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A cowboy’s way

Hanging around old former cowboys when I was in my 20s taught me a lot about the life. These men weren’t cowboys, though they once were. Such men were ranchers or cattlemen, not cowboys. You see, the rancher is the guy that hires cowboys and these guys were proud to have moved up that ladder.Cowboys and the cattlemen that they became were nothing like the self-described cowboys I’d met in town. “Drugstore cowboys” or “all hat and no saddle” was how the old ranchers described them. First off, a true cowboy was modest. Oh, they’d boast and lie among themselves, but around the rest of us they’re quiet and reserved.A seamed face, make-do weathered western clothing and, of course, hard leathery hands from years and years of endless outside work are often the only indication of whom you’re dealing with. Cowboys don’t boast about who they are. They’re just themselves. If you’re aware enough to notice, for heaven’s sake don’t make any kind of big deal about how they live or what they’ve done. You’ll embarrass them.Part of an old-time cowboy is always about 16 years old. Shy and quiet, especially around the ladies. Another hallmark of a true cowboy is that rough as they may be with each other they’re respectful, gentlemanly and almost awed around womenfolk.Modern “cowboy types” give themselves away almost immediately with their casual rudeness. Real cowboys always remove their hat in the house and always doff it to the ladies. I was riding with a cowboy friend of mine once. Both of us hatless, naturally, since we were in the car. Ahead of us was another car with a couple of big-hatted fellows in the front seat. “Such big hats have got to be in the way in the car,” I said. “What’re they proving by wearing those 10-gallon jobs when they’re inside and under a roof?”My cowboy friend replied: “Dunno… Maybe that they’re short?”Cowboys are not free with compliments. The best compliment that could ever get back to you (indirectly, of course) is that you are “steady.” Not fast, a ball o’ fire or sharp (which could actually be an insult) but “steady.” To be called steady by a real son of the land – a farmer or cowboy – meant something. It meant you could work all day. You were experienced enough to know how to pace yourself so that you didn’t collapse in an exhausted quivering heap after a couple of hours of work. Now, if it were ever said that “you need to put up pegs to see if’n he’s a movin:” Well, that’s about the worst thing they could say about a person. There’s no place for a lazy man out on the range.Should you ever find yourself in the company of real cowboys or ranchers, do yourself a favor. Don’t ask them how much land they have or how many head of cattle they’ve got. If you do, they may look down, smile and answer you, or they may just give you “the look.” (You’ll know “the look” if you see it.) Might as well ask a man how much money’s in his wallet or bank account as ask him those questions. Such questions are rude and mark you right away as a city boy. Ask a real cowman “how much and how many” and he’s annoyed with you, but embarrassed for you, too.Of course, ranchers having been cowboys once; the B.S. factor amongst themselves is high. I’m reminded of the story of the Texas rancher and the Colorado rancher. The Texas rancher told the Colorado rancher, “I can drive all day long and not come to the end of my ranch.” To which the Colorado rancher replied; “You’ve got mah sympathy, pard. I owned a truck like that once, mah self.”A word of advice: Should you find yourself in the company of a cowboy or rancher or any son of the land, shut up and listen. They don’t generally say much. Such men understand that silence is a good thing, and it doesn’t need filling. When they do talk, well, you can bet they’ve had a lot of time to consider their words and so they just might be worth listening to. Wisdom can settle lightly upon our shoulder, if we’ve the wisdom to let it.

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