By Allan Erickson



“Complaining is what quitters do, and cowboys hate quitters.” *


On this President’s Day, we seem lost, aimless, wandering.  Lotta complainin’ going on.


We’ve become the largest debtor nation in the world.  Interest on the national debt will exceed $500B this year alone.   That’s just the interest payment.   Forget the principal.   Our former comptroller general—a Democrat—-said we were headed for financial disaster even before this ‘stimulus’ craze.  Care to guess what our unfunded liability is presently?  $60 TRILLION.   Yup.  That’s how much the politicians have committed to spend in the years ahead, and it’s all DEBT.


With the stroke of a pen tomorrow, the President puts our children and grandchildren deep into debt for 50 years to come, probably more.


It looks like we are simply putting the pedal to the metal and will hit the bankruptcy wall sooner, and harder.


In many places in the country we are being overrun by illegal aliens.


Foreign policy seems inconsistent, vapid, weak.


The moral fiber of the country appears to continue the downward trend started in the 60s.


Violence is up.  Racial tension is up. The dollar is down.  Nuclear submarines collide deep in the Atlantic.  Satellites crash high up in space. 


It feels like so much is spinning out of control, unraveling like no time since the 60s.


What happened to the American Spirit?  What is the American Spirit? 


In the 50s, the main thing moms and dads drilled into us was honesty.  (Grandmas and Grandpas participated as well.)  Be honest.  Don’t lie.  Don’t try to jerk people around to get your way.  That was part of the American Spirit: Honest Abe and George Washington (I cannot tell a lie); do the right thing, be true to basic principles of truth, goodness, fairness.  We learned it in school, in boy and girl scouts, in Sunday school, everywhere we turned: be honest.


Isn’t the root of this economic crisis dishonesty? 


The government was dishonest with banking.   Wall Street was dishonest with investors.  Bankers were dishonest with borrowers.  Borrowers were dishonest with lenders.  All of us who borrowed more than we could afford were dishonest with the entire country.  Speculators were even dishonest with themselves.  And government regulators were not honest about the execution of their duties.   


How does a dishonest nation recapture that part of the American Spirit, a simple, straightforward honesty living at the center of our national life?


Lying has become a national pastime. 


Business people lie.  Politicians lie.  Teachers lie.  Sports stars lie. Religious leaders lie. Entertainers lie.  Reporters lie.  Parents lie. Judges and lawyers lie. All kinds of people break contracts daily.  Where is the trust?  We even deny a trust in God in so many sectors.  No wonder the youth are cynical and sarcastic.


Another dimension of the American Spirit we were taught as kids involved holding the interests of others to be as important as our own.  In other words, we were encouraged to recognize our tendency toward selfishness, and fight it by preferring the needs and desires of others.  


Today, the mad dash to cash creates a thundering herd of selfish people eager to trample others on their way up the ladder.


An embrace of life and liberty and happiness lives at the center of the American Spirit, yet we’ve annihilated 50 million unborn Americans in the last 36 years.   Assisted suicide is all the rage.  Centralized government control of many aspects of life shrink liberty.   When government controls your health care cradle to grave, is there any doubt you’ll eventually be seen as economically draining on the system?  Happiness is defined by the collective, and the individual quest must submit, ‘for the greater good.’


From our founding forward the American Spirit called for rugged individualism, hard work, self-reliance, the less government the better, maximum freedom, ingenuity, creativity, individual self-control, virtue and community spirit with a hefty dose of regular charitable giving and old fashioned religion.


Today we appear a herd of sterilized steers, moaning for government grass, headed for the slaughterhouse.   Continuing with the cowboy metaphor, consider THE CODE OF THE WEST *, and realize a stark contrast in attitude from a better foregone today.  


Perhaps the essence of the American Spirit is found here, in the unwritten gentleman’s code governing behavior on the free range and the high Rocky Mountains not that many years ago:



Don’t inquire into a person’s past. Take the measure of a man for what he is today.


Never steal another man’s horse. A horse thief pays with his life.


Defend yourself whenever necessary.


Look out for your own.


Remove your guns before sitting at the dining table.


Never order anything weaker than whiskey.


Don’t make a threat without expecting dire consequences.

