Paleface Ranch resident Gary Scharrer visited with former Paleface Ranch owner Mike Levi in the spring of 2007 to develop a mini-history of the ranch in hopes that the story behind the subdivision will stay in the Association archives for many decades to come.
began thinking about retirement as he
negotiated a two-year sales option with Dell Webb Corp.
for a major chunk of Paleface Ranch
that would have been developed into a 2,500 acre Sun City retirement community.
But Dell Webb
backed away at the last minute, much to Mike's dismay.
"I thought it was the end of the world when they didn't exercise their option.
I just assumed that that was the last chance I was going to have selling any land for a decent kind of money," Mike
"And, of course, it was the best thing that ever happened because land values just started going up."
After Sun City ended up north of Austin, Mike
decided to sell off a large swath of Paleface Ranch
by auctioning individual parcels - 5 acres for interior lots and 2 acres with river frontage.
According to Mike
, the property formerly was known as the "Turner Ranch," owned by George Turner, who handed it down to Nelly Turner Evans, who eventually sold it to a Gulf coast "Dr.
"My dad decided to go take a look at it and ended up buying it," Mike
Despite the lack of a ranching background, the senior Levi
was "a quick learner … He
studied the genetics and really put himself into it," Mike
The senior Levi
developed a strong herd of registered Brahman cattle and then set out to determine the best cross-breed - crossing his
registered Brahmin with Hereford, with Angus and with shorthorns.
preferred the Angus cross breeds - and that's how the Red Brangus breed developed.
Mike graduated from Texas Military Institute in San Antonio and then headed off to the University of Wyoming - where he majored not in agriculture, but in philosophy.
landed in Phoenix after graduation but family matters summoned him back to Paleface Ranch
in the mid-1950s.
That "Paleface Ranch
, Home of Red Brangus" sign on the east side of Highway 71 near the Pedernales River has both literal and historical value.
father - and seven others - formed the American Red Brangus Association
in 1956 during a meeting at Paleface Ranch
Mike served as the organization's first president and remains on the board of directors 50 years later.
"We raised a lot of good cattle and sent them all over the world.
They have done well wherever they've gone, and we're proud of that," Mike
"It's interesting from a personal standpoint to be intimately involved in the development of a breed of cattle and being with it for the whole time.
It's been fun."
At one time, Mike
had built up his
Red Brangus herd to about 600 head.
By 1996, he
had sold most of his
Eventually, Malcolm Sr. shared ownership of Paleface Ranch
and with Mike's sister, Jocelyn Levi Straus.
"I grew up in the city in a semi-sophisticated upbringing, and my Uncle Mike was a really cool rancher who, I don't think, owned anything but Levi's
," the state legislator says.
Even the properties that Mike
owns in New Mexico carry the "Pedernales" name.
The senior Levi retired in 1965.
remembers that landowners of those properties were trying to figure out how much money they could make by selling land to the state highway department.
"My father was ahead of the curve.
took the position that having a good, paved road going into Austin would become an asset, so he
gave them the land and gave them the little park (on the west side of the highway in front of the bridge)," Mike
"And that's why the highway is there instead of somewhere else.
was smart enough to see that it would be an asset back in the mid-1940s."
The senior Levi
also developed the old "Paleface
store" (no longer standing), which became a convenient place for construction workers to buy lunch while they built the highway and bridge spanning the river.
The store was build near the present day Security State Bank and Trust.
The store eventually expanded to include a bar-b-q business and a bait shop for fishermen.
The area making up today's boat launch and community park (not yet developed as such) once contained a bunch of cabins called "Paleface Boat Camp" which people could rent, along with 12-foot boats, to recreate and/or fish in the Pedernales arm of Lake Travis
"Basically, we did whatever we could to create cash flow when the drought came in the 1950s," Mike
The severe drought influenced Mike
father to purchase land in Southeast Oklahoma, where they could move cattle when grassland here had withered during the parched days of the drought.
However, the river never vanished during the famed 1950s drought as it has during the drought 2006-07.
still chats with area ranchers that once were his
And that should be an imperative for Paleface Ranch
subdivision because Mike
never contemplated 160 wells drilling into the aquifer.
It's not sustainable.
always figured that he
would end up in New Mexico after selling Paleface Ranch
and started buying property in 1986.
lives on 300 acres between Alto and Ruidoso and also owns irrigated land in the Hondo Valley in addition to a horse- training facility in Sunland Park.
Mike's first experience with a land auction came in 1989 when the family sold off 300 acres from their father's estate on the south side of the river, including some water front lots (across from present-day Paleface Ranch
subdivision) and 5-and-10-acre tracts in the hills behind it.
"I was familiar with the auction concept because I had been to several land auctions that were managed by my cattle- sales manager, Matt Syler of Burton, Texas and auctioneer Gerald Bowie," Mike says.
"I had watched them successfully sell land in various parts of Texas, including brush country in South Texas."
concedes that he
was "running short of cash" by the late 1980s when he
wanted to sell land in his
By then, the savings and loan industry had stumbled into hard times and Texas land had lost considerable value.
"The banks were not enthused about financing land at that time.
They thought I was crazy," Mike
says about his
plan to sell 300 acres from his
But the auction of that property grossed about $1.2 million, giving Mike optimism for future auctions.
In 1990, he
auctioned off 600 acres (in about 8-10 different tracts) of the Paleface homestead, which was located across the street from the present-day Paleface Ranch
had lived on that property, so he
built a new place on 188 acres about three miles farther west (toward Spicewood), where he
lived until moving up to New Mexico in 2000.
After the Sun City plan to build a retirement community at the Pedernales River collapsed, Mike
decided to market another big chunk of his
remaining ranch by auction.
"My flip answer is that I didn't know what the price was going to be, but I knew what the closing date was going to be, so I was going to be able to pay the banks what I had to borrow to get it done," he
says about the auction format.
was a super human being and a great friend and a level-headed, compassionate kind of guy - who, incidentally, happened to be a lawyer," Mike
basically supported me in whatever I was trying to do.
got a big kick out of (the auctions).
"You always have to sweat when you have an auction because you really don't know what the prices are going to be," Mike
"You can always second-guess yourself and say, 'well, if I would have waited another five years, it would have brought three times as much'.
But, at the time, I owed a lot of money to the banks and the federal land bank - and some family debts that I had to pay.
"Ranching is a great lifestyle, but the cash flow is never any good.
The only real good thing about ranching is that owning land is the best forced retirement program that you can have," Mike
"If you hang on to the land over a period of time, it will appreciate."
not sure of the price tag on his
development costs for the Paleface Ranch
subdivision - although it was several million dollars.
"It was expensive for the time because of the hoops that you had to go through to get things done - expensive and time consuming.
There were water quality issues and endangered species issues that we had to deal with," he
decided to build private roads behind an entrance gate.
"My thought was that the way the world was headed, that the notion of a gat