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There goes -- one rich cowboy

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I'm too short to make a really convincing cowboy. It's a minor point, and not one that I frequently dwell on; but I have always lacked the stature to fill in the wide-open spaces between a pair of boots and a cowboy hat. So, somewhere in my late childhood, I gave up any dreams of ever living the legend of the West.

Robert Kelly, on the other hand, has no such worries. In his leather vest, slightly faded blue jeans, and weathered boots, he must stand a good six-foot-one and weigh a hefty 200 pounds, and he looks as though he wouldn't feel out of place swapping silence with Clint Eastwood and Charles Bronson.

He also happens to be manager of a Western clothing store, called Cutter Bill , on the LBJ Freeway in north Dallas, which carries gear that, if Mr. Kelly is right, can make a plausible cowboy out of just about anybody. According to aficionados, Cutter Bill, which was named after a champion cutting horse (the kind used to "cut" steers out of the herd), ranks among the great Western clothing stores in the world.

Apparently, a lot of people think so.The Dallas store, with its golden horse sitting on a stone pillar, and its companion shop in Houston, corral $7 million to $8 million a year in sales between them. And no wonder. The stores pride themselves on using the most expensive leathers, rarest farm-grown alligator (and even ostrich) skins, and an occasional dash of mink in their cowboy hats.

"Everybody says when you go to Cutter Bill you're going to drop a lot of money," drawls Robert Kelly through a shaggy mustache. "But that's not necessarily true. We have boots that start at $120 for those who want to spend that little. On the other hand, we also carry Lucchese 18-inch gator- topped boots that go for $2,500."

So there's something for every pocketbook. Or almost every pocketbook.

Rummaging around his office (which sports a fine color photo of Cutter Bill, an autographed picture of John wayne, and one of John Connally), he comes up with an exquisitely printed store catalog offering what must be the obligatory gear for a Texas oilman celebrating a new gusher or dressing for a date with one of the Dallas Cowgirls.

Hand-tooled leather boots adorn the feet of models wearing horseshoe-shaped diamond pinky rings, silver-dollar belts with gold-inlay buckles, and hats that look too yieldingly comfortable to even mess up your hair. Saddles that you would hesitate to put on a horse -- they are so pretty and decorative -- sit beside heavy-oiled English leather harnesses and handmade harness leather reins. And a "Western-yoked velour robe, all plush and pamper in navy and cream," invites you to relax in a brown-and-white calf-hide calfhide seat, "hand-constructed, comfortable, and spectacular."

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