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I’m An Old Cowhand Who Found My El Dorado by Patti H.

#2 in the Cowboy Appreciation series: Murdoch

In Honor of July 25th – National Day of the Cowboy
Usual Disclaimers Apply


Murdoch glanced at his sons; they were leaning back on their saddles, legs stretched out, as they reclined on their saddle blankets, sipping coffee, laughing and talking about their day.  He smiled at the picture that he never dreamt possible, both his boys home it was a moment he would hold near and dear to his heart for the rest of his days. Taking a sip of his coffee, the mug masked his smile until he tasted the cold brew.  Making a face, he decided to get some fresh coffee from the pot resting by the campfire.

Standing up he groaned as his back muscles reminded him that it was high time his sons were home to take their rightful place as his partners and take over the heavy work.  He was just now realizing that he had no business at all trying to perform the back grueling work meant for younger, leaner, more muscular, stronger bodies.  He was ready, more than ready to supervise the work of his sons as they learned the business of running one of the largest cattle ranches in the San Joaquin Valley.

“Stop complaining, Murdoch Lancer, you’re just stiff from spending a day in the saddle, keeping the cattle together, that’s all,” he admonished himself as he placed his hand at the small of his back, preventing another groan from escaping his lips.  “You’ve done this before and you’ll get through this drive as well.”

Johnny and Scott stopped their conversation to look over at their father.  “Ya okay there, ol’ man?” asked Johnny his tone was mildly teasing but clearly concern was lingering on his face, masked by the night shadows but noticed by Scott.  Both boys sat up looking at their father.

“Sir, anything we can get you? Scott questioned in his mannerly tone as he gave Johnny a look to indicate he should behave himself and not get their father upset by tacking on that “old man” label he knew Murdoch tolerated, just barely.  Johnny flashed his brother his most cheeky lopsided grin which faded away as he notice Murdoch massaging his lower back, another low groan escaping from the back of his throat.

Both boys made motions to stand and come to his assistance.

Murdoch turned to face his sons, “No, stay where you are.  Listen, you two whippersnappers, I don’t need you questioning every time I make a sound or stretch my muscles.  It’s been a while since I spent the entire day in the saddle, dogging after cattle.  A man’s entitled to be a little sore the first few days out on a drive.  I don’t need you to fret and worry about me boys; I’ve been an old cowhand long before you two were twinkles in my eyes or your mothers’ for that matter.”

Johnny and Scott looked at each other, proved to be a mistake; first they widely grinned at each other displaying even rows of white teeth.  Their grins turned to smirks, and then began full all out guffawing at their father calling them “whippersnappers.”  But his description of them being “twinkles” had pushed them over the edge.  Scott prayed that Murdoch was not going to expound on that notion and fill them in on any more details.  While Johnny was trying to mentally scrub the picture from his brain as to how he and Scott became those “twinkles.”

Murdoch looked at his sons, as if they had lost their minds, collapsing against each other in their fits of laughter.  He gave them his best “harrumph” before bending over to reach the coffee pot, when his back pinched giving him a sharp shooting pain.  He dropped his tin mug with a clacker, as he fell to the ground on all fours, nearly landing on the campfire’s circle of stones.

“MURDOCH!  Both boys yelled as they tossed aside their own mugs and rushed to his side.  “What’s wrong?  Where does it hurt?”  They were afraid to move him or turn him as they looked at his pale face in the light of the campfire’s soft glow.

“Relax boys, settle down.  First, move me away from the fire.  Second, lay me down on my stomach on my bedroll, go slow, take it nice and easy.”

Johnny and Scott each grabbed one end of their father and moved him gently back to his saddle blanket as easy as possible, positioning him as he directed.

“What is it Murdoch?” asked Johnny as he leaned down to look at his father’s face.

Scott leaned down on the other side and asked, “Sir, what do you need us to do?”

Murdoch squeezed his eye lids tight as he sucked in air, “Lift up my shirt, get one of those flat, warm, not hot, stones from the fire and lay it across my lower back, left side…it will reduce the tension in my muscles.  I must have strained them today, that’s all.”

Johnny rushed to the fire as Scott pulled Murdoch’s shirt up from his pants; he saw a big knot in the muscles and whistled, “Murdoch, you know you should have stayed home and left us to handle this drive.”

“Scott, I wanted to come along and show you boys the ropes and a few tricks of the trade that I’ve learned along the way.  Passing them down from father to sons.  Besides we’ve got some celebrating to do once we reach the rail line with the herd, your first trail drive as Lancers partners.  First time to turn the wolf loose for you boys with the hands and I wouldn’t have missed that for the world,” he said with a grimace.

Scott was massaging Murdoch’s back muscles gently, “Still, Sir, you could have just filled us in on those ropes and tricks back at Lancer and not put yourself through the actual drive.”

