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GOD & TEXAS: Cowboy code of ethics

“A man never makes money in selling a horse – the money is made in buying it.” This quote by Texas rancher Dudley Snyder expresses the wise reasoning of many pioneer businessmen in the Lone Star state.

The logic of the old Texas ranchers and trail drivers has stood the test of time. The limitless land of the 1800’s, unbroken by human-made barriers, offered vast opportunities to our brave forerunners who dared to pursue their dreams. Greed and thievery were detested. People with unethical motives were shunned by the majority and encouraged to move along.

Texas historian Ramon F. Adams was born in Moscow, Texas, in 1889. A member of the Texas Institute of Letters, he commented on the unwritten code of the west in his book: The Cowman and His Code of Ethics – “These homespun laws, merely a gentleman’s agreement to specific rules of conduct for survival, were never written into statutes but were respected everywhere on the range. Though the cowman might break every law of the territory, state, and federal government, he took pride in upholding his unwritten code. His failure to abide by it did not bring formal punishment, but the man who broke it became, more or less, a social outcast. His friends hazed him into the cutbacks, and he was subject to the punishment of the very code he had broken.”

The cowman’s code of ethics focused on honesty, loyalty, fair play, hospitality, a deep respect for the land, and a solid work ethic. Ranchers knew they needed each other to survive in the old west. Charles Goodnight, co-founder of the historic Goodnight-Loving cattle trail, said, “I wish I could find words to express the trueness, the bravery, the hardihood, the sense of honor, the loyalty to their trust and to each other of the old trail hands.” He went on to say, “Cowards never lasted long enough to become real cowboys.”

Born in 1833, Dudley Hiram Snyder, along with his two brothers, made Texas their permanent home following the Civil War. They settled near what is now Georgetown and built a ranching empire. They were strong supporters in the founding of Southwestern University in Georgetown and remain highly revered.

Cowboys knew that working for the Snyder brothers required living at a high standard. No vices were tolerated among the ranch hands as alcohol, gambling, and swearing were forbidden. Further, all staff were expected to follow Biblical lifestyle guidelines which included observing the Sabbath Day as a day of rest and church attendance.

Sadly, the cowman’s code of ethics and Biblical traditions are largely missing in society today. King David said in Psalm 25:21 (KJV), “Let integrity and uprightness preserve me.” The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20) certainly provide the template for proper living. And Jesus said in Luke 6:31 NIV, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

Isn’t it time for us to return to the practicalities of the ranchers and God’s Word?

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