Never pass anyone on the trail without saying “Howdy”. 

When approaching someone from behind, give a loud greeting before you get within shooting range.

Don’t wave at a man on a horse, as it might spook the horse. A nod is the proper greeting.

After you pass someone on the trail, don’t look back at him.  It implies you don’t trust him.

Riding another man’s horse without his permission is nearly as bad as making love to his wife.  Never even bother another man’s horse.

Always fill your whiskey glass to the brim.

A cowboy doesn’t talk much; he saves his breath for breathing.

No matter how weary and hungry you are after a long day in the saddle, always tend to your horse’s needs before your own, and get your horse some feed before you eat.

Cuss all you want, but only around men, horses and cows.

Complain about the cooking and you become the cook.

Always drink your whiskey with your gun hand, to show your friendly intentions.

Never spit in front of women or children



Do not practice ingratitude.

A cowboy is pleasant even when out of sorts. Complaining is what quitters do, and cowboys hate quitters.

Always be courageous. Cowards aren’t tolerated in any outfit worth its salt.

A cowboy always helps someone in need, even a stranger or an enemy.

Never try on another man’s hat.



Be hospitable to strangers. Anyone who wanders in, including an enemy, is welcome at the dinner table. The same was true for riders who joined cowboys on the range.


Give your enemy a fighting chance.

Never wake another man by shaking or touching him, as he might wake suddenly and shoot you.

Real cowboys are modest.  A braggert who is “all gurgle and no guts” is not tolerated. 

Be there for a friend when he needs you.

Drinking on duty is grounds for instant dismissal and blacklisting.

A cowboy is loyal to his “brand,” to his friends, and those he

rides with.


Never shoot an unarmed or unwarned enemy. This was also

known as “the rattlesnake code”: always warn before you strike.

However, if a man was being stalked, this could be ignored.

Never shoot a woman no matter what.

Consideration for others is central to the code, such as: Don’t

stir up dust around the chuck wagon, don’t wake up the wrong

man for herd duty, etc.


Respect the land and the environment.

Honesty is absolute – your word is your bond.

      Live by the Golden Rule.





Thank God there’s still enough willing to Cowboy Up.


Cowboy Up America

When a Cowboy’s in a pinch
he just tightens up the cinch,
spurs his horse and rides right through it
cause that’s the way the Duke’d do it.
He’d Cowboy Up.

And with our country now in danger
a cowboy’s like the old Lone Ranger.
Ridin’ hard and shootin’ straight
fightin’ those who spread the hate.
He’d Cowboy’d Up.

A Cowboy’s ready and he’s willin’
to face the foe, like Marshal Dillon.
And when the gunsmoke clears away
Cowboy Spirit wins the day.
So, Cowboy Up. Pull your hat down tight
and don’t back down from what is right.
We’ll bring back “Happy Trails” for you
like Hoppy, Gene and Roy would do.

Think back about Flight 93
and how those heroes came to be.
They knew that thousands more could die
if they just let that airplane fly
They Cowboy’d Up.

One widow had this tale to share.
A husband’s love and one last prayer.
And when their sacrifice was done
terror lost and Freedom won
“Let’s Roll”, he said and Cowboy’d up.

Cause Cowboys fight until they win
just like TV’s Paladin.
They will not let our flag unravel
as long as they Have Gun, Will Travel
And Cowboy Up, hell bent for leather.
Cause we’re all in this fight together.
We’re ridin’ hard right on their trail
and with God’s help, we will prevail.

If Gary Cooper, Joel McCrea
and Randolph Scott were here today
they’d fight for what is right and true
like Rex and Tex and Lash LaRue.
Who weren’t afraid to Cowboy Up.

So, let’s give Uncle Sam a hand
cause we’re all ridin’ for his brand.
And with that Texan in the saddle
our posse’s gonna win the battle.
Let’s Cowboy Up, pull our hats down tight.
Be rough and ready for the fight.
Our country’s through with playin’ games.
We’re kickin’ butt and taking names.
Yeah, Cowboy’d Up, pard, that means you.
Stand up tall and ‘fore we’re through
we’ll kick ’em right in their gee-had
Cause now, they’ve made the Cowboys Mad.

© 2002, Jeff Hildebrandt










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