King, Henrietta Chamberlain (1832–1925)

By: Edgar P. Sneed

Type: Biography

Published: 1976

Updated: June 12, 2018

Henrietta Maria Morse Chamberlain King, rancher and philanthropist, the only child of Maria (Morse) and Hiram Chamberlain, was born on July 21, 1832, in Boonville, Missouri. Her mother's death in 1835 and her father's Presbyterian missionary work in Missouri and Tennessee often made her childhood lonely; as a result she became strongly self-reliant and introspective, and she maintained close attachments to her family. She attended Female Institute of Holly Springs, Mississippi, for two years, beginning when she was fourteen. She moved to Brownsville, Texas, probably in 1849, for she was living there when her father organized the first Presbyterian mission in South Texas at Brownsville, on February 23, 1850. In 1854 she taught briefly at the Rio Grande Female Institute before her marriage to Richard King on December 10, 1854; they had five children. In 1854 Henrietta and Richard King established their home on the Santa Gertrudis Ranch (see KING RANCH). Their original dwelling was a mud and stick jacal, but this was eventually replaced with a house overlooking Santa Gertrudis Creek. Not only was Henrietta King wife and mother, but she also was supervisor of housing and education for the families of Mexican-American ranchhands. During the Civil War the ranch was an official receiving station for cotton that was ferried first to Mexican ports and then on to England. When King left the ranch to escape capture by Union forces in 1863, a pregnant Henrietta remained. After the house was plundered she moved the family to San Antonio until they could safely return home. Upon her husband's death in 1885 Mrs. King assumed full ownership of his estate, consisting chiefly of 500,000 acres of ranchland between Corpus Christi and Brownsville and $500,000 in debts.

Under Henrietta King's skillful and personal supervision, and with the assistance of her son-in-law, Robert Justus Kleberg, the King Ranch was freed of debt and increased in size. By 1895 the 650,000-acre ranch was engaged in experiments in cattle and horse breeding, in range grasses, and in dry and irrigated farming. That year King gave Kleberg her power of attorney and increased his ranch responsibilities. The ranch continued to grow, reaching a size of 1,173,000 acres by 1925. One of the horses bred at the ranch won the Triple Crown in 1946. The Santa Gertrudis cattle developed there were a boon to the Texas cattle industry because of their resistance to disease and heat. King was also interested in the settlement of the region between Corpus Christi and Brownsville. About 1903 she offered 75,000 acres of right-of-way to Uriah Lott and Benjamin Franklin Yoakum, who planned to construct the St. Louis, Brownsville and Mexico Railway. In 1904 she furnished townsites for Kingsville and Raymondville, located on the railway. She founded the Kleberg Town and Improvement Company and the Kingsville Lumber Company to sell land and materials to settlers in Kingsville. As the town grew she invested in the Kingsville Ice and Milling Company, Kingsville Publishing Company, Kingsville Power Company, Gulf Coast Gin Company, and Kingsville Cotton Oil Mill Company. She constructed the First Presbyterian Church building there and also donated land for Baptist, Methodist, Episcopal, and Catholic churches; she constructed a public high school and presented it to the town. Among her many charities were donations of land for the Texas-Mexican Industrial Institute and for the Spohn Sanitarium (see SPOHN HOSPITAL). In her last years she provided land and encouragement for the establishment of South Texas State Teachers College (now Texas A&M University–Kingsville). Henrietta King died on March 31, 1925, on the King Ranch and was buried in Kingsville. At her funeral an honor guard of 200 vaqueros, riding quarter horses branded with the ranch's Running W, flanked the hearse. Each rider cantered once around the open grave.

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Ann Fears Crawford and Crystal Sasse Ragsdale, Women in Texas (Burnet, Texas: Eakin Press, 1982). Tom Lea, The King Ranch (2 vols., Boston: Little, Brown, 1957). Texas Mothers Committee, Worthy Mothers of Texas (Belton, Texas: Stillhouse Hollow, 1976).

  • Ranching and Cowboys
  • Activism and Social Reform
  • Civic Leaders
  • Business
  • Patrons, Collectors, and Philanthropists
  • Ranchers and Cattlemen
  • Women

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

Edgar P. Sneed, “King, Henrietta Chamberlain,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 21, 2022,

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June 12, 2018

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