Every generation says growing up is harder for the current one, but the issues I see today’s children dealing with makes my heart ache for them. As I pondered how we as a society start dealing with the problems facing our young people something in my Pinterest feed caught my eye:
The Cowboy Code
If it’s not yours,
Don’t take it.
If it’s not true,
Don’t say it.
If it’s not right,
Don’t do it.
Something so simple, and yet, so profound. The first part—if it’s not yours, don’t take it—is easy for most of us. We know what stealing is and that it’s wrong. But the other two are tougher. If it’s not true, don’t say it—I don’t lie about someone, but I’ve been known to gossip. Because I’ve come to believe gossip can be as dangerous and damaging as lying, I try to avoid listening to or repeating it. As to the last part of The Cowboy Code—if it’s not right, don’t do it—I think it’s the most complicated. How do we tell what’s right with so many gray areas? For me, if I listen to my gut, it becomes clearer. When I feel that little twinge, I know something isn’t a good decision, and I’m learning to trust that. So far, my gut’s served me well.
Inspired by The Cowboy Code, I searched Pinterest and found other western advice. Maybe because cowboys work with cows and steers—animals known for requiring patience—but what I found has encouraged that very trait in me. I’ve always been a “Lord, give me patience right now” gal. I’ve been quick to honk at drivers who don’t move the minute the light turned green. I’ve fumed at someone taking too long leaving a parking space. But now, I try to be the driver I want on the road with me. When someone allows me to pull out in heavy traffic, I give them the “thanks pardner” wave to acknowledge their kindness, and more importantly, I try to be the person who makes room for others.
Yup, I’m taking The Cowboy Code and philosophy to heart. I did this hoping to brighten someone else’s day and made a profound difference in my own life. Doing so has helped me slow down, be more patient, and live happier. Maybe that’s The Cowboy Code is a possible answer to some of our problems.
I’ll leave you with another cowboy tip that hopefully makes you smile as it did me. You got it. “Never climb a barbed wire fence naked.” Okay, so maybe they aren’t all diamonds, but you got to admit, it’s solid advice!
Click here to head to the Petticoats and Pistols Pinterest site and check out more cowboy philosophy inspiration I found.
Now it’s your turn. Leave a comment about your favorite cowboy or downhome wisdom to be entered to win the gray and white owl scarf and a copy of Family Ties containing my novel Cowboy in the Making pictured here.
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.
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.
Keep your promises.
Ride for the brand.
Talk less and say more.
Some things aren’t for sale.
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.
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.
Oh my stars, can you believe it, that it is not snowing like almost anywhere, except perhaps in the highest of high peaks? And what goes along with summer? So many things!!!
Ice pops (or freeze pops, here).
Sun…. leaves…. color… green!!!!… heat… warmth…. blue skies… thunderstorms… scampering critters…. birds…. birdsong… frogs croaking… bugs chirping… baby birds out of the nest… Oh, so many things! But what’s one of the most recognizable things about summer?
Bathing suits. Sunscreen. Sun umbrellas. Flowered towels. Plastic water bottles. Sandbuckets. Plastic shovels. And
Why are beach reads a thing? Well… because folks are relaxing on the beach. Sunbathing or lounging or just hanging out on vacation and what do tons of people take with them to the beach? A book. Or an e-reader, a Kindle or even their phone!
Nowadays you can read on just about anything and folks aren’t worried to death about getting sand in a $29.00 E-reader… like they used to be about a $129.00 Kindle…
Times change, but people don’t. Not really. And when they go to the beach, or to the shore, or hanging out in the air conditioned hotel room or rented condo, a great read is a marvelous thing.
And it can be any kind of read, but for my money, you can’t beat a great western or romance. Now I like my romances sweet. We all know that. But I like my stories to go deep… to strengthen the backbone of the romance with some real life things and it just so happens that one of those wonderful westerns has just gone on sale for $1.99 for the e-reader version.
A Cinderella-type story… with a country star cowboy prince… and the sacrificial heart that makes all the difference.
In spite of their differences, Trey Walker Stafford knows he owes his life to cowboy and legendary rancher Sam Stafford—the uncle who rescued him after his parents’ death. Trey had left the Double S Ranch to pursue music against Sam’s wishes, but returns to central Washington when he learns he’s the best match for a procedure that could save Sam’s life. Although Trey’s found country music fame and success, he’s also endured the tragic loss of his wife. He croons about love, but struggles with a yawning emptiness he can’t explain.
Overwhelmed by a growing list of challenges, but mistrustful of Stafford men, single mother Lucy Carlton reluctantly accepts Trey’s help to revive her crumbling farm when Sam instructs him to repay the overdue debt to her family.
