When I was a boy playing cowboys and Indians with cap pistols and rubber tomahawks, we all knew that cowboys had a code. The guy in the white hat always shoots straight. He knows right from wrong. He only shoots the bad guy. He even shoots the gun out of the bad guy’s hand if he can. Westerns are about right and wrong, good and bad, and the unyieldingly good knights of the plains.
And boys believe what they see on TV and in the movie theaters. People who make television shows never lie, do they? In fact, Wyatt Earp was based on a real guy who really lived and really shot the bad guys at the gosh-darn real OK Corral.
Daniel Boone was a real guy too. He faced the opening up of new lands full of deadly dangers. And when Fess Parker played him in 1964, wearing Davy Crockett’s coonskin hat, he walked the earth like a guardian angel, making everyone safe by the end of the episode. He even knew which Indians were good and which were bad. Mingo was always on Daniel’s side. And when they spoke to each other about the dangers they faced, it was never about killing the people they feared. It was about doing what is was right, about helping the community at Boonesboro to survive. Being encouraging… looking forward to a more settled future created by following the cowboy frontier code.
So, I am left wondering what ever happened to the cowboy code? I listen to Republican presidential candidates talking about dipping bullets in pig’s blood to kill Muslims, and building walls against Mexican immigrants, and why our right to carry assault rifles is sacred, and I wonder what happened. Didn’t they experience the same education from the television versions of the Great American Mythology? Didn’t they learn the code too?
I am old enough now to know that cap guns are not real guns and you cannot solve problems by shooting somebody. But that was never the point of the cowboy code. We need straight-shooters again in our lives, not to shoot people, but to tell the unvarnished truth. We need wise people who can tell who are the good Indians and who are the bad We need them to shoot the weapons out of the bad guys’ hands. And I know that’s asking for leaders to be larger than life and be more perfect than a man can actually be. But Daniel Boone was a real man. Myths and legends start with a fundamental truth.
4 responses to “The Cowboy Code”
Davey Crockett was real too. And Buffalo Bill and Wild Bill Hickok and Billy the Kidd and Jessie James. Most of our legends and myths start with a grain of truth and then grow along the way. We repaint the picture every generation with our own colors.
Very astute observation. I was specifically looking at how Daniel Boon and Wyatt Earp were repainted on 60’s TV that I loved to watch as a kid. That black-and-white morality taught in simple forms in a less sophisticated and cynical time.
I think kids need to grow up on a kind of black and white morality. They need to feel like the good guys win. This is what makes them feel secure. As they grow older you start phasing in the more complex concepts and the unpredictability of life. That’s what age appropriate literature is all about.
A 10 year old does not need to have their idols’ clay feet mercilessly exposed. They need role models to emulate and ideals to strive for. the values will slowly change over time, hopefully to a more tolerant and compassionate mindset, but they still need good guys to look up to. We can round off the uncertainties to the good side.
Mythology – good v. evil, heroes v, villains & monsters & gods, meets a fundamental human need. It provably stretches back to the dawn of the written word and probably back as far as the spoken word was capable of telling a story.
I agree with everything you wrote.