The Running W

A simple brand with a majestic history.
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Credit: Photo: King Ranch / Jeremy Price

Credit: Photo: King Ranch / Jeremy Price

With vision, grit, and determination, Richard King began to wrestle his eponymous ranch out of the Wild Horse Desert in 1853. And for the past 163 years, his heirs have carried on the tradition. Due to its immensity, 825,000 acres, and its incredible longevity, the King Ranch stands atop the American ranching pantheon both in perception and in reality.

Originally registered in 1869, the Running W brand started by being burned on the hides of Texas Longhorn cattle. Over the years, the brand’s fame has expanded, appearing on the silks of the 1946 Triple Crown winner, Assault; an original breed of cattle (the Santa Gertrudis); and now even Ford trucks. The ranch itself has diversified, too. Energy, farming, hunting, citrus, luggage, Western wear, an executive catalog, and even turf grass pursuits keep the legacy alive and well. 

While the Running W has become the obvious insignia of the ranch and its various interests, King had a few other brands first. The earliest was the “Ere Flecha.” Translated from Spanish, it was the Arrow R, featuring a capital R with an arrow crossbar. His cattle and horses also packed an HK (in honor of his wife, Henrietta), the first brand he registered in 1859. 

By 1869, King and his original partner, Mifflin Kenedy, split their interests and the Running W became the ranch’s symbol.

No one is really sure why King selected the brand. The Kinenos, who have worked the ranch from the beginning, refer to it as the “little snake,” causing speculation that the region’s many diamondbacks are the inspiration. Others point out that it looks like the head-on view of a Longhorn’s sweeping rack. The King Ranch website suggests it may “also be interpreted as a section of a continuing wave pattern—signifying the uniting of the past with the present and suggesting continuity into the future.” Captain King did earn his title on a steamboat, so maybe there is something to the wave theory. 

What is certain, though, is the brand doesn’t blotch, is easily identifiable, and has become the symbol to which all ranches aspire. 

The Running W is featured on the King Ranch’s own breed of cattle—the Santa Gertrudis, a Brahman-Shorthorn cross—as well as products from an in-house Western trappings catalog and Ford trucks.

The Running W is featured on the King Ranch’s own breed of cattle—the Santa Gertrudis, a Brahman-Shorthorn cross—as well as products from an in-house Western trappings catalog and Ford trucks.