Code of the West

"The Cow Boy"

"The Cow Boy" (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Though the Code of the West was always unwritten, here is a “loose” list of some of the guidelines:

• 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, andcowboys 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.


Compiled and edited by Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated January, 2011.


5 thoughts on “Code of the West

  1. Never wake RoxannaDanna by shaking or touching her, as she might wake suddenly and shoot you.

    LMAO – just ask my kdis!

  2. Maybe a more modern cowboy…but don’t forget song old dogs, children and watermelon wine. Tom T. Hall. I had ole “Tony” a pinto in the early ’50s, rode and rode pretended I was…no name needed, simply Cowboy. What do kid aspire to now…some kind of transformer something or ‘nother?

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