As the two grow closer, Trey slowly begins to open his heart to this beautiful woman and strives to let go of the grief he’s held for years. Lucy has a complicated history of her own. Can Trey accept her as she is, learn to forgive the past, and find the elusive peace he’s sought for so long?
Okay, so that’s the “skinny” on the story, but there’s more… so much more. Because this story isn’t just about a romance between two unlikely characters… this is a story that was in part inspired by Jimmy Wayne’s history, how he was taken in by a couple who opened their doors to him…
It’s a story that could take place anywhere… so why in the west? Why on a ranch?
Because this story was made for a cowboy. This series was centered around that cowboy code, sometimes misplaced by geography and timing, but never gone for good… because the true heart of a cowboy, of how a man treats a woman… and a dog… and a or cow and a calf and a horse and a kitten… it’s in that ‘putting others first’ example we all love so much.
Now, okay, it is fiction, of course… Men are men, the world is round, and life goes on. But there is a romance that’s bound in the image of a cowboy, taking care to see things done right, and that’s the kind of story I wrote for “Peace in the Valley”. A story of a man who isn’t afraid to step off the big stage, walk away from tens of thousands of screaming fans, and help re-build a barn for the gal next door. Or fill a shopping cart full of food. Or give a little girl a shoulder ride, so she sees the world from new heights.
A caring man is a wonderful thing, but when we slap that caring man on a horse and give him the perfect tilt to his hat, well, then…
I hope you all had a wonderful Independence Day. It’s a blessed day to remember the courage and conviction of men and women who stood strong in the face of unfairness and adversity… who stood strong even though they were grossly outnumbered by an enemy with much greater fire power than they ever hoped to have…
And men and women who descended from those brave first immigrants, the pilgrams who fled to the shores of a new land searching for religious freedom. Including the freedom to sing things like “Peace in the Valley”, pray in the church of their choosing… or on the trail… and raise their children to be God-fearing people who strove to make their way… On Independence Day I think about those who came to this country… built this country… defended this country… and worked so hard to make a difference in the lives of others.
Courage of conviction. Another quality our cowboys carry into their work, every single day. Just like those that went before them.
This is the time of year we pause to count our blessings, but fostering a spirit of gratitude year-round is a goal I strive to achieve. Did you know that people who make a regular effort to be thankful, live richer lives? Counting blessings and expressing gratitude for what we already have instead of focusing on what we don’t makes us happier.
Psychological studies have shown that a grateful attitude increases self-esteem, reduces depression, and makes us more resilient when hard times come our way. It improves our relationships with others, makes us more optimistic, and makes us more likely to be generous givers. On the physical side, studies have shown that fostering a thankful spirit reduces blood pressure, promotes relaxation and improved sleep, and can even shorten recovery time from illness.
I can’t help but think of the iconic cowboy. Humble, grateful for the little things in life, unbothered by the big things that reside outside his control. He’ll let God tackle those. He counts himself fortunate if he has a horse that don’t limp, a roof that don’t leak, and a wide open sky to gaze upon. He’s content.
I know that’s a romanticized ideal, but I like it. It helps me put things into perspective. But then again, maybe it’s not quite so romanticized. As I was searching the internet for ideas for this post, I ran across this story that ran on the CBS evening news back in September of last year. Not only did this story make me laugh, but it made me want to stand up and cheer for the humble cowboy who made a choice to do what was right and asked for nothing in return.
Is it just me or have good manners gone the way of trail drives? I have three grandchildren working summer jobs and I’m appalled at the stories they tell about customer rudeness.
It didn’t always used to be that way. Back in the Old West, manners ruled. A cowboy might have been rough around the edges and whooped-it-up on occasion, but he also knew his Ps and Qs. To show you what I mean, let’s compare today’s manners with those of the past.
Hitting the Trail: Navigating some of today’s roads is like steering through a metal stampede. It’s every man/woman for his/her self. Cars ride on your tail and cut you off. To stay on the defense, today’s drivers must contend with drunkenness, speeding and texting—and that ain’t all. If this doesn’t make you long for the good ole days, I don’t know what will.
The Cowboy Way: When riding a horse, a cowboy would never think of cutting between another rider and the herd. Nor would he ride in such a way as to interfere with another man’s vision. Crossing in front of another without a polite, “Excuse me” would not have been tolerated. As for riding drunk; that would have gotten a wrangler fired on the spot.
Please and Thank You: Recently I saw a young man hold a restaurant door open for a young woman. Instead of saying thank you, she chewed him out. Oh, me, oh, my. What is the world coming to?
The Cowboy Way: The first man coming to a gate was expected to open it for the others. Everyone passing through would say thank you. Holding a door open for a lady went without saying, as did tipping his hat and saying a polite, “Howdy, ma’am.” Back in the old days, a cowboy might have gotten a smile from the lady, but he sure wouldn’t have gotten a tongue-lashing.
