Petra Vela de Vidal Kenedy, rancher and philanthropist, was born on June 29, 1825, in Mier, Mexico, to Gregorio and Josefa (Resendez) Vela. Her father was a provincial governor under Spain with jurisdiction over the territory lying between the Nueces River and the Rio Grande and over the Indian tribes within. Petra was one of the few Mexican-origin upper-class women in nineteenth-century Texas. In December 1840 she married Luis Vidal, who was originally from Greece and was a colonel of the Mexican regular army. They had six children before Luis died. Already a wealthy woman, she married rancher Mifflin Kenedy on April 16, 1852, in Brownsville. Mifflin was a Quaker, but he accepted her faith, Catholicism. At this time intermarriage between White men and Mexican-origin women was not common and more typically occurred among elites. The Kenedys had six children, and another was adopted. As did most women in nineteenth-century Texas, Petra dedicated much of her life to childbearing, childrearing, and the domestic support of the family and the ranch. In 1854 the Kenedys owned a flock of 10,000 sheep near El Sal del Rey in Hidalgo County. During the Civil War Kenedy established his wealth through the cotton trade and steamboating, and throughout the 1860s he was in partnership with Richard King in land, cattle, horses, and sheep. In 1869 the Kenedy family moved from Brownsville and established the Laureles Ranch in Nueces County, and in 1870 the federal census enumerated the Kenedys in Duval County. Their real estate was valued at $21,000, and their personal assets at $139,600. In 1880 Petra Kenedy resided with her family at the Laureles Ranch, which consisted of 172,000 fenced acres; soon 161 workers were employed there, including vaqueros, shepherds, and laborers. Petra probably oversaw the six servants. The ranch also included more than twenty families with Mexican-origin women "keeping house," more than forty children, and a Canadian schoolmaster. Petra may have used her influence to prevent raids on the ranch. In 1882 Kenedy sold the ranch to the Texas Land and Cattle Company, apparently when Petra became an invalid for reasons doctors could not understand. The Kenedy family established the Kenedy Pasture Company in Cameron County with headquarters at La Parra Ranch, the home of their son, John G. Kenedy. But Petra and Mifflin settled in Corpus Christi. In 1884 Kenedy was among the twenty-two persons or firms whose property was valued at over $10,000. The Kenedy residence there was an Italian villa-style home. In Corpus Christi Petra Kenedy helped the church and the poor. A devout Catholic, she donated three bells for the tower and other gifts for the new Catholic church. She also made generous donations to St. Mary's Church in Brownsville. Petra died at Corpus Christi on March 16, 1885, and was buried at Brownsville. Her obituary noted that "the poor never appealed to her in vain and their wants were often anticipated."
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John Henry Brown, Indian Wars and Pioneers of Texas (Austin: Daniell, 1880; reprod., Easley, South Carolina: Southern Historical Press, 1978). Corpus Christi Caller, March 22, 1885. Jane Clements Monday and Francis Brannen Vick, Petra's Legacy: The South Texas Ranching Empire of Petra Vela and Mifflin Kenedy (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2007).
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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Cynthia E. Orozco,
“Kenedy, Petra Vela de Vidal,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed May 17, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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