The Ballad of Sheepherder Bill

Month Published: 
Jan/Feb 2010
Bill Galvin

The wind blew through the crevices of our tackroom walls that night.
We were bedded down in a vacant stall and the moon shone big and bright.
The backstretch of ole Stamford Park was quiet as a jail,
‘Cept for the occasional rattle of an empty water pail.

The mare had run her race that day, we’d bet our loot and won,
And just returned from Niagara Falls where we had a little fun,
Our bottle was almost empty, a spider did remain,
Which we’d consumer next morning to relieve a gnawing pain.

We lay there just a talking, ‘cause none of us could sleep;
Especially Sheepherder Bill who tried at counting sheep,
I lay there just a thinking, when suddenly arose,
A most important question which at Willie I did pose.

A pal of mine for many years and oft I query still,
How come he got the moniker of ‘Old Sheepherder Bill’?
A man who’d rubbed the finest, and worked for Nipper Rowe,
Should have a name more fittin’, you must admit It’s so.

I raised my head right out of bed of barley-perfumed straw,
And set my bony hands around my squarely pointed jaw.
Sez I to Bill “Why is it, you are tagged with such a name?
Tell the story of your christening and relate who is to blame”.

‘Twas then and there with vivid stare, I lay too all aghast,
As Willie told the story of his wild and wooly past.
His tale was all so life-like that I oft recall it yet.
‘Ere since the night he told me, the night we won the bet.

Sez Bill, “The whole thing started, oh so many years ago,
I had a mare named Mighty Fine and trained her in the snow.
Those years were good, we all had food, yet good things cannot last”,
‘Twas thus that Willie delved into his history of the past.

“In those days I had money, believe me it’s no lie,
And dearly loved to dine upon a dish called Shepherd’s pie.
A glutton for mutton was I then, and Belanger made it best;
Partook of it morn and evening, every plate with zest.

“Then sudden as fate would have it, (the old mare had given her best);
We packed up our traps and belongings and quietly shipped out West.
‘Twas a blessing by far, she died in the boxcar, that plucky mare of mine;
So I peddled the tack and made my track to the next farm up the line.

“Tho I hated cows I made my vows that ne’er more I’d return,
To a racetrack life of toll and strife and a lesson I did learn,
So I took the cure (‘twas the farmer’s lure), to a life of herding sheep,
And played the part, ‘tho at the start, it hurt me ‘way down deep.

“Out on the plain midst wind and rain I herded with the best,
And oft at night, with wolves in sight (believe me it’s no jest);
I hummed a tune to my friend the moon, as those wooly critters bleated,
And prayed to God on Western sod, for the times that I had cheated.

“I felt as Cain and wished in vain that I hadn’t been so hasty,
For oft I thought of times I’d bought that shepherd’s pie, so tasty.
Here I am with a big-horned ram, a caring for the flock,
Them all ringed in a circle, me sittin’ on a rock.

“But springtime comes when sheep and bums shed wool and jobs, alike.
Picked up a mare with winter hair and headed down the pike.
She was big and strong and ‘twasn’t long ‘til she proved that she was fit.
The boys all joked “There’s Sheepherder Bill”, but it mattered not a bit.

“Since then, I’ve been back to my home on the track, and the place where I belong;
To my racetrack life of toil and strife, and tho’ it might be wrong;
I’m here to stay for many a day – so do not query still,
That’s how I got the moniker of ‘Old Sheepherder Bill’.”

Bill Galvin is a Canadian horse racing historian, author, publisher, educator, horseman and former racing official and publicist.

The above is an excerpt from the equine best selling book by Bill Galvin, ‘ballads of the turf and other doggerels’. It is available through his Web site at