I Ride an Old Paint


This is, of course, one of the great standard cowboy songs. My father used to sing me to sleep with it. Well, that was my Daddy. There were far less appropriate songs he sung to his kids.

Old paint always stirs controversy about the cowboy jargon and lyrics. Some sing "old dam", "old dan", "hula hand", "hooly-ann", "a daughter and a son", "two daughters and a song" . . .

Most agree that "houlahan", or whatever, is a short "nuthin-fancy" lasso throw. But there is little agreement about the origin of the word. A few think it means a cow. Some associate it with an Irish slang word "hoolie" which actually comes from India. Dogies, most believe, refers to motherless calves with distended stomachs from a diet of grass, "dough-guts." Others claim that the original word was doney - a horse. Most versions have "free-for-all fight" but my daddy sang "pool room fight" and after all he was my dad and at my tender age there was no higher authority. Besides it sounds more colorful.

There is a wonderful discussion thread on MudCat about this: http://www.mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=14070. If you haven't discovered MudCat.org, it is where we all go to discuss these profound matters.

Well enough of that. Let's just sing it.


I ride an old paint, lead an old dan,
I'm goin' to Montana for to throw the houli-ann.
They feed 'em in the coulees, they water in the draw,
Their tails are all matted and their backs are all raw.

Ride around, little dogies, ride around them slow,
For the’re fiery and snuffy and a-rarin' to go.

I've worked in your town, worked on your farm,
And all I got to show is the muscle in my arm,
Blisters on my feet, and the callous on my hand,
And I'm a-goin' to Montana to throw the houlian.

Ride a-round . . .

Old Bill Jones had two daughters and a song,
One went to Denver, and the other went wrong.
His wife got killed in a pool room fight,
Still he keeps singin' from mornin' till night.

Ride a-round . . .

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,
We'll ride the prairie that we loved the best.