Updated: Nov 9, 2020
In a time when hate, division, and self-promotion run rampant, there is a code of ethics at risk of extinction. This code, the Cowboy Code, represents a time when things were done differently. My daddy grew up in the last days of that era, the era of the great American Cowboy. Sure, there are still cowboys, but they're not the same. What's truly sad is that this great decline of character and work ethic has taken place within my lifetime. Just 20-short-years ago, the world was very different; the cowboy code still stood firm. Now all you boys in your Hooey hats settle down. Y'all may think you know the code, but your attitude proves otherwise. The code goes far deeper than removing your hat to wink at a girl. It's about family, work ethic, respect, integrity, character, selflessness and a long list of other qualities this generation knows very little about.
Daddy grew up in a time when family was important. Family was everything. Family represented your heritage, and you'd protect that with everything within you. You were proud of who you came from and wanted to uphold their reputation. Family was the ones you knew you could always count on, and because of that, family came first. No questions asked.
Neighbors were next to kin. If a neighbor needed help, you helped them. More than that, you didn't wait to be asked for help. If you saw a need, you filled it. It didn't matter if you had cattle to work too because they'd gladly return the favor. In fact, working cattle was much different. Cattle workings were a family and community event. Neighbors came together to help each other's operations.
Work started before daylight. The code was upheld. The owner of the operation gave the orders and you did things their way to the best of your ability. You wouldn't dare argue with someone on their own operation. You could do things your way on your own place. When you were given your orders, you didn't complain. You knew your place. If you were told to ride swing, you rode swing the entire day unless told otherwise. You wouldn't take another rider's job; you'd go above and beyond to do your own job well.
Horse etiquette was followed and taken seriously. You wouldn't cut another rider and their horse off. You were cautious of your horse's whereabouts in relation to the other animals. You let the boss lead. The boss was the first through the gate and riders followed in seniority. You'd do your best to be the first to get the gate and wait on the ground to close it. The other riders waited for the gateman before riding on. Out of respect, you'd offer to work the ground first and let your elders rope when dragging claves. Once the morning round was worked, the women would have dinner ready and everyone would take a break long enough to enjoy a meal and socialize. Then it was back to work until the job was done for the day and on to the next day and the next neighbor's place.
Horses were recognized as your greatest tool and best friend. You put your horse first in every situation. Your horse was fed and readied for the day before you had breakfast. Throughout the day you took care to pay attention to your horse. If he was tired or sore, you'd rest him even if that meant you didn't get as much done that day. You would rather take care of your horse and not accomplish as much, than risk the horse's wellbeing. As soon as you'd finished a task, your horse's saddle was removed or at the very least the cinch was loosened. You made sure that your horse was watered frequently and never pushed too hard. At the end of the day, horses were unsaddled, cleaned up, and fed well before you ever thought about resting yourself. You put you horse first, friends second and yourself last. Selflessness was a key character quality.
Your elders were to be revered and respected. The younger generations recognized the wealth of knowledge, wisdom, and experience the older generations had to offer. My daddy talks about spending all of his time with his granddaddy. He remembers the lessons about managing cattle and handling horses that were passed down for generations. More importantly, he remembers the life lessons he learned from Granddaddy. He talks about the kind of man Granddaddy was and trying his hardest to become that kind of man. He talks about the understanding that the younger generation had, always knowing their place and being happy to do their part. You got the gate and shut it too. You'd answered with "No, sir." and "Yes, ma'am." You listened to learn, not to respond. You showed respect in word and action.
My daddy grew up in a time and place where your hat meant something. The crease of the brim was the same crease your family had used for years. People recognized you by it and because of that you wore it with pride. You removed your hat as a sign of respect. You wouldn't dare set foot in a church building or someone's home without removing it. You'd take it off to greet a woman because you respected her too. It wasn't a fashion statement. It represented your heritage and served a purpose in protecting you from the elements during long days spent working outside.
Firm handshakes were important too. Integrity meant something and your handshake was representation of that. If you said you'd do something, you meant it. Honesty was expected and upheld. You treated everyone with respect, especially your elders. If you wanted something, you earned it. Hard work was common and you'd go the extra mile because you knew it was worth it. You took pride in your character and worked to improve it. Selflessness, honor and courage were attributes you strove to attain. These things defined you. These things made up the cowboy code.