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Words of the Cowboy Code

Too Tall
March 9, 2021
My First Drive
March 22, 2021

Best as I can gather, The Cowboy Code, has developed and evolved over at least 150 years. There may have been something similar on other continents but I don’t know of any and no one can rightly argue that the American West, especially after the War Between The States, was not a unique and formative cultural adventure. The west was a vast area with laws sparely written and enforcement potential often nil. So unwritten standards of conduct were generally agreed upon over time and, though informal, they were rules of behavior that were distinctly understood and, without discussion, expected to be met.

The first documented set of these expectations that I ever saw was Gene Autry’s “Code of Honor” when I was a pup. Roy Rogers, among others I expect, had his variation of similar “codes”. These have generally been referred to as The Cowboy Code or the Code of the West. There’s even a relatively modern book out called, The John Wayne Code which highlights many quotations, examples of the Cowboy Code, from his personal words or teachable moments from his movies. No surprise there.

The following is my version. The west is still a vast area though certainly much more accessible than in the 1800's. These standards, guides for personal conduct, are just as applicable today as ever - maybe even more so in this era that suffers from the absence of a universally acknowledged moral compass and a rejection of the original codified conduct rules, the Ten Commandments. I know I’ll never perfectly measure up to The Cowboy Code but it sure is a handy comfort when I need to stop and ponder where I should be aimin’.

I post my take on this old rulebook here for your ponderin'. Maybe it'll bring a nod, a grin, a headshake or an ahah!

Words of the Cowboy Code

Honesty, it goes without sayin’
Is expected in word and deed
Don’t ever lie to me nor I to you
It’s the fundamental cowboy creed

Courage to do what’s right and lead
Even when your inner fear says to not
To move forward into danger
When others freeze or run fraught

Pride shows in appearance an’ behavior
And when always workin’ your best
Brings a comfort to a good hand’s heart
When it comes a'night and time to rest

Humility keeps a man's pride in check
So he doesn't go thinkin' he's too grand
It reminds him that he's not always right
Keeps him from givin' himself a hand

Valor means rejectin’ passivity
When it’d be easier to look away
From injustice, unmet needs or abuse
Breathin’ deep, a cowboy steps into the fray

Responsible is the way a man lives
By admittin' when he’s in error
Or steppin' up for his duty
As his family’s armor bearer

Integrity is pretty simple to define
But to have it real and steady
Takes constant, mindful trail plannin’
And against maverickin' ways bein’ ready

Truth is the ready filter through which
A real man runs his words before speakin’
And the lead rope that keeps a cowboy
From storyin’ ‘bout events or facts tweakin’

Generosity means sharin’ your grub and
Bein’ friendly with a stranger in your camp
Even when your short, share it
One day you might be the tramp

Freedom to be who God designed
To travel, speak or worship strong
To drift or gallop in a chosen direction
Chasin’ after dreams for which you long

Respect is what real cowboys have
For wimmenfolk and neighbor’s fencin’
Critters, borrowed tools or horses
Along with esteem for others dispensin’

Honor yourself by keeping your word
Your bond to do as agreed
Whether by handshakin’ or not
A cowboy does as he’s decreed

Reliable is a how a cowboy’s known
For example when grubstake borrowin’
And when he says he’s good for it
He repays on the payday followin’

Trust can be hard to come by
And easily lost by hasty movin’
It’s usually earned over time
And kept by on-goin’ worthy-provin’

Loyalty is a mighty powerful one
Whether for the brand or a friend
A cowboy stands faithful to both
No matter how hard to defend.

Dignity is the last thing to take
From a cowboy if you dare try
You can purt' near have all else
But before givin’ this up he’ll die

Prayin’ is the final word in this order
Authentic men hit their knees ever' day
Knowin’ they'd never meet this decree
But for God regularly showin' the way

by Rik Goodell

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