The cowboy code

In the gentler time in which your observer of the passing scene grew up, when most matinee movie heroes were clean-shaven, wore white hats and rode Palomino horses while villains were facially grubby, wore black hats and rode dark horses, when people were killed without huge doses of blood, guts, and brain matter being sprayed about, when nude scenes were those showing the hero’s horse without a saddle, three good guys set a tone for their young admirers to live by.

Oh, there were others on the screen and on the radio—and later on television (although this young viewer was always disappointed that Clayton Moore’s television Lone Ranger lacked the authoritative deep voice of  Brace Beemer’s radio Lone Ranger), but Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, and the Lone Ranger were the ones who not only exemplified by their actions what good people were supposed to be but who also had written codes of conduct that might seem quaint today but were—it seems through the tinted glasses of nostalgia—part of the upbringing of a few generations that seemed more—-well, courteous.


We know society in those days had its dark sides—-we don’t recall any black cowboy heroes on the movie screens of our childhood movie houses, for example, and the Lone Ranger was the only movie hero that had a minority sidekick—unless you count the Cisco Kid and Pancho.  But in our insulated world, our radio and movie heroes told us how we should behave.

In these days when language is loose and clothes are sometimes even looser, when too many movies and TV shows are a series of explosions around which is stitched a weak plot, when our politics have become crude and our policies have tended toward narrowness, perhaps a reminder of what our cowboy heroes expected of us is in order.

Gene Autry’s Cowboy Code said:

The Cowboy must never shoot first, hit a smaller man, or take unfair advantage.  He must never go back on his word, or trust confided in him. He must always tell the truth.  He must be gentle with children, the elderly, and animals. He must not advocate or possess racially or religiously intolerant ideas. He must help people in distress.  He must be a good worker.  He must keep himself clean in thought, speech, action, and personal habits.  He must respect women, parents, and his nation’s laws.  The Cowboy is a patriot. 

Your correspondent was a proud member of the Roy Rogers Riders Club and as I recall, my membership card had ten rules:

Be neat and clean.  Be courteous and polite.  Always obey your parents. Protect the weak and help them. Be brave but never take chances.  Study hard and learn all you can.  Be kind to animals and take care of them. Eat all your food and never waste any.  Love God and go to Sunday school regularly.  Always respect our flag and our country.

Fran Striker, who created the Lone Ranger for Detroit Radio Station WXYZ in 1933, composed the Lone Ranger’s creed:

I believe that to have a friend, a man must be one; that all men are created equal and that everyone has within himself the power to make this a better world; that God put the firewood there, but every man must gather and light it himself; in being prepared physically, mentally, and morally to fight when necessary for that which is right; that a man should make the most of what equipment he has; that “this government, of the people, by the people, and for the people,” shall live always; that men should live by the rule of what is best for the greatest number; that sooner or later…somewhere…somehow…we must settle with the world and make payment for what we have taken; that all things change but the truth, and the truth alone lives on forever. I believe in my Creator, my country, my fellow man. 

Sometimes, as we watch campaigns and legislatures, it seems that our cowboy heroes aren’t the only things that have ridden off into the sunset.


(About the picture:  It was taken November 29, 1981 at the Hollywood Christmas Parade.  Left to Right:  Iron Eyes Cody, Clayton Moore, Roy, Gene, and Pat Buttram.  The picture was taken at a time when Jack Wrather, who owned the rights to The Lone Ranger, got a court order barring Moore from appearing as the Masked Man.  Moore wore the wrap-around sun glasses until Wrather relented in 1984.

One thought on “The cowboy code

  1. Sorry that you can’t put this out to a wider audience.

    For the time when they were made, they were certainly “forward thinking”.

    I especially liked the “that God put the firewood there, but every man must gather and light it himself;”.

    I would suggest that you send it to the candidates for statewide office, but I doubt that they would read it, or even see it.

Let me know what you think......