Ride for the Brand

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Bill Sniffin
Bill Sniffin
When you make a promise, keep it. – From Code of the West, Wyoming. 
It makes sense that the larger the population base, the bigger necessity for strict rules of conduct.  Places like Hong Kong, New York City and Dallas would not function well if people could not be counted on to obey the same rules and regulations.
But the same can be said for folks who live in sparsely-populated places, too.
When you live in an isolated state with a small population spread over 98,000 square miles with occasional severe weather, well, you better have some universal codes and standards to help you survive.
Back in 2008, I published a column that involved six years of on-again and off-again research.  I called it Wyoming’s Universal Truths and Fundamental Values. It was an attempt to put into words those concepts and values unique to our state.
It cited ideas like “small is good” as a Universal Truth. And “you do not drive by a stranded motorist on a lonely country road in winter” as a Fundamental Value.
I wasn’t the only person trying to figure out a way to verbalize these concepts. 
A group of folks were thinking along these lines when they put together a video based on Cowboy Ethics called Code of the West, Alive and Well in Wyoming.  You can access it at vimeo.com. 
It was funded by a consortium that included The Center for Cowboy Ethics and Leadership, Anschutz Foundation, UW College of Business, Daniels Fund, McMurry Foundation, Trihydro Corporation and the Wyoming Business Council.
The guy who is the inspiration for all this is Jim Owen who developed The Code of the West, which has been adopted by Jonah Bank and Trihydro companies in Wyoming, among others, as an operating philosophy.
What I liked about it is that is took the relatively long and wordy attempt (like the effort I put together) and boiled it down into ten very simple phrases.  Those phrases are as follows:
• Live each day with courage.
• Take pride in your work.
• Always finish what you start.
• Do what has to be done.
• Be tough, but fair.
• When you make a promise, keep it.
• Ride for the brand.
• Talk less, say more.
• Remember that some things are not for sale.
• Know where to draw the line.
Even the Legislature has taken notice of the code and passed a bill outlining this as our state code. A bill co-sponsored by Pete Illoway of Cheyenne and Jim Anderson of Glenrock pushed it through. 
A recent copy of UWYO Magazine profiled ten people on campus who displayed the meaning of the Code of the West. Very well done.  Get a copy if you can.  You can also access it online. 
This Wyoming Code is a much-abbreviated version of the very first Code of the West, which was compiled by the famous western writer Zane Grey. Grey wrote a lot about Wyoming and a lot about cowboys during his long career nearly 80 years ago.  
And he knew what he was talking about. A few of the more interesting ones on his 37-item list include: 
• Never try on another man’s hat.
• Never shoot a woman, no matter what.
• Give your enemy a fighting chance.
• Never wake another man by shaking or touching him, as he might wake suddenly and shoot you. 
It would be natural that a humorous version of this would be developed, too.  One of the best was by Cowboy Poet Bix Benders, which included these gems: 
• A smart ass just don’t fit in a saddle.
• Always drink upstream from the herd.
• Never miss a good chance to shut up.
• When you give a lesson in meanness to a critter or to a person, don’t be surprised if they learn their lesson well.
• When you’re throwing your weight around, be ready to have it thrown around by somebody else.
• Write it in your heart. Stand by the code and it will stand by you. 
Those are just a few of the items on his very long list.
That Code of the West, Alive and Well in Wyoming video, by the way, included clips of Clarene Law, Jackson; Mick McMurry, Casper; former Sen. Al Simpson of Cody; CJ Box and Gus Fleischli of Cheyenne; Greg Schaefer of Gillette and Scott Ratliff of the Wind River Indian Reservation plus many others. 
Look it up.  It will make your day. And it will make you proud of Wyoming.
Check out Bill Sniffin’s columns at www.billsniffin.com.  He is a longtime Wyoming journalist from Lander who has written four books. His most recent book is “Wyoming’s 7 Greatest Natural Wonders” which is available at www.wyomingwonders.com.
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