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Tuesday Ten: The Cowboy Code


The American cowboy’s code of ethics was pretty straightforward—but each “rule” was backed up by plain ol’ common sense. Here, for our Tuesday Ten, are ten “laws of the plains” that the cowboy strictly adhered to.

1. It is bad manners to ask a man his name. He may have a reason why he can’t afford to share his name or bring attention to himself.

2. Stealing a man’s horse is a crime punishable by death. To leave a man stranded on the plains, miles from food, water or shelter is as good as killing him.

3. Cheating at cards is an unpardonable offense. The victim or one of his friends is entitled to retaliate with a six-shooter.

4. Drawing on an unarmed man is strictly prohibited. Offenders may be gunned down on the spot by the victim, if he’s able, or his kin or friends.

5. Encountering a stranger on the trail, a man must approach him and speak a few words before moving off in another direction. Greeting him establishes good intentions.

6. When two men meet, speak, and pass on, neither must look back over his shoulder. To do so is an indication of distrust, implying that the man looking behind him expects a shot in the back.

7. When a stranger dismounts to cool his horse it is not polite to remain in the saddle while carrying on a conversation with him. The proper thing to do is dismount and speak to him face to face, so he can see what you’re up to.

8. To ride another man’s horse without asking permission is a grave insult. A horse is private property and borrowing one without permission is equivalent to a slap in the face.

9. Only in a dire emergency is it permissible to borrow a horse. Every man has his own style of riding and a horse can easily be spoiled by the wrong rider.

10. A smart rider always puts his horse’s comfort before his own. If the horse becomes lame or disabled, the rider may find himself stranded in the middle of the desert.

Courtesy of Cowboys Then & Now museum, Portland, OR.


  1. Christine Koehler says:

    All this time Hollywood was wrong about so many things in Westerns. I’m not surprised.

    Excellent list, Nic!

  2. Donna Michaels says:

    Super post!

    Wow. To think they followed them. The toughest one to me is the ‘not looking back’ one. What if the guy does plan to shoot you???


    Ugh! I should’ve turned around. Screw the rules…they’re more like guidelines anway. LOL

  3. Paty Jager says:

    Great list! So why have you been keeping it from me???

  4. Stacey Netzel says:

    Very interesting! Thanks for the heads-up on TWRP loop. 🙂 I agree with Donna, what if they are going to shoot you in the back?? That’s all I’d be thinking about as I rode away. Look? No, don’t. I should. No. Oh, God, he’s probably got his gun…

    ect. LOL

  5. Jennifer Ross says:

    My favourite was number 4. “Drawing on an unarmed man is strictly prohibited. Offenders may be gunned down on the spot by the victim …”

    Ummm, wasn’t he unarmed?



  6. Nicole McCaffrey says:

    LOL good point, Jenn. But I suppose finding a gun for the unarmed guy would have been as simple as turning to the guy next to you and asking “can I borrow that gun for a sec?” *G*

    But I do get this image in my head of a guy picking at another guy, then sticking his tongue out and going “nyah nyah, I’m unarmed, you can’t shoot me.”

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