That’s my great-uncle Johnny O’Brien on his 93rd birthday Saturday at a family cabin in Palo Duro Canyon outside of Amarillo, Texas — with his great-grandaughter Exie Manahan and the chocolate cake.
Johnny is the patriarch of our large O’Brien clan. Some 60 or so relatives gathered Thursday (beef), Friday (gumbo) and Saturday (more beef) nights to celebrate. His mother — my great-grandmother — Exie Eagan O’Brien came to the Panhandle by covered wagon as a newlywed with her husband Will O’Brien, who became a cowhand on the massive XIT Ranch. Will saved 11 out of 12 monthly paychecks — cowboys got room and board — and bought his first quarter-section of land and first cattle. He eventually brokered the largest cattle deal in U.S. history to the time — 10,000 head — and went on to become a Panhandle legend. As has Johnny, revered in the Amarillo business community — and by all of us in his family — for his smarts and his heart.
We stayed up late that same night at that same porch table smoking cigars and listening to Johnny tell stories of ranching and whiskey and whatnot.