept in thorough repair, and are so subdivided as to keep within convenient distance for feeding, the registered stock. Thousands of improved cattle graze on the broad plateau in sight of the ranch.”[54]

Aware that he lacked ranching expertise, Kleberg employed experienced, knowledgeable men to support ranch operations.[55] At the King Ranch, labor relations between the patrón Kleberg, and the gente, or Mexican ranch hands, remained amicable and paternalistic in nature. In this worker-employer relationship, the patrón expressed “personal regard and responsibility” toward the gente; in return, the gente exhibited “personal faith and loyalty” toward the patrón.[56] As a young child growing up on the King Ranch, Frank Goodwyn recounted that:

Robert kept many of the experienced personnel on the payroll, but he still had a major hurdle to overcome. The trusted kineños, King's cadre of workers, had built the ranch with their sweat and expertise, and their loyalty to the captain and La Madama was unquestioned. Now there was a new man in charge, and they watched him carefully before extending their loyalty to him. Robert had to earn their loyalty, and earn it he did. Before long they were calling their new patron “El Abogado” (the lawyer).[57]

Today, many of the ranch’s cowboys are fourth- and fifth-generation kineños,[58] who, much like their fathers and grandfathers, began working on the ranch as young children, and who uphold some of the same traditions. After Kleberg’s death in 1932, the community commemorated his commitment to the Mexican laborers who aided in the development the ranch.[59] One obituary of Robert Kleberg II stated: “he performed other wonders in this little kingdom; and the thing that most revealed his human character and heart was his benevolence and aid to the hundreds of Mexicans who worked and lived on the ranch.”[60] His triumph as a ranch manager was at least partially attributable to his ability to maintain strong relationships with his employees.

Robert Kleberg II and the Development of South Texas: The Search for Water, the Introduction of the Railroad, and the Building of Towns and Communities

Robert Kleberg’s desire to expand his ranching operations was greatly inhibited by a severe lack of water in South Texas. Residents of the arid Wild Horse Desert had always contended with water shortages, but the problem was seriously exacerbated in the late 1880s and early 1890s by a prolonged drought.[61] The drought wreaked havoc on the ranching industry in South Texas, and thousands of King Ranch cattle died every day as a result. It was clear that Kleberg had to find a solution to the problem – he needed to locate reliable water sources for the King Ranch and the entire South Texas community. In 1891, Kleberg worked together with the Department of Agriculture in an experiment that attempted to produce rainfall by releasing explosives directed skyward. The experiment was ultimately unsuccessful, but it spurred Robert II to continue searching for other ways to bring water to this scorched land.

After many unsuccessful attempts, water sources were finally reached underground. In 1893, Kleberg hired Theodore Herring, who, with the help of a highly specialized drill, was able to drill deep enough to pass the salt water layer. At 535 feet below the surface, Herring and his crew unearthed a gushing supply of clear, palatable water in free flowing artesian sand, providing a reservoir of 1,150,000 gallons of water at the disposal of the King Ranch and the surrounding region.[62] The reservoir was said to have been many times the size of Connecticut. For this achievement, Kleberg earned the nickname “Modern Moses.”[63] The King-Kleberg family financed the newly discovered well and supplied artesian well water to the community, including ranches and farms in the area, through the Algodon Land and Irrigation Co.[64] With the discovery of water in South Texas, Kleberg believed he could attract capital to build a railroad that would connect the South Texas frontier with markets in the North.

Robert was able to capitalize on business opportunities for the ranch by continually reassessing his business strategy and by modifying his business plan, as needed, to adapt to ever-changing market conditions. Doing so allowed him to expand and secure additional profits for the ranch. One factor that contributed to Kleberg’s success at the King Ranch, an advantage typical for the Anglo ranching empires[65], was the ranch’s solid connection to financial credit. This guarantee of financial leverage meant that the ranch could survive times of economic hardship and seek gain when smaller, more vulnerable ranch or farming families went bankrupt. Despite a depressed cattle market and a prolonged drought, which combined to put many South Texas ranches out of business, the King Ranch not only survived, but was able, under the leadership of Kleberg, to expand both its territory and its livestock operations.[66] The vulnerability of smaller ranching estates meant that King Ranch enjoyed virtual monopoly status. In the 1880s and 1890s, the King-Kleberg empire acquired significant land acreage, which allowed it to consolidate the ranch’s land holdings. In response to the cattle market crisis in the early years of his management, Kleberg brought in additional profit by diversifying the ranch's business interests and introducing horse and mule breeding. By 1895, a mere ten years after he took over as manager of the ranch, the horse and mule breeding department was among the world’s largest commercial producers of horses and mules.

