Halff, Mayer (1836–1905)

By: Natalie Ornish

Type: Biography

Published: 1976

Updated: May 20, 2016

Mayer Halff, merchant and rancher, was born on February 7, 1836, in Lauterbourg, Alsace-Lorraine, France, the second of three brothers who immigrated to Texas. He received his education in Europe. In the mid-1840s an older brother, Adolphe, had moved to Galveston, where he sold merchandise from an ox wagon and on horseback. After several years he sent for Mayer, who arrived in Galveston in 1850. Six years later Adolphe and Mayer moved to Liberty, forty miles northeast of Houston, and opened a mercantile store. That year, while on a buying trip for goods, Adolphe died when his ship sank during a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico. In 1857 Mayer's nineteen-year old brother, Solomon Halff, arrived, and they formed a partnership, M. Halff and Brother. Mayer, who had accepted cows in payment for goods, began to buy grazing land. He managed the ranches, while Solomon minded the store. In 1864 they moved from Liberty to San Antonio, where they opened another M. Halff and Brother dry-goods store. At one time Mayer and Solomon owned more than a million acres of West Texas land on various ranches from San Antonio to Fort Stockton. They also were partners in a Wyoming ranch, the Laramie Cattle Company. Mayer Halff was among the first ranchers in Texas to bring Hereford cattle to the state. His son Henry M. Halff purchased prize Hereford bulls in Iowa for the ranches. During the golden era of the cattle kingdom, the Halffs drove thousands of longhorns up the Chisholm Trail to market in Abilene, Kansas, and one year they and their cowboys branded 35,000 calves on their ranches, which ranked third in the nation for cattle production. Mayer was a founder of the City National Bank of San Antonio, where he served as president and with Solomon founded the Alamo National Bank. They not only financed early cattle drives, but Mayer rode on them. He was an active member of Congregation Beth El. He married Rachel Hart, and they had four children. He died on December 23, 1905.

J. Marvin Hunter, Trail Drivers of Texas (2 vols., San Antonio: Jackson Printing, 1920, 1923; 4th ed., Austin: University of Texas Press, 1985). Natalie Ornish, Pioneer Jewish Texans (Dallas: Texas Heritage, 1989). Grace Miller White, "The Activities of M. Halff & Brother," Frontier Times, January 1942.

  • Peoples
  • French
  • Business
  • Ranching and Cowboys
  • Jews
  • Ranchers and Cattlemen

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Natalie Ornish, “Halff, Mayer,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 14, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/halff-mayer.

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May 20, 2016