Friday, February 25, 2011

The Code of the West

by Dick Mac

Tea Party Republicans elected to the Montana legislature in the last round of elections have introduced a bill that would make "The Code Of The West" the "Code Of Montana."


In this Bill, it is stated that the Code of the West is:
(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.

This list is said to come from the book Cowboy Ethics, by James P. Owen, published in 2005.

Most of these items are pretty vague and open to interpretation, unlike most codes and laws enacted by governments. It's important to remember that this "code" comes from a piece of literature written about a romantic idea of ye olde west, and not rooted, really, in historical fact.

What is "fair" to a police chief in Missoula, Montana, might be different than what is fair to a police chief in Athens, Georgia; and although many Tea Party supporters think that the federal government has no role in law enforcement or control, we do have a federal government that is legitimate and defends the American way of life, and no Tea Party can ignore, desecrate, or eliminate our laws of the land to fit neatly into their hateful little plan to build a narrow little world.

The original "code of the west" was actually presented in the early 1930s by the writer Zane Grey, who wrote popular fictional novels about the American West. Fiction. Many great ideas have come from fiction.

In 1969, Ramon Adams, a historian who studied the American West, explained in his book, The Cowman and His Code of Ethics [currently out-of-print, but available from some book dealers]:
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." These homespun laws, being merely a gentleman's agreement to certain rules of conduct for survival, were never written into statutes, but were respected everywhere on the range.

Though the cowman might break every law of the territory, state and federal government, he took pride in upholding his own unwritten code. His failure to abide by it did not bring formal punishment, but the man who broke it became, more or less, a social outcast. His friends 'hazed him into the cutbacks' and he was subject to the punishment of the very code he had broken.

In that book, the list is more detailed:
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.

Always drink your whiskey with your gun hand, to show your friendly intentions.

Do not practice ingratitude.

A cowboy is pleasant even when out of sorts. Complaining is what quitters do, and cowboys hate quitters.

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 chuckwagon, 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.

See, The Code of the West

This list is much more comprehensive, but as you look over the list you will see that there are many ethics there that do not exactly fit into the Tea Party's plans.

So, again, the Tea Party takes a small sliver of history, warps it into some odd "code" that suits their hostile, angry, vicious, bitter, self-serving needs, and presents it as fact to be used in their narrow interpretation of the law of the land.

Good luck to the Montanans who elected these people. I hope Zane Grey's "code of the west" works out to be sufficient legal grounds for you to build a civilization; it was certainly enough for a fictional book about cowboys!

And, you thought the stories of the Old Testament were enough for these people!

PS: I nicked the coloring page of the cowboy above so that you could color the code of the west however you want it to look, just like the Tea Party does!

No comments: