Old Paint: About the Song

Cowboys faced many dangers on the trail including lightning, crossing of swift-flowing rivers, and hostile Native Americans. The greatest danger of all was the stampede. When the cattle were lying peacefully on the ground at night, some stray sound, flash of lightning, or instinct would bring them all to their feet and send them charging into the darkness. Static electricity from the hairy bodies rubbing together caused bluish sparks to be emitted from their horns. Many cowboys’ lives were lost in attempts to get the herds back in control by riding to the front and heading them off into a wide, but ever-narrowing circle.

To discourage stampedes, not to mention cattle rustlers and Native American attacks, each man would serve two-hour shifts of night duty. Two at a time, all night long the cowboys would ride slowly in opposite directions in a giant circle around the sleeping herd. They would usually sing or whistle continuously to pass the time, to keep themselves awake, to drown out the noises of the night, and so the cattle would know that a friend was watching over them. “Old Paint,” aka “I Ride an Old Paint,” and “Streets of Laredo” are among the many songs that were sung to sleeping cattle. A paint is a spotted horse and the rider/narrator in this song is most likely on his way to a Montana rodeo to wrestle steers. The word “dogie” refers to cattle taken from their mothers and, forced to eat grass too early, develop big doughy stomachs.


Ride around, little dogies
Ride around them slow
For the fiery and snuffy are a-rarin’ to go

I ride an old paint
I lead an old Dan
I’m goin’ to Montan’
For to throw the hoolihan
They feed in the coulees
They water in the draw
Their tails are all matted
Their backs are all raw

Old Bill Jones
Had two daughters and a song
One went to Denver
And the other went wrong
His wife she died
In a poolroom fight
Still he sings
From morning till night

O when I die
Take my saddle from the wall
Put it on my pony
Lead him out of his stall
Tie my bones to his back
Turn our faces to the west
And we’ll ride the prairies
That we love the best