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1816 - The Code of the West means a lot out here

 Know where to draw the line. – From Code of the West, Cowboy Ethics.


         Living in Wyoming is most often a blessing but sometimes it can be a challenge. At those times you need some standards to draw upon.

         When you live in an isolated state with a small population spread over 98,000 square miles with occasional severe weather, well, you better have some universal codes and standards to help you survive.

         The Code of the West is something that makes sense in such a place.  A state with a sense of place about it.

         Back in 2008, I published a column that involved six years of on-again and off-again research.  I called it Wyoming’s Universal Truths and Fundamental Values. It was an attempt to put into words those concepts and values unique to our state.

         It cited ideas like “small is good” as a Universal Truth when it comes to our state. And “you do not drive by a stranded motorist on a lonely country road in winter” as a Fundamental Value.

         It looks like I wasn’t the only person trying to figure out a way to verbalize these concepts.

         A group of folks were thinking along these lines when they put together a video based on Cowboy Ethics called Code of the West.  You can access it just about anywhere.

         That effort was funded by a consortium that included The Center for Cowboy Ethics and Leadership, Anschutz Foundation, UW College of Business, Daniels Fund, McMurry Foundation, Trihydro Corporation and the Wyoming Business Council.

         The guy who was the author of all this is Jim Owen who developed what he calls The Code of the West. This code has been adopted by Jonah Banks in Wyoming and Trihydro Corporation, among others, as an operating philosophy.

         When I tried to boil down a Wyoming philosophy, my effort was very wordy.  The Code of the West is simple, just ten short phrases. Those phrases are as follows:

         • Live each day with courage.

         • Take pride in your work.

         • Always finish what you start.

         • Do what has to be done.

         • Be tough, but fair.

         • When you make a promise, keep it.

         • Ride for the brand.

         • Talk less, say more.

         • Remember that some things are not for sale.

         • Know where to draw the line.

         Even the Legislature took notice made it the official Code for the state of Wyoming.

         This Wyoming Code is a much-abbreviated version of the first Code of the West compiled by the famous western writer Zane Grey. Grey wrote a lot about Wyoming cowboys during his long career 80 years ago. 

         A few of the more interesting ones on his list include:

         • Never try on another man’s hat.

         • Never shoot a woman, no matter what.

         • Give your enemy a fighting chance.

         • Never wake another man by shaking or touching him, as he might wake suddenly and shoot you.

         • Never shoot an unarmed or unwarned man.

         • Be generous with your life and money.

         It would be natural that a humorous version of this would be developed, too.  One of the best is by Cowboy Poet Bix Benders, which included these gems:

         • A smart ass just don’t fit in a saddle.

         • Always drink upstream from the herd.

         • Never miss a good chance to shut up.

         • When you give a lesson in meanness to a critter or a to a person, don’t be surprised if they learn their lesson well.

         • Don’t worry about biting off more than you can chew. Your mouth is probably a whole lot bigger than you think.

         • Always take a good look at what you’re about to eat. It’s not so imortant to know what it is, but it is critical to know what it was.

         • If you get to thinking you are a person of influence, try ordering somebody else’s dog around.

         • Never kick a fresh dropping on a hot day.

         • Never smack a man who is chewing tobacco.

         • If you find yourself in a hole the first thing to do is stop digging.

         • Good judgment comes from experience and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.

         • Telling a man to get lost and making him do it are two entirely different propositions.

         • When you’re throwing your weight around, be ready to have it thrown around by somebody else.

         • Write it in your heart. Stand by your code and it will stand by you.

         My all-time favorite Cowboy is Will Rogers and I believe that Bix acquired more than a few of his funnyisms here from old Will.