Cowboy up: in Wyoming, "cowboy ethics" are more than just lore, they're law
Well, as a child who grew up watching every Western TV show there ever was on a black and white Philco, you don't need to tell me a whole heck of a lot about cowboy ethics.
Cowboys wore the white hats of my childhood, pardner.
I watched them all: Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, The Lone Ranger, Hopalong Cassidy, The Range Rider, Annie Oakley, Twenty-Six Men, Tombstone Territory, Wyatt Earp, The Lawman, Rawhide (a cowboy-cowboy show), Paladin, Cheyenne, The Rebel, The Rifleman, Wanted Dead or Alive, Branded, Wagon Train, Maverick, Bat Masterson, Bonanza, Bronco Lane, Sugarfoot...
Have horse, will travel to the living room and plunk myself down in front of the tube and return to those thrilling days of yesteryear.
The only one I didn't watch was Gunsmoke. It was on too late. The only time I recall seeing it was when I sprained my knee clambering over a giant downed tree - dubbed "Dinnny the Dinosaur" by us kids - that had all sorts of cool branches that you could ride like a bucking bronco. Too bad I fell off my steed, severely spraining my knee. The upside was that I got to stay up after everyone else was in bed and watch Matt Dillon, Kitty, and Doc with my father. While it was thrilling to be up so late watching TV, the show itself was boring.
But mostly, yippee-kai-ai-oh. I loved those Westerns.
When I was four, I got a pair of Roy Rogers slippers for my birthday. They were little black shorty felt cowboy boots with Roy and Trigger stamped on them in yellow and white.
My first crush was on Dick West ("The All American Boy"), the Range Rider's sharp-shooting, trick-riding teenaged, cutie-pie companion.
And I will confess that I cheated on my more mature true love, Dr. Kildare, with Adam Cartwright, which really shouldn't count as cheating because they were in different centuries.
Still, cheating on a true love is likely a violation of the "Code of the West," which has been adopted by Wyoming as part of its official (if non-enforceable) state code. (Source: AP.)
The Code is the brain dogie of former hedgie James Owen, founder of Cowboy Ethics, who believes that the world would be a better place, you gents and purdy liddle ladies, if we all would all cowboy up and:
1 Live each day with courage
2 Take pride in your work
3 Always finish what you start
4 Do what has to be done
5 Be tough, but fair
6 When you make a promise, keep it
7 Ride for the brand
8 Talk less and say more
9 Remember that some things aren't for sale
10 Know where to draw the line
At first glance, not much there (to argue with), although on a tick by tick basis...
Living each day with courage is not something that most of us necessarily want to have to think about on a day to day basis, is it? Truly, unless you are suffering from some debilitating mental or physical illness, or have a job like IED patrol in Iraq, just how much courage does it take to get up out bed in the morning, take a shower, and get one with what needs to get done (code item #4).
Sure, in the course of the day, we all need to be prepared to stick by our guns; jump in front of a speeding SUV, driven by a madly texting driver, to push a texting stroller pusher out of the way; defend those who are being bullied; and other sorts of other ad hoc things that call for some degree of courage. But consciously living each day with courage? For all those cowboy shows I watched, I guess I don't get what this means. Wouldn't "act courageously when you need to (which may, in your life, be every day, or may be seldom if ever/never)" make more sense?
Taking pride in your work makes sense, but, you know, sometimes it just doesn't make sense to finish everything you start.
You know how it is.
The project turns out to be a really stupid waste of time. Sure, this may indicate that you agreed to take it on during a day without courage. But sometimes you just have to know when to walk away, know when to run. Everything is not, I guarante, worth finishing - and that includes the novels Lorna Doone and Cider House Rules. Trust me.
Do what has to be done.
But who decides what has to be done?
What if some lunatic decides that what has to be done is fly a plane into an IRS building? Or assassinate their Congress person? Or whatever. "Do what has to be done"? Thar be dragons, I'm afraid.
Be tough but fair.
Ah, the old chestnut about Sister St. Slaphappy: she was tough, but she was fair.
Ya know, in my opinion, there's entirely too much belly-butting, "I'm tough" strutting around as it is. Sure, we all need inner toughness (and outer toughness, while we're at it). Who wants to sit around listening to a bunch of whiney wimps belly-ache? But I don't want to sit around listening to a bunch of chicken-hawks goad each other into action, either.
Anyway, I just hate this 'tough but fair' pairing, as if they actually went together. Please separate these two immediately. Being tough - not in a macho, hectoring way, but in a truly roll with the punches, live with courage way - is one thing. So's being fair.
Promise keeping? Good one. Except when there are extenuating circumstances, like you found out you promised your best friend's kid a hot fudge sundae, just to find out it sets his hair on fire. Okay, this would be a stupid promise that you had no right to make. Still, there are promises made in good faith, but with lack of full information, that sometimes have to be broken.
Ride for the brand, I presume, means work loyaly for your employer. Certainly, if you feel that the place and people you work for are all that sordid and rotten, you really need to quit. But what is life without bitching about work? And, in this day and age, when the CEO would outsource your job to Bangalore if it meant another 0.00002 percent in his bonus wallet, if you're riding for the brand, it better be with both eyes wide open, looking out for vamints and sidewinders.
Talk less, say more. Blah, blah, blah. Certainly none of my friends and family buy into this saturnine little piece of advice. Talk more, say more 'r us. Which is perhaps why our ancestors all got off the boat and stayed put, waving good-bye to their friends on the Conestoga wagons heading West, longing to be cowboys. My peeps were the ones standing there, holding their tongues, shaking their heads and saying, once the wagons had ho'd out of earshot: 'Thank goodness we're rid of those bores. They don't have a darned thing to say.'
Remember that some things aren't for sale? Clearly written before eBay and Craig's List. But certainly hard to argue with in the 'my good name/my good virtue' sense. In the realm of material possessions, however... Sure, I'd like to hang on to the polished steer horns (from a steer roped by a cowboy, do you think?) that hung in my grandfather's saloon (which was, sadly, in Worcester, not Dodge City). But for the right price, someone could absolutely hook them horns.
Know where to draw the line seems as much a virtue that's required for self-preservation as it is for any more noble purpose. But this item, too, is hard to argue with.
They all pretty much are, and that's mostly because these bromides are so high level and nebulous that carrying them out is all going to be in the subjective eye and definition of the beholder.
But, of course, cowboys are so much more romantic and heroic than, say, product marketing professionals.
Me? I'm just city-slicker, back-East, do-gooder, who might suggest that the Cowboy Code get expanded a bit.
I, in fact, could rustle up some good suggestions.
How about one about protecting the weak and defenseless. Being generous with your time, talent (and, if you have it, treasure), when it comes to good causes, and friends and family. Maintaining a sense of humor. Not giving in to the impulse to demonize the "other." Etc.
Because I'm the talk more, write more kind, I could go on.
And I will for just a smidge, if only to say that I'm glad that some Cowboy Code items never made the list:
- Be suspicious of and hostile to strangers (especially city-slickers from back-East)
- Shoot first, ask questions later
- Shoot Indians first; don't bother to ask questions
- Don't run over that coyote with your snowmobile any more times than your need to in order to flatten it into the ground
- Wear the same clothing, season in season out (Can you imagine what the Ponderosa smelled like after 14 years of 4 grown men, five if you count HopSing, who never changed their clothing?)
And now I shall ride on into the sunset, drifting along with the tumbling tumbleweeds.
A tip of the ten-gallon Stetson to my brother-in-law, Rick, for pointing out the Cowboy Code story to me.