The National Day of the Cowboy, the fourth Saturday in July, was created 15 years ago to preserve the role and contributions cowboys and cowgirls made to our western heritage. Cowboy traditions were originated by the vaquero – the Mexican horseman – from which we get lariat, bandana, rodeo, barbeque, lasso and corral, and many other words of cowboy culture.
Shortly after the Civil War, cowboys and cowgirls – black, white, and brown – began to appear throughout the American west. They were largely ranchers and ranch hands, raising cattle, horses and other animals. Cowboys led their herds across the plains to graze the animals and on trail drives to feed a growing American population.
The Wild West was often a lawless time. In the absence of marshals and sheriffs, Cowboys developed their own rules to live by, the Cowboy Code of Conduct. Don Mathis has used a hammer and anvil – and other tools of the blacksmith – to force many of these old axioms into rhyme.
Go for a ride on a horse, watch a Wild West movie, read a book, or take in a museum exhibit as you celebrate the National Day of the Cowboy with these bits of western wisdom.
There is no horse that can’t be rode –
And no cowboy that can’t be throwed.
If you fall out the saddle, get right back on.
A full day of chores begins before dawn.
And dark don’t mean the day has an end.
A broke man knows who is not his friend.
‘Cause everybody’s your partner come payday.
But when the money’s gone, so are they.
If you’re not sure, don’t spur your horse yet.
Trust your poker friends, but always cut the deck.
Don’t bother with business that ain’t your concern.
Family fights are private; outsiders ain’t welcome.
Never ask a rancher how big is his spread.
When you’re tired, the ground is as good as a bed.
There’s no time to rest when there’s work to be done.
Forget about sleep and eat on the run.
You can always just about stand
a little more than you think you can.
It don’t matter if you are the head trail boss –
Check over your shoulder to see if the herd got lost.
And always drink up river from the herd.
You don’t learn nothing when you’re being heard.
When it comes to cussin, don’t swallow your tongue.
Just rare on back and git ‘er done.
Romancing is a lot like roping.
Takes rhythm, timing, and a lot of hoping.
Your love life is like a campfire –
Leave it alone, and it’ll expire.
Don’t tell everyone when you try something new.
Kicking gets you nowhere, less you’re a mule.
Letting the cat out of the sack
is a lot easier than putting him back.
A person who agrees with you all day long
is a fool – or else he’s stringing you along.
Horses and dogs can hear better’n you –
And they often can smell better too!
Don’t wear out your boots on a brass rail
You’ll pay the devil for raising hell.
Did you ever see a wild animal embarrassed?
They don’t make saddles for a smarty sass.
Never pass a good chance to shut up –
Or try to order around someone else’s pup.
Small hound dogs can pee on big ole’ trees.
Bad wind may be underserved, but so’s a good breeze.
Get two dry logs to burn a green limb.
Only vultures will feed on their friends.
A long walk in new cowboy boots
will make you forget all your other blues.
If you can’t swim, stay away from the sea.
When you’re with a mooch, curb your generosity.
If you have to eat your words, the sooner the better.
If you have free time, write your Maw a letter.
Never ask the cookie if his food is fine.
Have a fast horse when you speak your mind.
Previously published in the Texoma Enterprise.
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