America Needs Westerns by Mike Torreano

My western mystery, The Reckoning, was recently released by The Wild Rose Press. It’s set in 1868 and follows Ike McAlister, a Union soldier who returns from the Civil War to his hometown of Lawrence, Kansas to find that his parents have been killed by Quantrill’s raiders. He sets out on a single-minded hunt to find the murderers; a search that takes him to the high plains of Colorado. My sequel, The Renewal, set in South Park, Colorado, 1872, was released in March 2108, also by The Wild Rose Press.

Let’s talk westerns for a minute. We’ve all heard that the traditional American western is dead—which prompts the question, ‘If that’s so, why write westerns?’ Well, it’s true the golden age of westerns was some time back. Since then, there’s been a bit of a dry spell until recently when several big box office westerns based on great new novels have been released.

Are they’re coming back? It sure seems like it. Why would they be mounting a return? Probably because westerns and the Old West embody timeless values—a place and time where right triumphs over wrong. Not always, certainly, but in our stories it does. The American West in the nineteenth century was a black and white society with clear-cut rules—there were things you were supposed to do as well as things you weren’t. And if you did wrong, there were consequences, oftentimes immediate.

Code of the West

There was a code of the West, even observed among the bad guys. Simple rules for simpler times. Unwritten, but adhered to nonetheless. The Code drew its strength from the underlying character of westerners, both men and women alike. Life back then was hard, but it was also simple. Things that needed to get done got done. Whining wasn’t tolerated. Complainers were ignored. You weren’t a victim. You played the hand you were dealt.

If you’re getting the idea I like that kind of culture, you’re right.

The world we live in today sometimes baffles me. Everything seems to be different shades of gray. Honor and fidelity seem to be out of fashion. People are entitled. The media are advocates, not observers.

While the Code of the West was unwritten and existed in various forms, there were certain common elements everyone—from the hard-working sodbuster, to the law-abiding citizen, to the hardened criminal—typically abided by. Granted, there were exceptions, but generally that held true.

In 2004, Jim Owens synthesized the Code into ten guiding principles in his book, Cowboy Ethics- What Wall Street Can Learn from the Code of the West.

  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. Keep your promises.
  7. Ride for the brand.
  8. Talk less and say more.
  9. Some things aren’t for sale.
  10. Know where to draw the line.

Let’s look at three of these.

How about number seven—Ride for the Brand. It means be loyal to the people in your life—from family and friends, to those you work for. Support the people you’re involved with.

Take a look at number four—Do what has to be done. Life is oftentimes messy. Our days are filled with ups and downs, and we make choices all the time. This is about choosing to get done what has to be done, then getting on with life.

Next, there’s number nine—Some things aren’t for sale. The Code gave westerners a guide to live by that they broke at their own peril. Are there still things today that aren’t for sale? What are they for you? They might be different for each of us, but at the end of the day I’d wager we all still have values that are non-negotiable. After all, values don’t really change—only times, circumstances, and people do.

The good news is the values the Code embodied haven’t vanished from today’s America, but more often than not it seems they have been marginalized. Popular culture tends to look down on old-time values, or should I say the timeless values of nineteenth century America. We’re an instant gratification society that focuses on the here and now, and disregards the lessons of the past. Imagine a world where you sat with your family for dinner at night, even going so far as to talk with each other. Imagine a world where a man’s word, and a woman’s, was their bond. Where handshakes took the place of fifty-page contracts and lawyers.

Arthur Chapman captured these principles in a poem he penned in 1917.

“Out Where The West Begins”

Where there’s more of singing and less of sighing,

Where there’s more of giving and less of buying,

And a man makes friends without half trying—

That’s where the West begins.

So, yes, occasionally I yearn for those simpler times amid the hustle and bustle of our world. We’re inundated today with various media from morning to night. Sometimes Ike’s and Lorraine’s world-my main characters-looks pretty appealing. Especially right now.

At the end of the day, westerns remind us of our solid roots and what we were and could become again. That’s why the American western will never die.

