The Code of the West: A Moral Compass That Still Holds True Today

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The code of the west is a set of rules (or, as Captain Barbosa in “Pirates of the Caribbean” would say, “More like guidelines”). These rules were believed to have been first captured in writing by western author Zane Grey, which outlined a moral compass. In 1934, Grey wrote “The Code of the West,” and although they hadn’t been detailed in this fashion before, many pioneers of the American West followed these rules inherently.

Detailing behaviors in terms of loyalty, respect, hospitality, fair play, and general dealings with your fellow man, many of these same rules still apply today. Texas – known for its rugged western lifestyle with remnants that can still be seen – continues to carry on the tradition. The book entitled “The Cowman and His Code of Ethics,” by Ramon Adams, appeared to say it best: “Back in the days when the cowman with his herds made a new frontier, there was no law on the range. Lack of written law made it necessary for him to frame some of his own, thus developing a rule of behavior which became known as the ‘Code of the West.’”

The Code of the West: A Moral Compass That Holds True Today

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Respected and adhered to, despite their lack of being written in stone, these grassroots “laws” were simply a code of conduct. And, although certain folks may have disregarded state and federal laws, for whatever reason, it was practically a sin if you failed to uphold this unwritten code. Failure to do so would mean shunning, as you would literally become a social outcast of the day (even back then we were cliquey!). Despite the fact that they truly remained “unwritten,” here are just a few of those that were considered integral guidelines in the code of the west:

  • Look out for your family and friends.
  • Don’t pass by anyone along the trail failing to say “Howdy.”
  • A true cowboy doesn’t have much to say; rather, takes things in, and saves his breath.
  • Regardless of how hungry and tired you may be at the end of the day, you must always tend to your horse before you eat.
  • Cussing only happens around men and livestock.
  • If you complain about the cooking, you’ll soon become the cook.
  • Always help someone in need, be they friend, foe, or stranger.
  • True cowboys are modest. A braggart isn’t tolerated.
  • No drinking on the job. It’s grounds for blacklisting and dismissal.
  • Be loyal to those you work with, friends, and to your “brand.”
  • Be considerate of others.
  • Have respect for the land and for nature.