Happy National Day of the Cowboy

Being a child of the West, I grew up with cowboys as a backdrop to life. That included both the persona and reality. In this post, I want to share a few thoughts on what a cowboy really is, in my opinion.

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Gretel Ehrlich’s book, The Solace of Open Spaces, was written not far from here, in Shell, Wyoming at the foot of the Bighorn Mountains. I love this book of hers – when not living here in Wyoming, her words made my heart ache for this place that holds my heritage. In the chapter “About Men” she writes,

“The iconic myth surrounding him is built on American notions of heroism: the index of a man’s value as measured in physical courage. Such ideas have perverted manliness into a self-absorbed race for cheap thrills. In a rancher’s world, courage has less to do with facing danger than with acting spontaneously – usually on behalf of an animal or another rider.”

I’ve always known true cowboys to be generally quiet men. Many are introverts who have a tenderness inside them that comes out around animals, children, and the women they love. Ranch and farm work is work that most can’t even begin to fathom. Cowboys are the contradiction of their work. A physically strong, hard shell that holds an inner tenderness and soft heart.

The hardness allows them to get out of a warm bed in the middle of the night during a snowstorm to check cattle during calving season. It takes that tenderness to bring a struggling calf to life. When the crop fails, or the calf doesn’t make it, they take it in. Sometimes losses can cut them to the core and have taught them to hold back from hoping too soon or trusting themselves with just anyone. Yet they will open themselves to pour out all they have, and all they are, again and again, because that’s what they do. They give their all to whatever task is at hand. It’s a life that demands both physical and inner strength.

There’s a reason the Cowboy has become an American Icon – they are the American Stoics.

We can learn from them. They have a vulnerability that keeps them humble. They turn this vulnerability into a strength. They courageously answer the call when something goes wrong that they can help make better. They’ll protect those who need protection.

They put up with a tremendous amount from life until they realize things have crossed a line. They usually won’t start a fight but will finish it. They know where they stand on issues. They made those decisions based on their values – not the current general opinion or arguments full of the latest scientific studies that may not stand the test of time. Because of this, changing their minds is nearly impossible, so you just have to accept them as they are. They might break some rules, but they won’t go against their principles.

It’s from cowboys that we get the Code of the West – value-based principles.

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.
Talk less and say more.
Remember that some things aren’t for sale.
Know when to draw the line.

While most of us will never need to ride fences looking for spots that need mending or spend days on end in the saddle or tractor seat, these principles can be applied to our lives today. This is what makes the west what everyone seems to want to find – man or woman. And you can find this – within yourself. Know yourself enough to know your core values. Live with integrity. Do better each day.

A book that came out years ago might interest you if you’ve read this far and are intrigued by this notion that cowboys have a lot to teach: Cowboy Ethics: What It Takes to Win at Life

Be Outside • Take Notes


This site contains affiliate links. If you click on a link and make a purchase, I receive a small portion of that sale at no extra cost to you. Your purchases help to keep this site in development.




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