Henry Clay was a world renowned cattle breeder, a true artist hosting buyers from throughout the major cattle countries including Argentina, South Africa and Australia. Henry embodied the legacy of his premier cattle breeding family. His great-grandfather John Keeran, who had been a stockman in Virginia, moved to California, struck gold and bought part of the De Leon Land Grant at the tip of Lavaca Bay. There he established himself as a Texas stockman and founded the California Ranch. John’s son, Claude, partnered with the infamous Shanghai Pierce, bringing the first Brahma cattle to Texas. Henry’s mother, Armel Koontz Baker, daughter of Claude Keeran, became the largest breeder of Brahma cattle at that time (1930s) and only the second woman to ever sit on the board of a stockman’s association. Henry was born to this life.
His childhood was unusual even in a culture of eccentrics. “We never minded a fuss.” As Henry tells it, it was needed to “stir the juices”, and Henry’s stories attest to an overflowing, fermenting cask. From the permanent wave machine to the antiquities statue in the field to the string of tutors and the elocution teacher, Henry, and his two sisters, Emily and Diana, may have lived in isolation, but were never deprived from getting the full life experience.
As a breeder and seller to cattle royalty, Henry loved to hold court at his ranch. It was a finely orchestrated game of social negotiation before ever getting to the details of the sale, and Henry and his wife, Mary Sue, were masters. His mother taught him the ropes--"when buying look as poor as possible, and when selling look as rich as possible".
Henry, like every one of his ranching colleagues, had a bond with the land that went beyond life itself. As Mary Sue said “There is so much grief, and a ranch is so much earth, so much life and death…you deal with it every day….death is very present just like life is very present here…a real sense of life and death with a real respect for both and a fear of neither.”
Tragically Henry was killed by a drunk driver in the summer of 1985 and the world lost a truly amazing spirit.