|A young Bobby Shelton and his mother, Sarah Kleberg Johnson Shelton|
on horseback at the King Ranch in South Texas.
Robert ("Bobby") R. Shelton and his family built the impressive structure, atop the highest point of their Kerrville ranch, as headquarters for the Shelton Ranch Corporation, breaking ground for the structure in early December, 1979. The beginning of the building was a front-page story in the Kerrville Mountain Sun, featuring a photo of members of the Shelton family; along with Lee Jennings, then mayor of Kerrville; Julius Neunhoffer, then county judge; the wife of our congressman; and the chairman of the local chamber of commerce. All were manning shovels, though, given the terrain on most of our hilltops, I'm guessing dirt was brought up the hill for them to turn; otherwise they would have just hit limestone.
It was a happy day for the Shelton family, and it was a happy day for Kerr County.
Given the splendor of the structure, you'd think happiness and gain was a theme for the Shelton family, but in fact the family dealt with more than its fair share of loss.
Bobby Shelton's mother, Sarah Kleberg Johnson Shelton, was a granddaughter of Richard King, the founder of Texas' famed King Ranch. Shelton's grandparents, Alice King Kleberg and Robert Kleberg inherited 800,000 acres in 1925; their five children incorporated the King Ranch in 1934, and Sarah was one of those five children.
Bobby Shelton's mother, Sarah, was a tomboy and only wanted to ranch. She married a cowboy named Henry Belton Johnson Jr., who died shortly after the birth of their only son, Belton Kleberg "B" Johnson. Later she married a Kingsville doctor, Joseph Shelton, who also died shortly after the birth of their son, Robert Richard "Bobby" Shelton, born in 1935. And then Sarah died, the victim of a car accident, in 1942.
The two half-brothers, "B" and "Bobby" were raised by their aunt and uncle, Helen and Bob Kleberg. Bob Kleberg led the King Ranch for many years, and both half-brothers expected to have a leadership role in the ranch after him.
But the ranch's board selected someone else to lead the ranch, and both half-brothers left the King Ranch to start their own enterprises. Each left with considerable resources; their shares in the King Ranch were purchased from them. Bobby Shelton chose Kerrville as the headquarters of his new operation, Shelton Ranch Corporation.
The Shelton Ranch Corporation was a big operation: there were four ranches in Kerr County. Los Manzanos was the Shelton's home; Comanche Trace was a quarter horse ranch; Los Premiados, a cattle ranch; and South Fork Ranch. Operations included ranches in south Texas, Florida and Montana.
Asked about the Shelton Ranch Corporation, Bobby Shelton described the business as "one dealing with training and breeding of American Quarter Horses, the raising of Santa Gertrudis cattle, and widespread farming in our agricultural businesses." The company also held interests in real estate and energy-based businesses.
The family called the hilltop headquarters building at Comanche Trace Ranch "La Cumbre," which meant, according to the newspapers of the day, "the culmination," though in other places it's translated as "The Peak."
It was a grand structure, especially for Kerr County. Designed to accommodate 40 employees, its three different levels boasted over 20,000 square feet. It contained offices, a cafeteria, a dining room, and an outside dining deck. There was a rock wall with a waterfall, a library, and a historical gallery.
The bricks used in the driveway areas had a historical past, as well. "90,000 bricks...were used at the Ft. Worth Stockyards and are over 75 years old." The bricks are over 100 years old now.
The architect for the building was Lloyd Jary, and the building was constructed by Guido Brothers of San Antonio.
I remember, during the summers home from college, delivering printing to the ranch headquarters. It was a very busy place up there.
Bobby Shelton's wife, Fronie Kempe Shelton, was an important part of the company. She was a graduate of Stephen's College, and president of her graduating class. She had a strong interest in the breeding of a historical strain of Texas Longhorn cattle. I have fond memories of Mrs. Shelton, and of her generosity in our community. I also remember, when seeing her around town, she was often with one or more of her children: Bobby and Fronie Shelton had nine children.
The last time I saw Bobby Shelton was back when I was mayor, in the early 1990s. He hosted a group of us on a visit to the apple orchard he'd planted, and it was quite an operation. I remember the apples trees growing on trellises, designed to make it easier to pick the apples. The old horse show barn at Comanche Trace was converted into an apple sorting and packing facility. If it hadn't been for a vicious fungus in the soil, Phymatotrichopsis omnivora, Shelton might have succeeded in establishing a whole new industry in Kerr County.
Bobby Shelton died fairly young, passing away in 1994. In the short 15 years he lived in Kerr County, he made many contributions to our community, including to the history of our area.
This story originally appeared in the Lifestyle of Comanche Trace and the Texas Hill Country magazine October 2013.