The Cowboy Code

1 June, 2008

When I was young, I remember discussing cowboys with my friends.  The fact that we lived in Arizona at the time, and one of my friends really WAS a cowboy (his family worked a large ranch between Grand Canyon and Flagstaff), didn’t stop us.  Most of the arguments centered upon that age-old discussion:  Autry or Rodgers, Gene or Roy, Champion or Trigger.  I always fell on the Gene Autry side for two reasons:  my mom was a Gene Autry fan, and I read the Gene Autry comic books from her childhood.

Today, I discovered that Gene Autry had a Cowboy Code (and I think George W. Bush (who likes to play-act as a cowboy) should take a look at it). 

    1. A cowboy must never shoot first, hit a smaller man, or take unfair advantage (So no preemptive strikes, no picking on the weak or defenseless, and fight fair)
    2. He must never go back on his word or a trust confided in him (Like promissing to fire anyone who leaked Valerie Plame’s name to the press and then ignoring his own previous statements)
    3. He must always tell the truth (Like the reasons for going to war, or why we cut taxes for the richest, strongest (economically))
    4. He must be gently with children, the elderly and animals. (Like the children and elderly who die in Iraq every day)
    5. He must not advocate or possess racially or religiously intolerant ideas (I guess that would include the modern version of born-again fundogelical Christianity)
    6. He must help people in distress. (Millions of Americans are in danger of losing their homes, so bail out the rich people at Bear Stearns)
    7. He must be a good worker. (Does taking more time off for vacations than any President in history count as being a good worker?)
    8. He must keep himself clean in thought, speech, action and personal habits. (Wouldn’t you just love to hear his thoughts about the press?  And does cocaine count as clean action or clean personal habits?)
    9. He must respect women, parents, and his nations laws. (Respect women by assuming that they can’t make a decision regarding their own body, respect parents by ignoring Dad’s warning about what would happen if we overthrew Saddam Hussein, and respect the nations laws by ignoring habeas corpus and get your lawyers to make a finding that torture is legal)
    10. The cowboy is a patriot. (If patriotism is defined as reactionary America-firstism, lapel flags, the narrow-minded idea that America can do no wrong, the rest of the world can do no right, and cooperation and negotiation are un-American, then I guess Bush is)

This list, this Cowboy’s Code, is, by today’s standards (actually, by Republican standards) un-American.  Things like fairness, respect, obeying laws and truthfulness are so yesterday, so liberal.  This may explain why, though the ‘liberal’ press loved Roy Rogers, they were always rather lukewarm about Gene Autry.  He was just too honest for modern conservatism.



  1. I enjoyed this post except for your wrong-headed preference. Gene Autry was OK, but everyone knows that Roy Rogers was the King of the Cowboys. And he had Dale, too, for eye candy.

  2. Perhaps what we need to do is find a real cowboy (not a wanna-be) or cowgirl and elect that person for president.

  3. Here in the UK, “cowboy” is a term used to imply shoddy workmanship (as in “That cowboy plumber flooded my kitchen”, or, “My builder used polystyrene instead of chipboard – what a cowboy!”). So as far as we’re concerned, you do indeed have a cowboy for a President. Bad luck.

  4. Ex: I still vote for Gene for a couple of reasons. First, heredity: Mom loved Gene Autry, and I read her old comic books (I’m no where near old enough (unlike some) to have seen the movies in theaters). Second, Gene Autry was a cowboy and rodeo star first, then became an actor (though neither one was ever in any danger of winning an Oscar). Third, Champion was better lookig than Dale, much less Trigger.

    Chappie: I agree.

    Yunshui: Another definition of cowboy is one who tramples others with no regard for the wishes of the ones being trampled, shooting first and asking questions later (if at all), and anti-intellectualism. Either way, Bush fits.

  5. During the American Revolution there were two factions in New York (if I remember correctly) called “Skinners” and “Cowboys”. The “cowboys” were cattle thieves, very violent, and didn’t really stop at cattle. They could be very coercive.

    Pretty much like you-know-who.

    Personally, I’ve always thought that J. D. Banks in The Shootist probably had the best one.

  6. Oh, yeah. My favorites were Tim McCoy and The Cisco Kid.

    I was actually more partial to Tom Corbett, Space Cadet, and Space Patrol.

    I liked Lash LaRue, but my mother thought that there was something, well, UNHEALTHY about him so I was encouraged to do other things when he was on.

  7. Sarge: Again, good to hear from you. Yours is a voice I missed.

    I’d forgotten about the New York proto-gangs. Good catch.

    I liked J.D. Banks, too. My vote for the Duke’s best movie. I’ve never been a huge fan of John Wayne, mostly because of his Bush-style patriotism.

    I’m not too familiar with the other ones you mention. Again, I was way too late for the Saturday morning serials. I have heard of Lash LaRue. Always thought it a good name for a porn star in S&M movies.

    Thanks for stopping by.

  8. I found myself humming a tune part-way through your post. Turned out to be the theme song for <Blazing Saddles.

    When I was a kid, Cowboys and Indians was almost passé, but I always wanted to be an Indian. Or a horse.

  9. Laurie: Welcome. Now I’m trying to remember the theme from Blazing Saddles.

    I don’t think my kids EVER played cowboys and indians. I did (lots) back in the early mid 70s. I guess we were trying to get away from playing army.

  10. Although I lived in Arizona for the past three years, I didn’t run into many cowboys.

    Based on the comments thus far, perhaps we can separate the traditional cowboy (as described in the original post) from the modern cowboy (which could be used to describe, say, America’s fearless leader). Oops, did I just say that?

  11. Although I caught old reruns of the Lone Ranger and the Cisco Kid, that’s the extent of my knowledge of the cowboy era in media you all are referencing. To me, cowboy = Clint Eastwood.

    Anyway, time to revisit this goodie. 🙂

  12. Ted: Out of sixteen kids in my class, one was (literally) a cowboy, three were Native Americans (one Hopi, one Navajo and one Havasu). Made playing ‘Cowboys and Indians’ rather interesting. I’ll have to think about the traditional versus modern cowboy. I think I have something there, but I’m not sure yet.

    Philly: I never really liked the Lone Ranger (though one of the kids in school (she was a Havasu) had a crush on Tonto), and I don’t know if I ever saw the Cisco Kid (though I am a fan of Cisco Houston (I presume a different person?)). I like Clint Eastwood as a cowboy, but I always flash back to Pain Your Wagon, complete with Paisley shirt.

    My biggest problem with westerns has always been (and its the same problem I have with much of Fantasy & Science Fiction writing) is that the economics never work (or rarely – Herbert had it figured out in his Dune books). I look at a town, plunked down on a hill, or out in the desert, and wonder, “What the hell was the economic imperetive which created a town THERE?” If the economics don’t make sense, neither does the show.

    My (((Wife)))’s favourite was always The Big Valley, but I could never understand how they made enough money to keep the ranch going? They sure weren’t ranchers.

    Then again, the economics in the Gene Autry movies never made sense, either. But I still have a soft spot for him.

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