Lost Skills of the Cowboy Code

Though the times may have changed, cowboy values haven’t.
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Though the times may have changed, cowboy values haven’t.
Credit: Erwin Sherman

Credit: Erwin Sherman

A man’s word is his bond

Many of the cattle empire builders in the late 1800s sold hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of cattle for millions of dollars on a handshake. They let their yes mean yes and their no mean no. One example is as herds were being put together in Texas for shipment to the Kansas railheads, local settlers would put their meager herds in with the drive. Once sold, the cattle barons would dutifully bring what was owed to each settler back in Texas. 

Mind your manners

Manners are ultimately a sign of respect. On a gather, the boss rides in front. Indoors, you remove cover. 

Independence

Settlers of the West didn’t expect a handout. Their hope was to make their mark with their own two hands. In the face of failure, they might have to find employment elsewhere, but they always pledged to give an honest effort in return for an honest wage.

Humility

In a new world where rags often led to riches, cowboys never abandoned their roots or boasted of their success.

Stewardship

It’s pretty simple: Care for animals and the land is paramount when you make your living from them. Tradition dictates that you feed your horses before yourself and if you take care of the land, it will take care of you.

Ride for the brand

Loyalty is the character trait embodied by this Old West saying. A ranch’s trademark was—and is—the hot iron brand it stamped on the hide of its cattle and horses. When, as an employee, you signed on with an outfit, riding for the brand meant dedication, pride, and teamwork. If you rode for the brand, you became part of a larger mission and took to any task assigned. It means pulling a cow out of a bog when no one’s watching and without expectation of recognition, just because it’s the right thing to do.

Credit: Erwin Sherman

Credit: Erwin Sherman