To buy a copy of Mike’s latest release The Renewal, click here

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Mike is giving away the winner’s choice of either a print or digital copy of his novel, The Renewal. To be entered in the drawing leave a comment about one of the ten Code of  West principles listed above.

Guest Blogger
Updated: August 27, 2018 — 4:17 pm

51 Comments

  1. Great blog Mike. Code #2 “Take pride in your work”, that one is a code I think many don’t have any longer. I try to take pride in all I do, not for recognition, but for my own pride in myself. If you’re going to do something why not take pride in it and do it to the best of your ability. Nowadays people seem to eatch others, the old saying “grass is greener on the other side.” They think all others either have it easier or they think what others do is more glamorous. But until you’ve walked in their shoes you really have no clue. Maybe if we quit watching, daydreaming, and just do our jobs to the best of our ability and take pride in it, we might just find happiness with our own selves that would truly satisfy us. Again great blog and I don’t think the old west will ever die. Thanks to you great authors that keeps it alive for us readers. Happy Labor Day.

    1. Very true Tonya. If people took pride in all they do, things would get done better in the first place, people would be happier and that in turn would make for better lives for everyone.

    2. Thanks Tonya,
      I like your thoughts. Seems like we take more pride in ourselves than in our work today. Maybe the pendulum can still swing back. Thanks for commenting.

  2. Excellent blog and I couldn’t agree more with what all you are saying. Being from the cowboy capital of the world, Stephenville, Texas, I believe the world would be a better place if everyone used the overall ethics of the 1800’s and the especially The Cowboy Ethics. I think in todays society number 8 needs to be used more both in the public and life but even morw specifically on social media. People are so quick to judge and to jump in with their opinion without truly thinking or listening to what is being said. And quite frankly, with people hiding behind a screen and keyboard they often say things they wouldn’t in person. Or at least I hope they wouldn’t. I’d love the opportunity to read your book and a giveaway is an awesome way to find an author to add to my go to authors list! Have a great Labor Day Weekend!

    1. Stephanie, yes yes I agree people talk way too much and as you said get behind a keyboard and spout words I bet they would never say to Someone’s face. Woohoo us Cowboy Capital Of The World girls, we are so lucky to have grown up in Stephenville. Next time we are both in town we’ve got to get together. Maybe at Christmas I hope.
      I’m so glad you are reading, you & I get to go on so many trips all over from the comfort of our homes.

    2. Thanks Stephanie, I agree. Seems like we talk at each other these days rather than to each other. America has always been a civil society, maybe we can return to our roots. Thanks for commenting.

    3. Stephanie, your’re from Stephenville, Texas? That’s were Lee Roy Parnell was raised. Do you know who he is? (He was born in Abilene but raised in Stephenville (southwest of Fort Worth, right?).

  3. I like Finish what you Start. Many of them we have lost but this one needs to be resurrected. If the going gets tough anymore, they quit.

    1. Thanks Debra, that’s one of my favorites as well. Too many people drift off course even when the way is clear. I’m reminded of Sir Winston Churchill’s shortest speech. Never give up. Never, never, never, never, never give up!
      Thanks for commenting!

  4. #5 Be tough, fair
    I think people just whimp out and give in to the louder and pushier types now a days. Stand up and be tough. Hold your beliefs firmly. Be fair. Let the other guy have his own view. Agree to disagree may be the answer. You still have to follow the norms of society, but guide those norms wisely. Be tough. Be fair.

    1. Great response Cuz!

    2. Hi Jerri, being fair seems to be one of the values that’s out of fashion these days. The Old West wasn’t perfect, but people generally treated one another decently. Here’s hoping some of those mores will gain more traction in our great nation in the coming years.
      Thanks for commenting.

