Kendall, George Wilkins (1809–1867)

By: Thomas W. Cutrer

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: November 1, 1995

George Wilkins Kendall, journalist and pioneer Texas sheepman, was born on August 22, 1809, at Mont Vernon, near Amherst, New Hampshire, the son of Thaddeus and Abigail (Wilkins) Kendall. He learned printing at Burlington, Vermont, and practiced his trade first in Washington and then for Horace Greeley in New York. About 1832 he worked for a year on the Mobile Alabama Register, then moved to New Orleans. There, with Francis Lumsden, he founded the city's first cheap daily, the New Orleans Picayune, named after the inconsequential coin then current in Louisiana. The first edition, a four-page folio, appeared in January 1837. A humorist, Kendall filled the paper with light banter that increased its popularity. The Picayune prospered, and in time became a powerful force for the annexation of Texas and westward expansion. In 1841 at Austin Kendall joined the Texan Santa Fe expedition, launched by Texas President Mirabeau B. Lamar. Near Tucumcari, New Mexico, the expedition, suffering hardships and confusion, surrendered to the Mexican army. Kendall marched as a prisoner to Mexico City, where he and others were imprisoned for a time in a leper colony. The Picayune published twenty-three of his letters (June 17, 1841-April 30, 1842) detailing his experiences, and influential friends secured his release in May 1842. On his return to New Orleans Kendall ran a serial account of the expedition in the Picayune, and in 1844 he published Narrative of the Texan Santa Fé Expedition, a 900-page book that sold 40,000 copies in eight years. When it appeared in book format, much of Kendall's material had been plagiarized in Frederick Marryat's Narrative of the Travels and Adventures of Monsieur Violet. For the next three years Kendall's Picayune advocated war with Mexico. When the Mexican War came in 1846 Kendall became a volunteer in Capt. Benjamin McCulloch's Texas Ranger company, attached to Gen. Zachary Taylor's army on the Rio Grande. He accompanied the rangers on long and dangerous reconnaissances and was present at the storming of Monterrey. Kendall's reporting brought immediate fame, and he was hailed as the nation's first war correspondent. Kendall next traveled with the staff of Gen. William Jenkins Worth and recorded Gen. Winfield Scott's landing at Veracruz and the subsequent Mexico City campaign. Kendall was wounded in the knee in the storming of Chapultepec. After the war Kendall sojourned in Europe for several years, and in 1849 in Paris he married Adeline de Valcourt. The couple had four children. There too, he prepared his second book, The War between the United States and Mexico, which was published in 1851 with a profusion of illustrations by Carl Nebel.

In the 1850s Kendall played a major role in promoting the sheep business in Texas. In 1852 he and three friends purchased and placed twenty-four Spanish merino rams and a flock of chaurro ewes on a ranch on the Nueces River, and employed Joe Tait, an experienced herder from Scotland, as manager. Within a year Kendall moved the flock to the Waco Springs Ranch, near New Braunfels, and acquired the Post Oak Springs pasture, near Boerne. He battled blizzards, grass fires, and disease until 1856, when he began making a profit. The flock doubled to 3,500 animals within two years and he found a market for his wool clip in Atlanta, Georgia. Kendall promoted the Texas sheep business in every way. He regularly described his experiences in the Picayune and praised the Texas Hill country as a sheep range. His merino (and rambouillet) rams produced a graded flock, and he sold rams around the state. In 1858 he began contributing an article on the Texas sheep industry to the annual Texas Almanac. When the scab disease became an epidemic in 1864, Kendall was the first to build large vats and dip his flock of 5,000. The postwar years brought prosperity. At his death on October 21, 1867, Kendall generally was regarded as the father of the sheep business in Texas. Kendall County was named in his honor. Kendall's daughter Georgina was a well-known civic leader in San Antonio and was largely responsible for the preservation of the Kendall family papers, which were sold in 1989.

Paul H. Carlson, Texas Woolybacks: The Range Sheep and Goat Industry (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1982). Fayette Copeland, Kendall of the Picayune (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1943). H. Bailey Carroll, The Texan Santa Fe Trail (Canyon, Texas: Panhandle-Plains Historical Society, 1951). Robert Walter Johansen, To the Halls of the Montezumas: The Mexican War in the American Imagination (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.
  • Journalism
  • Newspapers
  • Editors and Reporters
  • Writers, Authors, Publications, and Literature
  • Literature
  • Memoirs, Diaries, Letters, and Travel
  • Ranching and Cowboys
  • Ranchers and Cattlemen
  • Sheep and Goat Ranchers

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Thomas W. Cutrer, “Kendall, George Wilkins,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 29, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

November 1, 1995