Michaelis Ranch


Home    Contact    Charolais    Rentals    History


The U.S. Department of the Interior lists the M.G. Michaelis Ranch in the National Register of Historic Places.

Our History

The story of the Michaelis Ranch began in the late 19th century with Max G. Michaelis Sr, the son of a German immigrant. Max's father, Theodore Michaëlis, emigrated from the Kingdom of Prussia to the Republic of Texas in the 1830s and settled in Round Top, Texas. Theodore was a gunsmith by trade, but he also established ranching interests in Texas as early as 1837. During the Civil War, Theodore served as a colonel in the Confederate army. After the war ended, Union troops attempted to shut down his gun smithing business, so he moved to Mexico to wait for Reconstruction to end. During his exile, Theodore sent his children,
Max and Carl, back to Prussia for their educations.

Max returned to Texas in 1879 to make a name for himself. For the first few years after his return, Max lived and worked in New Braunfels, Texas, where he became an accomplished breeder of donkeys and horses. During this time, he helped the King Ranch build their famous herds. While working for the Kings, Max adopted the “Running M” brand for himself, by flipping the King Ranch’s “Running W” upside down, creating an M for Michaelis.

In 1881, Mr. and Mrs. Captain Fergus Kyle deeded land for a town site along the newly constructed International - Great Northern (I. & G. N.) railroad line, and the town of Kyle was born. Kyle immediately became a rail center where local farms and ranches could ship their products to market, and Max saw this as an opportunity to establish a ranch of his own. Captain Kyle and another resident by the name of Giesecke had served with Theodore in the Civil War, and Max quickly became friends with them. When Max first moved to Kyle, he and Mr. Giesecke opened a mercantile store together, and in the spring of 1898, Max purchased a 288-acre tract of land from Captain Kyle about four miles west of town. The Michaelis Ranch was born.

Previous owners had made limited improvements to the property, but for the most part, it was undeveloped. Max spent the next three years developing the ranch, building a fashionable Queen-Anne-style ranch house and what was reportedly the largest barn west of the Mississippi river. In 1902, Max married Anna Louise “Lillie” Huettig from Brenham and brought her to the ranch. In 1905, their only son, Max G. Michaelis, Jr., was born. Max Sr. raised cattle and ran a small dairy operation during the early years of the ranch. He loved horses and bred matched teams for color, size and action, but donkeys were his stock in trade. The Michaelis Ranch was one of the country's largest purveyors of jacks and jennets, and at one time it had more jennets than all other ranches in Texas combined. The business was so well known, in fact, that during the height of production, Kyle was sometimes referred to as "The Jackass Capital of the World." Mules were essential to hauling and freighting industries throughout World War I and well into the 1920s, before gasoline-powered vehicles were widely available. The Michaelis Ranch supplied mules to the U.S. military and mining companies.
It also exported them all over the world, supplying mines in South Africa and coffee plantations in Guatemala. However, as motorized vehicles became more common in the United States, the demand for mules declined, and in the 1930s, Max sold most of his remaining mules to South Africa and turned his attention to horses and cattle.

In [ca.]1936, the enormous barn on the Michaelis Ranch caught fire and burned to the ground, killing dozens of donkeys and horses.  The fire was so immense that it was seen from the town of Kyle, about four miles to the east.  The Kyle volunteer fire department arrived in time to save the ranch house, and Max donated a building he owned across from the Kyle City Hall for a fire station in gratitude. The loss of the barn and its contents, including a collection of antique buggies, is said to have broken Max’s heart. He never rebuilt the huge barn, choosing instead to erect several smaller barns, sheds, and pens to fill the roles once served by the barn that had burned down. Most of these post-fire structures still exist on the ranch today.

Max Michaelis Jr. grew up on the Michaelis Ranch and graduated from Kyle High School. Like all ranch and farm children of the time, he assisted with chores and developed the skills needed to operate a ranch successfully.  In addition to the Michaelis Ranch, he worked on ranches in Mexico where his grandfather had established ties after the Civil War. In 1925, Hays County experienced a terrible drought, so Max Jr. spent that summer working for David McKeller on his ranch in northern Mexico, near Piedras Negras. 
At the age of 19, Max Jr. drove a herd of cattle from Mexico to the United States, where he traded them to local cattlemen. Within five years, he was branding his own herds of Shorthorns and Herefords. He partnered with the Walker family of Luling, Texas, and his father helped him buy the El Fortín and Carrizalejo ranches in Coahuila, Mexico. When he married Helen Hall in 1932, he and the Walkers split up the ranches, and Max Jr. kept El Fortín. Helen lived with Max in Mexico for the first few years of their marriage, but she later moved to the ranch in Kyle to supervise its operations. Helen was a renowned expert on Quarter Horses. She was the secretary-treasurer of the American Quarter Horse Association from 1942 to 1946, and she later became the first woman to be inducted into the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame. Max Jr. and Helen’s only son, Max Michaelis III, was born on April 10th, 1938. Max III developed a love for ranching early in his life and spent most of his childhood in the saddle, working with the cowboys on El Fortín, the Michaelis Ranch, and various other ranches in Texas and Mexico that the Michaelis family owned or leased.

In 1934, Max Jr. received a pair of French Charolais bulls named Blanco and Plato from his friend, General Acosta, in Mexico. Max Jr. sent these bulls to his father in Kyle for experimental crossbreeding with purebred Shorthorns and Herefords. This importation is thought to be the first time the Charolais bloodline was introduced to the United States. Charolais cattle, as a distinct breed, appeared as early as 878 AD in the provinces of Charolles and Nièvre in central France, but the breed was not introduced to the Western Hemisphere until the early 20th century.  Jean Pugibet, a Mexican industrialist of French ancestry, saw Charolais cattle while he served as a volunteer with the French army in World War I and was impressed by their appearance and productivity. He arranged to import 8 bulls and 29 cows to his ranch in Mexico between 1930 and 1937, but died shortly after the last shipment. Until the mid-1960s, all of the Charolais in Mexico, the United States, and Canada (including the Michaelis stock) were descendants of this initial Pugibet herd. Max Sr. found success with
Blanco and Plato, and bought another pair of Charolais bulls from Mexico in 1941. He raised Charolais cattle on Michaelis Ranch until his death on April 11, 1950.

When Max Sr. died, two-thirds of the Michaelis Ranch passed to his son, who still lived on El Fortín at the time, and the remaining third passed to his sister-in-law, Corinne Huettig. Corinne assumed control of the ranch and managed it until 1955. Corinne proved to be an astute businesswoman and operated the ranch with only one man to help her until she relinquished the job to Max Jr. in 1955. Corinne Huettig died in 1963 and was followed by her sister, Lillie Michaelis, in 1967. Soon after his father’s death, Max Jr. purchased the entire Pugibet herd of purebred domestic Charolais cattle for use on the Michaelis Ranch and El Fortín. He continued to develop a strong herd of domestic Charolais that are now well known around the world.  He widely promoted the breed, and his efforts were rewarded. Charolais was hailed as a superior breed of cattle, and its popularity soared in the 1950s, 1960s and into the 1970s. Max Jr. died in 1976, leaving the Michaelis Ranch to his son, Max Michaelis III. Today, Max III, his wife Sharon, and their two sons, Carl and Max Michaelis IV continue to work the ranch as its founder, Max Michaelis, Sr. did when he acquired the property more than a century ago.

More Reading:

  1. The Life of Max G. Michaelis Jr. by John Bennett (pdf)

  1. Letters to a Cowlady

  1. The National Register of Historic Places description of the M.G. Michaelis Ranch (pdf)

  1. Historical Photo Album