A cowboy is defined as an animal herder who tends cattle on ranches in North America, traditionally on horseback, and often performs a multitude of other ranch-related tasks.
While true as far as it goes, it misses the point entirely. Doug “Ranger Doug” Oliver, owner of Shootists’ Emporium in Ramona and organizer of the local event honoring the National Day of the Cowboy, says being a cowboy is not so much an occupation as it is a way of life.
The cowboy lives by a code, said Oliver: “Honor is our word, a cowboy will always do the right thing, he will get the job done and get it done right.”
According to the nonprofit organization that is known as the National Day of the Cowboy, the lack of written law on the frontier made it necessary for cowmen to frame some of their own guidelines on how to conduct themselves. They developed a rule of behavior that became known as the “Code of the West.” These homespun laws, being simply a gentleman’s agreement to certain rules of conduct for survival, were not written into statutes, but were respected on the range. Because there was no law, pioneers who lived in and settled the West were bound by these unwritten rules, which centered on hospitality, fair play, loyalty, honesty, a deep respect for the land, and a rock solid work ethic.
Code of the West
- 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 and say more.
- Remember that some things aren’t for sale.
- Know where to draw the line.
Cowgirls, first defined as such in the late 19th century, had a less well-documented historical role, but in the modern world have established the ability to work at virtually identical tasks and obtained considerable respect for their achievements. The Ramona event Oliver organized this summer certainly had its fair share of women helping to fulfill the mission of the National Day of the Cowboy organization, which is: “To contribute to the preservation of America’s Cowboy heritage so that the history and culture which the United States Congress’ National Day of the Cowboy resolution honors can be shared and perpetuated for the public good, through education, the arts, celebrations, gatherings, rodeos, and community activities.”
Among those at the free event at Mountain Valley Ranch were members of the Hole In The Wall Gang, which, in light of new knowledge about American cowboys and their code of honor, were not the intimidating desperadoes one might expect. There were some Dulzura Desperados in attendance, including Lightning Will, but he was merely manning a swap meet table in the barn, selling women’s fancy hats and various western memorabilia.
The Hole in the Wall Gang is a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the outlaw legends of the Old West. The gang is made up of horsemen who ride in parades, wearing authentic attire befitting the outlaws of Old West, throughout southern California. The gang also performs skits, including shootouts and barroom brawls.
Attendees were greeted by a bevy of beautiful cowgirls, and the schedule of events for the day included music by Rob Lewallen and his band Westwind, a poetry reading by Wrangler Dan, and several skits by The Hole in the Wall Gang. There was a drawing for a .45 Colt revolver, the proceeds from which benefited the Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund. This is a fund that helps professional rodeo athletes and their families in the event of catastrophic injuries. The prize was won by a Ramona man, Ron Serabia, and more than $1,200 was raised for the crisis fund.
Steve Tellem gave a talk on the Cowboy Life. His family has had a working ranch in San Diego County since the 1880s. He spoke of his grandfather, who used to take two days to drive a herd of cattle 20 or 30 miles to auction. Today, Steve loads the cattle on to a semi tractor-trailer rig and has them in Texas in 22 hours.
Even though times have changed and working ranches in San Diego have dwindled because of development, Steve counts himself lucky. He is out in nature every day and sees a multitude of game and wildlife. He adds, “Cattlemen were the first environmentalists, being stewards of the land.”
Both inside and outside, the barn vendors were displaying their wares, from saddles and knives to custom western wear and leather accessories. Captain Cooper was busy “tooling” leather. He learned the craft, which involves creating depressions in leather with a variety of tools, in his San Antonio, Texas, high school in 1954 and now makes and tools anything leather: cuffs, chaps, belts, holsters.
Wendy Pulley produces Waddie Wear, not your mall store urban cowboy wear, but authentic traditional cowboy and cowgirl clothing.
This was the Fifth Annual National Day of the Cowboy and the third one in Ramona. For more information on this organization and events, go to www.nationaldayofthecowboy.com.