Bob Burton was one of the first NCHA members and professional cutting horse trainers. He was a cowboy in the truest sense of the word, and worked for a number of ranches in northwest Texas, including the historic Waggoner Ranch at Vernon.
In those days (1930s and ‘40s), cowboys and horses weren't hauled out to work each day. When they "worked on the wagon," it meant staying out with a crew of cowboys, remuda and chuck wagon for a month or so at a time, with only an occasional trip to town or home. They were well compensated and sometimes earned $40 or $50 per month. Although he would often reminisce and tell many a tale about his years "at the wagon," he showed little inclination to return to them. Bob could hardly stand the sight or smell of red beans, saying that he had eaten enough beans on the wagon to last him several lifetimes.
At Waggoner Ranch, his ability with horses caught the eye of E. Paul Waggoner, who picked Bob as his head trainer. At the Hankins sale, they selected a nice 2-year-old named Poco Bueno. At the same time, they bought another King son, Beaver Creek. Bob broke and started both horses. Although Beaver Creek injured a foot, he became a renowned sire of broodmares that crossed well on Poco Bueno. Bob showed Poco Bueno at halter successfully prior to his cutting career, but he was always quick to credit Pine Johnson as Poco Bueno's cutting trainer.
In about 1944, the Burton family, Bob and Opal, with daughters Bobbie and Judy, moved to Arlington and Waggoner 3D Stock Farm. Bob would train roping and cutting horses and was assisted by a young Matlock Rose and others. The stallions in residence there were Pretty Boy, Pretty Buck and Poco Bueno.
After several years at 3D, Bob and Opal scraped together what savings they had and paid down on a small farm south of Arlington at Johnson Station. It would be discovered that their place was the location of the old Dallas to Fort Worth stagecoach stop. A historical monument was placed in front of their modest home, which had been built partly with lumber salvaged from the old inn.
There, Bob began training horses for the public on his own, which was almost unheard of in those days. He was successful with the help of good friends and customers like V.C. Bilbo, Cliff Magers, Earl Albin and Millie Leonard in the early years. Other good customers were Dub Worrell, W.F. Martin, Bob Lorio, R.Q. Sutherland, Dave Talley, C.R. Klienpeter, Horace Bratcher, Byron Matthews, Louis Dorfman and Zack Wood.
After several years at 3D, Bob had in training or showed at one time or another Royal King, Major King, Silver Light, Joe's Last, Hollywood George, Hollywood Joe, Monsieur Joe, Ada K Browder, Buster A (aka Buster B) Jessie James, Calamity Jane and Miss Nancy Bailey.
Miss Nancy Bailey was Bob's favorite mount. She was one of the handful of horses inducted into the NCHA Hall of Fame when it was originated. With only limited hauling, the 1946 bay daughter of Royal King finished in the Top Ten in 1952, ‘53, ‘54, ‘55 and ‘57. She was World Champion Mare of 1952, ‘53 and ‘57. Her heart was so great that in Bob's words, "She always knew when I was broke," meaning she could win the big ones when the chips were down and no matter what adverse conditions.
When Nancy Bailey died, her story took up a good portion of the Arlington paper's front page. She was buried at the front gate and still rests there in urbanized south Arlington, just a few feet from that Johnson Station historical monument.
Bob and Opal had two daughters, Bobbie and Judy. Bobbie married Wilson Fanning, who at one time assisted Bob in training. Bobbie died in 1994. Their two sons, Randy and Pete Fanning are successful cutting horse trainers. Pete's sons, Wes and Matt, are fourth generation cutters.
Judy Burton was her father's protégé and quite a young celebrity in the cutting world of the 1950s with her paint mare Calamity Jane, making the Open Top Ten twice.
Bob Burton was respected among his peers and aided more than a few of them in one way or another along the way. Probably the greatest tribute to Bob's training ability was that he trained horses that others could go show and was evidenced by all the great ones that went on to fame in other hands. He was always proud of that.
When the NCHA established the Members Hall of Fame, there were six men initially inducted. Bob Burton was posthumously among those six.