On being a cowboy

I’ve lived in a lot of places, both physically and mentally. I learned how to adapt very young, but I never figured out the assimilation process. I could get along, but I never surrendered my individuality.

Midway through second grade my family moved to Walnut Creek, California,  just outside of the San Francisco bay area. In addition to the shock of moving to California from Texas on the eve of the Summer of Love, the community had an odd British population (not to say there is such a thing as a normal British population). My friends had the remnants of British accents, they pronounced certain words differently and used some words I had never heard, they stopped for tea in the afternoons. They didn’t wear cowboy boots.

I did. I had just gotten a new pair for Christmas. The other kids laughed at them. I showed them what the pointy toe was for.

That didn’t go over too well with the principal.

I had never heard of “detention” before either. Kids in second grade didn’t have homework to complete during detention, so it was an exercise in boredom. When I got home, my parents were very “understanding”, and offered to take me out to get new, “acceptable” shoes.

I already had acceptable shoes. I was a cowboy, and I wasn’t going to stop wearing a perfectly acceptable pair of boots. As it worked out, you only had to kick those kids once to get them to stop making fun of you. Nobody said a word when I wore my boots the next day. Despite the sentiments of the school board, corporal punishment is effective. Some kids liked me, some didn’t, no one made fun of my boots.

I don’t know how much of my inner cowboy is genetic, and how much has developed as a response to my environments. It helped to grow up in an age devoted to self expression, “rugged individual” was replaced with “free spirit”. I find that my cowboy adapts to every situation, finding the high ground just outside of camp. Noticeable but apart. The country kid in the city, the city kid in the suburbs. I find it easier to be the “alternate but acceptable” point of view.

Stoicism is a desired quality in cowboys, the best summation of a code is “There a man’s work was to be done, and a man’s life to be lived, and when death was to be met, he met it like a man”, but there have been several “codes of the old west” and “cowboy’s creeds” popularized. James P. Owen, in his book, “Cowboy Ethics” codified thus;

  • 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.

  • When you make a promise, keep it.

  • Ride for the brand. (the brand is the mark on the cattle. Riding for the brand is staying loyal to your employer, and compadres)

  • Talk less and say more.

  • Remember that some things aren’t for sale.

  • Know where to draw the line.


When you go over those rules, you realize they all say the same thing in slightly different ways. Do what you say you will do.

What makes me shake my head is how these ideas are so foreign to so many people.


This entry was posted in Opinion.

One comment on “On being a cowboy

  1. Mari Collier says:

    You would have liked my husband. He didn’t have to read the code. My youngest brother tried to be a “cowboy” in a Western community. He lived there for thirty years. When we lunched with them at a restaurant, it was my husband that the cattlemen tipped their hat to and said “Howdy.” They recognize each other. I stifled my giggles.

    Liked by 1 person

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