Maximillian Gustav Michaelis III died on the job. And in the Michaelis family, the job is ranching -- even at 76 years old.
Michaelis died Aug. 9 when he was injured by a bull on his ranch in Coahuila, Mexico, but initially declined to make the six-hour ride to town for treatment of his cracked ribs, his son said.
Finally, a ranch employee decided to take him, but Michaelis died on the way, according to a Mexican official quoted in the Zócalo Saltillo newspaper.
For those who knew him and the Michaelis family -- a storied line of notable ranchers who called Kyle home -- it was a fitting ending.
"He died doing what he loved, and I don't think he would have wanted to go any other way," said his son Max Michaelis IV. "The way he put it, he was in the saddle before he could walk."
He said his father was injured while working with a bull in a pen, but it's unclear exactly how the accident occurred.
RANCHING IN HIS BLOOD
The first Michaelis in Texas was Theodore, who came in the 1830s from what is now Germany to Round Top, according to a family history on the Michaelis Ranch website. A blacksmith who lost an eye while serving as a colonel in the Confederate Army, Theodore dabbled in the ranching business and planted the family's first seeds in Mexico. He lived there during Reconstruction after being accused of killing a U.S. officer, according to the ranch's nomination for the National Register of Historic Places.
It was his son Max who set up shop in Central Texas and made the ranching business an empire. Family lore has it that Max won the tract of land that would form the basis of their Kyle ranch on a horse-racing bet with Fergus Kyle, the town's namesake.
Mules and donkeys were his primary trade, and he advertised that he had more jennets than all other Texas ranchers combined. Thanks to him, Kyle was called the "Jackass Capital of the World," the ranch website says.
In 1934, he began experimenting with French Charolais cattle brought from Mexico, marking the introduction of the now-prized breed to America.
His son, Max Michaelis Jr., grew the ranch's Charolais business into an internationally known brand as the white and muscular breed became more popular in the 1950s and 60s. The family had several ranches across the American Southwest and in Northern Mexico.
He had one son: Max Michaelis III, born in 1938.
LEARNING THE FAMILY BIZ
Although "Maxey," as many called him, was the scion of a successful family, he grew up learning the dirty work of ranching, said Jerry Rhodes, 76, a lifelong friend.
At 13 years old, Rhodes and Michaelis spent a summer in Mexico working one of the family ranches.
One of their tasks was to dehorn hundreds of cattle, Rhodes said. With four other workers, they slept for days between crop rows in the mountains, had only one outfit that they wore around the clock and drank from a river -- upstream from one of their horses "so all the leeches would get attracted to him first," he said.
"About a week before he got killed, we were laughing about it," said Rhodes, who owns an insurance company but still keeps livestock on his family's ranch in Eagle Pass "so the taxman won't steal it from us."
"We said we don't know anybody who would let their kids go off and do that at 13 years old."
Michaelis, who went by "Max" in the U.S. and "Maximo" in Mexico, went on to graduate from Kyle High School and the University of Texas.
Benjamin McPherson, now a professor at the University of the Incarnate Word, grew up as family friends with the Michaelises and overlapped with Maxey at UT.
"He just came from such a long line of ranching that you never questioned his skill ranching," McPherson said. "He had probably the most unforgettable smile. He just kind of radiated. ... He just seemed to have time for everybody."
Public services were held in Mexico.
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