Code of the West

Paying heed to the way of the cowboy.

Many folks are moving to Montana through a great migration from cities and areas that are experiencing wildfires, riots, and hurricanes. If you are among the newbies, welcome. Please consider preserving the Montana lifestyle through the Code of the West. 

The Code of the West is a socially agreed-upon set of informal laws that originally shaped the cowboy culture of the Old West and is still active today. What are these unwritten rules, and why are they important? If you come from a bigger city where it’s more acceptable not to speak to strangers and keep to yourself, know that it’s basically the complete opposite here. If you come from California and wonder why you feel shunned all of a sudden, there’s a backstory to this behavior. Previous newcomers tried to bring Californian ways to Montana that simply were not well-received.

The pioneers of the West, agree with them or not, paved the way to civilization using laws of the land. While things have changed with the times, in Bozeman we stay true to the best of those values. Our morals center on hospitality, fair play, loyalty, and respect for the land and each other. We treat others as we want to be treated, and we still hold the contract of a gentleman’s agreement to a high standard. Most folks still consider a handshake a contract. 

cowgirls, code of the west, silhouette

The rules can be as simple as a wave to a passerby driving down your road, not moving a fence in an attempt to redirect cattle that have used the same path for decades, to letting someone in front of you while driving. Montana is not a hurried lifestyle; enjoy it and let your neighbor in front, or allow a stranger to cross the street. At four-way stops with no stop sign, yield to the right. If you’re coming from out of state, embrace your new different life. 

Back in the day, any man who broke “The Code” became a social outcast. Here is a brief list still applicable today as it was back then. 

  • Don’t judge character by people’s past. Take them for what they are today.
  • Don’t ask a rancher how many cattle he has; that’s like asking how much money he has in the bank.
  • Close the gate when you open it.
  • Say howdy to folks on the trail (and pick up your dog’s indiscretions).
  • Never order anything weaker than whiskey, unless it’s before noon—in which case add water.
  • Always fill your, and your guest’s, whiskey glass to the brim.
  • Do not be ungrateful.
  • A cowboy always helps someone in need, even a stranger or an enemy.
  • Maintain humility. A self-centered boaster is not tolerated.
  • Respect the land and the environment. People come here for the clean air, water, and wide open space. Keep it that way.
  • Your word is your bond. ‘Round here, a handshake is just as binding as a signed paper contract.