Is “The Cowboy Way” still tenable in the modern age? We’d like to think so.
It is imaginable that somewhere every day a cowboy is watching the sunset and wondering if his days are numbered. It’s a plausible notion to consider. In fact, it’s been explored in movies, novels, ballads, and poetry for over a century.
The American Cowboy is a worldwide icon. An idea, a mythology, and one of the favorite denigrating habits suffered by mediocre group thinkers is instituting gossip that all good things must die. But, it will not happen. It cannot happen.
Cowboys are birthed of the earth and the American Dream—and God and Mother Nature won’t let that end. Songs of cowboys’ demise only promote them farther into legend and lore. They push ever deeper into our subconscious.
What is “The Cowboy Way”?
Simply put, it depicts people that live with unbendable integrity, a code of unquestionable truth. And a sense of undying love for any person or critter that needs help. It is not hampered by race or gender. It is the pioneer spirit that drove the frontiersman to blaze wagon trails through unchartered territories, build a nation for free people, and ultimately put a man on the moon.
While it is typically envisioned as a soft-spoken stoic gentleman with a wide-brimmed hat, icy stare, spurred-up boots, and faster-than-light gun hand, the characteristics have likewise held consistent with American GI’s in WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. As well as the lawmen in every U.S. community, and the wives, nurses, mothers, grandmothers, and sisters that gave these men their strength and mourned their passing. “The Cowboy Way” is the age-old understanding that despite walking into a hail of gunfire, a man can’t be stopped when he knows he’s “right.”
After that, the generalizations and applications to social positions are nonstop. Any time an individual, any person, makes an independent attempt at business they’re considered a “cowboy.” The same can be said whenever a person goes beyond gentle norms to make a stand against oppression or faces a challenge of insurmountable odds. They are being a “cowboy.”
How to Maintain the “Cowboy Lifestyle”
The next logical concern: Is there a maintenance strategy? We own a modern iconic figure that rivals the Greek Gods of mythology. Is the chatter about cowboys being a dying breed worth our worry?
For starters realize that the Greek Gods were myth, but cowboys are real. English Lit homework must be assigned to keep the Greek Gods relevant. Cowboys are people. New ones are born every day. The humanity aspect translates into meaning that even though cowboy ethics dictate most issues are cut ’n dry, black and white. There is room for change.
Earlier Cowboy History
To know more about the topic, it helps to review the geography of the earlier western folks. Montana has only recently surpassed 1,000,000 people in its 10-year census. Wyoming has just slipped by the 500,000 mark. Texas boasts an estimated 29.9 million legal residents in 2022. But 75 to 80 percent of the Lone Star state’s population lives inside, or within 50 miles of the triangle created by Houston, San Antonio, and the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. That leaves half the state on the west side of Interstate Highway 35 damn-near empty, and that’s where the real cowboys live.
A wise Austinite, (when there was such people at the end of Dobie’s, Webb’s, and Bedichek’s era in that berg), married a West Texas cowboy and moved to Garden City. It was her observation that folks living west of the 100th Meridian were cowboys while folks to the east were farmers. Her conclusion was derived from noticing that folks in the west never whined about the weather, never expected or wanted help from the government, and didn’t get overly excited about occasional Mexican invasions.
She said that folks in the West don’t fret and wring their hands over matters that don’t concern them, or matters that do. They take every day in stride thankful for what the good Lord has provided and smile. Rain is a rare commodity worth saying a little prayer over but not worth mentioning in polite company.
Teaching a New Generation
It is also notable that a person’s environment during their formative years has its effects. Example: I grew up east of the 100th Meridian in Texas. A rodeo friend in Big Lake, Texas, owned 1,500 mama sheep, flew his own helicopter and airplane, was a member of the local water board, and had uncanny luck playing the stock market. He had a section of land dozed and chained free of Mesquite and mentioned the inclination to purchase a tractor.
At that juncture, I delivered a lecture about the benefits of attaching a frontend loader, extra hydraulics, and whether four-wheel drive was a desired option. He listened, and said, “Well, I figured I’d just buy a tractor and then we’d see what it could do.” The smartest thing I did was shut-up, learned a little more about that 100th Meridian, and accepted his philosophy. In a rare instance, I overcame my upbringing and bad manners.
Two thousand miles north, another friend stepped from the saddle at a small spring and motioned for me to join him. Snow and ice accumulated in our beards. Our coats, boots, gloves, everything was frozen stiff. He smiled and said, “It looks like we may enjoy a slight draft of cooler air. I reckon we ought to mix us a little snifter. Where’s your cup?” This time I didn’t say a word, nodded, and fetched my mug. The lesson learned is that western men are silent at every opportunity.
What About the Hat?
As per other mean traits shared by cowboys, the ongoing controversy about wearing a hat indoors never ends. Much like wearing spurs to town or tucking your pants into your boots certain habits are either normal for the area, or, “a little too punchy” for the local crowd. Some boys aren’t comfortable wearing a hat indoors, while others must flash the adornments that define them. Leave that argument to the ages, but a smart child errs on the side of caution.
Urbanization diminishes the land area within the Old West. But “The Cowboy Way” survives in bikers, firemen, cops, and a host of other folks immune to being another man’s come-’n-fetch-it boy. It survives on ranches from California to Nebraska, Canada to Mexico. It survives anywhere, rural or urban, where men think and behave like free men. But, every day at sunset, it is easy to imagine that somewhere there is a cowboy watching and wondering about his future.