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 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.
I have written more than one “Understanding Mickey” post, and I feel I still haven’t given readers the tools to fully understand how to translate Mickeyism into English. Part of the problem is that Mickey has changed over the years. And Mickey never was the same thing as Michael Beyer. That other self, the self-reflective Michael self, is the teacher, the thinker, the poet, the author. Mickey is the cartoonist and story-teller. And, most importantly, Mickey is a cowboy.
So, how did Mickey become a cowboy? That isn’t such a hard thing to understand. From childhood Mickey always had that sense of cowboy certitude. You know, that feeling that no matter what problem rears its ugly head and threatens to stamp, and snort, and cause a stampede, there is a way to rope it, hog-tie it, and slap a brand on its rump. The cowboy way is to never let anything stand in your way. I always felt that there were extra reserves held deep down inside that I could call on to pull me out of the fire when troubles were at their worst. No matter what, I would never be defeated unless I had my boots on and sixguns were a-blazing.
I include this goofy cowboy-in-his-doll-collection-lined-studio selfie because the cowboy part of me is about to change again. I am seriously thinking about shaving off my author’s beard and cutting short my Gandalf-hair. Why? Not because I am seriously considering stopping being a writer. I could never do that till the day I die. But, the cowboy part of me is gradually becoming less and less of an essential part of the plan going forward. Besides, my wife doesn’t like the rough-old-cobb look that I have been cultivating since my retirement in the spring of 2014.
Mickey will always be a cowboy, but there is more to me than just Mickey. In my selfie I am wearing my best cowboy hat, the one I bought at Goodwill that they apparently got from an estate sale. It is from Hatter’s Inc. in Fort Worth, the place where LBJ bought a lot of his cowboy hats. I feel like the spirit of some old dead Texan still lives in that hat. I am also wearing my Naaman Forest Rangers teacher-shirt. I spent twenty three years as a Cotulla Cowboy. I spent one year as a Creek Valley Wildcat, and one year as a Garland Owl. And then I ended my career with six years as a Naaman Forest Ranger. So a lot of the cowboy in me is school-related. And I am not going to throw away any of my cowboy hats any time soon. I am never going to forget what it feels like to ride a horse. I am never going to forget what it feels like to face an angry, out-of-control teenager and have to catch that bull by the horns. I broke up more than thirty fights in my thirty-one year teaching career (and yes, I am counting the ones where no punches were thrown, and there was no kicking of teacher shins). Those count too. And in the long run, I will never be anything but a cattle-herding pedagogue who wields a mean wit and often shoots from the hip.