“Not the same, Scott, rub harder, I won’t break,” said Murdoch, gritting his teeth.

Johnny leaned over and felt the knot in his back, “Some ol’ cowhand ya are, ol’ man.  Ya scared the crap out of us, what were ya thinkin’?  Don’t ya trust Scott and me ta get these cows ta market?  We’re big boys, able ta handle the job.”  He placed the stone at the base of his back and pressed down to generate more heat to the area.

“No, John, that’s not it at all.  And will you please stop calling me “old man”, young man?  I’m your father and business partner, not someone ready for the bone yard yet,” he admonished Johnny.  “Show some respect, you whippersnapper!”

Johnny leaned down to peer at his father’s eyes, gauging his father’s resolve, “Sure, Pa, I’ll do my best as long as ya do your best ta get over this.”

“What do ya think Scott, we gonna have ta shoot the ol’ cowhand like a horse with a broken leg in the mornin’ if he can’t pull his own weight?”

Scott looked at his brother and rolled his eyes at his inability to stop teasing, “Johnny, I have a feeling that our father still can teach us a thing or two.  We better keep him around.”

Johnny removed the quickly cooling stone from Murdoch’s back and Scott began massaging his back again, forcing the lingering heat deep into his muscles.

“Thanks for your vote of confidence Scott,” grumbled Murdoch as Scott hit the spot where it hurt the most.  “There!  Right there Scott, keep doing that right there.  John!  Get another stone!  Hurry!”

Johnny grabbed another stone and gently set it down on Murdoch’s back.

“Ahhh, that will do the trick boys, just needed to relax that particular muscle that’s been bothering me for so long I can’t remember when it first started.  John, there will be no more talk of shooting horses or me for that matter.  I’ll be up and about tomorrow morning, ready to teach you some manners in being respectful towards your father.”

“’kay, Murdoch, I’ll be here, waitin’,” joked Johnny.

“Murdoch, you’re going to need to rest your back,” chided Scott.  “You can’t possibility continue on the drive, you need to head back to the ranch.  I take you myself and send for Doc Jenkins to check you over.”

“Nonsense boy, I’ll be up and pulling my weight come morning, just need to relax and rest my back is all.  I’ll be fine.  And you’re needed here.  There’s no going back.”

“Now, I know for certain where Johnny gets his stubborn streak from.  I know, I know, you’re an old cowhand at all this and you call the tune.  Just hope you do know what’s best.”

“Of course I do, my sons…of course I do.  Fathers always know what’s best especially when they do call the tune and are required to rope in their unruly sons.  Now tomorrow morning I want you, Scott to take over point, Johnny you’re in the middle of the herd, while I’ll take advantage of my old cowhand wisdom and ride in the chuck wagon for the day.  That way I won’t be in the saddle and can relax my muscles even more.  I’ll want you to bind my back in the morning to give me extra support.”

“But, Sir…”

“Scott, not another word, I’d started this drive and by God I intend on finishing it.”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Listen Pa, ya don’t need ta prove anything ta us…”

“Who say anything about proving anything to anyone, John?  Not me, I’ll be back in the saddle again before you know it.  That’s what we do out here, pull our own weight, take care of our own and ride boldly ride.  Now I think we all could use a good night’s rest as we have a long ride ahead of us tomorrow.”

“Poe’s El Dorado?” asked Scott, kneeling alongside his father.  “No hidden meaning with that, I hope.”

“No son, just a phrase, that’s all.  Besides, I’ve already found my El Dorado with you two boys back home where you belong,” assured Murdoch.  “There’s plenty more that needs to be done before this old cowhand is ready to cash in his chips.  Truly I’m fine; it’s only a strained muscle.  Now get some rest, you’ll need it.  Tomorrow will be a busy day and you’ll be a man short.  Good-night.”

“Come on Johnny, let’s get some rest,” said Scott after he adjusted Murdoch’s blanket.  “Good-night, Father.”

“What was that all about, Scott?  What’s El Dorado?” whispered Johnny as they banked the fire.

“It’s a poem, the last one written by Edgar Allen Poe, about the California Gold Rush in 1849.  He describes the journey of a gallant knight in search of the legendary El Dorado. The knight spends much of his life on this quest.  In his old age, he finally meets a pilgrim shadow who points the way through the Valley of Shadow,” informed Scott.

“Yeah, how’s it go, ya remember it don’t ya?”

“Sure Johnny, it’s a short, rhyming poem.  Goes like this:

Gaily bedight,
A gallant knight,
In sunshine and in shadow,
Had journeyed long,
Singing a song,
In search of Eldorado.

But he grew old-
This knight so bold-
And o’er his heart a shadow
Fell as he found
No spot of ground
That looked like Eldorado.

And, as his strength
Failed him at length,
He met a pilgrim shadow-
“Shadow,” said he,
“Where can it be-
This land of Eldorado?”

