Fort Worth

Lynda Arnold, ‘Texas Lil,’ dies in car crash

Lynda Arnold, known as Texas Lil, posing at Chicks Dig It, a shop in Flower Mound where she works. Photographed in Flower Mound on March 5, 2010.
Lynda Arnold, known as Texas Lil, posing at Chicks Dig It, a shop in Flower Mound where she works. Photographed in Flower Mound on March 5, 2010. Star-Telegram

She called her memoirs Trails, Trials, and Tears: The Life and Legacy of Texas Lil, though she said she had thought about titling them Swimming Upstream All the Way.

Lynda Arnold, a North Texas woman with a Texas-size life that went from fame and wealth to a concrete jail bench, died in a car crash Thursday morning.

Arnold, 78, was driving south about 11:20 a.m. Thursday on U.S. 287 near the Blue Mound Road exit in northwest Fort Worth when she slowed down to use the crossover in the middle of the highway, said Fort Worth police Sgt. Marc Povero.

Arnold’s vehicle was struck from behind by another southbound vehicle, apparently before she could get fully into the crossover lane.

Arnold, a former mayor of Northlake and a Denton County justice of the peace, was pronounced dead at the scene, according to the Tarrant County medical examiner.

“Like her life, her dream did not have a storybook ending but she could always say she did it her way,” said her son, Trace Arnold, on Facebook.

‘Life can be hard’

Lynda Arnold was known as “Texas Lil,” a big personality with a big smile who endured heartbreaks and grief before building a successful Texas dude ranch and then losing it.

Her little brother, Stan Farr, was murdered in 1976 at the Cullen Davis mansion. The millionaire Davis was accused of shooting four people, killing two of them. At the time, he was the richest person to stand trial in a murder case, but he was not convicted.

Davis, 82, explains that he doesn't think any more about murder victims Stan Farr and Andrea Wilborn.

Another of Arnold’s brothers was killed in a car wreck, and her third child died in infancy. She watched her successful ranch business dry up, lost it to bankruptcy and was accused of torching it six days later.

“Life can be hard,” Arnold said in a 2010 Star-Telegram interview. “But I have something in me that won’t let me give up.”

Texas Lil’s Dude Ranch in Northlake was a popular, successful enterprise. Arnold lived in style, in a 4,000-square-foot house on 194 acres she owned for 27 years. She hosted big, lavish corporate parties and gave tourists a taste of the Old West.

But after Sept. 11, 2001, her tourism business dried up. “Everything went to hell in a hand basket,” she said in 2010.

The ranch went bankrupt in 2004. Six days after new owners took possession, three buildings on the property were torched. Arnold was arrested on a felony charge of tampering with evidence, and a ranch employee, Billy Gene Howard, was charged with arson.

“People were saying I was behind it,” Arnold said in 2010. “That would be like settin’ fire to your own child. I used to tell people it wasn’t my place. It was God’s place, and I was the caretaker. I really felt that way.”

Arnold was not indicted by a grand jury, and Howard pleaded guilty to possession of a firearm by a felon to avoid an arson trial.

Arnold was broke and depressed, but she started over. By 2010, she was working at a Western boutique shop in Flower Mound and living in a one-bedroom apartment.

On Facebook, Trace Arnold described his mom as trusting, generous and passionate.

“She went the way she would have wanted, quick, painless and not long, drawn-out painful illness,” Trace Arnold wrote. “There are going to be some new boots and hats in heaven today.”

Mark David Smith: 817-390-7808, @MarkSmith_FWST