By Vanesa Brashier, firstname.lastname@example.org
After 50 years in professional rodeo, Dayton native Mutt Neuman has a few stories to tell.
Neuman prefaces many conversations with “Let me tell you a story,” before launching into tales from his many years as a bull rider, bull dogger, bull fighter, racehorse and rodeo bull raiser, and rodeo promoter.
At 73, Neuman shows no signs of slowing down. Every year, he hosts roughly 25 ranch events – many at his Bar-N-Bar Rodeo Arena on CR 676 in Dayton and others at the Trinity Valley Exposition arena in Liberty and other venues across Southeast Texas.
Neuman, an inductee into the Louisiana Rodeo Cowboys Association Hall of Fame and nominee to the Texas Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame, says rodeo is in his blood.
“When I was rodeoing full time, there was a place outside of Dayton on [FM] 1960 called Frontier Days. It was an entertainment park. They contacted me and I built a rodeo arena out there and had a lot of rodeos there. They had live music and dances. That was when Mark Chesnutt was still a nobody singing out there,” Neuman said.
Nearly every weekend, Neuman could be found running rodeos at Frontier Days or at the world-famous Gilley’s Club in Pasadena. Gilley’s Club, founded by country singer Mickey Gilley, had a honkytonk and nightclub with a rodeo arena attached to the property. Neuman says he ran the rodeos for Gilley’s back in those days.
“I would start the rodeos at Frontier Days early and then send my help to Gilley’s with stock (bulls, cattle and horses). When this one here wrapped up, I then would go over to Gilley’s and we would finish up the day,” Neuman said. “On Sundays, we always had a black rodeo going on in the Houston area somewhere. They were called that because they were held on Sundays.”
His work week ran from Thursday through Sunday because of the rodeo circuits, leaving the other three days to heal up and prepare for the next round.
“There were a lot of cowboys competing in those days. We would have 60 calf ropers, 60 team ropers and 20-30 bull riders in a single rodeo. Barrel racers were plentiful,” he said.
He transitioned to raising and managing racehorses in 1989, a business he was in for 20 years.
“I would run horses at Delta Downs in Louisiana for about three months of the year. Then we would go to Dallas to the Lone Star Track and then to San Antonio to another track. Then we would go home to regroup for the next season at Delta Downs,” he said.
The constant schedule made the next 20 years go by in a blur, Neuman said.
“My life diminished when I was doing the racehorse circuit,” he said. “I ran horses for 20 years and cannot hardly tell you anything from those years because they went by so fast. Things were moving too quickly, and I was too busy,” he said.
After he got out of that business, he returned to one of the first businesses he had known – raising bulls. While he was away for work, his wife of 50 years, Judy, had kept that business going for the family.
“Everybody needs a partner. I have that with Judy. She is a country girl, a good wife and mother, and she sacrificed a lot of things in life for our family,” he said. “She didn’t cry about not having new shoes or new dresses all the time.”
The couple had three boys – Kody, Kacy and Kail. Kacy was killed at the age of 7 when he was run over while helping Neuman haul hay.
“He was on the tractor with me and he got off and jumped on the back of my flatbed truck. I had put some Dr. Peppers in a water cooler. As I made the next round, he had found the drinks and was standing on the back of the truck with one arm raised in the arm with one of those Dr. Peppers. He was like, ‘Dad, I found your Dr. Peppers.’ The next round I made he was dead,” Neuman said. “He had run over and gotten on the hay hauling truck. There were some other boys out there and he fell under the wheels of the truck and was killed. To this day, I can still remember him standing on the back of that truck and waving to me.”
Remembering early life in Dayton
Neuman was born and reared in the Dayton area. His parents, Eric Brighteyes “Lett” Neuman Sr. and Ada, operated Neuman Motor Company and sold Desoto and Plymouth vehicles. He was one of seven children – six boys, Jesse, Burt, E.B. Jr., Frankie, Larry and Ronald “Mutt,” and one girl, Dora Ada “Hickey” Neuman.
His first rodeo experience was at the age of 6. His brother, E.B. Jr., was a rodeo clown at the Anson Rigby rodeo arena.