During the hard times that befell the ranching industry, Robert introduced farming, one of his long-time passions, to the ranch. In 1901, one local newspaper wrote, “an adjoining field has been prepared for experimental farming; it is forty acres in extent, and will be planted, outside of a garden patch, with alfalfa. The soil is fertile, and it is expected that the yield will be large.”[67] To the question of what he cultivated on Mrs. King’s irrigated farm, Kleberg responded, “Forty acres in onions as fine as any in Texas, fields of cabbages, beets and turnips, fine crops of peas and other table vegetables in abundance. The fruits common to other parts of Texas are at home in this section. Olives can be raised here successfully and profitably.”[68] In part, the experimental farming at the King Ranch was to show prospectors and potential land buyers that South Texas was a smart and profitable choice.[69]

Robert Kleberg II was instrumental in the introduction of the railroad in South Texas. First, he realized that the railroad would benefit the operations of King Ranch (i.e. by carrying its livestock produce to market). At the same time, and just as importantly, he also knew that urban and economic development would entice prospective homesteaders and farmers to settle the land. With the help of Uriah Lott and James B. Wells, two old friends of Richard King, Kleberg persuaded B. F. Yoakum of St. Louis to build a railway in South Texas.[70] In 1904, the St. Louis, Brownsville & Mexico Railroad Company, with Uriah Lott as President and Kleberg as Vice President, completed work on a railroad line from Robstown, twenty miles north of Kingsville, to Brownsville.[71] A July 1904 letter from Lott to Mr. and Mrs. Kleberg described Robert's role in the project. Lott congratulated and thanked the Klebergs for their many efforts on behalf of the South Texas railway, which, as he wrote, “could not have happened but for your interest, efforts and hearty and loyal cooperation.”[72] The King Ranch had given 70,000 of the total 200,000 acres of land contributed by land owners to the syndicate to finance the construction of the railroad.[73] The 150-mile railway line, stretching from Corpus Christi (Robstown) south to Brownsville, had been completed as planned.[74]

Local newspapers reported frequently, and with great interest, about the development of the railroad in South Texas. In one instance, the Brownsville Daily Herald wrote,

Many have doubted that the building of a road through the sparsely settled country would be a paying investment, but the advent of flowing wells settles the point. There are between Alice and Brownsville 300,000 acres of irrigable land within four miles of the surveyed line. [Discussion of farming on this land as a source of wealth and description of the region as “the most fertile lands of Texas”] … The transportation of livestock would yield a rich revenue to the investors. The possibilities of Southwest Texas are great, and with the building of a railroad, this section would soon be densely populated by a class of industrious farmers, who would develop the vast resources of this section.[75]

To this, Kleberg added his own personal observations:

… there is no question about this country settling up rapidly as soon as this road is built. Only recently we have discovered that an abundance of artesian water can be obtained at depths varying from 500 to 1000 feet, and with irrigation there is nothing that cannot be grown in this South Texas country. Already there are any number of people flocking to where the road will be run, endeavoring to purchase lands.[76]

In myriad ways, Robert Kleberg II played a crucial role in the urban and economic development of South Texas in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Leroy Denman Jr., legal attorney for the King Ranch, remarked once that he and Mrs. King were “interested in colonizing and town building, subdividing and selling the land to bring civilization to the area,” an interest that was quite typical for large landowners in South Texas at the time. Leroy also observed that “they all wanted to name towns after themselves and get the railroad in and be the one that had colonized this great wild country.”[77] To that end, Robert Kleberg, along with John T. Kenedy and Henrietta M. King, organized the Kleberg Town and Improvement Company, of Corpus Christi, with a capital stock of $500,000 ($13.2 million in 2011).[78] On January 17, 1903, a charter to build a town was filed at the office of the Secretary of State in Austin, Texas. The town was later named Kingsville. Henrietta chose the location of the town, which was situated three miles from the ranch homestead. It was a place where she had fond memories of her and her late husband picnicking as a young couple. To support the development of Kingsville, she donated 41,820 acres along the railway route and 34,854 acres around the town site to the Kleberg Town and Improvement Company. With the financial backing of Henrietta King and the leadership of Robert Kleberg II, the Kleberg Town and Improvement Company also installed waterworks for the town of Kingsville in 1905 at a cost of $75,000 ($1.98 million in 2011), built the Kingsville Power Company, established the Kingsville Publishing Company, the Kingsville Lumber Company, the R. J. Kleberg & Co Bankers, and began a weekly newspaper for the town. Mrs. King also gave $40,000 for a schoolhouse and 660 acres to establish a college for Tejano children.[79]

