Kenedy, Mifflin (1818–1895)

By: John Ashton

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: May 12, 2017

Mifflin Kenedy, rancher, the son of John and Sarah (Starr) Kenedy, was born on June 8, 1818, at Downington, Chester County, Pennsylvania. His parents were Quakers, and he was educated in the common schools of the county and spent some time in a boarding school headed by Jonathan Gause, a Quaker educator. Kenedy taught school during the winter before his sixteenth birthday, and then, in the spring of 1834, he sailed as a cabin boy on the Star of Philadelphia, bound for Calcutta, India. In early 1836 he taught school in Coatsville, Pennsylvania, until he decided to try for employment in river navigation. He worked in a brickyard in Pittsburgh until he became a clerk on a river steamer. From 1836 to 1842 he was clerk and acting captain on steamers on the Ohio, Missouri, and Mississippi rivers. From 1842 to 1846 he sailed as clerk or substitute captain on the Champion, plying the Apalachicola and Chattahoochie rivers. In Florida he met Richard King, who would later be his partner in steamboating and ranching in Texas. While he was in Pittsburgh for repairs on the Champion, Kenedy met Maj. John Saunders of the United States Army, an engineer who was securing boats for use by the army on the Rio Grande during the Mexican War. Kenedy was employed to assist Saunders, and, as commander of the Corvette, proceeded to New Orleans, where he enlisted as master for the duration of the Mexican War. Kenedy's experience in conducting light boats over Gulf waters made his services invaluable in his new task of transporting troops and supplies to points on the Rio Grande. At the end of the war, Kenedy formed a partnership with Samuel A. Belden and James Walworth to trade in Mexico; after the dissolution of the partnership, Kenedy alone took a pack train of goods to Monterrey for sale.

In 1850 Kenedy and King formed a steamship partnership called M. Kenedy and Company. The business included as partners Kenedy, King, Charles Stillman, and James O'Donnell. Kenedy's ranching began with the purchase of Merino sheep in Pennsylvania. Despite losses from his flock by fire and drowning en route to Texas, he saved enough sheep to have a flock of 10,000 near El Sal del Rey in Hidalgo County in 1854. He lost 75 percent of the flock before he sold what remained to John McClain in 1856. In late 1859 and early 1860 he served as captain of a company under Samuel P. Heintzelman in a campaign against Juan N. Cortina. In 1860 Kenedy and King bought into the Santa Gertrudis Ranch in South Texas as full partners. When the partnership dissolved, the partners took thirteen months to round up and divide their stock in cattle, sheep, goats, and mules, which ranged from the Nueces River to the Rio Grande. Upon selling his share of the partnership in 1868, Kenedy purchased the Laureles Ranch, located twenty-two miles from Corpus Christi. Cattle at that time had little value save for hides and tallow; more money was to be made in trade on the river. M. Kenedy and Company engaged in Rio Grande trade. Kenedy and King eventually bought out the other partners. At the start of the Civil War the company owned up to twenty-six boats, and during the war it was successful in shipping cotton along the Rio Grande. The steamship business continued until 1874, when they dissolved their firm and divided its assets.

Kenedy was among the first Texas ranchers to fence his lands. In 1869 he enclosed Laureles on three sides with thirty-six miles of smooth-wire fence. The ranch was expanded to contain 242,000 acres, all fenced, and was sold in 1882 to a Scottish syndicate that became known as the Texas Land and Cattle Company. After selling the Laureles in 1882, Kenedy bought 400,000 acres in Cameron (later Kenedy) County and named it La Parra Ranch after the wild grapevines growing there. He also fenced La Parra, using posts imported from Louisiana. At that same time he organized the Kenedy Pasture Company. Having been successful in steamboating, trading, and ranching, Kenedy in 1876 entered the field of railroad construction to help Uriah Lott build the Corpus Christi, San Diego and Rio Grande line from Corpus Christi to Laredo. In 1885 he supplied the money and credit for Lott to build 700 miles of the San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railway. Kenedy married Petra Vela de Vidal (see KENEDY, PETRA), widow of Col. Luis Vidal, of Mier, Mexico, on April 16, 1852. She had six children from her previous marriage, and the Kenedys had six children of their own. Three generations used the Kenedy laurel-leaf brand. Kenedy died at Corpus Christi on March 14, 1895. Both he and his wife were buried at Brownsville. Named after Mifflin Kenedy were Kenedy, Texas, and Kenedy County.

James Lewellyn Allhands, Gringo Builders (Joplin, Missouri, Dallas, Texas, 1931). John Henry Brown, Indian Wars and Pioneers of Texas (Austin: Daniell, 1880; reprod., Easley, South Carolina: Southern Historical Press, 1978). C. L. Douglas, Cattle Kings of Texas (Dallas: Baugh, 1939; rpt., Fort Worth: Branch-Smith, 1968). Tom Lea, The King Ranch (2 vols., Boston: Little, Brown, 1957). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

  • Ranching and Cowboys
  • Ranchers and Cattlemen
  • Religion
  • Religious Society of Friends (Quaker)
Time Periods:
  • Antebellum Texas

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

John Ashton, “Kenedy, Mifflin,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 25, 2022,

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May 12, 2017