Cell Phones: I could probably rattle on about poor cell phone manners, but for me, loud talking is the worst offense. During a recent visit to the emergency room, I was privy to every patient’s medical condition and more.
The Cowboy Way: Those early cowboys didn’t have cell phones, of course, which is probably a good thing; A ringing phone would have startled the cattle and maybe even the horses. John Wayne wasn’t talking about cell phones when he said, “Talk low, talk slow, and don’t say too much,” but that’s not bad advice. Especially in the ER.
So what do you think? Are good manners a thing of the past or are they still very much alive?
A few weeks ago when I received an invitation to join the fabulous Fillies here at Petticoats & Pistols, I had to read it three times before I could fully latch onto the fact that I was going to be a Filly!
From the first time these wonderful ladies asked me to be a guest on the blog, I’ve been so impressed with them and the great community they’ve built here. And now I get to be part of it! It’s hard to picture this lil’ ol’ farm girl getting to hang out here, but I’m sure excited to be counted among the Fillies.
Circa 1970-something… me with a fawn our neighbor rescued
I’ve possessed a love of books, reading, and creating stories for as long as I can remember. I also loved growing up on a farm where my dad let me tag after him all the time. (You can find a few of our adventures together in Farm Girl– humorous takes on true things that happened during my childhood.)
In fact, he kept a blanket, one of my baby dolls, storybooks, and a supply of candy in the swather so I could ride with him whenever it was hay-cutting time.
While I trailed Dad like a shadow, I learned about rural life, country living, cowboys, and heroes.
Much of what I saw, experienced, and lived during my formative years is woven into the threads of the sweet contemporary and historical stories I write. My 50th book just released last week, so I’ve had many opportunities to incorporate a variety of details from my background, but there’s one thing I keep circling my wagon around.
The heroes in my books are often rugged guys who can be a little rough around the edges, but they generally hold a healthy respect toward women and stick to an unspoken code of chivalry we may never know or decipher.
While some may think these types of men exist only in my fertile imagination, I know they are real. Honestly, they continually inspire me.
My own beloved husband, Captain Cavedweller, is a great source of gallant deeds. Although he isn’t much of a talker, if I can get him to be serious for five minutes, he typically manages to say something that melts my heart. (But don’t tell him I shared that with you. I think that breaks rule #63 in the code.)
When I look for validation that the code is alive and well in others of the male species beyond Captain Cavedweller, I find it.
For example, I recently met a PRCA bull rider. He’d never seen me before. Didn’t know me from Adam’s off ox. In fact, he couldn’t be blamed if he was full of himself since he’s quite successful in his line of work. The opposite seemed true, though. When we were introduced, he quickly snatched off his hat, politely tipped his head, and called me “ma’am.” Respectful, kind, and genuine are words I could easily use to describe him. He couldn’t have been more mannerly if Miss Etiquette had been whispering in his ear.
In one of my contemporary romances, Learnin’ The Ropes, the bossy, crusty ranch foreman outlines what he believes to be the code all men should live by to the new greenhorn his boss hired.
The rules are as follows:
Once you give your word and a handshake, it’s as binding as signing a contract.
Never betray a trust.
Never lie, cheat or steal.
Treat all children, animals, and old folks like you want to be treated.
Call your elders sir and ma’am.
Treat women with respect and care.
Always tip your hat to a lady and take it off at the dinner table and in church.
Work hard and give your boss an honest day for your pay.
If someone needs a hand, lend yours to the task.
Respect the flag and our nation.
Be clean – both on the outside and inside of your person.
Never stop learning.
Never make fun of someone who gave it their best.
Never wear your spurs or dirty boots in the house.
Fight fair, be brave, and stand up for what’s right.
Despite what others might say, the Cowboy Code rides on. I’m so, so glad it does. I need those amazing heroes to counter the strong, independent, sassy women in the stories I write. A milksop hero just won’t do for them. Nope, not at all.
I think one of the reasons we love to read western romances is because the stories and characters are full of strength, hope, and love. My new release, set in the Wild West town of Pendleton, Oregon, during WWII, centers on the theme of hope.
In the story, (based on the famous Doolittle Raid… did you know 79 of the 80 men on the mission were based at Pendleton? I should probably provide ample warning that I love researching historical details for my stories!) our hero, Klayne, is convinced he’s going to die on a secret mission. Desperate to leave something, someone, behind, he talks a rancher’s daughter into marrying him, in name only, of course. Too bad Delaney has far different plans…
As a thank you for joining us today, I hope you’ll download a free copy of Heart of Clay, the very first romance I wrote.
Easy-going cowboy Clay Matthews is a respected college professor. He’s the man family and friends turn to for help, or when they need a good laugh. Life would be almost perfect if he could figure out the mysterious, mind-boggling woman who was his wife…