TexasEscapes.com HOME Welcome to Texas Escapes
A magazine written by Texas
New   |   Texas Towns   |   Ghost Towns   |   Counties   |   Trips   |   Features   |   Columns   |   Architecture   |   Images   |   Archives   |   Site Map

Texas | Columns | "Texas Tales"

Helen Hall

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox
Forty years before University of Texas students took to the streets of Austin to protest the war in Vietnam, school officials must have seen undergraduate student Helen Hall as a proverbial burr under the saddle.

The coed from West Texas wasn't against anything so much as she was strongly for something. She thought a university of the first class, where in 1928 she would be a senior, needed to offer its students instructing in riding. Not automobiles. Horses.

"All last year," a writer for Austin's Sunday American-Statesman Magazine reported in October 1928, "Miss Hall argued and plead with the powers that be to grant university land for stables and assist her in building them to the end that horseback riding might be put in as part of the regular physical training work of the university-but to no avail."

Finally, Hall succeeded in talking UT's physical training department into agreeing to add an equestrian skills credit course if funding could be found for such a program. Other than hiring an instructor, another obvious necessity would be horses on which students could ride.

To that end, when Hall arrived for the beginning of fall classes that distant fall only one year before the coming stock market crash that led to the Great Depression, she did not come to Austin alone. She and her younger brother Frank (a student at Texas A&M) rode horseback from the family's Elm Motte Ranch near Eden with a string of eight horses. Sister and brother drove the horses the 190 miles from their family ranch to Austin in five days. (That's averaging 38 miles a day.)

Hall had spent most of the summer teaching riding at Camp Ekalea near Estes Park, Col. She taught 20 young ladies from "back East" to ride.

Hall stabled her remuda-all horses she had raised and broken to ride--at Austin's Westenfield Riding Club. She did not live far from the club so she could take care of her horses before and after classes at UT. Impressed with Hall's moxie, UT officials set aside a tract of land on the north side of East 23rd Street as a practice riding field. Presumably, the university then found some way to offer a credit course in horseback riding.

Clearly, Hall was no average coed. Born on Feb. 7, 1905 in Junction, near where her parents had a ranch, she grew up on another ranch they had acquired in Concho County in 1917. Enrolling at UT, she had much to learn, but when it came to horseflesh, she dang sure knew the difference between withers and fetlocks.

When the reporter interviewed Hall, the woman journalist asked what her favorite pastimes were.

"Oh," she replied, "riding, breaking colts, trading horses, buying horses, doctoring horses…"

Hall and her brother came by their horsepersonship naturally enough. In the early 1880s, their future father, Frank S. Hall came from England to Texas to take up ranching. Before leaving, he and a friend about his age had argued over whether to go to Australia or Texas. Unable to agree, they flipped a coin. Tails won and they came to Texas. Hall's partner moved on to Alaska, but Hall stayed in Texas the rest of his life.

Calling her a "versatile young woman," the author of the article about Hall noted that her bedroom back at the family ranch was decorated with rattlesnake skins representing the 30 or so snakes she had dispatched during her girlhood. In addition, the writer said, Hall was a "well-poised college woman at home in any society, a fine conversationalist, [and] a graceful dancer" whose ambition was to become a writer of Western fiction.

If she did try to sell short stories to the pulp Western magazines of the day, that's not what she became known for. On the short term, after graduating from UT, she stayed in Austin and ran her own riding academy. On the long term, her life continued to largely center on horses.

Marrying Max G. Michaelis Jr. in 1932, she sold her stables and most of her horses and moved with him to Mexico. They operated a ranch in Mexico and she continued to raise and train horses, particularly quarter horses.

Helen Hall Michaelis went on to be one of the founders of the American Quarter Horse Association. In 1940 she was elected to the board of directors, and from March 1942 to August 1946 she served as the association's secretary-treasurer.

Eventually moving back to Texas, the couple bought a ranch near Kyle in Hays County. Only 60, she died in Austin on July 26, 1965 and is buried in Kyle.

Despite Hall's efforts, apparently UT did not continue offering a credit course in horseback riding. But the school does offer an informal class in English riding. UT also has an equestrian team that competes in English riding.

© Mike Cox
"Texas Tales" March 7, 2018 column

An award-winning author of more than 30 non-fiction books, Mike Cox is an elected member of the Texas Institute of Letters. A long-time freelance writer and public speaker, he lives near Wimberley in the Hill Country. To read about more his work, visit his website at mikecoxauthor.com. He can be contacted at texasmikecox@gmail.com.

Mike Cox's "Texas Tales"

  • Reloading Ammo for Buffalo Bill 3-1-18
  • "Saloons on Every Corner and Plenty in Between..." 2-22-18
  • Pine Curtain Dictionary Excerpts 2-7-18
  • Alexa Has Nothing on Miss Edna 2-2-18
  • Texas Rangers Have Their Own "Arlington" 1-24-18

    See more »

  • Related Topics:
    Horses | People

    More Columns
    Mike Cox's "Texas Tales"

  • Reloading Ammo for Buffalo Bill 3-1-18
  • "Saloons on Every Corner and Plenty in Between..." 2-22-18
  • Pine Curtain Dictionary Excerpts 2-7-18
  • Alexa Has Nothing on Miss Edna 2-2-18
  • Texas Rangers Have Their Own "Arlington" 1-24-18

    See more »


    Texas Escapes Online Magazine »   Archive Issues » Go to Home Page »
    Texas Counties
    Texas Towns A-Z
    Texas Ghost Towns

    Central Texas North
    Central Texas South
    Texas Gulf Coast
    Texas Panhandle
    Texas Hill Country
    East Texas
    South Texas
    West Texas

    Rooms with a Past

    Gas Stations
    Post Offices
    Water Towers
    Grain Elevators
    Cotton Gins

    Vintage Photos
    Historic Trees
    Old Neon
    Ghost Signs
    Pitted Dates
    Then & Now

    Columns: History/Opinion
    Texas History
    Small Town Sagas
    Black History
    Texas Centennial

    Texas Railroads

    Texas Trips
    Texas Drives
    Texas State Parks
    Texas Rivers
    Texas Lakes
    Texas Forts
    Texas Trails
    Texas Maps

    Site Map
    About Us
    Privacy Statement
    Contact Us

    Website Content Copyright Texas Escapes LLC. All Rights Reserved