- Letters to Alice: Birth of the Kleberg-King Ranch Dynasty ed. by Jane Clements Monday and Frances Brannen Vick
The writing team of Jane Monday and Frances Brannen Vick has produced a number of excellent books about South Texas and the King and Kenedy ranches over the years, in particular Petra’s Legacy: The South Texas Ranching Empire of Petra Vela and Mifflin Kenedy (2007). This book follows in that tradition. Using their knowledge and background of the area and of these fascinating families, the two authors have meticulously and laboriously deciphered a series of love letters from Robert Justus Kleberg, a young lawyer practicing in South Texas during the last half of the nineteenth century, to Alice Gertrudis King, the daughter of the famous Texas rancher Captain Richard King and Henrietta Chamberlain King. The young couple, who married after the death of Captain King, went on to found the King-Kleberg Dynasty, which still controls the ranch and many international operations.
The letters, as Monday and Vick note, are “truly Victorian love letters. They show a deepening love between these two people, the traumas they went through, and their emergence as a couple ready and able to carry on the legacy and ensure the dynasty that Richard and Henrietta had begun”(xiii). The book provides an insight not only into the young couple and Robert’s love for Alice, his “Little Heart,” but a fascinating and intimate glimpse into the life and times of the post-Civil War years in South Texas.
The letters cover the years from 1884 to 1887 and were written by Robert Kleberg to Alice while he was traveling throughout South Texas, from Corpus Christi to Victoria to San Antonio and to the Rio Grande Valley. In his work as a lawyer Kleberg became acquainted with Captain Richard King and had the opportunity to visit the King Ranch in South Texas. From the letters, it is evident that he fell in love, almost at first sight, with Alice King. Kleberg’s work ethic, his intelligence, and his abilities as a lawyer enabled him to move up in the ranching operation and in the estimation of Captain King and his family. He asked for Alice’s hand in marriage in October 1884, but they would not marry until June 1886, after the death of her father the previous year. Throughout the rest of his life, Robert Kleberg handled all the ranch affairs and worked closely with his mother-in-law, Henrietta King, who never gave up control of the ranch until she passed it on to Alice upon her death in 1925.
The letters are interspersed with historical details and information that help the reader to understand the people and the activities of the time. The authors warn that they have inserted the explanations into the letters rather than placing all the relevant material in the endnotes. As the authors admit, the frequent inserts do interrupt the flow of the letters, but this method has provided a useful tool for understanding the people and events which are mentioned in the letters.
Monday’s prologue provides an admirable review of the history of the Kings and Klebergs, and Vick’s careful transcriptions of the letters offer a fascinating glimpse into the early history of South Texas. [End Page 105]