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Pale Horse Revelations - #37 The Code of the West

Hello readers and welcome back to Pale Horse Revelations. where we explore significant people, places, and events in Old West history. While I make no promises, don't be surprised if some of these places, people, or events find their way into future Pale Rider adventures.

This week we will follow up on last week's edition of Pale Horse Revelations by examining the Code of the West, sometimes referred to as the Cowboy code. In last week's entry we learned how over time cowboys developed their own culture and lifestyle that blended frontier and Victorian values while maintaining a vestige of chivalry. From this came an unwritten code of conduct that often times superseded the rule of law.

In this entry of Pale Horse Revelations, we'll take a closer look at specific elements of this code. As we do, I hope you will recognize several of these values reflected throughout my debut novel, Behold a Pale Horse: The Legend of the Pale Rider Part I. Where appropriate we'll delve into how the code is reflected in the novel.

It is important to remember that this code of conduct we refer to as the Code of the West was never written down. Yet it was regarded as more sacred than law. Author Kathy Weiser indicates that while a cowboy might break every law of the government, he took pride in upholding his own unwritten code. A cowboy who violated the code risked becoming a social outcast, shunned by his fellow cowboys.

In just a moment we'll look over a list of guidelines associated with the code. Before doing so, I need to acknowledge that this list comes from an article by Kathy Weiser found on the American Legends website. I will include a link to her article at the end of this post for those who may be interested in checking out my source material.

Without further ado, here is a loose list of guidelines compiled by Kathy Weiser:

" - Don’t inquire into a person’s past. Take the measure of a man for what he is today.

- Never steal another man’s horse. A horse thief pays with his life.

- Defend yourself whenever necessary.

- Look out for your own.

- Remove your guns before sitting at the dining table.

- Never order anything weaker than whiskey.

- Don’t make a threat without expecting dire consequences.

- Never pass anyone on the trail without saying 'Howdy'.

- When approaching someone from behind, give a loud greeting before you get within shooting range.

- Don’t wave at a man on a horse, as it might spook the horse. A nod is the proper greeting.

- After you pass someone on the trail, don’t look back at him. It implies you don’t trust him.

- Riding another man’s horse without his permission is nearly as bad as making love to his wife. Never even bother another man’s horse.

- Always fill your whiskey glass to the brim.

- A cowboy doesn’t talk much; he saves his breath for breathing.

- No matter how weary and hungry you are after a long day in the saddle, always tend to your horse’s needs before your own, and get your horse some feed before you eat.

- Cuss all you want, but only around men, horses, and cows.

- Complain about the cooking and you become the cook.

- Always drink your whiskey with your gun hand, to show your friendly intentions.

- Do not practice ingratitude.

- A cowboy is pleasant even when out of sorts. Complaining is what quitters do, and cowboys hate quitters.

- Always be courageous. Cowards aren’t tolerated in any outfit worth its salt.

- A cowboy always helps someone in need, even a stranger or an enemy.

- Never try on another man’s hat.

- Be hospitable to strangers. Anyone who wanders in, including an enemy, is welcome at the dinner table. The same was true for riders who joined cowboys on the range.

- Give your enemy a fighting chance.

- Never wake another man by shaking or touching him, as he might wake suddenly and shoot you.

- Real cowboys are modest. A braggart who is 'all gurgle and no guts' is not tolerated.

- Be there for a friend when he needs you.

- Drinking on duty is grounds for instant dismissal and blacklisting.

- A cowboy is loyal to his 'brand,' to his friends, and those he rides with.

- Never shoot an unarmed or unwarned enemy. This was also known as 'the rattlesnake code': always warn before you strike. However, if a man was being stalked, this could be ignored.

- Never shoot a woman no matter what.

- Consideration for others is central to the code, such as: Don’t stir up dust around the chuckwagon, don’t wake up the wrong man for herd duty, etc.

- Respect the land and the environment by not smoking in hazardous fire areas, disfiguring rocks, trees, or other natural areas.

- Honesty is absolute – your word is your bond; a handshake is more binding than a contract.

- Live by the Golden Rule."

Having shared Weiser's complete list, I now want to delve into a couple of the guidelines that figure significantly in my novel. First is, "Don’t inquire into a person’s past. Take the measure of a man for what he is today." We see this reflected several times by multiple characters in the story. First, is Sarah Swanson who refuses to judge Garrison by what she has heard about him. Instead, she bases her judgement upon what he did for her and her husband; namely saving their lives. Beans follows this unwritten code when he chooses to ride with Garrison even after the man has confessed his past. And then there is Jesse Chilsom who doesn't even care to know the details of Garrison's past.

Another element of the code central to the novel is, "Defend yourself whenever necessary." This is the basis of the argument Beans makes to Garrison, insisting that he should never feel guilty for taking the life of a man who was trying to take his. "A cowboy always helps someone in need, even a stranger or an enemy" is another element of the code seen reflected in Garrison's conduct. We see it first when he comes to the aid of the Swansons. We see it again when Garrison interjects himself into the confrontation between Chilsom and the two ruffians outside the trading post.

Lastly, we see the code reflected in the way Garrison treats Diablo. According to Weiser the code insists that "No matter how weary and hungry you are after a long day in the saddle, always tend to your horse’s needs before your own, and get your horse some feed before you eat." Although there are multiple instances of this being practiced the most detailed comes during the short cattle drive from Chisolm's outpost to the Sax and Fox agency. Garison is one of the last to arrive in camp after a long day tail trailing the herd. While his companions sit by the fire eating Garrison first tends to Diablo's needs only joining the others once his horse has been taken care of.

I hope you've enjoyed this brief examination of the Code of the West and the way it is reflected in Garrison's story. But we've now arrived at the end of another edition of Pale Horse Revelations. I hope you found it to be both interesting and entertaining. As usual, I have tried to provide some interesting historical information while trying not to bog the casual reader down with too much detail. I encourage anyone interested in learning more to dig in and do a little research of their own. Here's a link to the article I drew heavily upon for this edition of Pale Horse Revelations: The Code of the West – Legends of America

As a reminder, I would love to hear your suggestions for topics to focus on in future editions of Pale Horse Revelations. If there's a particular location, person, or event that you would like to know more about, please let me know. Just fill out the Contact form found near the bottom of my home page ( and indicate your desired topic in the message box at the bottom of the form. I look forward to hearing from you all.

Please be sure to check back next week for the next installment of Pale Horse Revelations and thank you for your continued interest and support.

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