The town of Kingsville is a testimony to Kleberg’s role in making South Texas a place where people wanted to live and where businesses could thrive.[80] In the final analysis, Robert Kleberg II supported the development of communities and towns in South Texas by providing significant financial investment in public infrastructure, by supplying an abundance of artesian well water, and by facilitating the construction of railroads that linked communities in South Texas with the north and, thus, enabled local farmers to transport products to market.

Social Status and Personality

Kleberg was certainly advantaged by his upbringing. From his parents, he acquired both a strong work ethic and a strong commitment to education and learning. His brothers’ lives and careers also bear witness to these familial advantages. The Kleberg sons became lawyers and were, throughout their life, active in Texas politics. For historian Tom Lea, heritage played a significant role in Robert Kleberg II’s prosperity. In Life Magazine, he wrote that “the confidence, the tenacity, the vigor that characterized him must be viewed in the light of the family and the background from which he sprang.”[81] Lea emphatically elaborated, “son of a San Jacinto hero, member of an intellectually and physically vigorous family whose fortune resided not in cash but in character, Robert Justus Kleberg Jr. displayed the strong traits of his heritage. His Prussian mettle, with its scientific bent, its passion for orderly method, appears not to have been too heavily encumbered with opinionated didacticism, that is, with square-headedness. In the well-ordered space of Kleberg’s mind he found room for honest self-appraisal as well as honest self-esteem.”[82]

Over the years, Kleberg’s contributions to King Ranch and his larger environs won him the esteem and regard of his family, employees, and the community. The reputation that he enjoyed during his lifetime formed the basis of a legacy that persisted long after his death on October 10, 1932, at the King Ranch estate. Decades later, one of Kleberg’s descendants described him as follows: “Robert Justus Kleberg, the second, was truly an empire builder of South Texas! It was his faith, his energy, his forceful leadership, and his humanitarianism that blazed a trail across new frontiers and turned South Texas from a desert into a garden spot with comfortable cities, railroads, schools, and universities, a wonderful agricultural and citrus industry, and high bred cattle.”[83] To be sure, the assessment, like so many offered by Kleberg family members, is excessively praiseworthy. At the same time, however, it contains elements of truth. A similar account was provided in the History of Kleberg County Texas, which was published in 1976 by the county historical commission: “While it would be an over simplification to say that one man is responsible for Kingsville and Kleberg County's origin and development, Robert J. Kleberg II comes near fitting this description; certainly without his ingenuity, drive, persistence, and above all vision, South Texas would not be the sound progressive area it is today.”[84]


While Kleberg’s biography demonstrates the influence of his family on his life and career, his German ethnicity, as a separate factor, was not necessarily a defining element of his success. There is no evidence, for instance, that Robert used his German heritage to establish business contacts or secure financial backing. In fact, his primary business contact (and later father-in-law), Richard King, was of Irish background. Later, many of the people with whom he worked most closely were of Mexican heritage. That he came from a well-known and highly-respected immigrant family certainly had some influence in business matters. But again, the salient point was that his family was hardworking and successful, not that they belonged to a particular ethnic group. At the moment, there is no historical evidence (at least none that is accessible to the public) that establishes the influence of Robert Kleberg’s German heritage on his entrepreneurship at the King Ranch.[85]


[1] On November 5, 1961, the King Ranch became a national historic landmark. “National Historic Landmarks Survey, Listing of National Historic Landmarks by State,” (accessed July 18, 2014).

