“Real courage is when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway.” Harper Lee
The Code of the West is the stuff that builds legends. Like the Knights in Medieval times, I like my heroes to have a code to live by ~ a moral compass of unwritten rules that center on honor, fair play, loyalty, and respect for the land.
The stories that stick with me, those that I mull over long after reading them, often have the hero or heroine struggling with hard choices. I am particularly moved by stories about honor— where a man (or woman) grapples with doing what he believes is right in the face of extraordinary opposition.
High moral standards of behavior
Honesty, fairness, or integrity in one’s beliefs and actions
Good reputation. Good quality or character as judged by other people.
Two examples in westerns that I can think of right off are Crossfire Trail – where the hero promises a friend on the man’s deathbed that he will take care of the man’s ranch and wife against powerful enemies. And then, even though it looks like will mean his death, he does it.
The other is High Noon – On the day of his wedding, our hero has promised his wife to put up his guns. Then he hears that three outlaws he put in prison and are out and coming to get him. Oh…and one by one, all his friends desert him.
The cowboys and women of my stories often grapple with right and wrong too.
In Dance With a Cowboy, part of the Wild West Christmas anthology, Garrett Sheridan has always loved Kathleen—even before she became his sister-in-law in a mix-up maneuvered by his fun-loving younger brother. Serious & quiet, Garrett should have spoken up before the wedding, but once he learned she was expecting, he kept his feelings to himself.
For years he has kept quiet. But now Kathleen is a young widow with a five-year old daughter in tow. The two need looking after…and Garrett can’t turn his back on that—or Kathleen—even though she wants nothing to do with the Sheridan side of the family. Trouble is ~ if she learns he was the cause of his brother’s death, she will never let him near her again.
I like to think of the American cowboy as the American counterpart to the medieval knight. (Usually with a more self-deprecating sense of humor!) One of my favorite movies about a knight is Kingdom of Heaven which takes place at the time of the Crusades. Although I skip through the more violent fighting parts, I love the story of young Balian becoming a knight. Here is the oath he took ~
“Be without fear in the face of your enemies.
Be brave and upright that God may love thee.
Speak the truth always, even if it leads to your death.
Safeguard the helpless and do no wrong – that is your oath.”
-The Knight’s Oath (Kingdom of Heaven)
Isn’t that just so very sigh-worthy?
However, I imagine a cowboy’s code might have a different twist, such as ~
Look your enemy in the eye and don’t blink or spit,
Saddle up and take the high trail,
Steer clear of lyin’ scoundrels, including yourself,
Kindly help women and children and cut a straight trail ~ mud or no mud.
What do you think? I’d love to hear suggestions to make my cowboy’s code better. Just have fun with it!
One lucky commenter will receive a free print copy of Wild West Christmas ~ my small contribution to Christmas in July that seems to be everywhere this month!