“Over the Mountains
Of the Moon,
Down the Valley of the Shadow,
Ride, boldly ride,”
The shade replied-

“If you seek for Eldorado!”

“That’s kinda nice, Scott, what’s it all mean?”

“Johnny, in this case, it means that Murdoch’s happy to have us home and he intends to spend as much time as possible with us, we’re his El Dorado, his treasure.”

“We are?  Well what do ya know about that?”

Murdoch listened to his sons’ conversation, smiling contently before drifting off to sleep, secure in his huge wealth of his own El Dorado, his two sons, indeed were his very own El Dorado.  Scott and Johnny were becoming very fine cowboys, ranch hands and partners under his tutelage as well as fine young men to be around, thought Murdoch.  Wild horses wouldn’t have kept him from coming along on this drive.

The End

Patti H. – July 24, 2009

Part Three – (The) Cowboy In Me

Readers Notes: 

1) Edgar Allen Poe’s El Dorado:

It was first published in the April 211849, issue of the Boston-based The Flag of Our Union.

The poem is made up of four six-line stanzas. Poe uses the term shadow in the middle of each stanza. The meaning of the word, however, changes with each use. First, it is a literal shadow, where the sun is blocked out. In the second, it implies gloom or despair. The third use is a ghost. The final use, “the Valley of Shadow,” references the “Valley of the Shadow of Death,” possibly suggesting that Eldorado (or riches in general) does not exist in the living world. Eldorado can also interpreted not as the worldly, yellowish metal, but as treasures that actually have the possibility of existence in the abode of spirits. These “spiritual” treasures are that of the mind: knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. In this case, Edgar Poe doubted the worthiness of humanity to possess such “mental wealth” and admitted to the inescapable worldliness of mankind.

The time of the poem’s publication, 1849, was during the California Gold Rush and was Poe’s reaction to that event.

2) YouTube link to the movie “El Dorado” (starring John Wayne, Robert Mitchum and a very young James Caan who recites the poem) – Title Song performed by George Alexander:

3) National Day of the American Cowboy

The National Day of the American Cowboy Resolution, passed by the United States Senate in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008, proclaimed the 4th Saturday of July as a celebratory day to commemorate our cowboy and Western heritage, as well as to honor working cowboys and ranchers, Western musicians and artists, cowboy poets, and all the others who continue to contribute to our cowboy and Western culture.

Our sole purpose in drafting and promoting the National Day of the American Cowboy resolution is to encourage recognition of and appreciation for the American cowboy. By sharing information about the campaign, celebrations, and ceremonies, we hope to ensure that the National Day of the American Cowboy achieves the highest possible level of public involvement and awareness, and is finally passed in perpetuity (the resolution has to be reintroduced each year until it is officially designated a national day of observance by the President).

National Day of the Cowboy Resolution 2009

H.L.C.: P.L.


(Original Signature of Member)

111th Congress


Expressing support for the designation of July 25, 2009 as ‘‘National Day of the Cowboy’’.


Ms. GIFFORDS submitted the following resolution which will be referred to the Committee on


Whereas pioneering men and women known as cowboys helped establish the American West;

Whereas the cowboy embodies honesty, integrity, courage, compassion, respect, a strong work ethic, courage and patriotism;

Whereas the cowboy spirit exemplifies strength of character, sound family values and good common sense;

Whereas the cowboy archetype transends ethnicity, gender, geographic boundaries, and poitical affiliation;

Whereas the cowboy is an excellent steward of the land and its creatures;

Whereas the cowboy lives off the land and works to protect and enhance the environment;

Whereas cowboy traditions have been part of the American culture for generations;

Whereas the cowboy continues to be an important part of the economy, through the work of approximately 727,000 ranchers in all 50 States, and contributes to the well being of nearly every county in the Nation;

Whereas annual attendance at professional and working ranch rodeo events exceeds 27,000,000 fans, and the rodeo is the 7th most watched sport in the Nation;

Whereas membership and participation in rodeo and other organizations that promote and encompass the livelihood of the cowboy spans race, gender, and generations;

Whereas the cowboy is a central figure in literature, film, and music, and occupies a central place in the public imagination;

Whereas the cowboy is an American icon; and

Whereas the ongoing contributions made by cowboys and cowgirls to their communities should be recognized and encouraged: Now, therefore, be it

1. Resolved, That the House of Representatives—

(1) expresses support for the designation of a ‘‘National Day of the Cowboy’’; and

(2) encourages the people of the United States to observe the day with appropriate ceremonies and activities.


Thank you for reading! The authors listed on this site spend many hours writing stories for your enjoyment, and their only reward is the feedback you leave. So please take a moment to leave a comment.  Even the simplest ‘I liked this!” can make all the difference to an author and encourage them to keep writing and posting their stories here.  You can comment in the ‘reply’ box below or email Patti H. directly.


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