“Mr. Rigby was the ag teacher here at the time. The arena then was made from crossties and hog wire with cable on top,” Neuman said. “For an extra event at the rodeo, not so much an actual event but more of an attraction, they would put me on a wild calf to ride.”
His “downfall,” he says with a laugh, came one day after a ride.
“This calf, within about 4-5 seconds of getting on him, jerked me over his head and hit me, chipping a piece of my chin bone,” he said. “I was whining afterward, not crying, and walked by a man who was a personal friend of my daddy. His name was W.P. “Red” Rose, the sheriff of Liberty County. He called me over and gave me $5 and said, ‘Here, boy, that was a good ride.’ I thought I was rich, and I was hooked.”
After graduating from Dayton High School in 1964, Neuman said he was given an opportunity to continue his education at Lee College, but he turned it down, a decision for which he has no regrets.
“I did not like school. I didn’t like being cooped up inside. I graduated and was offered a scholarship to Lee College. This would have been a full ride if I came in and rodeoed for them in the college rodeos. I agreed to it at first,” he said. “But then I got to thinking. I didn’t like high school and had to go. Why would I go to college if I didn’t like high school?”
Some hard times followed, he said, but they compelled him to keep working and striving for a better life. For a time, he worked as a welder for an oilfield tool company in Liberty and then at the Houston Ship Channel.
“The money at the ship yard was better, but it was dangerous work with metal falling and a lot of overhead work going on,” he said.
After a few years, he became a full-time rodeo cowboy, riding bulls and bareback horses, and bull fighting, which at the time was considered being a rodeo clown.
“I went to a lot of different states. When I left Dayton, Texas, and went to Michigan, I felt like I had been all over the world. At the same time I was rodeoing, I opened a service station in Dayton. It was right next to the Dairy Queen. It’s a tire shop now,” Neuman said. “I stayed in that service station for 21 years and rodeoed at the same time. During this time, I feel like I had my own college. I broadened my own knowledge by negotiating deals with rodeos and fuel accounts.”
His entrance into raising bulls for rodeos began at the age of 19. He recalls going to see a local banker in Dayton, M.W. Ford, regarding an $1,800 loan.
“He wanted to know why I needed it. I told him I was going to the auction sale to buy bulls and train them to be bucking bulls. His quote to me was, ‘So you are going to buy some old, worn-out breeding bulls at market price and then sell them for more than they are worth?’ I said, ‘Yes, sir, that’s about the size of it,’” Neuman recalls. “He told me, ‘Well, we are going to try you and see.’”
That venture paid off and he sold them for much more than he had borrowed. When it comes to picking bulls for the rodeo arena, Neuman said there is something he sees in a bull’s eyes that lets him know how that bull will fare in rodeo.
“It’s something I cannot explain really. With 90 percent certainty, I can tell you what they are going to do by looking at their build, mood and characteristics. That’s something you cannot teach,” he said.
In addition to rodeoing, Neuman puts his knowledge to work to help others who have an interest in cattle, horses and other livestock.
“A friend told me, ‘Mutt, with everything we know about rodeos and animals, we could be consultants.’ He said I should get some business cards printed up, and every time someone asks me a question, I should hand them the card and collect a fee,” he said. “That backfired the other day when my friend called me to ask for advice. He said, ‘I have a question for you, but first I need to know, did you ever get those business cards printed up?’”
As Dayton continues to grow and prosper, prompting pastures to be used for residential communities and industrial parks, Neuman believes the day will soon come when cowboys like him will no longer have a place in Liberty County.
“I have seen this town change so much. Times have changed. Everyone is living the fast life today,” he said. “I wish Dayton was what it was during the 1960s where you knew everyone in town … Houston is coming our way. Really and truly, pasture land prices are out of sight now. Pasture land is leaving. Guys like me are going to be washed out.”
He points to a pasture near his Bar-N-Bar Arena on CR 676 off of SH 321 as proof that times are changing.
“I leased that land for my cattle for years. See those cows back there in the back pasture. Those are mine,” he said. “But this pasture up here near the road, where my cows used to be, that is going to be a Dollar General soon.”