[2] On the German immigrant experience in Texas and for background on the Kleberg family, see Moritz Tiling, History of the German Element in Texas from 1820-1850 and Historical Sketches of the German Texas Singers’ League and Houston Turnverein from 1853-1913 (Houston: Moritz Tiling, 1913); Cat Spring Agricultural Society, The Cat Spring Story (San Antonio: Lone Star Print Co., 1956); and “Germans,” the Handbook of Texas Online, Texas Historical Association (accessed July 18, 2014); Terry G. Jordan, “The German Element in Texas: An Overview,” Rice University Studies 63 (Summer 1977); Terry G. Jordan, German Seed in Texas Soil: Immigrant Farmers in Nineteenth-Century Texas (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1966); Glen E. Lich and Dona B. Reeves, eds., German Culture in Texas (Boston: Twayne, 1980); Glen E. Lich, The German Texans (San Antonio: University of Texas Institute of Texan Cultures, 1981); Rudolph Biesele, The History of the German Settlements in Texas 1831-1861 (Austin: German-Texan Heritage Society, 1987); Charles Christopher Jackson, “Cat Spring, Texas,” Handbook of Texas Online, Texas Historical Association (accessed July 18, 2014).

[3] For a biography of Robert Justus Kleberg, see Kleberg County Texas (A Collection of Historical Sketches and Family Histories Compiled by Members of the Kleberg County) (Kingsville: Kleberg County Historical Commission, 1976), 60-61; Zachary Taylor Fulmore, The History and Geography of Texas, as Told in County Names (Austin: Press of E. L. Stack, 1915), 162-64; Sons of DeWitt Colony Texas, Robert Justus Kleberg 1803-1888 (accessed July 18, 2014); and the entry on “Rosalie von Roeder Kleberg” in the Handbook of Texas Online, Texas Historical Association (accessed July 18, 2014).

[4] Andreas V. Reichstein, German Pioneers on the American Frontier: The Wagners in Texas and Illinois (Denton: University of North Texas Press, 2001).

[5] Untitled essay on the history of the Sack family, Rudolph Kleberg Family Papers, 1829-1966.

[6] “Texas Honors Memory of Kleberg, County is Named for Man Who Established First German Colony,” El Paso Herald, March 8, 1913. Likewise, the marriage itself was the product of multiple and unclear motivations. Love was certainly not the only consideration. Many years later, Rudolph Kleberg Jr., the nephew of Robert Justus Kleberg II, wrote about his grandmother Rosalie's thoughts on love and marriage. “Again and again I have heard her declare that she was never 'verliebt,' or passionately in love with her husband, but on the contrary she truly respected, honored, and loved him, and that therefore she married him. … To imagine one is 'verliebt,' has 'fallen' in love was to her the height of silliness. Truly to love means to see another's shortcomings as well as to respect his virtues. To think one another angels and heroes is to sow the seeds of marital unhappiness.” Quote taken from “Mother” by Rudolph Kleberg Jr., Yorktown, Texas [Mother refers to his grandmother Rosalie Kleberg], “Rudolph Kleberg family papers, history and genealogy, 1961 and undated,” Rudolph Kleberg Family Papers, 1829-1966, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin.

[7] Reichstein, German Pioneers on the American Frontier, 67-8.

[8] Detlef Dunt, ed., Reise nach Texas, nebst Nachrichten von diesem Lande; für Deutsche, welche nach Amerika zu gehen beabsichtigen (Bremen: Carl W. Wiehe, 1834); and Rudolph Biesele, “The First German Settlement in Texas,” The Southwestern Historical Quarterly 34 (1931): 334-39.

[9] Caroline von Hinueber, “Life of German Pioneers in Early Texas,” Quarterly of the Texas State Historical Association 2 (1899): 228. Caroline Ernst von Hinueber was born on February 13, 1819; she immigrated to the United States with her family in 1829. Her father was the famous Friedrich Ernst, who established the first permanent German colony in Texas, later called Industry. This statement is often quoted in historical accounts of first-generation German immigrant Robert Justus Kleberg and can also be found, among others, in Helen Kleberg Groves, Bob and Helen Kleberg of King Ranch (Houston: Bright Sky Press, 2004), 18, and Reichstein, German Pioneers on the American Frontier, 68.

[10] Dunt, ed., Reise nach Texas, and Biesele, “The First German Settlement in Texas.”

[11] Hinueber, “Life of German Pioneers in Early Texas,” 231.

[12] James W. Pohl and Stephen L. Hardin, “The Military History of the Texas Revolution: An Overview,” Southwestern Historical Quarterly 89 (1986); Stephen L. Hardin, Texian Iliad: A Military History of the Texas Revolution (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1994); Paul D. Lack, The Texas Revolutionary Experience: A Political and Social History (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1992).

