Chivalry and the Cowboy Code

I was reading through an old magazine when I came across a simple credo for living written by Gene Autry, “The Singing Cowboy.” At first I chuckled at the juvenile naïveté of this Cowboy Code – but I had not read very far before I realized there was more here than a childish fantasy of do-good cowboy lore.

Gene Autry Museum, OklahomaThe mix of courage, justice and courtesy incorporated in Mr. Autry’s “Cowboy Code” is outstanding, and the principles codified in these “simple” words can be applied to nearly any situation – family, business, relationships or personal behavior. Although it was written in the 1940s, this credo has surprising relevance in today’s world.

It is a code based on personal honor, respect to others, self-restraint and pride. Can you think of an ethical dilemma which couldn’t be resolved by the application of at least one of the tenets listed below? Clearly this code of conduct can trace its lineage back to the age of chivalry.

The Cowboy Code
- by Gene Autry

A cowboy must never take unfair advantage of an enemy.
He must never go back on his word, or (betray) a trust confided in him.
He must always tell the truth.
He must always be gentle with children, the elderly and animals.
He must not 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.
Not surprisingly, the cowboy was sometimes referred to as the knight in shining armor of the Old West. Mr. Autry obviously knew a few things about chivalry, and he did a wonderful job of passing those values along to a whole generation of boys and girls (and more than a few adults who enjoyed his movies and music). Just imagine how the world might be different if more kids, and more parents, lived by the Cowboy Code.

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(The Cowboy Code reprinted by permission of the Autry Museum of Western Heritage, ©1994 Autry Qualified Interest Trust. The Cowboy Code cannot be reproduced in any form without express permission of the copyright holder.)

Scott Farrell

About Scott Farrell

Scott Farrell is the founder and director of the Chivalry Today Educational Program. He gives dozens of live presentations on the history and values of chivalry every year at schools, libraries, and civic and professional organizations throughout Southern California. His thoughts and conversations on chivalry can be heard worldwide every month on his Chivalry Today Podcast. His essays on the code of chivalry have appeared in numerous magazines and books, including Living A Life Of Value (Jason Merchey, editor) and the forthcoming Martial Arts And Philosophy (Damon Young, editor).