Petra’s Legacy
The South Texas Ranching Empire of Petra Vela and Mifflin Kenedy
Texas History - Mexican American Studies - Women's Studies - Ranching
7 x 10, 448 pp.
83 b&w illus., 4 line art., 6 maps.
Pub Date: 08/28/2007
Perspectives on South Texas, sponsored by Texas A&M University-Kingsville
  cloth
Price:        $35.00

978-1-58544-614-8
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2008 Publication award, presented by the San Antonio Conservation Society
 
2008 Jim Parish Award for Documentation and Publication of Local and Regional History, presented by the Webb County Heritage Foundation
 
2007 Coral Horton Tullis Memorial Prize, presented by the Texas State Historical Association


 

 

Petra’s Legacy

The South Texas Ranching Empire of Petra Vela and Mifflin Kenedy

By Jane Clements Monday and Frances Brannen Vick

The matriarch of one of the most important families in Texas history, Petra Vela Kenedy has remained a shadowy presence in the annals of South Texas. In this biography of Petra Vela Kenedy, the authors not only tell her story but also relate the history of South Texas through a woman’s perspective. Utilizing previously unpublished letters, journals, photographs, and other primary materials, the authors reveal the intimate stories of the families who for years dominated governments, land acquisition, commerce, and border politics along the Rio Grande and across the Wild Horse Desert.

From Petra’s early life in the landed ranchero society of northern Mexico, through her alliance with Luis Vidal—an officer in the Mexican army to whom she bore eight children—until her move to Brownsville after Vidal’s death, Petra lived in Mexico. When she moved to Texas, having taken Vidal’s name, she represented a link to the landed families of the region. Mifflin Kenedy, a steamboat captain who had first come to Texas during the Mexican War, married into her world, acquiring local respectability and stature when he took Petra as his wife.

The story of their life together encompasses war, the taming of a frontier, the blending of cultures, the origin of a ranching empire, and the establishment of a foundation and trust that still endure today, giving millions to Texas through charitable gifts. An attractive woman of business acumen, strong religious convictions, and intense family loyalty, Petra Vela Kenedy’s influence through her husband and her children left a legacy whose exploration is long overdue.

JANE CLEMENTS MONDAY is the coauthor of three previous books, including Voices from the Wild Horse Desert. A graduate of the University of Texas, she has served as chair of the Texas State University System Board of Regents and serves on the board of the Texas State Historical Association. She is also is a former president of Texas Exes and a founder of the Heritage Society.FRANCES BRANNEN VICK founded E-Heart Press and co-founded the University of North Texas Press. She serves as president of the Texas Institute of Letters and president-elect of the Texas State Historical Association. She is also a Fellow in the Texas Folklore Society. She has contributed to several books, including

What Readers Are Saying:

“Petra Kenedy is . . . one of the more significant and intriguing Texas women of the nineteenth century . . . the manuscript fulfills a continuing need for more historical works on South Texas. . . . ”--Paula Mitchell Marks, Associate Professor at St. Edward’s University

". . . a valuable, carefully researched, engaging chronicle of legendary South Texas pioneers in the 19th century and their legacy, which continues to shape the state."-Texas Books in Review

"The book's production values are first-rate. . . One hopes that Petra's Legacy will now inspire a similar, well-researched, full-length adult study of this important South Texas matriarch. . . book exemplifies women's studies at its finest. For those considering research or a career in women's history, Petra's Legacy provides an excellent signpost on how to proceed."-Southwestern Historical Quarterly

“In the harsh region of Spanish Texas along the banks of the lower Rio Grande, much of the success at settlement hinged on family and community. The women governed the outcome measured against the great obstacles of unrest, war, and disease. Their equal legal status also gave them an empowerment other pioneer women did not enjoy. The life and times of Petra Resendez Vela de Vidal Kenedy stands as a much needed study to broaden our understanding of the women of this era and a family’s survival and success in the Wild Horse Desert.” --Mary Margaret McAllen Amberson, Independent Historian

"Petra's Legacy provides a sweeping record of one of the wealthiest of Texas families and the Catholic legacy left by Petra Vela de Kenedy through her children. It is the saga of Mifflin Kennedy, partner to Richard King, as told through the eyes of his wife, Petra Vela. As a daughter of a Mexican rancher and mother of more than a dozen children, Petra Vela de Kenedy became the matriarch of a Catholic family whose presence is still felt in South Texas today. Her epic story, and that of her husband Mifflin, flows through the violent years of the Mexican-American War, the Anglo settlement of South Texas, the bloody but highly profitable Civil War, and the building of Texas during the last half of the nineteenth century. This is a must-read for everyone who is enthralled by the histories of the families of South Texas.” --Carolina Castillo Crimm, Sam Houston State University

“Much more than a recitation of the principal incidents in a courageous woman’s life.” --Wild West History Association

“Outstanding” --Livestock Weekly

“The book embraces a wealth of primary materials, including letters and diaries, so that the family of long ago almost becomes our family and our history, however distant we may be socially, politically, geographically – or financially. The authors write with warmth and intimacy, complementing their pages with numerous photos. Although written by women, about a very special woman, there is no doubt that Petra’s legacy will have the same appeal to readers of either sex.” --Southwestern American Literature

"If it weren't footnoted, Petra's Legacy might be mistaken for soaring fiction. It is chockablock with crooked politics, cattle rustlers, land fraud, warfare, and enough illicit sex to populate South Texas courtrooms for generations." --Dallas Morning News

“Much of this text reads like an adventure story, since for many years the Kenedys and Kings had to protect their holdings from the raids of Mexican bandits . . . . Their study, including numerous photographs of significant persons, has provided a valuable addition to the history of South Texas.” --Catholic Southwest

Petra’s Legacy provides a sweeping record of one of the wealthiest of Texas families and the Catholic legacy left by Petra Vela de Kennedy through her children-an epic story, a must-read for Texas history.” --The Edgefield Advertiser

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