Of Cows and the King
It began with five cows—brought across the ocean by British Captain George Vancouver in 1788, just ten years after James Cook first landed in Hawai‘i. Vancouver presented the cows to King Kamehameha I, who ruled the eight Hawaiian Islands as one kingdom for the first time. The King set his cows free to roam Hawai‘i Island, and declared them to be kapu (off limits).
Over the next 20 years, the King’s cows multiplied into thousands. And when Massachusetts sailor John Palmer Parker, 19, jumped ship to visit Hawai‘i in 1809, maverick cattle dominated the countryside, wreaking havoc on family farms and gardens.
Parker stayed for a time, tended fishponds for the King and went to sea again during the War of 1812—and when he returned to Hawai‘i to live, he brought a new, state-of-the-art American musket. The King gave Parker exclusive permission, not only to shoot the wild cattle, but to supply meat and hides for local and foreign consumption. The musket is still in possession of Parker Ranch.
In less than a year, a thriving salt beef industry replaced sandalwood as the Island’s chief export, and Parker quickly grew into a respected man of wealth and influence. He learned to speak Hawaiian, adopted Hawaiian ways and in 1816, married Chiefess Kipikane, granddaughter of King Kamehameha I. They were awarded two acres of land on the slopes of Mauna Kea where they built the homestead “Mana Hale,” had three children, and began the Parker dynasty that would play a prominent role in the next two centuries of Hawaiian history.