[13] Untitled essay on the history of the Sack family, Rudolph Kleberg Family Papers, 1829-1966.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Kleberg, Robert Justus (No: F505) and Roeder, J. von (No: F782) in DeWitt County Historical Commission, The History of DeWitt County, Texas (Dallas: Curtis Media, 1991), 535, 695; Jane Clements Monday and Frances Brannen Vick, eds., Letters to Alice: Birth of the Kleberg-King Ranch Dynasty (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2012), 1-3; and Dick Frost, The King Ranch Papers: An Unauthorized and Irreverent History of the World's Largest Landholders: The Kleberg Family (Chicago: Aquarius Rising Press, 1985), 702.

[18] Sons of DeWitt Colony Texas, “Robert Justus Kleberg” (accessed July 18, 2014).

[19] Gary Keith, Eckhardt. There Once Was a Congressman from Texas (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2007), 15.

[20]Kleberg, Marcellus E.,” Handbook of Texas Online, Texas Historical Association (accessed July 18, 2014).

[21] Monday and Vick, eds., Letters to Alice, 1. A “Notice of Dissolution” in The Daily Herald, Brownsville, Texas, January 9, 1894, stated that the law partnership between Robert W. Stayton, Robert J. Kleberg, and James B. Wells, known as Wells, Stayton & Kleberg, was dissolved by mutual consent in January 1894.

[22] Monday and Vick, eds., Letters to Alice, 6.

[23] Theodore Reed Fehrenbach, Lone Star, A History of Texas and the Texans, from Prehistory to the Present, the People, Politics, and Events that have Shaped Texas (New York: Da Capo Press, 2000), 289. Also useful are Tom Lea, Captain King of Texas: The man who made the King Ranch (Boston: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1957); Frost, The King Ranch Papers; Pat Kelley, River of Lost Dreams: Navigation on the Rio Grande (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1986).

[24] Bruce S. Cheeseman, “King, Richard,” Handbook of Texas Online, Texas Historical Association (accessed July 18, 2014); Monday and Vick, eds., Letters to Alice, 9; Kleberg County Texas, 16, taken from the October 6, 1954, anniversary issue of the Kingsville Record.

[25] Cheeseman, “King, Richard.”

[26] Kleberg County Texas, 52.

[27] Ibid., 74.

[28] Monday and Vick, eds., Letters to Alice, 7. Taken from Robert J. Kleberg II, letter to his parents, July 24, 1881, Special Collections & Archives, Mary and Jeff Bell Library, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.

[29] Monday and Vick, eds., Letters to Alice, 18.

[30] Ibid., 35. Robert’s great affection for Alice can be seen in a letter he wrote to her on April 18, 1884: “I unconsciously found myself dreaming instead of thinking – dreaming of you, my little Darling, dreams and not reality. Yet I have the consolation of having enjoyed that happiness even if it is but imaginary – I cannot tell you, my little heart, with what emotions your candid expression of your love for me filled me. It fills my breast with pride and my soul with a peace that I never before experienced. I feel that I have won forever the greatest and most precious prize that man can win – the unreserved and never dying love of a true and pure woman – but every attempt at describing, in expressing in words my feelings, proves but too plainly that is not the way to do it.” Monday and Vick, eds., Letters to Alice, 36.

[31] Ibid., 82.

[32] Here, as elsewhere in this entry, sums are converted into 2011 U.S. dollars via MeasuringWorth, on the basis of the Consumer Price Index.

[33] Monday and Vick, eds., Letters to Alice, 83; Goodwyn, Life on the King Ranch, 24ff.

[34] Tom Lea, The King Ranch (Boston: Little Brown and Co., 1957).

[35] “Mrs. King Buys Land,” Brownsville Daily Herald, August, 28, 1901. “Mrs. Richard King of Nueces county, the cattle queen of Texas, or of the United States, for that matter, [ . . . ] besides being the largest individual owner of land in Texas, is the owner of the largest number of cattle most certainly of any woman in the United States, and it is exceedingly doubtful if any cattle baron brands so many calves as she. There has been about 22,000 head of young steers and yearling heifers sold off the ranch this year, and the number now on the ranch is by a most conservative estimate places at 100,000 head.”