  5. Awesome blog. My code is dont lie, steal or cheat. Always do your best at everything you do. If you want it bad enough, work for it. Don’t steal it. Be faithful to the one your with. I follow my marriage vows to the very last word. Exept Obay. That wasnt in my vows. Im my own person. Im over 18 and will not be told what i can and cannot do. Like how to dress or dont wear makeup. Be kind to others like our elderly. One day we will be in their place. Do something for nothing. That one has gone out the window years ago. Im trying to get my husband to mow the lawn or plow the neighbors yard for free because she cannot do it. Why do you have to be paid for it. My children think i owe them. I dont owe anyone. Its a give me world out there. Not what can i do for you to help you out. Thank you for sharing.
    Sincerly Charlene Whitehouse

    1. Hi Charlene, It does seem like today’s world is entitled. In the Old West, you were only ‘entitled’ to what you earned.
      You sound just like my feisty heroine, Lorraine, in The Reckoning and The Renewal! 🙂
      Thanks for commenting.

  6. I think more people need to follow this rule. “Keep your promises”

    1. Hi Janine, wouldn’t that be something? If people did what they said they were going to do? Sure would solve a lot of today’s problems, wouldn’t it.
      Thanks for commenting.

  7. I think a lot of people in America no longer adhere to # 2 Take Pride in your work it’s lets make this 8/12 hr shift so I can get out the door before it hits my butt.

    1. Good Glenda, I’ve never understood why people stay at a job they can’t stand. Life’s too short not to be doing what you like to do. If you’re working for someone, work for them. Go elsewhere if you will, but work your best while there. The principal benefit will be for you.
      Thanks for commenting.

  8. I am going to have to go with number two take pride in your work that one was preached to me all of my life from my mother. She always said to do the best that you can do and be proud of it. So I live by that.

    1. Hi QL, yup. Taking pride in what you do is not only the right thing to do, it lifts up everything about a person. Want more self-confidence? Try doing the best you can every time.
      Thanks for commenting.

  9. Good morning im going with #9 and then 5

    1. Hi Yvonne, number 9 is one that smacks me right between the eyes. There are some things that aren’t for sale. They’re non-negotiable. That’s a black and white concept in today’s gray world.
      Thanks for commenting.

  10. #3!! Wow greag blog!

  11. Such an impressive, meaningful and wonderful post. It resonates with me since I am old school and was brought up with these important principles and values which were adhered to daily. I miss those days because it was a different world and individuals words were lived by and trusted. My favorites are #2,3,4 and 5.

    1. I miss those days, too Anne. Things don’t look very promising in our country today, but I remain ever the optimist.
      Thanks for commenting.

  12. Thanks for this amazing and special beaut of a blog today. Remarkable and fabulous to read this list. Four is the important one which we live by everyday. If only everyone could follow these major foundations for life.

    1. Hi Lainie,
      I live by four. I picture myself ‘attacking’ what has to be done. That works for me and it sounds like it works for you.
      Thanks for commenting.

  13. Take pride in your work. That’s an ethic some people seem to have lost. They just want to get it done, and they don’t take time to do it right the first time, to take pride in one’s work, meet or exceed expectations. I was raised to take pride in one’s work. Because, it’s a direct reflection of oneself.

    1. Hi Denise, not only is it a reflection on you, it’s a way to feel better about yourself. We could all use a dose of that.
      Thanks for commenting.

  14. Thank you for reminding us what it really means to be a mench. I was given these values and still follow them daily. Another one is respect which is sadly missing from our world. I miss a great deal from another life and wish for it return.

    1. Hi Pearl, Yes. We start with ourselves. Can’t respect others if we don’t respect ourselves.
      Thanks for commenting.

  15. I love Westerns – book, movies, TV shows – and always have and in addition to the interesting history and fun stories at this site, am glad to have found a place that shares some of my values. The Code of the West should be required reading for everyone. The one that scares me most now is #10, because it seems that too many people believe it’s okay for them, because are special or have extenuating circumstances or whatever excuse, but they believe there really is no line or if they cross one there won’t be any consequences.

