Tom T. East Sr. was just 23-years-old when he registered the Diamond Bar brand in Brooks County on May 6, 1912. Tom Sr. registered his brand before he owned much land. While he had begun to establish himself as a cattleman in the region, he was clearly looking forward for things to come.
Between 1913 and his death in 1943, Tom Sr. had ranched across more than 400,000 acres of deeded and leased land throughout South Texas. Throughout much of his life in South Texas, the Wild Horse Desert was still untamed, offering both challenges and opportunities.
On January 15, 1915, he married Alice Gertrudis Kleberg, the granddaughter of Captain Richard and Henrietta King, the founders of King Ranch. Alice’s cousin Caesar Kleberg was Tom’s best man, foreshadowing a relationship that would chart the course of wildlife conservation in Texas.
At the onset of a severe drought and the Mexican Revolution, the young couple left their wedding party at King Ranch and traveled to the San Antonio Viejo Ranch near Hebbronville. Developing this ranch became a centerpiece of their life’s work. Ultimately, they grew the San Antonio Viejo to 148,000 contiguous acres sprawling across southern Jim Hogg and northern Starr counties.
In their second year of marriage, Tom Sr. and Alice endured the most severe one-year drought in the 20th Century. Severe, recurrent drought made a hard life even tougher. Drought was a constant threat, impacting the way they ran the ranch and the way they approached life.
Despite the hardships, the young couple created a home and had three children: Tom Timmons East Jr. (1917-1984), Robert Claude East (1919-2007) and Alice Hattie “Lica” East (1921-1993).
The children were reared to see the land, the wildlife, the livestock and the people as an integrated whole, with the understanding that land was the foundation of it all. It had a lasting effect. Robert East’s trust documents read like an extended poem about conservation and stewardship. The trust documents directed the lands be used as a “working laboratory.”
The East Foundation began as a shared dream between Robert Claude East and Lica Hattie East. The East family was an extremely close-knit and private family. They loved their land and its diverse wildlife and habitat and protected it fiercely. Their vision of compatibility between livestock and wildlife can now be studied and carried on in perpetuity.
In carrying out our mission to provide the opportunity to research South Texas wildlife and their habitats, the East Foundation helps to preserve and protect for the public, the ranching and wildlife heritage the East family loved. The knowledge gained from these studies will encourage South Texas ranchers and landowners to be wise stewards of this great habitat, resulting in lasting benefits to the South Texas landscape and all the people of the State of Texas.
A portion of the above was featured in Texas Wildlife, May 2015, and authored by Lori Woodward Cantu.