SAN ANTONIO — It is fitting that the names of Robert J. and Helen C. Kleberg grace the Witte Museum’s new center dedicated to South Texas heritage.
The Robert J. Kleberg, Jr. and Helen C. Kleberg Foundation provided the lead gift for the South Texas Heritage Center, which serves as a permanent home for the Witte’s collections, exhibitions and public programs that tell the story of South Texas.
Part of that story includes the King Ranch, widely considered the state’s most renowned ranch, located southwest of Corpus Christi. Robert J. Kleberg, Jr. was a member of the family that founded King Ranch and became pioneers in the world of ranching — a tradition that continues to this day.
While his grandfather, Richard King, founded the famed ranch, Robert (Bob) Kleberg, Jr. is credited with ushering in the modern era of Texas ranching through his leadership of the King Ranch for over 50 years. His wife, Helen, also instrumental in ranch operations, was an accomplished horsewoman from Washington, D.C., where her Father served as U.S. Congressman for the State of Kansas. Both Bob and Helen were hands-on owners, capable of utilizing all the skills they expected of the ranch workers.
Under Bob’s leadership, King Ranch benefitted from technology, scientific advancements and university-level research. He also led the effort to interest Humble Oil Company in exploring and developing oil and gas resources under King Ranch lands.
“Bob and Helen Kleberg were truly legendary in South Texas, so it’s fitting that this museum devoted to South Texas heritage is named for them,” says Marise McDermott, President and CEO of the Witte Museum.
Exhibits in the South Texas Heritage Center tell the King Ranch story. Richard King first arrived in the Texas Rio Grande in 1847 during the Mexican-American War at the request of his friend, Mifflin Kenedy, to river pilot and carry goods for the U.S. Army and the building of Brownsville. After the war he founded steamboat companies on the Rio Grande River and eventually used the profits to buy land and establish a cattle camp in South Texas, which evolved over time into a large-scale cattle ranching operation. King sent more cattle “up the road” to northern markets than any other ranch in Texas. By 1925, King Ranch had grown from 500,000 acres to almost 1.2 million acres and became the largest ranch in Texas. Today, King Ranch is still active in large-scale ranching and farming operations.
The South Texas Heritage Center serves as a repository for the Witte’s vast and remarkable collection of South Texas historical artifacts, and marks the first time this rich heritage and history of South Texas has been readily accessible in a permanent public collection.
The South Texas Heritage Center is located at the Witte Museum, 3801 Broadway Avenue in San Antonio, Texas. For more information visit online at www.wittemuseum.org.