Western writer Zane Grey first described a standard of morality in his 1934 novel The Code of the West, and in 1947 Gene Autry first identified what he called the Cowboy Code.
Social mores prompted western cowboys to exhibit fairness, faithfulness, honesty, tolerance, cleanliness, and integrity. They championed the weak, and showed kindness to women, children, and the elderly.
Cowboys did not hold any governing laws with as much esteem as they did their own code. Anyone who broke faith with it could expect ostracism, ridicule, and punishment. A summary of the Code of the West includes the following items:
- Never ask a man about his past.
- Theft of a horse is punishable by death.
- Look after yourself and those you love.
- Remove guns before sitting down to dine.
- Only make a threat if you’re prepared to take the consequences.
- On the trail, greet others before you come into shooting range, especially when approaching from behind.
- When greeting a person on horseback, nod rather than wave to avoid spooking the horse.
- Looking back at someone you pass on the trail implies a lack of trust.
- Riding a horse without permission is akin to violating his wife.
- A real cowman saves his breath for breathing rather than talking.
- Tend your horse’s needs before your own.
- Never cuss in front of a woman.
- Complaining about the cooking earns you a stint as the cook.
- Use your gun hand to drink whiskey to show good will.
- Help those in need, even enemies.
- Never steal another man's hat.
- Show hospitality to strangers
- Fight fair.
- To avoid being shot, never shake a sleeping man awake.
- Help a friend in need.
- Never brag.
- Be loyal.
- Be grateful.
- Don't complain.
- Never quit.
- Show your grit.
- Never shoot an unarmed man.
- Never shoot a woman for any reason.
- Let your word be your bond.
- Uphold the Golden Rule.
The Cowboy Code: Social mores guided western cattlemen. Click to Tweet.
Adherence to the Code of the West was voluntary but seldom overlooked. Click to Tweet.
The Code of the West parallels the code of chivalry adopted by medieval knights. Click to Tweet.
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