Imagine being indentured by your parents to a jeweler as a child. This is New York City in 1833. Within a couple of years, your ambition and spirit of adventure lead you to stow away on a ship anchored in the harbor and bound for Mobile Bay, AL.

You're discovered, but the ship's captain likes something about you and puts you to work. You prove yourself and ultimately obtain a license to pilot steam ships. Then, you and a partner go into the steamship business and make a small fortune.

Such is the track of King, who along with partner Mifflin Kenedy built a thriving steamboat business serving consumers and merchants up and down the Rio Grande River. At the time, there wasn't much but country in the Nueces Strip between Corpus Christi and Brownsville in the Rio Grande Valley. This parched, open country was known both as Wild Horse Desert, because of the wild bands of mustangs that ran there, and as el Desierto del Muerto (the Desert of the Dead) because of how tough it was to live there.

Genho, who's managed the ranch for five years, can attest to the area's challenges. In those five years, he says, there have been four droughts and one hurricane.

“The country is harsh, which is one reason the commitment to quality is so unique,” he adds.

In rough country like this, rather than simply try to raise as many pounds as possible in a given year and then market it, Genho says the focus has always been on producing quality as defined by durability. That barometer is applied to everything from the range and wildlife they manage, to the cattle and horses they build, and to the leather goods and horse tack they market internationally through King Ranch Saddle Shop.

But, when King rode through this hard environment on his way to a meeting in Corpus Christi, he saw opportunity. There was lots of land, an abundance of vaqueros south of the border already ranching cattle, and an untapped national market for beef.

While he saw the opportunity, King also realized his limitations. That's where the Kineños — King's people — came in.

King was buying cattle in Las Cruillas, Mexico, a village forced to sell all its stock due to severe drought. As he rode away, it dawned on him that he'd just purchased that village's sole livelihood. He rode back and invited them to come to work for him on the ranch. They did, and history was born.