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The Code Of The West

COWGIRL LIFE

The Code Of The West “A man’s got to have a code, a creed to live by, no matter his job.” — John Wayne

the code of the west zane grey cowgirl magazine

Photo courtesy of Tombstone.

When it comes to the Wild West, there was an unwritten code of the west that was held even above the government’s law by cowboys and gentlemen alike. Though it was always just an unwritten understanding between those that held themselves to the standard, here are the loose terms that ruled the west for so long:

  • Don’t inquire into a person’s past. Take the measure of a man for what he is today.
  • Never steal another man’s horse. A horse thief pays with his life.
  • Defend yourself whenever necessary.
  • Look out for your own.
  • Remove your guns before sitting at the dining table.
  • Never order anything weaker than whiskey.
  • Don’t make a threat without expecting dire consequences.
  • Never pass anyone on the trail without saying “Howdy”.
  • When approaching someone from behind, give a loud greeting before you get within shooting range.
  • Don’t wave at a man on a horse, as it might spook the horse. A nod is the proper greeting.
  • After you pass someone on the trail, don’t look back at him.  It implies you don’t trust him.
  • Riding another man’s horse without his permission is nearly as bad as making love to his wife.  Never even bother another man’s horse.
  • Always fill your whiskey glass to the brim.
  • A cowboy doesn’t talk much; he saves his breath for breathing.
  • No matter how weary and hungry you are after a long day in the saddle, always tend to your horse’s needs before your own, and get your horse some feed before you eat.
  • Cuss all you want, but only around men, horses and cows.
  • Complain about the cooking and you become the cook.
  • Do not practice ingratitude.
  • A cowboy is pleasant even when out of sorts.
  • Complaining is what quitters do, and cowboys hate quitters.
  • Always drink your whiskey with your gun hand, to show your friendly intentions.
  • Always be courageous.
  • Cowards aren’t tolerated in any outfit worth its salt.
  • A cowboy always helps someone in need, even a stranger or an enemy.
  • Never try on another man’s hat.
  • Be hospitable to strangers. Anyone who wanders in, including an enemy, is welcome at the dinner table. The same was true for riders who joined cowboys on the range.
  • Give your enemy a fighting chance.
  • Never wake another man by shaking or touching him, as he might wake suddenly and shoot you.
  • Real cowboys are modest.  A braggert who is “all gurgle and no guts” is not tolerated.
  • Be there for a friend when he needs you.
  • Drinking on duty is grounds for instant dismissal and blacklisting.
  • A cowboy is loyal to his “brand,” to his friends, and those he rides with.
  • Never shoot an unarmed or unwarned enemy. This was also known as “the rattlesnake code”: always warn before you strike. However, if a man was being stalked, this could be ignored.
  • Never shoot a woman no matter what.
  • Consideration for others is central to the code, such as: Don’t stir up dust around the chuck wagon, don’t wake up the wrong man for herd duty, etc.
  • Respect the land and the environment by not smoking in hazardous fire areas, disfiguring rocks, trees, or other natural areas.
  • Honesty is absolute – your word is your bond, a handshake is more binding than a contract.
  • Live by the Golden Rule.

-Code courtesy of Zane Grey in the 1934 novel, The Code of the West

Want more Wild West cowboys? Check out Gus McCrae here!

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