Loose Ends: Honor a man’s word

Most everyone’s view of the West is based on those romanticized, gussied-up versions of this region of the country. Somehow the real picture of a westerner got lost in the shuffle and the qualities that represented those who struggled to make a living on the land receded into the background. Reliant on themselves for most everything, westerners have always embodied independence, self-reliance, honesty and plain speaking.
During these two weeks of the National Western Stock Show in Denver, I was not surprised to see an article in The Denver Post about one of the professional rodeo cowboys who does regular presentations about the “cowboy credo” and his strong view that this western tradition must be carried on.
Apparently, he was invited to speak to a local high school English class, after the teacher read Jim Owen’s book, “Cowboy Ethics: How Wall Street Can Learn from the Code of the West.” The author of the book introduced a professional roper and rider to the teacher, encouraging her to get her students and the cowboy together
Years ago, one old cowboy told me that “a man’s word and his handshake seals every deal” here, implying that written contracts for buying and selling simply weren’t needed. It was a point of honor for him and the three generations of his ranching family that worked side by side every day on their land. The idea that a man’s word could be his bond seems antiquated in the modern word, as both profit and motive are woven into the fabric of most business deals today.
Another rancher cited the importance of honoring one’s word, whether it be part of a business deal or simply a personal obligation. The underlying pride and self-respect inherent in keeping one’s word helps to keep the western traditions alive.
While the men get the credit for keeping this tradition alive, women ranchers report that the tradition isn’t limited to the cowboy. “We just did what we said we would do” one elderly female rancher remarked to me, when I asked her how this cowboy credo affected all of the family members when they were working together to keep the ranch in the family. Here in the White River Valley, it is one tradition that doesn’t appear to be dying out.