Since my last column about breaking the back of cowboy virtues caused such a stir from both the left and right side of Brokeback Mountain, I decided this week to define what I believe a real cowboy is, and what he believes in.
For many years there has been an unwritten code of cowboy virtues. Zane Gray and Louis L'Amour have called it The Code of the West. It is an idealistic model to be sure, and we all know cowboys who do not live these high standards, but here is the Code of the West, as I understand it.
A real cowboy is anyone with the right attitude. You don't need a 10 gallon hat, a belt buckle the size of a Wyoming license plate, or a pair of pointed boots. If you believe in the things that made this country great, you qualify.
A real cowboy is not afraid to be a man. In the 1970s, the women's liberation people tried to emasculate a whole generation of American men. Those delicate, sensitive men might be great to show off at cocktail parties, but in my opinion, they would never have survived a cold winter on the frontier, or the battlefields of the South Pacific. Winners rule the world. Sometimes it takes a competitive nature, a sharp edge, and a little gravel in your guts; good manly characteristics.
A real cowboy is true to his word. He honors his commitments, contracts, promises, and marriage vows.
A real cowboy takes pride in who he is and what he stands for. Some consider pride to be a sin, but it has compelled more than a few men to do the right thing, and inspired others to try harder.
A real cowboy is true to himself. He stands for truth and right the way he sees it. It takes courage to be a voice in the wilderness when the world is mocking your old time values.
A real cowboy never sits on the fence. He's on one side or the other. Things are black and white in his world. Virtue, commitment, and right or wrong, never fade into shades of gray.
A real cowboy is never tolerant of dishonesty, evil, or cruelty. He knows there are things worth defending and things worth fighting for. An attack on home, family, and country, never goes unchallenged.
A real cowboy is kind to animals. He tolerates livestock, loves his stupid horse, and is best of friends with his ugly dog. He revers wildlife, but like the livestock he tends, he understands the place of deer and elk in nature's food chain.
A real cowboy never complains about the grub. Eat what's fixed and be glad to have the food. Give us this day our daily bread. No one ever promised ice cream and cantaloupe.
A real cowboy takes his hat off when he enters a building or sits down to eat. It's a quaint old custom, but it still shows class and good manners.
A real cowboy is impeccably polite to women and little kids. Real women respond in kind.
A real cowboy is hopelessly romantic. He is a poet at heart who loves nature, sunsets, pretty girls, and wide open spaces. He is the original environmentalist, but unlike the recent variety, he has hope for the future and reverence for the past.
A real cowboy is shamelessly idealistic. He knows good from evil, and right from wrong, and expects that other people know the difference too. He sees the world as it could be, and should be.
A real cowboy places his trust in God and his conscience. Political correctness and social expediency come and go, but some things are timeless. Truth, honor, and virtue, never change.