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Storied horse

Profile image for By Melissa Wylie
By Melissa Wylie
Rex Cauble, left, and his son Lewis carry Cauble’s belongings down a hallway in federal prison near Big Spring in 1984. The Denton rancher and banker was convicted of embezzling money and violating anti-racketeering laws, though he upheld his innocence.DAVID LEESON/Staff Photographer
Rex Cauble, left, and his son Lewis carry Cauble’s belongings down a hallway in federal prison near Big Spring in 1984. The Denton rancher and banker was convicted of embezzling money and violating anti-racketeering laws, though he upheld his innocence.
DAVID LEESON/Staff Photographer

Cutter Bill statue brought back to Denton

A golden replica of Denton’s equine celebrity Cutter Bill now stands just inside the front entrance of Lawn Land on Dallas Drive, stirring up long-dormant conversations about the famed horse and his troubled owner.

Lawn Land owner Bobby McNairy recently purchased the statue of Cutter Bill, a world-renowned cutting horse who belonged to Denton rancher, banker and renegade icon Rex Cauble.

While the statue’s return to Denton is a tribute to the success of the palomino stallion, it’s also a reminder of the infamy surrounding Cauble.

“I didn’t know what kind of reaction I’d have,” McNairy said. “To me, it’s more about Cutter Bill and the significance of the champion horse that he was, more so than who owned him, and maybe their rise to fame and their demise.”

Cutter Bill earned several world champion titles for cutting and thousands of dollars in prize money in the 1960s. His offspring were also winning cutting horses. Cutting requires a horse to separate a cow from a small herd, with the rider giving the horse minimal direction.

The Cutter Bill statue originally sat atop the entrance to Cauble Ranch, a grand development in north Denton that was home to the Cutter Bill Championship Arena. In the Quarter Horse Journal’s December 1967 issue, Ray Bankston wrote that the arena was “perhaps the largest, most modern, and best equipped privately owned structure of its kind in the world.”

In addition to owning a champion cutting horse and state-of-the-art arena, Cauble successfully opened Cutter Bill Western Wear stores in Dallas and Houston. Cauble possessed immense wealth and rubbed elbows with political players. As owner of Western National Bank on University Drive, he was influential in the Denton business community.

But his good fortune came to a halt in the early 1980s when he was convicted of involvement with what is now known as the “cowboy mafia,” a marijuana smuggling ring with Cauble believed to be the financial backer.

Cauble also owned a ranch in South America. More than 20 members of the “mafia” used shrimp boats to transport hundreds of tons of marijuana from Colombia to Port Arthur from 1977 to 1978. The pot was then distributed throughout the United States.

In 1981, after a three-year FBI investigation, Cauble was convicted of embezzling money and violating anti-racketeering laws, though he upheld his innocence. He was sentenced to prison and the government seized the majority of his assets, including the ranch and Western wear stores.

Cutter Bill died in 1982, and Cauble buried the 26-year-old horse before serving his sentence. Cauble was released from a federal prison in El Paso in 1987 at the age of 73. He spent his remaining years denying any criminal participation. He died in 2003, the same year Cutter Bill was inducted into the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame.

The gold horse statue belonged to Cauble’s wife, Josephine, and then went to her son, Lewis. When he died in 2010, Houston resident Dale Hughes bought the statue online.

Hughes, who restores antique cars, was looking for a fiberglass horse to refurbish as a yard ornament. On a whim, he did some research and realized the statue had a rich history.

“I guess curiosity got the best of me,” he said. “It was a real eye-opener.”

Hughes said it was impossible to learn of the horse’s accomplishments without reading about the Cauble family’s drug-smuggling scandal as well. For him, the goal of the six-month restoration project was strictly to pay homage to Cutter Bill’s legacy.

The statue was initially covered with 1,500 24-karat gold leafs. The gold deteriorated over time but Hughes gave Cutter Bill a fresh coat of gleaming gold paint and outfitted it with a saddle.

Hughes took the statue to car shows and chili cook-offs around Houston, and he said Cutter Bill was frequently recognized. Though he enjoyed toting the 250-pound statue around town, he eventually needed to free up garage space.

“I was really hoping it would go to someone in the Denton area,” Hughes said. “I’m glad Mr. McNairy was the one who bought it. That kind of completed the circle for me.”

McNairy’s store sells lawn supplies, outdoor power tools and animal feed and doubles as a museum of McNairy’s personal collection of historic antiques. He was searching online for a horse statue to add to the store’s feed display when he came across Cutter Bill on eBay.

“You have a lot of older folks that knew Rex and Josephine and they’ve got these stories to tell. It makes the store unique,” he said. “I thought it was more important to have it back here than just a statue of a horse that’s painted whatever color and has no real significance.”

The statue is the latest addition to McNairy’s collection, which includes an original John Deere mower from the 1960s, a 1945 Maytag Wringer Washer and a 150-year-old Colt revolver.

He’s mixed the antiques with merchandise throughout the store. McNairy enjoys when customers strike up conversations about particular items, and he says the Cutter Bill statue resonates with many longtime Denton residents who recall Cauble and his downfall.

“Whenever they come in and want to tell their tales, I just sit down and listen,” McNairy said.

Hughes also listened to numerous stories during his time with the statue and grew an appreciation for its past.

“I’m glad to see it go back to Denton,” Hughes said. “I truly believe it is a piece of Denton history.”

MELISSA WYLIE can be reached at 940-566-6845 and via Twitter at @Wylie_MD.