    1. Hi Sally, yes on no. 10. People who cross a line find it easier to do the next time. I agree we’d be better off if more people knew about, and observed, The Code of the West.
      Thanks for commenting.

  16. I’m another author, Mike, so not entering, but my favorite one is to keep promises!!! I was especially certain to do that when I was raising my children. Don’t promise children something you can’t deliver, messes up their sense of trust. IMHO

    1. Hi Hebby, great observation. Trust is one of those cardinal things that, once lost, may never be regained. The Code is a timeless set of values we would do well as a Nation to follow.
      Thanks for commenting.

  17. My favorite Code is Talk less and say more. Thank you for this great post!

    1. Hi Caryl, you’re on to something. Sometimes when we talk less, we do say more.
      Thanks for commenting.

  18. I think every period of history has its strengths and weaknesses–it’s white, black and gray areas–because there are always people involved, people with both strengths and weaknesses. And I think people need to have flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances which is one of life’s certainties.

    If I think about the Old West, I like to think about settlers trying to make a new life in a new land, and I like to think of Indians trying to strive to maintain their values and way of life in the face of unbelievable change. (That is instead of thinking of cattle rustlers and bank robbers of the past; of the selfishly wealthy, and the prejudiced and divided society we live in today; and above all the country we live in that is based on slavery of one people and the extermination of another. So what will our sin be now: refugees and immigrants with no power like the others before them?)

    So I think it takes a person’s whole being to deal with whatever life throws his/her way, in every period of history. So maybe it’s number 1: Live each day with COURAGE in order to handle as WELL as one can and with as much HONOR as possible for whatever comes our way.

    1. Hi Eliza, It’s true. Being courageous is better than being fearful.
      Thanks for commenting.

  19. Great post!Thank you for sharing! I like, “Always finish what you start.”

    1. Hi Melanie, that’s especially true for authors! 🙂
      Thanks for commenting.

  20. Ride for the Brand. Yes it did mean loyalty to your family and who you worked for. Today, people tend to think of themselves first. They work for someone, but tend to keep an eye out for something better. There is nothing wrong with wanting to improve your situation. A big problem today that interferes with being true to the “brand” is the lack of loyalty of the “brand,” companies, to their employees. So many companies see their employees as place fillers and little more, easily replaceable. Your problems are your problems. Benefits interfere with the profits of the company. Salary will have to be enough. The companies that care about the work environment and family support are few and far between. There are few employers like the mill owner in New England who continued to pay his employees after the mill burned until it could reopen. His loyalty to them and theirs to him is hard to find anymore.

    1. Hi Patricia, love your comment. I had a 35-year business career and loyalty was one of the values I prized most. If you’re going to work for someone, work for them! If you can’t, any longer, then find something else. One of the most pitiful situations is people in jobs they can’t stand, just for the money.
      Ride for the brand, but if you can’t, leave.
      Thanks for commenting.

  21. A great post Mike. So sad that these values have fallen to the wayside for many today. I was raised with these codes and I think they are all a wonderful way to live.

    1. Hi Carol, I’m with you. This Country would be a better place to live and work if The Code was still observed.
      Thanks for commenting.

  22. Hi Mike, I appreciate learning about the Code. All of them are great principles but I especially like #8. I have never been a great conversationalist and I used to admire people who were never at a loss for words but an older, wiser person reminded me that some of these people were talking to impress and that sometimes listeners are more informed. I haven’t forgotten this! Words can be beautiful but our actions speak louder!

    1. Hi Connie, The good Lord gave us two ears and one mouth. ‘Nuff said.
      Thanks for commenting.

  23. Hi Mike……Welcome to P&P. I apologize for not getting over here yesterday. I missed a great chance to chat. I wish we all lived by a code. It sure would make this world a better place. Used to everyone had a set of rules they lived by and they didn’t cross the line. Today it seems the values I grew up with have eroded and become unrecognizable. Hurts my heart. Good luck with your books and in everyday life too. And please come back to visit.

  24. Be tough, Be fair is my favorite.

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