Lauro F. Cavazos, Sr., King Ranch foreman and cowhand, was born on February 15, 1894, to Nicolás and Francisca (Garcia) Cavazos on the Laurel Ranch in present-day Willacy County. A descendent of José Narciso Cavazos (owner of the 1781 San Juan de Carricitos Spanish land grant) and third generation cowboy (Kineño) on the King Ranch, Cavazos attended school in Brownsville and then began work as a cowhand for Henrietta King in 1912. He was assigned to the Santa Gertrudis Division of the ranch where his jobs included riding fences, breaking horses, and herding and working cattle. He was transferred to the Norias Division of the King Ranch to work in a cow camp (or corrida) due to his skill on a horse.
In 1915 he defended the King Ranch when it was attacked by Mexican raiders in the Norias Ranch Raid. The ranch hands were outnumbered by the raiders, and Cavazos’s actions during the gunfight included covering the wounded with mattresses, running from cover to fetch ammunition for the defenders, and shooting the horse out from under the raiders’ leader during a charge on the ranch. After the battle, he and another ranch hand were given the task of burying the bodies of ten bandits killed in the raid. A picture taken by a reporter of Cavazos’s partner roping a dead body in order to carry it out to the sand dunes (where it was easily buried) caused a huge controversy in other parts of Texas and the nation because of the apparent lack of respect shown to the dead.
In May 1917 Cavazos traveled to enlist in the United States Army at a Brownsville recruiting station. He was eventually accepted and served in B Battery, 345th Field Artillery, Ninetieth Infantry Division, in three campaigns in France during World War I and rose to the rank of first sergeant. After the war, Cavazos was honorably discharged in 1919 and returned to work on the King Ranch as a part of the corrida of the Santa Gertrudis Division. Cavazos, after showing a strong work ethic and a desire to be more than a cowhand, was offered the position of foreman or cow boss on the Santa Gertrudis Ranch by Robert Kleberg, Jr. Cavazos started to train for the position in 1920 and replaced Sam Ragland in 1926 as the foreman. After receiving the position (and the title ‘Don Lauro’ from the men who worked under him), Cavazos helped oversee the creation of a new breed of cattle fit to survive in the harsh, dry summers of South Texas’s Nueces Strip. By cross-breeding Brahman and Shorthorn cattle, Cavazos and Kleberg were able to create a new breed called Santa Gertrudis cattle. Cavazos raised his own herd of Santa Gertrudis cattle on a small ranch he owned near the town of Laurel on land that had once been a part of his ancestor’s Spanish land grant.
In 1923 Cavazos married Tomasa Alvarez Quintanilla and raised five children including: Sarita (who became a home economics teacher in Laredo), Richard (who became a four-star general in the U.S. Army), Lauro Jr. (who became president of Texas Tech University and the Secretary of Education under President Ronald Reagan), Bobby (who became a star high school and All-American college athlete), and Joseph (a successful businessman). To ensure that his children received a strong education, Cavazos bought a lot in the Anglo portion of Kingsville so his children could attend the Anglo-only Flato Elementary School. Although initially reluctant because of prejudices against integrated schooling, the Kingsville ISD superintendent allowed Sarita and the rest of Cavazos’s children to attend Flato Elementary due to Cavazos’s work with the King Ranch. Cavazos’s efforts to make sure his children received a good education led them to find successful careers beyond the King Ranch that had previously not been available to Kineños and paved the way for others to follow in their footsteps.
Cavazos passed away at Spohn Hospital in Corpus Christi on November 30, 1958, from an illness related to cirrhosis of the liver. After a lifetime of work as a cowboy and foreman on the same land his ancestors worked, Cavazos was buried in the Rest Haven Memorial Gardens in Kingsville.