The Code of the West

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“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.

Honor =     

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 becamNOVEMBER 8 Book Covere 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 ~Kingdom of Heaven 1

“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!

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27 thoughts on “The Code of the West”

  1. Here goes my Cowboy Code….
    The road may be rough, take it!
    Always be honest, don’t fake it!
    Work hard, love God, you’ll make it!

    • Thanks for stopping by Wildflower Junction Cathy! I was happy with my story in the anthology. It finalled in the HOLT MEDALLION contest for books with a copyright of 2014. I was so happy to learn that!

  2. I wondered if it might be a stretch! I draw a blank so often when put on the spot. The creative side of my brain has to be in a particular mood to think up stuff on the spot. Thanks for stopping by Colleen!

  3. i dont have a code but enjoyed reading the ones you wrote,,its too bad that we cant live by that same code today,,i dont have a code but i do have a little ditty that my 6th grade teacher made us memorize and ill be 60 this year and i still remember it
    Little drops of water
    Little grains of sand
    make the might ocean and the pleasant land
    and the little moments humble as they be
    Make the mighty ages of enterity!

    • Hi Vickie,
      Thanks for stopping by today! I’ve heard part of your little poem (hadn’t heard the last two lines.) I think I learned it in Brownies a long time ago 🙂 Funny how things stay with you that you learn at that age. A group of my friends from grade school recently got together at a housewarming and they all sang the sixth grade graduation song. They all remembered it! (PS…we are all turning 60 this year so you and I must be the same age!)

  4. Congrats on the Holt, Kathryn! Yowzers. I love the code of chivalry…I’m actually stepping out of the West and writing a medieval Christmas story for an anthology (wondering if I should use a pen name) and so much of it translates well to our cowboys. I also like to think part of the cowboy code is kindness to animals, and well, old folks too now that I am one LOL. I can’t wait to read Dance with a Cowboys…me likee Christmas stories and movies any tine of year. I am intrigued by “mixed-up maneuverings” for sure!

    (P.s. Just before I came here today, I’d looked up some info and came across Baldwin!)

    • Hi Tanya! Writing a medieval will be such a fun change of pace! I look forward to reading it! Balian was an actual figure in history. The movie was loosely based on his life. He would be interesting to research. I was surprised to learn through research that there never was a real “code” for cowboys. The Code of the West was a phrase coined in a novel by Zane Grey early in the 20th century.

  5. Never leave a women or child stranded!
    Always be a gentlemen!
    Stand tall no matter the circumstances!
    No matter how tough you are always say your prayers at night!

    These are the codes that I’d hold a cowboy to!
    jennydtipton at gmail dot com

    • Hi Jennifer! Great to see you here! I agree with your cowboy code…and I think most heroes–knight or cowboy–would live by them. I can see knights saying prayers more for some reason than cowboys. Cowboys sometimes have a bit too much attitude to humble themselves–seems to be a hard thing for some tough buckaroos to do. Thanks for stopping by!

  6. Take pride in your work.
    Be tough, but fair.
    That’s about all I can come up with. Your book looks really good. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Hi Quilt Lady! So glad you could stop by the Junction! “Take pride in your work” – now that’s a new one but definitely a good one. I can’t see a cowboy doing something half-way or lazy. I like that!

  8. Great blog, Kathryn! I, too, think of the cowboy in these terms, also, although I know in the rough and tough days of Montana, there were probably as many criminals on the range as there were cowboys who toed the line.

  9. Thanks for stopping by Karen! I agree about the West! I’m sure I look at it through rose-colored glasses in my stories. It’s more what I wish it had been rather than what it really was. Law and order was inconsistent at best in the raw West I’m sure!

  10. Cowboy Code:
    Be proud of yourself, be honest and true.
    Honor your word, women and children too,.
    Take care of this land, be good to your horse.
    Make plans for your future, and stick to the course.
    Remember who gave you this land you love,
    And always be thankful to God above.
    Enjoyed this post and would love to win your book Kathryn, Maxie

  11. Be true to yourself, don’t try to be someone or something your not to impress others .
    Treat your horse gentle and kind.
    Take time to read your bible and reflect !

    I enjoyed the post and would love to read your book, Kathryn.


    • Hi Deanne,
      This is a gentle cowboy code! Reflective. Being true to oneself is something I’d expect from a cowboy–even though it can be misconstrued by others at times. Thanks for stopping by and posting! Best of luck on the drawing!

  12. I’ve pulled the winner for my drawing out of my Stetson and today it is Jennifer T who has won the luck of the draw! Congratulations Jennifer! I’ll email you today. If for some reason you don’t hear from me, please contact me at kathryn at kathrynalbright dot com.

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