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The 10 Principles of The Cowboy Code and How They Apply Today

10 Principles of the Cowboy Code and how they apply today

If you have ever seen a Western movie or read a Western novel, you may have heard of “The Cowboy Code” or “The Code of the West.” These are terms that describe the mystique and romanticism of the Old West.

The code was an informal guide of conduct generally agreed upon by the pioneers and cowboys who tamed and settled the western American frontier. These principles were derived from the Bible and common sense rules that were required to survive the difficult life on the frontier.

Many western authors popularized the concept of the code with Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour being the most prolific and industrious.

Some of these principles show the distinctions of culture on the frontier:

  • When approaching someone from behind, give a loud greeting before you get within shooting range.
  • 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.

The 10 Principles of The Cowboy Code assembled by cowboyethics.org

  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.

The Cowboy Code emphasizes pride in your work and resolution in the face of difficulties. Character defined the people of the West. Their code represented the core values they held to while abandoning much of civilization and the lives they knew.

How does The Cowboy Code apply today?

Though the American frontier is settled and our modern dangers rarely take the form of bears and cougars, the code is just as relevant today as it was then. Perhaps we may not ride horses to our work, but character never goes out of style.

As men we need to take pride in what we do and stop complaining about our jobs. We need to “ride for the brand,” meaning we are loyal to our employers and coworkers. We should do our jobs for the sake of the job, without expecting anything more than survival.

Today’s world may not be the Old West, but it is an illusion to think men are very different now than then. There are still outlaws and rustlers in our world, they simply wear designer clothing now. Men still wonder who they can trust when everyone is out for themselves. We often hear men boasting of their fictional deeds, or rambling on about themselves. A wise man knows

Talk less, say more.

I believe among the principles in the code, one of the most important and overlooked is

Know where to draw the line.

Without these lines in the sand where are we? Life will throw many difficulties and challenges. What defines us is how we deal with them. Will we give into what’s wrong when it’s convenient? Will we stand by integrity no matter the difficulty, holding our character at a greater value?

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