The manure on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard was the first sign of something unusual.
"You don't often see horse manure going down the main roads," said Linda Novy of Fairfax, who spotted the droppings Sunday.
The source was revealed Monday when a lone cowboy led three horses through the heart of suburban Marin, tied them to a bicycle rack in downtown San Anselmo and walked into Hilda's Coffee Shop for a snack.
The cowboy was Doc Mishler, who has been riding around the United States on and off for a decade to raise awareness of children's hunger. Mishler began his latest journey in Florida in March 2011, and his next destination is Hollywood, he said in a brief interview.
He stayed at a home in Nicasio on Saturday, camped in Fairfax the next night and planned to stay in Mill Valley on Monday and cross the Golden Gate Bridge on New Year's Day. He is not affiliated with a particular charity, but he is encouraging people to help feed hungry children around the world, he said.
"This is not about me," he said. "It's about feeding hungry children, but if the lord wants to use me, hallelujah."
On Monday in San Anselmo, bystanders gathered around Mishler's three horses -- Chief Free Spirit, Justice and Charity -- while the cowboy warmed up inside Hilda's. The restaurant provided free coffee and cookies for Mishler and carrots for the horses.
Hilda's employee Kris DeSilva said co-workers initially did not believe her when she said a cowboy rode past the restaurant.
"When he came in I said, 'See, I told you so,'" she said.
After he emerged, Mishler smoked a cigarette and drank coffee as bystanders posed for photographs with him, and offered traveling money and directions to Mill Valley.
"Where will you stay tonight?" someone from the crowd asked as Mishler prepared to leave.
"I'm sure God has a plan," Mishler said.
Mishler distributed a two-page flier filled with Bible quotes.
"We all have a gift for the world table of hungry children," the flier states. "God has given man the capacity to conquer and control hunger."
This is not the first time Mishler has passed through Marin. A decade ago, he stopped in the county and stayed at Marin Stables in Fairfax, he said.
Marin Stables manager Jim McDermott declined to comment on Mishler and his journey, but Novy said she remembers the previous visit well.
She said she invited Mishler for Thanksgiving dinner at her house in Fairfax.
"We had a wonderful time at my house," she said. "He told some stories and let his horses rest up at Marin Stables."
She had not seen or heard from Mishler in the decade since, but thought of him when she spotted the manure Sunday and heard a man with three horses was in town.
"I didn't know it was the same guy but I expected it was," she said.
Contact Will Jason via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter at http://twitter.com/willjason ___