[36] Frank Goodwyn, Life on the King Ranch (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1951), 24.

[37] Monday and Vick, eds., Letters to Alice, 123.

[38] The end of open-range ranching through the introduction of barbed wire fencing brought significant changes to the ranching industry. The territorializing of ranch estates through barbed wire fences made it impossible to drive the cattle north to market as was customary in the days of the open range. On the other hand, the closing off of ranch territory made breeding possible.

[39] Henry D. and Frances T. McCallum, The Wire that Fenced the West (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1965); H. Allen Anderson, “Big Die-up,” Handbook of Texas Online, Texas Historical Association (accessed July 18, 2014).

[40] Lea, The King Ranch, 474.

[41] Ibid., 482.

[42] Ibid., 488.

[43] Sterling Bass, History of Kleberg County (M.A. thesis, University of Texas, 1931), 95.

[44] Kleberg County Texas, 17; Goodwyn, Life on the King Ranch, 26-27; “Credit Belongs to Mr. Kleberg, Originates the Plan of Dipping Cattle to Kill Ticks, he made the discovery and built a dipping tank on the Santa Gertrudis ranch six years ago,” undated and unknown newspaper article, “Rudolph Kleberg family papers, history and genealogy, 1961 and undated,” Rudolph Kleberg Family Papers, 1829-1966, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin.

[45] Groves, Bob and Helen Kleberg of King Ranch, 20.

[46] The King Ranch, (accessed July 18, 2014).

[47] Goodwyn, Life on the King Ranch, 25; and Lea, The King Ranch, 488.

[48] Trudy Ring, Noelle Watson, and Paul Schellinger, eds., International Dictionary of Historic Places, Volume I, Americas (New York: Routledge, 1996), 306.

[49] Erin Davies, “The Biggest Ranches, from the Fabled King to the Formidable 06, the Twenty Most Storied Spreads in Texas,” Texas Monthly, August 1998, (accessed July 18, 2014); Robert J. Kleberg Jr., “A Review of the Development of the Breed, Historical Data About the Origin of the Santa Gertrudis Breed,” Pamphet, n.d.; W.H. Black, A.T. Semple, and J.L. Lush, “Beef Production and Quality as Influenced by Crossing Brahman with Hereford and Shorthorn Cattle,” Technical Bulletin No. 417, United States Department of Agriculture, Washington, DC, May 1934. All breeds of Brahman cattle are from the Bos indicus subspecies. English breeds of cattle, such as the Shorthorn, Hereford, and Angus breeds, are from the Bos taurus subspecies.

[50] Goodwyn, Life on the King Ranch, 25.

[51] “Texas Cattle History Described in Munsey's,” The Washington Times, November 8, 1911.

[52] Ibid.

[53] Lea, The King Ranch, 485-87.

[54] “A Vast Amount of Undeveloped Wealth Waiting a Railroad,” Brownsville Daily Herald, January 29, 1901.

[55] Lea, The King Ranch, 489.

[56] David Montejano, Anglos and Mexicans in the Making of Texas, 1836-1986 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1987), 81 and 106.

[57] Monday and Vick, eds., Letters to Alice, 122.

[58] Kineños translates as King's men. Mary Lee Grant, “Kineños recall their culture's creation on King Ranch,” Corpus Christi Caller Times, September 7, 1998.

[59] “R.J. Kleberg, Texas Cattle King, Expires,” newspaper article, unknown source, 1932, “Rudolph Kleberg family papers, history and genealogy, 1961 and undated,” Rudolph Kleberg Family Papers, 1829-1966, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin.

[60] “A Cattle King Passes,” newspaper article, unknown source, 1932, “Rudolph Kleberg family papers, history and genealogy, 1961 and undated,” Rudolph Kleberg Family Papers, 1829-1966, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin.

[61] Bass, History of Kleberg County, 88. Also informative are Don Graham, Kings of Texas: the 150-year saga of an American ranching empire (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2003), 194-97; and Lea, The King Ranch, 501-06.

[62] “A Vast Amount of Undeveloped Wealth Waiting a Railroad,” Brownsville Daily Herald, January 29, 1901; and Goodwyn, Life on the King Ranch, 25.

[63] David Montejano, Anglos and Mexicans in the Making of Texas, 1836-1986, 81.

[64] Kleberg County Texas, 62; and Montejano, Anglos and Mexicans in the Making of Texas, 111.

