The Cowboy Way Of Life & How Can You Be A Cowboy Today?

The original cowboys were actually Mexican and were called vaqueros. In the 1800s, as the industry of cattle raising moved from Mexico into Texas, Texan cowboys learned from the vaqueros and added their own flair to create an American cowboy lifestyle of their own.

In this article, we briefly review the history of the cowboy in America, introduce the Cowboy Code of Ethics and provide tips to help you live like a cowboy (or cowgirl) today. Read on to learn more.

Was It Fun To Be A Cowboy?

how to be a cowboy

Being a cowboy in the 1800s was a lot of hard work. It was a rough and rugged existence that consisted of fifteen hour days in the saddle tending and driving cattle from ranches to market. In those days, cowboys were all young men who worked hard and independently for about a dollar a day. It was an adventurous existence that could not exactly be called fun, but it could be called free and that counted for a lot.

Cowboys spent days and weeks riding the range and sleeping under the stars. They had to be ready for all kinds of weather, and their typical wardrobe reflected this.

Cowboys wore leather chaps (leggings) and tall cowboy boots to protect their legs and feet against thorns and brush; a wide brimmed hat to provide shade from the merciless sun and a bandanna to protect nose, throat and lungs from the heavy dust kicked up by the cattle.

Cattle drives presented the drovers (cowboys) with a wide variety of challenges that began with simply watching over the cattle as they grazed and keeping them orderly and moving along at a calm, yet ground-covering pace that would get them from ranch to market in a timely manner without negatively impacting their weight or the quality of their meat.

Throughout this pursuit, cowboys had to exhibit many different skills including calf roping, riding, branding and occasionally defending themselves against hostile natives, rustlers and wildlife. Cowboys had to be on the lookout all the time for any sudden or unexpected events that might trigger a stampede, which could result in injured and dead steers, horses and cowboys.

A successful cattle drive depended upon good teamwork, and cowboys had to be flexible, accepting and free of prejudice because cowboys came in all colors. More than half of the early cowboys were of Mexican descent, and about a quarter were African-American. These young men spent a great deal of time together on cattle drives and, when at the ranch, living together in the bunkhouse. Cooperation, flexibility and teamwork were absolutely essential.

At the end of each ride, when the cattle were delivered, cowboys could cut loose and enjoy their wages. Many saloons stayed open twenty-four hours, and cowboys often developed a reputation for being wild and lawless after their days on the trail rewarded by a pocket full of money.

The Cowboy Way Of Life | What Makes A Cowboy?

How To Be A Cowboy Today?

Even today there are still actual cowboys who work on ranches and perform duties such as herding cattle, caring for horses, mending fences and riding the range. There are also rodeo cowboys and cowgirls, but genuine cowboys will be quick to tell you that these folks might not actually have earned the title. Genuine cowboys of yesteryear and today are proud to follow a standard and accepted Cowboy Code of Ethics.

Here is the most accepted version of the Code of the West:

  1. Live each day with courage.
  2. Take pride in your work.
  3. Always finish what you start.
  4. Do what has to be done.
  5. Be tough, but fair.
  6. When you make a promise, keep it.
  7. Ride for the brand.
  8. Talk less and say more.
  9. Remember that some things aren’t for sale.
  10. Know where to draw the line.

For more takes on the Cowboy Code, see here.

Even if you are not an actual cowboy, you can live like a cowboy by aspiring to live up to the cowboy code. These simple rules of life put the emphasis on taking pride in your work and remaining resolute and steadfast in the face of challenges.

Following the cowboy code of ethics helps build character and provides a solid foundation of core values that you can draw on even when those around you stumble.

When you follow the cowboy code of ethics, you will find yourself taking more care with your words and with your choice of actions because you will always want to be able to take pride in what you say and do. Following the cowboy code helps you to establish a can-do attitude that avoids whining, complaining and blaming.

The cowboy code supports loyalty, teamwork, flexibility and acceptance. It helps you build solid relationships so that you can both have and be the type of friend, partner, parent and spouse that everyone admires and desires.

The challenges we face today are very different than those of the cowboys of yesteryear, but they are still quite daunting. The Cowboy Code of Ethics helps you to know how to respond to challenges with consistency, integrity and good character.

The Cowboy Code

Nicky Ellis
Nicky has been an editor at Horses & Foals since 2017. Horses have been in her life from her earliest memories, and she learned to ride a horse when she was 5. She is a mom of three who spends all her free time with her family and friends, her mare Joy, or just sipping her favorite cup of tea.


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