[65] In this instance, Anglo means non-Mexican.

[66] Bass, History of Kleberg County, 78.

[67] “A Vast Amount of Undeveloped Wealth Waiting a Railroad,” Brownsville Daily Herald, January 29, 1901.

[68] “What Will Grow in This Section,” Brownsville Daily Herald, April 2, 1904.

[69] Ibid.

[70] Bass, History of Kleberg County, 83; and “St. Louis, Brownsville and Mexico Railway,” Brownsville Daily Herald, June 10, 1903. The newspaper stated that the Attorney General had approved and the Secretary of State had filed a charter for Colonel Lott's railroad to Brownsville. The name of the corporation was St. Louis, Brownsville & Mexico Railway Company, with its principal office in Kingsville. “The incorporators are: Robert J. Kleberg, A.E. Spohn of Corpus Christi; Robt. Driscoll Sr., Uriah Lott, R. King, John G. Kennedy, James B. Wells, Francisco Yturria, Thomas Carson, Robert Driscoll, Jr., E.H. Caldwell, Geo. F. Evans, Caesar Kleberg, John B. Armstrong, John J. Welder. Board of directors. Uriah Lott, president; vice president and treasurer, Robert J. Kleberg; John G. Kennedy, secretary.”

[71] Bass, History of Kleberg County, 83.

[72] Ibid., 84.

[73] “Robert J. Kleberg will grow sugar beets,” Brownsville Daily Herald, October 28, 1903.

[74] “The Full Route of the Lott Road,” Brownsville Daily Herald, July 23, 1903.

[75] “A Vast Amount of Undeveloped Wealth Waiting a Railroad,” Brownsville Daily Herald, January 29, 1901.

[76] “Robert J. Kleberg will grow sugar beets,” Brownsville Daily Herald, October 28, 1903.

[77] Graham, Kings of Texas, 198.

[78] “Will Build Towns,” Brownsville Daily Herald, January 21, 1903. “Armstrong Town and Improvement Company, of Corpus Christi; capital stock $500,000. Incorporated by John B. Armstrong, John T. Kenedy and Robert J. Kleberg.” “Kenedy Town and Improvement Company, of Corpus Christi; capital stock $250,000. Incorporated by John T. Kenedy, Robert J. Kleberg and George F. Evans.”

[79] Monday and Vick, eds., Letters to Alice, 144; Kleberg County Texas, 62; “What Will Grow in This Section,” Brownsville Daily Herald, April 2, 1904.

[80] David Montejano, Anglos and Mexicans in the Making of Texas, 64.

[81] Scholarly accounts of the King Ranch and the Kleberg family remain sparse. The Tom Lea account was commissioned by the family as an official history. Few other journalists or historians have been invited to the King Ranch, a situation that has likely contributed to the mythic character of the ranch today. See Tom Lea, “Prodigious Growth of the King Ranch, the founder’s descendants have expanded the great King Ranch,” Life Magazine, July 15, 1957.

[82] Lea, The King Ranch, 478.

[83] Untitled essay on the history of the Sack family, presumably written by a descendent of Rudolph Kleberg, the brother of Robert II, “Rudolph Kleberg family papers, history and genealogy, 1961 and undated,” Rudolph Kleberg Family Papers, 1829-1966, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin.

[84] Kleberg County Texas, 62. Here again, it must be emphasized that very few historians or journalists have been granted access to Kleberg family correspondence or to the King Ranch archives. As a result, published accounts of Kleberg’s life and career are almost always highly laudatory in nature. Thus, one ought to approach these narratives from a critical standpoint. Nevertheless, they remain one of the historian’s few sources of insight into the Kleberg-King dynasty.

[85] Secondary literature on Robert Kleberg Jr. and archival resources at the Briscoe Center for American History in Austin, Texas, provide no information on whether Kleberg participated in German clubs, associations, or cultural institutions; likewise, it is unclear whether he maintained personal ties with members of the German-immigrant community apart from his family. The King Ranch archive in Kingsville, Texas, which might provide evidence of such ties, remains closed to the public at this time.

Citation Information

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  • Article Title Robert Justus Kleberg II
  • Coverage 1853-1932
  • Author
  • Website Name Immigrant Entrepreneurship
  • URL
  • Access Date May 20, 2024
  • Publisher German Historical Institute
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update August 22, 2018